The Best Stops for a Winter Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona

The Fort Yuma Territorial Prison which operated from 1876 to 1909 was hellish in many respects but it also had more modern amenities than many homes in Yuma at the time including electricity, plumbing, a large library, and even a band. Several of the inmates were Mormons who were convicted of polygamy. Today, the site of the hilltop prison is an Arizona state park with some surviving original features such as the cellblock and other features reconstructed. It’s now a historical museum that not only is open for tours but stages special events such as gunfights and ghost hunts.

>> Get more tips for visiting Fort Yuma Territorial Prison

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

This privately owned center provides educational exhibits and activities about NASA’s mission at the center as well as tours to other facilities nearby. You’ll see a “rocket garden,” an outdoor exhibit of an extensive assortment of rockets, capsules, and engines that have been used for actual space missions.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs, California

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

The Valley of the Sun is home to many great attractions, and it can be difficult for visitors and locals alike to pick their favorites. It’s easy to get caught up in the legend surrounding attractions like the world-famous Lost Dutchman State Park, but sometimes you want to take a break from history and explore Phoenix’s more modern side. 

Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden is also one of the world’s largest collections of desert plants and flowers. It features more than 50 miles of pathways crisscrossing over a dozen outdoor gardens, including the special Children’s Garden, which has a walled maze, garden swings, and plenty of other activities designed especially for the little ones. 

Visitors can also see art installations, take a guided tour or enjoy live music during their visit to the outdoor attractions.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, Arizona

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to this 110-acre park. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a short hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, there is an observatory that is open to the public to do some star gazing on Friday and Saturday nights.

>> Get more tips for visiting Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the best places in the country for bird-watching. People come just for the birds. Bentsen’s wetland, scrub brush, riparian, and woodland habitats make it a world-class destination to observe birds and wildlife commonly found in the subtropics of northern Mexico.
One of the most spectacular convergences of birds on Earth, more than 530 species have been documented in the Rio Grande Valley (including about 20 species found nowhere else in the U.S.) and 365 species at Bentsen itself. Bentsen’s bird-feeding stations are stocked in the winter months making it one of the best and easiest times to view a wide variety of birds from Green jays to Altamira orioles and Plain chachalacas to Great kiskadees.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

Hi Jolly Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hi Jolly Monument, Quartzsite, Arizona

Hi Jolly was the Americanized name of Hadji Ali, a Greek/Syrian immigrant who was one of several Middle Eastern men hired by the U.S. Army in 1857 (by Secretary Of War Jefferson Davis) to drive camels laden with cargo across the desert. The experiment was discontinued after a short time but it was still much more successful than people often believe. In any case, Hi Jolly stuck around until he died in 1902. A colorful and beloved character, he became a bit of a legend and was honored with this pyramid-shaped monument constructed in 1903 and embellished later. The monument stands in a cemetery with many monuments to military men. You’ll spot the camel motif cropping up in other places in Quartzsite, an interesting little town that is known as a haven for RV boondockers as well as rock and mineral lovers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Quartzsite

Tabasco Factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island Louisiana

While the marshes and bayous of this region make Avery Island worth a visit in its own right, it is the fact that this is the home of the Tabasco pepper sauce that attracts most people. Visitor attractions include a short but informative factory tour where you’ll learn the history of this family owned company and see how this world famous product is created; an excellent country store packed with sauces, souvenirs and gifts; and the Jungle Gardens, 170 acres full of exotic plants and native wildlife including alligators and deer. When you visit the country store, do make sure you try the Tabasco ice cream; it’s more enjoyable than it sounds.

>> Get more tips for visiting Avery Island

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake, Arizona

Located just off State Route 88 east of Phoenix, Saguaro Lake has a marina with rentals for everything from stand-up paddleboards to kayaks and canoes. The lake even has a few desert islands where boaters can stop for a picnic lunch or a quick swim. Visitors also come to Saguaro Lake to camp at nearby facilities or fish along its banks for bass, catfish, and carp. Hikers and campers also enjoy visiting the lake which has over 25 miles of trails that wind around it.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin. Dunes Drive, an eight-mile scenic drive, leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dunefield. The 16-mile round-trip drive takes approximately 45 minutes. However, you may want to allow additional time for taking walks in the white sand, photography, or learning about the natural and cultural history.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo Mountain Drive, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

This 21-mile drive, accessible by any vehicles up to 25 feet, is the most popular way to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Pick up the guidebook from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and allow at least two hours to drive the loop which includes 18 stops of interest. As well as the distinctive cactus from which the park takes its name, you will also see examples of the many other plants that flourish in the Sonoran Desert including saguaro, prickly pear, jojoba, mesquite, cholla, and ocotillo.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spoetzal Brewery, Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

>> Get more tips for visiting Shiner

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of road trip stops. Located in the southern end of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and its craggy and rocky landscape filled with desert flora and fauna.

Plenty of daytime activities are available inside the park and the most popular is hiking (with one paved trail that is accessible). There is climbing, birding, biking, horseback riding, and a driving tour you can take. There are 93 miles of paved roads. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne, Louisiana

In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants. Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

Show Me the Weird

Say goodbye to boring road trips

One of the reasons people travel in RVs is to see things. They see epic places like The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. On the way to the big stuff, there are plenty of small sites that capture the public’s attention, too, like the World’s Largest Roadrunner, historical markers, and that corny attraction in Mitchell, South Dakota.

With wanderlust and weirdness in mind, we road-tripped across the country and found the oddest, most wonderful, and most puzzling roadside attractions where we least expected. Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods: there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Basically Everything in Roswell

Is it fair to call an entire town a roadside attraction? Probably not! But the sheer number of alien-related stuff populating the streets of Roswell makes it unavoidable. There are makeshift spaceships you can tour. Straight-up UFO “museums.” A fake-ass alien autopsy site. Gift shops galore. If there are actual aliens tucked away in Roswell, they pulled the ingenious move of hiding in plain sight, surrounded by every kind of gaudy, over-the-top kitsch as possible. Well played Martians.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mother of All Tourist Traps

One of (if not the) the most prominent tourist traps has to be Wall Drug. You can’t miss it: Not only because it’s massive, but because you’ll see hundreds of hand-painted signs across multiple states, luring tourists in with the promise of free ice water and $.05 coffee (the ice water’s great, the coffee not so much).

Related article: 10 Unusual Roadside Attractions to Stop For

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And even if you wish to avoid it, you kind of can’t: At the intersection of East and West, North and South, it’s one of the last places to get gas for a while, regardless of where you’re going. Just grab a “where the heck is Wall Drug” bumper sticker, eat a donut, and soak in the Americana.

Prehistoric sculpture © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

Something prehistoric. Something mythical. Something otherworldly. Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical array of free-standing sculptures that will astound you. Imagine driving along Borrego Springs Road and something catches your attention—a dark form in the desert landscape. You spy a horse as it rears off to the side of the road. You look again and it is big, but it doesn’t seem to be moving. Then you look again and you realize it is a huge sculpture that has captured your attention.

Prehistoric sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, rising out of the flat desert landscape, an elephant appears. Alarmingly close by, a T-Rex bears its maw chasing a saber-tooth tiger. From the corners of your eyes, these large structures can be deceptively realistic. This is not a mirage but the gifts of visionary benefactor Dennis Avery (now deceased) and the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda.

Related article: 12 Must-See Roadside Attractions for the Perfect Road Trip

Hole N” The Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hole N” The Rock

You’re driving down US Highway 191 south of Moab, thinking vaguely of finding a place to pull over and stretch, maybe get some snacks, when you see, in the distance: a massive red rock face with blazing white detailing. You drive closer. “HOLE N” THE ROCK”.

Hole N” The Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is it … literally a hole in the rock? It is, kinda, yes. Hole N” The Rock is a 5,000-square-foot home carved into the rock where you’ll also find a trading post, general store, art collection, and petting zoo—camels, zebras, albino raccoons. You are wondering whether you can feed them, yes you can.

“WE ARE NOT YOUR DESTINATION:” explains/yells the Hole N” The Rock website, “WE ARE AN AMAZING STOP ALONG THE WAY.”

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World’s Only Corn Palace

This corn crazed prairie town in South Dakota is home to the high school sports teams the Kernels, local radio station KORN, and the “architectural showplace of the world” known as the Mitchell Corn Palace. Its czarist-Russia exterior and intricate murals are made entirely out of local corn and grains (it’s refurbished annually), and the onion domes and minarets make it the world’s only corn palace, but would the world really need more than one of these?

Related article: Blow Your Mind at the Weirdest Roadside Attractions across America

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One Really Big Nut

One of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand is a destination that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo it’s an easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park.

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lost Dutchman

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum is the keeper and purveyor of the colorful tales of bygone days, both true and mythical. Located on the Apache Trail (Arizona Highway 88), the museum is comprised of numerous outdoor structures including the Apacheland Barn and the Elvis Chapel, the last surviving structures from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a huge working 20-stamp gold mill, a historical model railroad, Western storefronts, an exhibit hall and gift shop/bookstore, and nature trail.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An Encounter with the World’s Largest Roadrunner

The Roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the landfill.

Related article: Wacky and Fun Roadside Attractions across America

In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest stop along Interstate 10, just west of the city. Signs around the sculpture warned of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase

The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

Did your favorite Southern California experience make the list?

Home to so many large urban centers, Southern California is also incredibly rich in diverse ecosystems that range from deserts to mountaintops. Small charming towns provide a wonderful, relaxing destination in their own right while national and state parks offer active recreation but also an opportunity to get close to the natural world.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is known for its healing hot springs, luxury hotels, world-class golf courses, and pampering spas. Palm Springs has a number of great mid-century modern architecture examples especially in its downtown shopping district on Palm Canyon Drive.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside the city is Coachella Valley with excellent trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Peak for spectacular views of the city. Visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to see what thrives in the sparse desert ecosystem. Enjoy the 1938 Palm Springs Art Museum to learn about regional art, performing arts, and natural science.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a charming historic town and a popular mountain getaway in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains. Julian was in the heart of the only San Diego gold rush when gold was found in a local creek in early 1870. The gold rush did not last long but many miners stayed to farm the rich land. Many remnants from the gold rush era are still standing and visitors can travel back in time by visiting the historic 1870 buildings.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

Mom’s Pie House, Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold made Julian, but apples made Julian famous. Its legendary crop won first prize at two World’s Fairs and is still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. No trip to Julian would be complete without digging into a slice of the town’s famed apple pie.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Temecula

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers’ markets, and special events in one walkable area. History buffs can wander the streets viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s. Take a step back in time and stroll along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a house museum in Desert Hot Springs. A large, Hopi-style pueblo was built in the Pueblo revival style by homesteader and adventurer Cabot Abram Yerxa in the early 20th century. The four-story 5,000-square-foot house was entirely hand-made from found and reclaimed objects and has 35 rooms, 65 doors, and 150 windows.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The house museum is a fascinating portrait of the life adventures of Cabot Yerxa and his family. It includes many household artifacts collected during their adventures through the Dakota Territory, Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, France, California, and the Southwest. There are also many artworks from Alaska Native and Native American cultures as well as curious memorabilia of desert homesteaders’ life.

Related: California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park has two distinct desert ecosystems, the high Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It is home to an incredible diversity of plants and is characterized by stark, empty desert landscapes and rugged and colorful rock formations.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park got its name for one of the most common trees in the region: The twisted, strange-looking, bristly Joshua tree. The incredible beauty and strange energy of the place have long attracted painters, musicians, and other artistic types.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park offers all kinds of adventures, from exploring the Indian Cove Nature Trail to rock climbing at Echo Cove or any of over 8,000 climbs and 400 rock formations to strolling through the magical Cholla Cactus Garden.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert, the largest state park in California, and was established in 1933 to protect unique and fragile desert ecosystems. The park is framed by rugged ranges of the Bucksnorts, the Santa Rosas, the Jacumba Mountains, the Vallecito Mountains, the Pinyon Mountains, the Anza-Borrego Mountains, and the Carrizo Badlands.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 500 miles of roads run through the park, over rocky hills, deep sands, cool streams, and steep hills, some requiring an off-road vehicle. The park includes some of the warmest temperatures in the country as well as rich 6,000-year-old archaeological findings. Visiting the park in the spring will award visitors with a spectacular mosaic of wildflowers. The park is home to many animals including mountain lions, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

As a US congressman from California, Sonny Bono fought for funding to save the Salton Sea which suffers from water depletion, pollution, and too much salinity. The refuge was established in 1930 as a breeding ground for birds and wild animals and was renamed to honor Bono after he died in a skiing accident in 1998. 

Related: Spotlight on California: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Sony Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 400 bird species, 41 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, four species of amphibians, and 15 species of fish have been recorded on the refuge. The refuge features a visitor center, an observation tower, and a trail that climbs to the top of a small inactive volcano—two miles out and back.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley Wine Country

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards in Southern California. But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines and summer concerts featuring top performers.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella Valley Preserve

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and is home to the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also several other palm oases including the Willis, Hidden Horseshoe, and Indian Palms. Located in the center is the Paul Wilhelm Grove which is also the location of the Preserve’s visitor’s center. The preserve has several hiking trails including the McCallum, Hidden Palms, Moon Country, Pushawalla Palms, and Willis Palms.

Related: Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

The desert landscape near Borrego Springs has been changed forever by the appearance of prehistoric creatures that pop up alongside the roadside. The original steel welded sculptors, the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda, began arriving in April 2008 on Dennis Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name …

Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

This desert escape never goes out of style

Before you even finish this sentence, I’m guessing you can name the number one reason why everyone loves Palm Springs.

Somewhere in the Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weather! That’s right, Palm Springs averages 350 sunny days per year; its temperate winter climate complements the sunlight to keep you pleasantly warm. The forecast calls for fun, so explore all that Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley have to offer…

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled between the mesmerizing San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park on either side, the Coachella Valley is like no other place on earth. Some might even say it’s magical. Health-seekers, adventurers, artists, and more have flocked here since the early 1900s in search of inspiration, solitude, and serenity. Here, there’s room to breathe and just be, frolicking among the palm oases and hidden waterfalls beneath sun-kissed skies.

El Paseo, Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nine cities in the Coachella Valley—Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella—have distinct histories and personalities. Visit the infamous San Andreas Fault and its twisted desert canyons.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soak in the healing hot mineral springs, some of the purest in the world. Tee off at a championship golf course where the likes of Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods have played. Or simply bask in the sunshine. Regardless of where your Coachella Valley journey begins, you’re guaranteed to experience that same magic in the air that keeps snowbirds coming back, time and time again.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

The desert cities, especially Palm Springs, are particularly well-suited for the outdoor lifestyle that has become requisite within the past year with popular brunch spots along the palm-tree-lined main drag offering sprawling shaded patios perfect for people watching and sipping mimosas.

Palm Springs has been a hideaway for Angelenos since the Rat Pack days and it’s no wonder. This colorful, chic desert escape offers everything you need to unwind and it’s less than a two-hour journey from the city center of L.A.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main draw for snowbirds is the year-round sunshine, but modern art and architecture buffs are attracted to the works of the architects who put their mark on the town including Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and William Krisel. Frey designed Tramway Gas Station, now the Palm Springs Visitor Center. Given its residents’ penchant for art and design, the area is also home to some of the state’s best vintage shops.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride. You can go from t-shirt, to coat, back to swimsuit in a fall afternoon. Only in Palm Springs!

Related: The Amazing Story of Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a hike at one of the convenient trails located near the heart of town. Andreas Canyon is a cradle of cultural finds, showcasing irrigation and artistic achievements of the Cahuilla indigenous people. It’s one of the three canyons in Indian Canyons and offers beautiful views meandering along a natural creek.

Palm Springs from Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more challenging hike, consider the trailhead tucked fashionably behind the Palm Springs Art Museum. While you’re there, visit one of the many fascinating design and architecture attractions that make the city famous.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your hike continues from manmade wonders to natural spectacles. The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will you be in town Thursday night? If not, rearrange those plans! VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every week with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Fall hours are 6–10 pm. Nosh on finger foods from area restaurants, gaze at visionary pieces by local artists and shop to the max at a bevy of business stands. The only thing missing is you!

Related: Desert Star: Palm Springs

Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Hot Springs

Located in Coachella Valley, Desert Hot Springs is known internationally for its vast underground aquifers of pure cold water and soothing natural hot mineral water. Situated high overlooking the Palm Springs area, the hotels and spas are known for natural, healing, hot mineral waters.

Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only can you soak in the water; you can drink it too. That’s because the underground cold water springs are just as pure as the hot water springs. Think of it as hot and cold running water. Instead of turning a faucet, though, the water is pumped directly out of the earth.

Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hot or cold, the mineral water is unique. It has no smell, unlike lots of other mineral waters. It’s crystal clear too, never discolored like many other waters.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the Sand to Snow National Monument, outdoor enthusiasts will find creosote-strewn hillsides at Mission Creek Preserve or can opt for a hike into the diverse Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Once a Native American village and later a cattle ranch, this preserve is a serene oasis around a natural spring generated by snowmelt from the surrounding mountains. Big Morongo attracts all manner of birds and animals to riparian woodland filled with cottonwoods and willows.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a slice of history, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a marvel of engineering and design made from recycled desert materials. The home was built beginning in 1941. The Hopi-inspired building is hand-made and created from reclaimed and found materials from throughout the Coachella Valley. The Pueblo has four stories, is 5,000 square feet, and includes 35 rooms, 150 windows, 30 rooflines, and 65 doors.

Related: Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Desert

Situated in the heart of Coachella Valley, Palm Desert has metamorphosed from a sandy cove at the foot of the Santa Rosas into a sprawling shopping, entertainment, and recreation mecca.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catch a show at the McCallum Theatre, a state-of-the-art performance venue that has hosted some of the world’s top entertainers and touring Broadway acts. Feed a giraffe at the wonderfully wild Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, ranked one of the top zoos in the country.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let inspiration strike while exploring public art along the city’s famed shopping district, El Paseo. Kick it into high gear on the Bump and Grind Trail (the 1,000-foot elevation gain pays off in breathtaking panoramic views) or play a round on an award-winning golf course.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and several palm oases including the biggie: the Thousand Palm Oasis. These stay full of water thanks to water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault. The hike from the visitor center to the McCallum Pond at the Thousand Palms Oasis is a fairly easy one, mostly flat, and about a mile.

Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral City

Though home to its fair share of lush country clubs and exceptional hotels, Cathedral City shines as a haven for the arts. Thanks to a recent Public Arts Initiative, visitors can discover several works on display throughout the city including the whimsical, mosaic-tiled Fountain of Lifestatue that proudly claims the heart of downtown. Feel free to splash around in the cooling waters … we won’t judge.

Related: Good for What Ages You: Palm Springs

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get to know local talent by attending a gallery opening on Perez Road, the city’s art and design district, or hunt for one-of-a-kind treasures and vintage furniture finds in the district’s eclectic warehouse-style shops.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rancho Mirage

A luxurious lifestyle meets a playful landscape in Rancho Mirage. Several past U.S. Presidents, including Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, have unplugged here, finding peace amid the palm trees and earning the city the nickname “playground of presidents.” 

Families can shop, dine, and catch a flick all in the same day at Greater Palm Springs’ only waterfront shopping and entertainment hub, The River.

Stroll the historic 200-acre estate at Sunnylands Gardens and marvel at the 70-some odd species of arid-adapted plants suited to the desertscape or wander labyrinths and gaze in reflecting pools.

Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Quinta

This “gem in the desert” embraces the outdoors and the arts. Spend the day romanticizing and wandering through Old Town, La Quinta’s main street with cobblestone sidewalks, whitewashed adobe walls, and bougainvillea galore. The quaint thoroughfare provides the perfect storybook-like setting for an afternoon of shopping and alfresco dining.

Related: Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sip on a seasonal IPA at La Quinta Brewing Company (their outdoor patio is great for people-watching). Browse local artists’ wares, ranging from paintings to ceramics to jewelry during Art on Main Street, held on select Saturdays throughout the year. Shop for fresh fare and flowers at the Old Town Farmers Market.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience art and learn a new skill at Old Town Artisan Studios. Or rent a beach cruiser through Old Town Peddler to explore more of the surrounding cottage-filled neighborhoods that make up La Quinta Cove where hikers enjoy easy access to trails that traverse beautiful desert mountains and canyons.

Shield’s Date Garden, Indio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio

Dubbed the City of Festivals, Indio has become a favorite destination for foodies and music lovers attracting nearly 1.4 million people each year for its multiple mainstream events including the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (April 15-17 and 22-24, 2022) and Stagecoach Country Music Festival (April 29-May 1, 2022).

Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For an authentic taste of the valley, don’t miss the Indio International Tamale Festival (29th annual; December 4-5, 2021) where dozens of homemade tamales with creative flavors (hello pumpkin, vegan green chile, and chocolate cherry!) delight.

Shield’s Date Garen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And of course, there’s the date shake. Many local eateries serve up creamy, ice-cold shakes made with the Coachella Valley’s favorite fruit—our preferred way to chill on a warm desert day. Sip yours while strolling through the date groves and citrus trees at Shields Date Garden & Café, an Indio mainstay since 1924.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella

Color comes alive in the City of Eternal Sunshine whose rich Hispanic heritage shines through in community events like Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and authentic Mexican cuisine you won’t find anywhere else in Coachella Valley. Choices range from Jalisco, a landmark Coachella restaurant that has been a favorite of many since 1980 to El Tranvia, owned by Oscar Ventura, whose grandparents once sold tacos out of a pushcart in their native Zamora, Mexico.

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is said that the tacos here will change your life. Take a trip down the street and you’ll find Las Tres Conchitas, Coachella’s very first bakery where you can purchase authentic Mexican sweet bread and baked goods. 

Shield’s Date Garden, Indio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Die-hard foodies can even book an agri-tour to get an up-close look at the fields of brightly hued fruits and vegetables that surround the city. Learn how growers cultivate their crops, many of which end up on your plate at some of the area’s finest restaurants.

Indian Waters RV Park, Indio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Equally colorful—and perhaps one of the area’s best-kept secrets—is the Coachella Walls, beautiful murals painted by local artists throughout downtown that celebrate the city’s people and history. Stroll the historic sidewalks with a self-guided tour and admire their artistry.

Worth Pondering…

You don’t go to Palm Springs in the summer unless you’re building a golf course.

—Arnold Palmer

12 Must-See Roadside Attractions for the Perfect Road Trip

All manner of strange and interesting roadside attractions are found across the country

Road trips are an unpredictable and intimate method of exploring a place. Foregoing the long-distance leaps between airports, traveling via RV presents an opportunity to view the world on a micro-level by exploring the well-traveled and off-the-beaten-path attractions.

With wanderlust and weirdness in mind, we road-tripped across the country and found the oddest, most wonderful, and puzzling roadside attractions where least expected. Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods: there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sleep in a Wigwam

Have you slept in a wigwam lately? In the arid Arizona desert, the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook still provides Route 66 aficionados the opportunity to “Sleep in a Wigwam!”

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifteen concrete and steel freestanding teepees are arranged in a semi-circle around the motel office. Each teepee is 21 feet wide at the base and 28 feet high. The teepees are painted white with a red zigzag above the doorway. If you were to focus on the front door, ignoring the quirky architecture that drew you here in the first place, you might think you’re entering a Hobbit-hole. Vintage automobiles are permanently parked throughout the property, including a Studebaker.

Related: Blow Your Mind at the Weirdest Roadside Attractions across America

Anza-Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pre-historic Creatures Stalk the Desert

The landscape of the Anga-Borrego Desert has been changed forever by the appearance of prehistoric creatures that pop up alongside the roadside: Prehistoric elephants. A saber-tooth cat. An ancient camel.

Anza-Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A T. rex and a giant bird of prey. Not the flesh-and-blood kind, but remarkable art pieces—sometimes whimsical, sometimes haunting—are the one-of-a-kind works of sculptor Ricardo Breceda whose creations delight and surprise drivers near the town of Borrego Springs in southeastern California.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One Really Big Nut

One of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The World’s Largest Pistachio was built in honor of PistachioLand’s founder, Thomas McGinn. After his passing in 2008, his son, Timothy McGinn erected the 30-foot sculpture in memory of his father. Tim wanted everyone who passed by PistachioLand to take note of what his dad created, a 111-acre pistachio orchard and vineyard started from bare desert land in 1980. From the first trees planted to today, PistachioLand now is home to over 12,000 pistachio trees and 14 acres of wine grapes. 

Related: What You Need to Know to Have a Perfect Road Trip

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghosts and Gravestones

Restless spirits have plenty of reasons to stalk the living, and regardless of personal beliefs about the afterlife, people out there are convinced they’ve seen these ghostly apparitions with their own eyes. No matter your destination, there’s bound to be someplace haunted along the way. Board the Trolley of the Doomed and hear about Savannah’s most haunted venues.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wall Drug

One of (if not the) the most prominent tourist traps has to be Wall Drug. The first time you see one of the charming, hand-painted Wall Drug signs on the highway leading to South Dakota, you’ll be charmed. By the 100th time, you’ll be confused, maybe swearing off visiting out of principle. But Wall Drug cannot be avoided if you’re on I-90, largely because it’s the last stop for fuel before/after the Badlands.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An Encounter with the World’s Largest Roadrunner

The roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the landfill.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest stop along Interstate 10, just west of the city. Signs around the sculpture warned of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000 square foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

Related: Wacky and Fun Roadside Attractions across America

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sundial Bridge

Designed by Santiago Calatrava the Sundial Bridge is an architectural marvel. The glass decked, cable-stayed cantilever suspension bridge reaches 217 feet into the sky and, spans 710 feet across the Sacramento River, and is one of the world’s largest working sundials.

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As an environmentally-conscious structure, Sundial Bridge was intentionally constructed without river footings to leave the salmon-spawning habitat below undisturbed. The deck is surfaced with translucent glass which is illuminated from beneath and glows aquamarine at night. Sundial Bridge also inspires onlookers with its “bird in flight” design, symbolizing overcoming adversity.

Hole N’ The Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More Than a Potty Stop

You’re driving down US Highway 191 (south of Moab, Utah) thinking vaguely of finding a place to pull over and stretch, maybe get some snacks, when you see, in the distance: a massive red rock face with blazing white detailing. Then you drive closer. “HOLE N” THE ROCK”. Is it literally a hole in the rock? Kinda, like yes!

Hole N’ The Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hole N” The Rock is a 5,000-square-foot home carved into the rock where you’ll also find a trading post, general store, art collection, and petting zoo—camels, zebras, albino raccoons.  You are wondering whether you can feed them, yes you can.

Related: 8 Weird and Wacky Destinations for a Family Road Trip

“WE ARE NOT YOUR DESTINATION:” explains/yells the Hole N” The Rock website, “WE ARE AN AMAZING STOP ALONG THE WAY.”

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lost Dutchman

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum is the keeper and purveyor of the colorful tales of bygone days, both true and mythical, regarding the area. Located on the Apache Trail (Arizona Highway 88), the museum is comprised of numerous outdoor structures including the Apacheland Barn and the Elvis Chapel, the last surviving structures from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a huge working 20-stamp gold mill, a historical model railroad, Western storefronts, an exhibit hall and gift shop/bookstore, and nature trail.

Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Giant Peach

You can’t miss it as you drive down I-85 in South Carolina. The Peachoid, as it’s called, is a massive peach-shaped water tower. In Gaffney, the Peachoid is more than a water tower. According to official literature, the Peachoid boldly “sets the record straight about which state is the biggest peach producer in the South. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT Georgia.”

Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Without a doubt, the best known, most photographed water tank in America. It is painted to resemble a giant peach.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corny Attraction

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs, specifically the portly porker who made his house out of straw? Perhaps he’d have been better protected if he’d used a stronger material, maybe something along the lines of corn and grain. Or maybe he should have just hired the architectural crew that built the “World’s Only Corn Palace.”

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mitchell Corn Palace, in Mitchell, South Dakota, is truly a spectacle. The massive building is comprised entirely of corn and local grains. This includes the structure, decorations, and even some impressive corn murals. The palace is so famous in the area that it plays host to a variety of events. You can even book and host your own event.

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase