My family and I just returned from the desert where we spent four nights in a plush house that we rented via Vrbo. All the details from our house rental, including its theme paying homage to a legendary travel personality, is coming soon so stay tuned!

But first, I wanted to tell you about a small town that I’ve never heard of and bet you haven’t either, though you’ve definitely seen it in movies, TV shows and commercials. In fact, while we were there on Friday, it looked like something was being filmed since I saw a lot of production trucks and staff.

Thanks to my buddy, former travel writer and Palm Springs resident, Chris McGinnis, for recommending that we visit Pioneertown on our way to check out Joshua Tree National Park. From Palm Springs, Pioneertown is just 30 miles (40 minutes without traffic) and from there, it’s just 16 miles to Joshua Tree. Pioneertown is only a four-mile detour and well worth it.

Since I knew nothing about Pioneertown, I looked it up. According to Visit California, “In 1946, Pioneertown was founded by a group of Hollywood investors, including actors Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. They dreamed of creating an Old West set that was actually a town worth visiting, with 1880s-style false-front façades but interiors that had stuff for visitors to see and do too. Up went (from the outside) frontier stables, saloons, and jails; inside, they housed ice cream parlours, bowling alleys and motels. More than 50 films and television shows were filmed here in the 1940s and ‘50s. While location shooting and businesses here have dwindled, you can still see mock gunfights on Mane Street (pun intended). But the most happening place by far is Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, with surprisingly good live music (Robert Plant and Leon Russell have played here) in a seemingly unlikely setting.”

We arrived just after 10am on Friday and there was hardly anyone around except for two couples who we later saw at Joshua Tree and a few production people. Just as the town’s website warned, during the week it’s like a ghost town. All but two of the shops were closed but I loved it and so did the kids. It was like having a Hollywood set all to yourself.

You might not want to wear your nice shoes because all the roads in Pioneertown are just like the wild, wild west. It’s just dirt and sand. Mane Street is pedestrian and horses only but there’s plenty of free parking all around. Two huge thumbs up for a quick stop. For more information check out the Pioneertown website.

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34 Comments On "The California Pioneer Town You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Should Definitely Visit"
  1. R Johnson|

    Thanks for the share on this place. It’s a definite next time stop.

  2. Dave Zuchowski|

    I wish I knew about this when I visited Palm Springs. It sounds like something right up my alley.

  3. Jane Long|

    It sounds like a charming place to visit. Thanks for the information and photos.

  4. Neal Couey|

    Another town of the Old West that is fun to visit is Calico Ghost Town, now operated by San Bernardino County. It has lodging now which is different than when I visited. It was orginally an old Silver mining town restored by Walter Knott in 1950.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thanks for the tip!

  5. Carmen S|

    I’ll be living an hour away from this place in about 2 months. Can’t wait to visit!

  6. Anonymous|

    U are a contributor to the hoards and hoards of people visiting places like this,national parks and so on.Soon there will never be a place that is less traveled

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I’m pretty sure the owners are ecstatic for publicity since it could mean they won’t have to shutdown because of no business.

    2. Anonymous|

      Look up the reason Robert Frost wrote the poem the road less travelled to find out that he was not trying to inspire cliche one liners but actually that it was regrettable!

  7. Andrew the OC traveller|

    Thanks for sharing the info on a place this native SoCal boy had never heard of, before. It sounds great – I’m definitely going to visit Pioneertown the next time I visit the desert. I’m also going to share the information about this place with my friends and relatives, so they can share in the fun, also ! Thank you for writing this article !

  8. Francine Strickland|

    I liked your article .I’ve lived in Yucca Valley for 20 years . There are rattle snakes in Our area .Tourists need to be aware of this .

  9. SUZANNE|

    It isn’t unknown at all. It is a big hangout for hipsters and influencers.Instagram is full of pictures taken there and the live music concerts can be sold out months ahead of time. So wear your granny dresses,beards and ironic hair-dos and don’t forget to post your pics with a filtered lens if you go, because the place is not unknown, and it can be crowded.

    1. Event City|

      I was just about to say the same thing!! I worked on an Apple commercial in Joshua tree and on the way back to LA stop by and it was packed, and there wasn’t even a special event there! But it’s cool to know that more and more people know about it and will help keep it alive.

      And if anyone really wants to go to a real Western Gold Country Town, one of the oldest and best preserved real Gold Country Town in California is the town of Columbia just 10 minutes outside of Sonora. Now there’s the real deal!!

  10. CRAIG j OTTO|

    I have heard about this place a couple of times. But it’s been a while, it’s out in the middle of nowhere they said , so it’s out of the way. maybe next time head to Arizona will drop by. Thank you.

  11. Janice Morrissey|

    Next time you’re in the area, make a reservation to visit the Integratron in Landers for a sound bath. Truly one of a kind experience.

    1. Anonymous|

      The sound bath is $1200 for 1 hour of relaxing while someone plays crystals. Yay for the Goop generation!
      I have no problem with people spending money on whatever, but making claims that it has “scientifically-proven healing properties” should be a criminal offense. First of all, if it in fact did have healing properties, you would merely need to record it and replay it. Secondly, sounds is literally basic physics, and super easy to measure and do a peer reviewed study on.

  12. NoH8|

    I read on line that Wynonna Judd just appeared in Pioneer Town at Pappy and Harriet’s Saloon/Restaurant recently.

    1. Rich|

      Paul McCartney played there 4 years ago. Winona did play there recently.

  13. Randall Thomas Stone|

    My wife and I visited there four years ago. We agree, definitely worth the detour. There was a little hotel with rooms to rent as well and would be fun I’d think. They’re more like primitive little cottages, but for the experience, worth the lack of amenities. There are some residents down at the west end and one in particular was an old witch for real. You’ll see the house with clumps of garlic hanging on the porch. Better to not engage her in a conversation. Otherwise, a great hangout for the day and as a photographer, was a perfect setting. Weekdays you’ll have the place all to yourself most likely, and on the weekend, just a bit more activity.

  14. Anonymous|

    Been there. Quaint movie set. Stayed overnight and the room had a terrible smell.

  15. reader2|

    If hoards of people like you stopped reading these kinds of articles, then none of this would be a problem

  16. sharon|

    love seeing this…..my husband then boyfriend lived in san bernardino……..we were there many times

  17. Judy Emling|

    Thank you Johnny for the tour of Pioneertown. I used to watch Roy Roger’s show in the early 50’s so your post brightened my day. I will peruse the website you listed.

    Beautiful family. And, so happy that your Dad is doing better.

    Judy Emling

  18. Nathan M|

    I worked for a company 25+ years ago that did the handicapped upgrades for the US Post Office and we had to dirt/pour sand colored concrete for a parking space for the handicapped along side the Pioneertown PO.
    Just checked on Google maps and looks like it is still there on the left side behind a fence.

  19. Nathan M|

    One more note had not seen mentioned, when I worked there it was either Fall or Winter and because it is higher elevation it snowed some one of the days…it is an uphill drive from Yucca Valley.

  20. Jack Engoff|

    That’s like calling Bourbon Street a hidden gem, dummy.

  21. Kristin|

    Just because a place is unknown to you, doesn’t mean it is unknown at all! Pioneertown is a very popular attraction to desert visitors. Be prepared for a long wait at Pappy & Harriet’s due to the cool vibe and regular musical talent. I’m not sure why you’d be surprised to find good music there. Then again, I’m surprised that a travel writer would be so sheltered and snobbish.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Not sure why you think I’m being snobbish. I never said I was surprised about good music there.

  22. Margo|

    Pioneertown is NOT a hidden gem! That’s like saying few people have ever heard of Coachella. Famous artists (I.e. Paul McCartney)have played to backed crowds there. If you visit Joshua Tree, most likely Pioneertown is a stop. You’re obviously not from Southern California.

  23. Kathy|

    We were stationed in 29 palms and whenever we had visitors we always went to Pioneer Town.

  24. Mark Chambers|

    We have lived in this area since 1960, and have had a place in Rimrock, for the last 35 years, just a few miles up the road, towards Big Bear. It’s always nice to read that world travelers, such as yourself Jonny, have discovered and appreciate our home, and speaking for the craftspeople, and business owners visitors are welcome. When you can, Johnny, I invite you and your family to visit, and stay at our place, (actually my neighbor) for the last 40 years, Garth’s Boulder Gardens, Google it, it’s a, “hip camp”, featuring camping, glamping, retreats, weddings, concerts, and casual visits. If you like the boulders of Joshua Tree national Park, come see and stay, some have stayed for years.
    BTW, love your weekly appearances on Leo Laporte’s, The Tech Guy, show.

  25. Scott|

    Thank you Margo. Pioneer town about as new as Daytona, Florida. Only social media scensters are showing up these days. Our beautiful Mojave desert is already full of destructive unappreciative out of Towner’s so wait a few months then arrive. Plz respect our desert.

  26. Karen|

    I was just going to say you missed a couple of pretty famous performers at Pappy & Harriet’s …….. Donovan and Paul McCartney. And, besides all that, they serve delicious food!

  27. B Latorre|

    Thanks for the article on Pioneer Town. We have been to Joshua Tree and Palm Desert many times since we live in northern San Diego County (a 2 hour trip from our home). We will definitely check it out on our next trip there!

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