If the near-instantaneous sell-out of the Indio retro rock festival Desert Trip is anything to go by, then Americans are craving nostalgia now more so than ever. That, or they’re rightfully fearful that the likes of Bob Dylan and Keith Richards might not see out too many more moons. Either way, and in increasing numbers, black-top adventurers have been scouring Craigslist for Air Streams and ’50s trucks that run on canola to drive the country over in search of the perfect off-the-grid getaway and Americana experience.
Some want to relive their youth, others younger want to fulfill that inherent desire to travel back to a time when influence was in the hands of truly unprecedented artists, philosophers and musicians. And not a Kardashian. But young or old, all want to jam in as much excitement as legally - and let’s face it, illegally - possible inside of 48 hours before being forced to return to the shackles of employment. So with that in mind, here are five of the coolest vintage experiences on a budget - and with limited cell range - within two hours of Los Angeles. Well, three in traffic…
Nice work, Capt’n Obvious. Who hasn’t heard of Joshua Tree? Sure. But other than staring at endless plains of wind farms, sand and cacti a journey through Joshua Tree can be less eventful than a sample sale at Juicy Couture.
BY DAY: Hike Hidden Valley or Lost Horse Mine and solve a Scooby Doo mystery. Do a Tom Cruise impression and climb - and or jump on top of - Vector Rock or Acid Crack (a grade 5.12d climb - not a narcotic). Visit historic Keys Ranch for a taste of 19th Century living. But above all, be the hell sure to check out Pioneertown - a still standing western movie set used for countless films and tv shows since the 1940s.
BY NIGHT: Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. It’s an old school roadhouse complete with live dancing, blues bands and pool tables that create an atmosphere akin to a rowdy bar scene in Thelma and Louise, Blues Brothers or Roadhouse. Only way safer and you shouldn’t need to shoot anybody. The BBQ is legit, too. And it’s smack in the middle of Pioneertown.
WHERE TO STAY: Hicksville Trailer Palace or Kate’s Lazy Desert. Both are part of a new wave of “luxury” trailer parks, only done with some desert flair and that authentic retro vibe. Lazy Desert is owned, designed and operated by B52s singer Kate Pierson and is a combination of themed Air Streams. As for Hicksville, it’s turned everything from 19th Century carnival wagons, train carriages and trailers into vintage homes. Complete with a pool, fire pit and ping pong, it’s a genuine vintage oasis.
Un-bearable and Big Disappointment - they’re but two of the terms my mom has used to describe me. Coincidentally, they’re also nicknames given to Big Bear. But as much as we’re fans of a bad pun, Big Bear doesn’t get its fair share of kudos. This isn’t Aspen people. Hell, it’s not even Mammoth. It’s a genuine retro getaway straight out of a bad 1980s ski movie.
BY DAY: Be it summer in the lake or winter on the mountains, Big Bear has plenty of fun to offer. There are two mountains to ski and or mountainbike during the summer, plus ski boats and such for hire during summer on the lake. It’s made for outdoor adventurers.
BY NIGHT: Murray’s Saloon is so old it doesn’t have an internet presence. But it’s a go-to if you want to hear hammered locals butcher Elvis classics, and be scammed on while sipping domestic refreshments at genuine 1972 prices. And Whiskey Dave’s dive bar/dance club/pool hall is the late night venue of choice.
WHERE TO STAY: There’s a wider choice of accommodations in Big Bear than throwing-eggs at Bieber’s pad. You can rent houses, condos or chalets here and all have the 1950s log cabin vibe - literally, because they’ve not been renovated since. But it’s all part of the experience. Right?
Sunken in the hills behind Malibu, it’s so close to LA you could afford an Uber there. But there’s no fun in a roadtrip when gas station “air freshener” permeates the air and there’s only an android cable for tunes.
BY DAY: It’s beggars belief that a lake - awarded the inspired name Malibu Lake - is hidden in the mountains of Malibu. And crystal blue, too. But deadly dangerous to ingest. “Hike” Paramount Movie Ranch, a still operative western movie set from the 1940s with some 2,400 acres of trails to explore by foot, bike or steed. And when you’re done playing cowboy, hit The Rock Store diner for a refreshment. It dates back to bootleg whiskey times and plays hosts to an eclectic melting pot of two-wheel addicts from all walks of life - celebrities and peasants alike.
BY NIGHT: The Old Place. The roof is low, the bar is high, seating is tight, and drinks and meals are served in tin cups and bowls. But it’s no prison. If ever there’s been the perfect combination of old west vibes and modern comfort, The Old Place has it. It’s been around almost 50 years and dates back to the early 20th Century when it was one of America’s oldest-running post offices and general stores. It’s living history.
WHERE TO STAY: Airbnb rentals Malibu Hills Airstream or Malibu Mountain Retreat. It wouldn’t be a retro summer holiday without being uncomfortably hot and praying for breeze. But it’s worth it for the ocean and sunset views you get from the Airstream sitting atop a mountain.
You might remember Crystal Cove from that Bette Middler film, Beaches, you watched every summer with your grandmother while belting out the lyrics to Under the Boardwalk. But it wasn’t a movie set. It’s an authentic beach shack community off the PCH in between Laguna and Newport beaches that dates back to the 1920s. It originated as a summer destination for inland families upon the invention of the car, families camping for months at a time and slowly building unsanctioned permanent shacks for their return. But like Vanilla Ice’s music career, they eventually fell into a state of disrepair. Only they’ve since been lovingly restored to their former glory while Ice was arrested for theft.
BY DAY & BY NIGHT: But as of today, Crystal Cove Beach Cottages is a one-stop retro hop, complete with private beach, tiki bar, restaurants and a Ruby’s Shake Shack. Swim, surf, SUP and relax. However, bookings are harder to find than a smile on Instagram. But they do take walk-ups on Fridays.
Unlike escargot, Solvang is way nicer than the name suggests. And situated in the Santa Ynez Valley behind the Santa Barbara Mountains, Solvang’s as close to Denmark as you’ll ever get without extradition and a 12-hour flight. It’s a Danish settlement dating back to 1911 complete with myriad windmills, wineries, bakeries and a Copenhagen-style village.
BY DAY: It’s a few miles’ drive to get there, but the The Nojoqui Falls are well worth a heated argument over directions with your companion when cell range drops and Waze gives up. Because once on foot, it’s a nice hike to get to a rare freshwater swimming hole in Southern California that isn’t contaminated. And once you dry off, hit the blacktop and enjoy some refreshments at the hidden Cold Springs Tavern - a way station built back in the 1860s as a stagecoach stop.
BY NIGHT: The Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez with adjoining dance hall - because why not? - is the perfect place to get your Cotton-Eyed Joe on if you don’t mind your beer domestic and music western. Dollar notes on the roof, and peanuts on the floor, the only thing that’s changed since the 1960s are the kegs.
WHERE TO STAY: There are any number of nice hotels to stay in Solvang itself but if it’s a genuine pioneer experience you’re after, the 1880 Union Hotel some 20 minutes up the road is the pick. A Victorian-style wooden hotel, it was built as a Wells Fargo Stagecoach stop back in - you guessed it - 1880 and still offers nice rooms, decent dining and fine ales.