15 Best Things to Do in Twentynine Palms, CA

Twentynine Palms, CA
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Embark on an adventure at the city of Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County, California.

Hints on the escapades loaded on the things to do in Twentynine Palms can already be drawn from how the city got its name.

California gold prospectors in the 1870s were said to have named the city’s current area Twentynine Palms.

These miners did so, apparently because of the 29 palm trees that surrounded the Mojave Desert oasis base of their gold prospecting and mining operations.

Previously, the Native Americans who inhabited the area referred to the oasis, its nearby spring, and surrounding hills as "Mar-rah," which means "land of little water."

Gold mining in the Twentynine Palm’s area prospered for some time, and its district came to be known as Gold Park.

Around the onset of World War II, however, mining in the area ended, as new ore deposits couldn’t be found anymore.

Be that as it may, Twentynine Palms was incorporated as a city in 1987 and has grown since then.

No doubt, the city has retained plenty of charming visitor attractions, as the following list of things to do in Twentynine Palms shows.

Explore the Joshua Tree National Park

Rock formations at Joshua Tree National Park
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Twentynine Palms hosts the main entrance to the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park and its headquarters at Park Boulevard.

Also known as the park’s North Entrance, this gateway is some 9 miles northwest of the city’s airport and accessible via the Twentynine Palms Highway.

Straddling the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, this park was named for its profusion of the region’s iconic Joshua trees bristled and twisted in their appearance.

Many visitors like this park because of its higher elevation and relatively cooler temperatures.

 Joshua Tree National Park during sunset
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The park’s most accessible section is its one-mile Hidden Valley nature trail and day-use area, where you can marvel at stark desert landscapes and rugged rock formations.

This trail enables access to a giant monolith called Great Burrito, popular among boulder-climbing enthusiasts.

The park’s scenic Hidden Valley picnic area is one good place to hang out for its large Joshua trees abundantly scattered around rock piles and huge boulders.

Dine at Adobe Road

Twentynine Palms is home to more than 20 highly rated restaurants serving an eclectic variety of gastronomic delights.

You can find many superb dining destinations along Adobe Road southward to Twentynine Palms Highway.

One excellent choice here is Arteaga’s Mexican Food, where the menu includes special burritos and tacos, as well as super nachos.

For a hearty breakfast and sumptuous lunch, you can try Cactus Trail Café, also along Adobe Road.

Another superb choice nearby along Twentynine Palms Highway is The Rib Co., a family-owned restaurant specializing not only in barbecued ribs but also lamb chops and seafood.

Play a Short Round at the Roadrunner Dunes Golf Course

This executive golf course of 9-hole play is located on Desert Knoll Avenue and is open throughout the year.

A round of play at Roadrunner Dunes Golf Course goes at 3,100 yards from the longest tees.

This par 36 course has a 35.0 rating and a 115 slope rating on Bermuda grass.

Opened in 1964, this course challenges golfers with its sharp doglegs, water obstacles, and sand bunkers, giving players the feel of a true par 72 round.

The Roadrunner Dunes Golf Course provides a driving range, chipping area, putting green, and a pro shop.

Hike to the Wall Street Mill

Crumbling Wall Street Mill
Kevin Capretti / Shutterstock.com

This is an abandoned miners’ mill that crushed ore to extract gold and silver during the heydays of mining in the Twentynine Palms area.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Wall Street Mill is regarded as the best-preserved gold mill in the Joshua Tree National Park.

It is located in the park’s Queen Valley area and can be reached via the Wonderland of Rocks Trail.

Flora near Wall Street Mill
Bill Florence / Shutterstock.com

You also have the option to use the Barker Dam Trail, which will allow you to go on a side trip to a small water reservoir that local ranchers built in the 1900s.

Certainly, this is another historic site that is worth adding to a visit to the Wall Street Mill.

The Desert Art Studio & Gallery of former Hollywood-based artist Chuck Caplinger is another unique place to visit at Twentynine Palms.

This gallery is on Wellock Road, near the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert.

The Desert Art Studio is housed right within Chuck’s dome home, which can be regarded as an artistic rendition.

In this gallery, you can appreciate how Chuck has mastered the art of portraying in murals, as well as oils on canvas, the landscapes of the desert, and their wildlife.

Also on display in the Desert Art Studio & Gallery are the portraits of desert peoples, like cowboys and Indians.

Spend the Night at the Hidden Valley Campground

Motorhome at Hidden Valley Campground
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A night camping under a starlit sky is one of the best ways to enjoy a visit to Twentynine Palms.

For this wonderful experience, many prefer the Hidden Valley Campground along Park Boulevard in the Joshua Tree National Park.

This campground offers 44 sites on a first-come, first-served basis, with fees paid upon entry.

If you miss out on the Hidden Valley slot, there are convenient alternatives nearby, such as Jumbo Rocks Campground, also on Park Boulevard.

This facility features 124 sites and, like Hidden Valley, is also in a central location with great views of the desert landscape.

People climbing the rock in Hidden Valley Campground
Gaston Piccinetti / Shutterstock.com

Still another option is the Ryan Campground, where 31 campsites are available by reservations only.

This campground is ideal for horse riders, as it is a next-door neighbor to the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

Go Stargazing at Sky's the Limit Observatory & Nature Center

If the clear evening desert sky of Twentynine Palms piqued your interest in astronomy, a night visit to the Sky's The Limit Observatory & Nature Center should be in order.

Its campus on the Utah Trail, about 4 miles from the Twentynine Palms Highway, is open to the public.

Here, you can take a walk on its Nature and Wilderness Trails, explore a solar system model, and experience its Meditation Garden.

This center’s site is at the Joshua Tree National Park, which has been named an International Dark Sky Park.

This means that the park and the center’s premises are ideal for stargazing, with minimal light pollution that is harmful to this activity.

You have to bring your own telescope, though, as the center doesn’t provide that equipment for public use.

Among the many art galleries in Twentynine Palms, one that immediately stands out is the 29 Palms Art Gallery on Cottonwood Drive off National Park Drive.

The 29 Palms Artists Guild, founded in 1951-52 and the oldest in California’s Morongo Valley, owns and operates this gallery near the Oasis of Mara.

Every month, this gallery holds an art show, as well as art receptions every first Saturday of the month.

The adobe serving as the art gallery’s home is notably a vintage residence built in 1936 for Western pulp fiction author Tom Hopkins.

The 29 Palms Art Gallery also runs a gift shop on its premises to help fund its operations.

Wander at the Oasis of Mara

Palm trees at Oasis of Mara
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The historic Oasis of Mara features a trail and a visitor center where you can learn about the Native American Serrano people, the first inhabitants of this oasis.

It’s said that it was these native Serrano folks who planted the oasis’ 29 palm trees, which eventually became the name of the city of Twentynine Palm Springs.

From these palms, the Serrano settlers were able to derive not only food but also housing materials, clothing, and cooking implements.

Hiking trail at Oasis of Mara
Sandra Foyt / Shutterstock.com

Additionally, the palm trees became the habitat for various desert creatures, such as colorful orioles and palm-boring beetles.

Later in the 1870s, gold prospectors and ranchers came to establish claims that formed a template for the development and growth of Twentynine Palms.

View Intriguing Folk Art at the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum

Display of art piece made out of old television at Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum
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This open-air desert museum is located at Blair Lane just on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park.

It displays the folk-art assemblages of the late LA artist Noah Purifoy, who crafted these pieces from an assortment of discarded items he found.

Exhibit made out of old toilet seats at Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum
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This outdoor art museum occupies a large site, stretching for about four hectares and displaying more than 100 art pieces.

Some of these are of enormous construction, and you’ll have to walk around them to fathom the messages they convey.

This you have to do as there are no titles or descriptions on each work, unlike other museums.

Theater set up at Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum
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Tour the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center

Twentynine Palms is host to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

Considered the world's largest Marine Corps training base, this center is located at the north edge of the city.

A tour of this installation takes from six to eight hours, as its participants are required to walk through uneven terrain and deep sand.

In the process though, you can learn about the history of the installation and how it trains sailors and Marines.

You’ll also be able to see sections of this installation not usually open to civilians.

The tour is for free, and you’ll only need to buy lunch at one of the installation’s restaurants.

Go for a Scenic Drive to Keys View

Desert landscape at Keys View
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There’s no need to sweat it out hiking to reach the highest point of the Joshua Tree National Park for its amazing desert and mountain vistas.

From Park Boulevard in Twentynine Palms, you can just go for a 20-minute drive up the lookout point at Keys View.

Along Keys View Road, you’ll already enjoy wonderful sceneries of desert shrubs and Joshua trees against the backdrop of rolling hills, monolithic rocks, and boulders.

At the Keys View lookout point, you’ll be standing at the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, with an elevation of over 5,000 feet above sea level.

Visitors knowledgeable about California’s geography can appreciate from Keys View the distant sights of the San Andreas Fault line, Palm Springs, and the Salton Sea, as well as Mexico on a clear day.

Hit the Greens with the Marines at the Desert Winds Golf Course

The Marine Corps Community Services runs the 18-hole Desert Winds Golf Course located at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

Opened in 1966, this par 72 layout tours at 6,908 yards from the longest tees and poses a course rating of 72.7 and a 121 slope rating.

You can rent golf clubs and golf carts in this facility, which also has a pro shop with a wide range of golf-related items for sale.

Golfers can practice at the 24/7 driving and putting a range of the Desert Winds Golf Course.

They can also access the facility’s clubhouse, where its Sand Trap Grill restaurant serves lunch and snacks.

Try Your Luck at the Tortoise Rock Casino

This Casino is located on Baseline Road between Utah Trail and Adobe Road.

The 30,000-square-foot gaming space of Tortoise Rock Casino offers seven table games, 490 slot machines, and live poker.

It also provides live entertainment as well as food and drink offerings at its bar and restaurant—Shelly’s Lounge and Oasis Grille.

The casino also hosts sports-viewing events, and on Friday and Saturday nights, it features DJ music.

On Wednesdays, it’s time for Ladies Karaoke Night specials, while Thursday nights are for slot tournaments and senior specials on Sundays.

Visit the Desert Queen Ranch

Antiquated tractor at Desert Queen Ranch
Dominic Gentilcore PhD / Shutterstock.com

This ranch is a complex of small-frame buildings built onward 1910, demonstrating the resourcefulness of the early settlers in the Twentynine Palms area.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Desert Queen Ranch is tucked in a remote, rocky canyon within the Joshua Tree National Park.

Ranch visitors will go on a half-mile walking tour lasting for 90 minutes.

It would narrate the story of the ingenuity and hard work of the ranch’s owners, William F. Keys and his family.

A homestead inside the Desert Queen Ranch.
MaryAnn Doherty, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the remote confines of the Desert Queen Ranch, you will see its ranch house, store, schoolhouse, and workshop.

The ranch has an orchard that has been replanted, and old trucks, cars, mining equipment, and spare parts remain on its grounds.

Final Thoughts

In all likelihood, you won’t run out of things to do in a visit to Twentynine Palms, especially outdoor recreational activities.

The Joshua Tree National Park alone merits a multi-day visit, given its myriad of points of interest.

The city also boasts arts and culture hotspots, while the military installation it hosts further enlivens the visitors’ picks on the things to do in Twentynine Palms.

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