Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The 4hr. Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
About two hours outside of Los Angeles is Pioneertown, an unincorporated burg that was once the backdrop to a movie set for around 40-50 Westerns, including the Cisco Kid.
The street is still dotted with old storefronts, some of which peddle vintage knickknacks. It’s strange yet beautiful, surrounded on all sides by mountains networked with well-trod hiking trails and huge piles of sandy boulders.
Another added bonus is that cell reception is spotty at best, which makes for easy unplugging.
Stay at The Pioneertown Motel. Formerly lodgings for the cast and crew, the motel fell in disrepair for a number of years before its recent renovation by some investors. It’s rustic. But the bed with its cowboy wool blankets and high-thread-count sheets is four star. No TV so bring books, magazines, guitars and a little stereo.
5240 Curtis Town Rd (map)
Pioneertown Mountain Preserve has over 25,000 acres of desert mountains to hike. It’s ten minutes from the motel and provides views of the San Gabriels, the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree. In fact, those Seussian trees dot this landscape, too, along with scrub brush, cactus and sage. The weather can change fast so be sure to pack sunscreen, something warm and lots of water. You’ll find maps at the ranger station.
51010 Pipes Canyon Rd (map)
Dinner and Dancing
The building where Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace stands has been there since the 40’s, but not under its current iteration. The new owners took it over in 80s, at which time it was a seedy biker bar. It’s still rustic, with antlers on the walls, humming neon, a burly bar and a small dancing area where the band plays. On the menu: Tex-Mex (nachos, quesadillas, juicy ribs and grilled salmon), microbrews and mid-shelf booze. The crowd ranges from fashion models hanging around after a shoot to families to bands waiting to play. The music schedule looks good, too.
53688 Pioneertown Rd (map)
Saturday or Sunday Brunch
Plan to get brunch at La Copine Kitchen whichever day you’re most hungover from dancing at Pappy and Harriet’s. This is a big city brunch in a small town. No knife needed short rib with fig jam. Stone ground grits with tomato confit and eggs. Cinnamon beignets. They don’t take reservations so plan accordingly.
848 Old Woman Springs Rd (map)
Crazy Coyote Tacos is a stand in Banning, just past the Morongo Casino heading back to Los Angeles. It’s cheap and the tortillas are made there. Tacos come in two sizes: large and you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-this-is-a-burrito.
13033 Malki Road (map)