California Desert Quirk – Pioneertown Motel in Southern California

On-room reservation shack is where you check-in at the Pioneertown Motel

I’ve always enjoyed the edgy vibe prevalent in California as people there just seem to march to their own beat. That is especially true of the desert movie outpost that used to be a setting for Hollywood and draw tinsel town stars by the droves. A stay at Pioneertown Motel can help you relive those days and experience the west the way it was filmed.


Entrance to Pioneertown Motel

Located in the Morongo Basin region of San Bernardino’s High Desert, historical Pioneertown was incorporated in 1946 and consists of old Hollywood storefronts used for filming westerns. Nowadays it is a living community where those who enjoy spartan settings thrive in the stark desert environs even as artists and musicians flock to the area for inspiration.

Set amidst privately and federally protected lands, a California Scenic Drive leads up to Pioneertown from Yucca Valley. Expect to enjoy music, entertainment, food, and shopping at the arts and craft shops. (Note that the shops and restaurant are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.)

But be forewarned: You need to book your stay at Pioneertown Motel as much in advance as possible as the place is popular with Californians looking for a weekend of music and frivolity. It is also extremely popular as a home base for events such as Coachella, Stagecoach Festival and the Desert Stars Festival.

The Pioneer Motel is a 20-room inn with a rustic, western décor and updated fire pits with hammocks and an outdoor bar.  Rooms are spartan spacious but decidedly with a hipster quality that grows on you the longer you stay. All rooms are air-conditioned and come with complementary WiFi.  Free bottled water is provided in the room refrigerator along with free self parking.

Bedroom at Pioneertown Motel

Once you settle in, be sure to visit the on-site revitalized Old West town built as a 1940’s movie set. Originally conceived in 1946 by a group of Hollywood investors that included Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, Pioneertown soon became the buzz for tourists and movie-makers alike and included frontier stables, saloons, and jails. Located 125 miles east of Los Angeles, the 1880s-style western town was built to film movies and television shows, with more than 50 filmed here in the 1940s and ’50s. Be sure to bring your camera.


Trading Post at Pioneertown Motel

But it’s not all about history, old western towns and facades for Pioneertown is a haven for musicians. Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace hosts a hip music scene bringing guests from hundreds of miles away to enjoy current musical tunes and dominant country & western refrains. On weekends, Pappy & Harriet’s becomes a live musical venue, with well-known singers and musicians drawing in the crowds to a usually sold-out audience. So plan ahead so as not to be disappointed. Big-name live acts have included Robert Plant and Leon Russell, while some of the contemporary bands include Iron & Wine and CHVRCHES. Pappy and Harriet’s serves up some great grub and are known for their ribs and classic Santa Maria barbecue and burgers. Sandwiches and salads are also available.

Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace is home to a thriving musical scene


Though Pioneertown Motel is in what seems to be the middle of an isolated desert, there are many other places to visit during your stay. Many tourists who visit Greater Palm Springs include a stay at Pioneertown Motel as part of their visit and include Joshua Tree, Pappy & Harriets and the Integratron. Further afield are:

Groves Cabin Theatre – 16.2 km / 10.1 mi
Joshua Tree Visitor Center – 19.2 km / 11.9 mi
Joshua Tree National Park West Entrance – 25.4 km / 15.8 mi
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail – 39.3 km / 24.4 mi
Desert Hot Springs Town Center – 39.4 km / 24.5 mi
San Jacinto Mountains – 42.5 km / 26.4 mi
Tortoise Rock Casino – 44.7 km / 27.8 mi
Desert Highland Park – 44.8 km / 27.8 mi
Joshua Tree National Park Oasis Visitor Center – 45.7 km / 28.4 mi
Palm Springs Visitor Center – 46.2 km / 28.7 mi
Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway – 48.3 km / 30 mi
Plaza Theatre – 49.2 km / 30.6 mi
Palm Springs Art Museum – 49.3 km / 30.6 mi
Agua Caliente Cultural Museum – 49.4 km / 30.7 mi
Whitewater Preserve – 49.4 km / 30.7 mi

Rates start around $195 per night during the winter high season and shoulder seasons. Check the Pioneertown Motel website for their best deals and specials. 

Motel review and all photos provided by writer/photographer Karin Leperi, who was hosted two nights at the property for purposes of reviewing the site.  Any opinions expressed are strictly those of the author.

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