For #ThrowbackThursday yesterday, I posted the first of this two part series I wrote for Fat Girl Food Squad last year, offering money saving tips for road tripping around Southern California and beyond. We’ve just arrived in Joshua Tree and if you’ve spent any time in our social media, you know it’s our be all, end all. Onward to sound baths, mystical hikes and romantic sunsets!
Don’t miss part one, which left off with Ron and I not dying in the middle of the desert at night, and actually arriving at our Yucca Valley Airbnb in one piece.
The first time we stayed in this area we had the most delightful time living out of an artist’s goat farm, feeding the cuties hard boiled eggs and chasing them around the property was absolutely the best. This time however, we needed something quick and cheap and lucked the heck out on this one bedroom apartment. Built and operated by the owner of The End vintage clothing store, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t booked. This place was about $100/night and we had a full kitchen, bathroom, a little deck, free parking, and free wi-fi. It was so close to everything and we popped over to the local grocery store and bought groceries to make all of our meals while we were out there. I wanted to move in and never leave, it was heaven!
A lot of our favourite activities in this area happen to be almost free. We spent a whole day hiking in Joshua Tree National Park and the only money we spent was the $10 park fee at the front gates. As the ranger handed us the payment receipt to tape to the windshield he said “you’ve got seven days to find your way out” like we were all in an expensive miniseries and Ron and I were driving to certain death. I felt like Indiana Jones.
Maybe that adventurous energy stirred something inside of me because I had an explosion of inner joy and body love, resulting in me doing a touch of topless hiking among the joshua trees. As Ron was taking a picture, the largest hare I have ever seen in my life jumped from a bush that was too close to us and bee-bopped over a hill. It was bigger than a medium-size dog. It was magic.
Next up: The Integratron. Speaking of magic, this is the part of the trip when the stars aligned and we somehow got an appointment at the coolest place ever, which usually books up months in advance. We first visited the Integratron two years ago and it’s safe to say that it changed our lives. Built in the 50s on a geomagnetic field, it was intended to be a vessel for communicating with aliens and also time travel. Currently it’s being used for sound therapy, ideal in the perfect acoustics on the second floor. The last time we were here we went for a private sound bath (DO IT) which for the two of us cost $250 for one hour. To us, it was worth it and we actually brought our rolled coins from home to the bank before we left so we’d have a chunk of money to spend on this experience guilt-free. To our disappointment we didn’t have enough time to book a spot, but were directed to a group pop-up session that was happening while we were in the area. It cost us ONLY $25 each and it was still soul-nourishing plus we got to meet some fun new weirdos and have a bit of extra dough for later. WIN WIN WIN.
I also want to quickly mention that if you’re out here and you are in a rental car with all of the insurance, please drive very slowly and with incredible caution off-road to the sacred Giant Rock, the Integratron folks with tell you how to get there. It is the largest free-standing boulder in the world, people think it’s an alien hot spot, and it’s the most rewarding feeling to reach this amazing mass after a lengthy patch of driving where you’re convinced the wheels are going to fall off your vehicle. If you’re driving a Jeep or truck or something, you can remove pure terror from the experience because you’ll probably be fine.
After saying a dramatic and reluctant goodbye to Yucca Valley, we hit the desert roads again with one mission: don’t stop until we get to Salvation Mountain. It’s been a dream of mine to visit this place for over a decade, even though I’m not a religious person. The sheer amount of creative force and dedication that went into this place is awe-inspiring, and it comes as no surprise that people have likened a visit to this place as a sort of pilgrimage.
Perpetually in a dust stormy state, it was a real Mad Max scene out here. Salvation Mountain is in a lawless area known as Slab City, “the last free place on earth” where you will 100% see things that you have not seen before. As we were driving we caught a glimpse of a small group of people building what looked like a space ship out of maybe a shed and pieces of a trailer. They were living around the structure in tents, some of which were blowing away and no one cared. I still can’t believe we finally made it out there and it was maybe my favourite day of the whole trip.
It’s absolutely free to go there and walk around inside the mountain, you can even bring a small trinket or a memento to leave inside. The place was full of visitors, including a couple from Japan who were getting married at the top of the mountain as we walked up to it.
A heads up that there is a U.S. check point when you’re driving out of here, you have to stop and show your passport and maybe answer a few questions. And as always, gas up, bring some food and a ton of water, just in case.
No matter which route you take to Salvation Mountain you’ll probably have to drive past the Salton Sea. Please take a moment to check out this strange and wonderful (and maybe a little stinky) place. Decades ago it was going to be the next Palm Springs but an environmental disaster poisoned the human-made body of water and the resort town imploded. Some people never left and efforts are being made to salvage this place but there are still a ton of abandoned hotels and intriguing places to look at. I highly recommend checking out this documentary narrated by John Waters(!) that tells the Salton Sea’s wild story.
After being relatively off the grid for a while it felt really foreign and weird and actually a bit wrong driving into L.A. It was nice to be greeted with a friendly face as we met up with one of my favourite Instagram buds, who recommended that we eat some California Donuts in Koreatown. My matcha green tea donut was out of this world, and the never ending late night line up is a testament to the deliciousness of these sweet treats. No excuses for not visiting if you’re in the area, this place is open 24 hours and I think my donut was under $1.50.
We spent way too much money on a crappy hotel in L.A. because we didn’t have enough time to book something decent, so we threw some more money into the fire and had breakfast at IHOP before hitting the road again. It was obviously great.
The next leg of the trip was the prettiest. We drove straight up Highway 1 to my dad’s place in Santa Cruz, stopping to blow kisses at the elephant seals in San Simeon and skipping the Hearst Castle (it’s expensive to get in but there’s a free and cool museum that you can stop at plus bonus clean washrooms) to get to our dreamiest destination in time: Big Sur at sunset. It got cheesy. We had been upgraded at no cost in Vegas to this Mustang convertible and we put the top down and slow danced to Will Sprott on the edge of the continent and I will remember that forever.
The final week of the trip was spent with family before we headed up to grab our flight home in San Francisco. Ron and I took the red eye because it was the cheapest and to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be even though I didn’t sleep a wink.
A final money saving tip: we did this whole three week trip with one small suitcase, only a size up from what you can take as a carry-on. Notoriously an over-packer who preps for every possible disaster scenario, it was so worth it to get over the anxiety of living with almost nothing and go for it. Ron and I packed clothes that we both could wear, like a hoodie, some basic tees, and a cardigan. Even with the few clothes we brought there was still stuff that never came out of the suitcase and we only did a small load of laundry once. We saved a ton of money on baggage fees and the stuff that would have put our bag overweight at the airport we shipped back to ourselves using USPS. It was like opening a little treasure chest when it finally arrived.
Hope this was helpful, I think the best way to save moolah while on the road is avoiding restaurant eating and being smart about where you stay. California is so gorgeous you hardly need to spend a cent on touristy things, the environment is vast and diverse and gorgeous all on it’s own. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions about our California road trip, I’d be happy to answer!
*This post first appeared on FatGirlFoodSquad.com, you can see the original post here.