Before visiting Pioneertown, I had never given much thought to how Old Western movies were created. I’d assumed there was some lot at Universal Studios in Los Angeles where all the magic happened. How else would they film Western style movies? Modern cities aren’t exactly riddled with saloons and cowboys.
Little did I know, countless Western movies since the 1940s were filmed at Pioneertown, an Old Western oasis in the middle of the Southern California desert. When we learned of Pioneertown’s existence on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, we knew we had to visit.
Pioneertown was started back in 1946 by actor Dick Curtis. Curtis created Pioneertown to serve as a production set for Western-style movies and TV shows. Since then, hundreds of Westerns have been filmed in Pioneertown, signifying the true success of this establishment.
One of the most unique parts about Pioneertown is that there are actual businesses and establishments located on Mane Street. Tourists can shop for clothing, jewelry, and gifts, and even grab a bite to eat in the main area. Unfortunately, over the years many of the businesses located in Pioneertown have closed their doors.
Located in the middle of the Morongo Desert in Southern California, Pioneertown is only a few hours from Los Angeles and San Diego yet it feels distant and remote. Less than 1,000 people live in Pioneertown, giving the area an eerie and deserted feel.
Today, Pioneertown is open to the public year-round. And while you can explore Mane Street at any time, it’s best to plan your visit during business hours so most of the shops will be open.
What To Do in Pioneertown
If you’re heading to Pioneertown, don’t expect a big bustling city with row after row of streets lined with restaurants and storefronts. The main area of Pioneertown is actually pretty small, and most of the shops are located along a single street. That being said, we highly recommend a visit to Pioneertown just to see the incredible Western style that this little town has cultivated.
One of our favorite things that we did in Pioneertown was explore the assorted shops located on Mane Street. There were a few really cute shops with jewelry and clothing, and there was even a place where you could pay a few cents to feed chickens. There is even a town jail where you can pose for pictures behind bars, and a pottery shop with dishware for sale.
Many of the shops weren’t open when we explored Pioneertown at 9 AM on a Sunday morning, so be sure to check the hours before you go. After doing some further research, it looks like noon is a pretty safe time to go on the weekends.
In addition to checking out cute shops along Mane Street, we recommend you grab a bite to eat at Pappy & Harriett’s. While this restaurant wasn’t open when we visited Pioneertown, it’s been recommended to us a few times and the reviews are great. Expect a casual barbecue-style menu, and try to plan your trip when they have live music.
If you are looking to spend a peaceful night out in the desert, then the Pioneertown Motel is the place to do it. Located right next to the main downtown area of Pioneertown, the Pioneertown Motel maintains the Old Western vibe. The rooms are all designed with cool Western style accents, though they are a bit expensive at about $180 a pop.
Also, Joshua Tree National Park is just down the road from Pioneertown. At only a 30 minute drive, we recommend you plan a visit if you haven’t been. There are a ton of great hikes and sights, including Arch Rock (pictured below). You can get all the cool things to do in Joshua Tree in our blog post: 17 Things To Do In Joshua Tree National Park.
It’s not often that you get the chance to visit an Old Western movie set out in the middle of the desert. Pioneertown is a unique gem in Southern California, worth visiting for anyone who loves history, movies, or exploring.
We recommend you plan a weekend trip out to the desert and include Joshua Tree National Park in your itinerary. Since it often gets very hot in the desert during the summer, planning your trip for the fall or Winter months will make for a much more pleasant trip.
Would you plan a visit to this Old Western town in the middle of the desert? Let us know in the comments!
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