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Take a road trip to Indio... in October

An exterior shot of The Saguaro Hotel, one of the (aesthetic) pit stops on my road trip to Indio.
(Sara Butler/PACIFIC Magazine )

Coachella and Stagecoach Festivals may be postponed until October, but you can still plan out a future road trip from home during self-quarantine.

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So, by now you’ve heard the crappy news: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach Festival won’t be happening this month. We know, it sucks. The music-filled weekends, which usually kick off the festival season, have been postponed until the fall due to health concerns.

But what if you’ve already booked your Airbnb in Indio for April? Or taken the days off work? Do you just throw in the bandana and give up the trip?!

Well... when we went to print, we suggested to still take the road trip in April despite the festival postponement. However, due to the recent “shelter-in-place” restrictions now in effect throughout the state, we encourage you to stay home instead.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your free time in self-quarantine to daydream about October’s festivals, and consider turning that excursion into a road trip. Back in March, I planned a route from downtown San Diego to the festival city of Indio that you can take, and actually made the trek with my family to test it out.

Read on, festival grievers, and let the (planning) adventure begin.

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Diamond Valley Alpacas

28736 Warren Road, Hemet, diamondvalleyalpacas.farm

We weren’t planning on stopping until Cabazon, but about an hour into the trip we started to get a little antsy in the car. So we searched our maps and found the zaniest pit stop: an alpaca farm. Perfect for emotional support at the beginning of the long day ahead. And think of the Instagram posts!

Turns out, it’s a much smaller operation than I envisioned. The map address takes you off the freeway into a tiny residential area, then down an intimidating dirt road to an unassuming, one-story home. There’s no signage, and our car was greeted by two barking (but friendly) dogs. We pulled over in front of the house and called the number on the website — only to find out you need to schedule an appointment to see the alpacas. Oops.

So if you want to hang with alpacas, just be sure to call ahead of time (909.563.0310) so they know you’re coming. Also, admission is $15 per person, so make sure to bring cash.

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Hemet Maze Stone

23519 California Ave., Hemet, alltrails.com/trail/us/california/hemet-maze-stone

Rather than stretch your legs at a boring old gas station, consider a short hike. The trail is tucked into the hills at the end of California Avenue — a road of ranches with the cross streets literally named Dirt Road 1, 2 and 3 — and would be easy to miss. But park by the gate and walk up a small hill to be greeted by a prehistoric treasure: a rock.

Called the Hemet Maze Stone, the rock is actually a petroglyph discovered in 1914. The creator of the rock art is unknown, but a quick Google search offers two major theories: one connects it to Chinese travelers in the 1400s, and the other links it to indigenous Californians.

Unfortunately, due to the swastika-like maze design, the rock was defaced with the Nazi symbol in the 1930s. The now-installed double gates around the rock make it a little harder to see. But it’s still an interesting piece of history to experience, and the hike views are surprisingly breathtaking.

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Desert Hills Premium Outlets/Cabazon Outlets

48750 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, cabazonoutlets.com

This outlet mall is like Disneyland for shoppers. Seriously, you could devote an entire day to exploring these grounds. When we arrived, I was so overwhelmed with how many stores there were — like Balenciaga, Paige and Reformation — that I actually ended up leaving. (And coming back on the way home instead, when we had more time and weren’t chasing daylight.)

If you want to get the full experience, make sure to start the road trip early. Like, really early. And to save time, browse the outlet website on the drive beforehand and search the store directory so you know exactly where you wanna go. Who knew a stop on a road trip would require almost as much planning as the trip itself?!

However, the theme-park sized outlet mall makes it the perfect place to find a festival outfit. (Even if you have to save it for the fall …) Not only are the options endless, but the prices are great, so you can save money for the rest of the trip. Plus, you’ll have your whole crew along for second opinions.

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Hadley Fruit Orchards

47993 Morongo Trail, Cabazon, hadleyfruitorchards.com

After the outlets, you’re gonna want some sugar to perk you back up for the drive. May I suggest a date shake? Hadley Fruit Orchards, home to the infamous milkshake featuring dates, is just up the road from the outlet mall. Inside, there’s a small café as well as a modest-sized grocery store.

Admittedly, I thought I would have a spit take with my date shake (I’m not an adventurous eater; my editor made me try it in the name of journalism), but, boy, was I surprised. It’s hard to describe the taste, but I definitely didn’t notice any dates in there. The milkshake is also very rich, so be prepared to share it, save it or suffer a stomachache on the rest of the ride. (We ended up splitting it three ways, which was plenty filling.)

After the shake, stock up on road trip snacks at the grocery store next door. In addition to things like boxed water (you know, essentials), they also have the most date-related items available in Southern California. (That’s not an actual fact, but I’m willing to bet I’m right.) And if dates aren’t your thing, they also have stuff like chili-flavored pineapple and beet chips.

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Cabazon Dinosaurs

50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, cabazondinosaurs.com

You’ve likely seen these guys on social media (or in the 1985 movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). They are huge dinosaurs — Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex — made of steel and concrete, randomly placed off the freeway near two fast food joints. Weird, right?

A guy named Claude Bell, who was a sculptor and theme park artist, actually constructed the dinosaurs back in 1964 to attract more customers to his restaurant. Though his family sold the property in the ’90s after Bell’s death, Dinny and Mr. Rex remain.

The site is a great place to hop out, stretch your legs and snap some photos for Instagram. Though there is no longer a restaurant, the site has actually turned into a creationist museum with literature (that claims dinosaurs still exist) and additional dinosaur sculptures. However, the museum costs $13 to enter, so unless you’re intrigued (or trying to kill time), I’d stick to hanging with Dinny and Mr. Rex.

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Harborside Cannabis Drive-Thru

66205 Paul Road, Desert Hot Springs, shopharborside.com/harborside-desert-hot-springs

Sure, you can buy weed in San Diego, but if you wait until Desert Hot Springs you can experience something you probably didn’t know you wanted: a cannabis drive-thru. Right off the freeway, Harborside Cannabis Drive-Thru is easy to find. The building surrounded by desert terrain, with only a gas station and Jack in the Box in sight.

So how does it work? Just pretend you’re going through the Jack in the Box drive-thru. We drove around to the back of the building and followed signs to the window, where we found a dude behind the (bulletproof) glass. Next to him is a condensed menu, which he’s more than happy to answer any questions about.

He opened a metal box, where we placed our IDs (everyone in the car needs to provide one). Once our IDs checked out, I ordered from the condensed menu posted. (If you’re looking to buy something specific, they have an expanded selection in their physical storefront. Plus, he told us you can order ahead of time and pick up your goods in the drive-thru later.) After handing him cash through the box, I received a white bag with my goods stapled down with all of our IDs inside. Easy peasy.

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The Saguaro Hotel and Ace Hotel & Swim Club

1800 East Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, thesaguaro.com/palm-springs

701 East Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, acehotel.com/palmsprings

No road trip to Indio is complete without a stop in Palm Springs. And in the name of luxury — and Instagram posts — we decided to check out some of the hotels. Head down East Palm Canyon Drive and you’ll be greeted by two *trendy* options: Saguaro Hotel and Ace Hotel & Swim Club.

Both hotels have an aesthetic restaurant and bar open to the public, as well as a pool that you can buy a day pass to (depending on hotel occupancy). And you can even just stop by for a photo shoot — this is the perfect influencer stomping ground. Sagauro has endless palm trees and vibrant rainbow walls, while Ace boasts a very rustic and boho-chic vibe. There are enough interesting backdrops to fill an entire Instagram grid — just be sure to get there before the sun sets.

And if you get there late and are too tired to continue the trip, stay the night and recharge for the last stretch to Indio. (We didn’t, but definitely were tempted to book a room once we got there.)

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Dinner in Indio

Ah, sweet arrival! Before checking into your hotel or Airbnb, grab a bite to eat. There are numerous restaurants in Indio, with most of them located in strip malls and plazas. (So don’t expect a lot of fine dining.)

After some Yelp research, we decided to try out Soul de Mexico, mainly because the photos online showed some interesting décor. While the food wasn’t anything to write home about, the strip mall restaurant did boost a surprisingly hip vibe with Southwest-style chairs, large murals and tribal masks that hung on the wall.

But to be honest, it doesn’t really matter if you choose Soul de Mexico or another spot to eat. We suspect that after the long journey, you won’t be too picky.


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