Duration: 11/24/2022 – 11/30/2022

Outline: San Diego – Joshua Tree National Park – Palm Springs – San Diego

Many of my friends had recommended San Diego and they said it’s the most beautiful and comfortable city to visit or stay. I have also read a lot of travel blogs and heard praises about San Diego of their April wildflowers and family attractions. But as you know, I am not a big city fan, so this time I choose San Diego as my Thanksgiving vacation destination is just because of the warm climate and its vicinity of the Joshua Tree National Park.

We spent 7 days in total, but the first and the last day were mainly on flight. The airflow was very unstable in Sierra Forest area, so our plane experienced quite a bit turbulence. After we arrived San Diego, we drove two and a half hours to Palm Springs. We spent the 2nd day at Joshua Tree National Park, visited two attractions near Palm Springs and went back to San Diego on the 3rd day. We stayed at San Diego for the rest of days.

– Joshua Tree National Park –

We stayed at Palm Springs for the first two nights, since it’s close to Joshua Tree National Park. If you’re looking for some places even closer, think about Yucca Valley. However, compared to Palm Springs, Yucca Valley doesn’t have such amount of accommodation and restaurant options.

There are three visitor centers in Joshua Tree National Park. Two routes are recommended for one day visitors. If you’re heading to southeast or Arizona as your next stop, you could enter the park at Joshua Tree Visitor Center and exit at Cottonwood Visitor Center (2 hours drive without stop). Otherwise, you could exit at Oasis Visitor Center (1 hour drive without stop). Most of the attractions are covered by both routes.

There are couple of hiking options you could choose to experience the park[1]. For popular spots, parking is not easy to find, so arrive early. We firstly stopped at the Hidden Valley. It has a short loop for 1 mile in a rock enclosed valley. It was a secluded area and had lush vegetation, and was blasted of opening for the purpose of cattle pasturing in old days. Just across the highway, we stopped at Barker Dam as our 2nd stop. Like the hidden valley, this area was also full of greens so cattle could feed and drink clear water. However, due to the climate change, only certain vegetation survives. In order to seek for new water resources, people started to drill wells and build small dams. Today, you could see the dam but no water exists. We also hiked at Skull Rock trail. It’s a 1.7 mile loop with a rock famous for its shape like a skull, and A LOT OF people taking pictures with the rock.

Talking about Joshua Tree, it belongs to Agave family. Two desserts overlap in Joshua Tree National Park (western Mojave and southeast Sonoran), and if you see Joshua Tree, you are very likely in Mojave Dessert. Joshua trees can grow forty-plus feet high. However, determining the age the Joshua trees can be challenging since they don’t have growth rings. Typically scientists will estimate the age by calculation based on an annual growth rate of 1.5 inch. The name of Joshua came from a bible figure, Joshua. 19th century Mormons saw the outstretch as guiding their ways to southwest. People sometimes confuse Joshua trees with Mojave Yucca due to their similar appearance. One big difference is Mojave Yucca has longer and wider leaves with fibrous threads curling.[2]

– Palm Springs Area –

We visited Sunnyland Center & Garden on the 3rd morning. It’s located 20 mins east of Palm Springs. The center has two parts: the garden is free to the public and the estate offers a fee-based guided tour. It was preserved by Ambassadors Walter and Leonora Annenberg to welcome worldwide leaders to meet and discuss politics, environments, crisis, and other national and international topics[3]. The garden was inspired by Impressionism and Post-Impressionism paintings. It has an audio tour, and you can use the link to check it out. There are more than 70 species of plants in the garden. Most of them are Agave or Cactus, and they are well adapted to the climate.

On the way back to Palm Springs, we stopped at Andreas Canyon Trail. Andreas Canyon is one of the three canyons (Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon) in Indians Canyons[4]. You need to pay an admission fee to get in. The trail is a loop for only 1 mile, but it well explains my personal understanding of Palm Springs. It must have palms and also springs! The trail just followed the creek with magnificent palms and unusual rock formations. We enjoyed the first 0.5 mile of tranquil creek surroundings and later 0.5 mile of spectacular palm tree views.

– Balboa Park –

For the rest of days, we picked some attractions in San Diego to visit. One of them is Balboa Park, which is located at upper downtown area. Balboa Park was initially started to establish without a clear mission. Until 1892, Kate Sessions donated and planted trees to exchange a part of land within the park as her commercial nursery. Improvements and beautifications were then introduced in early 1900s. The name of “Balboa Park” was given by park commissioners before it was set to hold an international event – Panama – California Exposition, since Balboa was the first European to spot the Pacific Ocean while on exploration in Panama[5].

Nowadays, Balboa Park has 1,200 acres of backyards and 18 museums. Entering the park is free but most of the museums do need you to pay admission fees. You could buy a 1-day, 7-days, or an annual pass. We bought a 7-days consecutive explorer pass and I will pinpoint some experience briefly.

  • 2: Museum of US. Hostile Terrain is the ongoing exhibition when we get there. It introduced a map installation, created by the Undocumented Migration Project, to mark the deaths of undocumented immigrants from attempting to across the US-Mexican borders through more remote areas under the impact of 1994 US “Prevention Through Deterrence” force. Besides this, I also recommend another exhibition: Cannibals – Myth & Reality.

  • 4: San Diego Natural History of Museum. Expedition Baja is the ongoing exhibition. The Baja Peninsula is near the US-Mexico border, and it has a variety of landscape supporting a diverse universe of animals and plants living there. The exhibit talks about the project that scientists from US and Mexico collaborate to study and preserve this region.
  • 9: San Diego History Center. If you are looking for more details about Balboa Park history, then you don’t want to miss the short documentary “Balboa Park: The Jewel of San Diego”. The museum also offer craft beer experience.
  • 10: Fleet Science Center. Highly recommend the IMAX theater. It has the biggest screen I have ever seen so far. We watched a documentary Train Time, which offers an eye-popping experience of American landscape.
  • 11: Japanese Friendship Garden. It’s one of my favorite experience in the park. The garden design is full of Zen aesthetics and minimalism. Yokohama is the sister city of San Diego. And if you have the chance to go Convoy area, I highly recommend Yokohama Yakitori, which has the best Yakitori.

  • B: Spanish Village Art Center. It is full of art studios with few live demonstrations. It would be a great place for souvenirs shoppings. A bit of artsy taste.


We also spent one morning to visit USS (United States Ship) Midway Museum. USS Midway is an aircraft carrier and has served in the Cold War and Vietnam War. USS Midway started commission one week after the World War II, but he got the name after a major naval battle during WWII – Battle of Midway[6].

The Battle of Midway was very influential and was considered as a turning point of WWII. It took place on June 1942, six months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. As a part of their expansion plans, Japan wanted to occupy Midway Island. US navy was forewarned and prepared the upcoming war since US cryptographers were able to decipher the codes. During the war, all of four Japanese aircraft carriers were destroyed and US lost USS Yorktown but had USS Enterprise and USS Hornet intact[7]. For more details, I highly recommend you to watch Midway (2019) and Midway (1976). Some plots were slightly modified, so watching both version could provide a full picture of the history.

Above statue is called “Embracing Peace”. It’s located at the side of USS Midway, and it’s a very famous statue depicts the joy of American people upon learning WWII had ended.

– Torrey Pines National Reserve + La Jolla Cove –

We spent the last day on the costal areas. We visited Torrey Pines National Reserve. We parked at the beach area before the entrance to avoid $15 fee. Then we took a loop hike starting from the entrance and passed along several scene spots: Entrance – Flat Rock – Yucca Point – Guy Fleming – Entrance.

In the afternoon, we came to La Jolla Cove. It has a variety of sea animals, but maybe because of this, it smell so bad. We saw a lot of sea lions and seals were laying on the rocks for hours. We learned that they were trying to adjust their body temperatures as a necessity to live in the sea. For most of our time, we just wondered at the beach, enjoyed the afternoon sun, and waited for the sunset. And I have to admit, it has the most stunning sunset.

– Other Tips –

  • Most of the authentic Asian cuisine and Asian markets are located in Convoy area.
  • Westfield has many stores for shopping and had great shopping atmosphere. Haidilao was recently opened here.
  • If you want to avoid overnight hotel parking fee, then avoid booking at downtown area. Try somewhere north.
  • We skipped many other attractions like LEGOland, Sea World, Safari Zoo, etc. If you have kids and plan to visit multiple places with admissions, buy a city pass is a good option.