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California desert -- lodging and eating recs please

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We are planning a trip East from LA between Christmas and New Years, wanting to spend some time exploring the California desert. By this we DON'T mean the Big towns like Palm Springs as much as the "real desert." It will be a first time for us, so all your recommendations are welcome. Our ultimate destination will be more determined by the other amenities (lodging, dining, what to do).
We'd like to be able to hang out at a place where we can really relax (though not too expensive please) place and do day or half-day trips from there. Chains are not our style! As well, we like to explore new/interesting places to eat and while we don't expect haute cuisine there, an area with some fun (and good!) eating places nearby to check out would be a definite selling point! Hot tubs or hot springs, interesting places to hike/walk to, desert wildlife and plant life, antiquing and junking are also of interest.
Many thanks in advance for your suggestions.........................

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  1. Take a look at Shoshone, south of Death Valley -- a very interesting spa hot springs funky motel and apparently a very good cafe "C'est si bon". However, this is not a travel or hotel forum so your post may well disappear - back to food only we are heading out to Death Valley too and I will report back on what we find to eat, including a trip to Shoshone to try this C'est si bon" place.

    1. Please remember the focus of Chowhound is finding great food and drink. Posts that do not discuss food or drink will be removed. Lodging and general tourist discussion would be better suited for another forum, other than Chowhound.

      1. Try the ribs at Pappy & Harriets in Pioneertown outside of Joshua Tree (excellent hiking)... Their chili rocks as well. Good music is another benefit. Prime Rib at The Crowbar Cafe in Shoshone...

        3 Replies
        1. re: Maggie19

          The Crowbar looked busy in Shoshone, more of a substantial and traditional offering than C'est si bon" which looked very tiny and a bit eccentric - felt like one might get a bit trapped in a hard sell artsy sort of place, rather than a commercial restaurant. I'd opt for the Crowbar if we come back that way again.

          1. re: glbtrtr

            We went to C'est si bon several years back, and though it was indeed eccentric, the food was pretty good. We had some fresh fruit crepes and a black bean salad. All very tasty and competently prepared, and (like Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining), far better than anyone has a right to expect for a restaurant out in the middle of nowhere. No hard sell (or any sell) on the art.

            1. re: Steve Green

              The C'est si bon" had both an open sign and a closed sign when we went past. Talk about eccentric mixed messages. With that little care for its customers, we gave it a pass.