Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guide by our researcher-writer, Graham Bishai.
Amargosa Opera House and Hotel ($$)
608 Death Valley Jct.; (760) 852-4441; amargosa-opera-house.com; reception open 8am-8pm
Staying in a half-abandoned Opera House in the middle of the desert? Sounds half-amazing, half-scary af, right? It skews more amazing than scary, though. In 1923, the Pacific Coast Borax Company built the place as a civic center to host the influx of miners moving to the area for borax mining. It had a hotel to host businessmen coming through to the mines, dorms for the miners, a dining room, and a recreation hall, and more. When the borax industry declined, it was abandoned until 1967, when a New York dancer stumbled upon the place. She moved her entire life to Death Valley Junction to transform the space into a hotel and opera house where she was the main performer. There are more pets living in the hotel (five) than people living in Death Valley Junction (four). The hotel is comfortable and friendly. Besides the unparalleled stargazing and the peculiarity appeal, there are no frills, nor things to do, but it’s the kind of cool that makes any history nerd’s neurons start to fire. Don’t leave without getting a tour of the opera house. And ask about the ghosts.
Rooms from $85; reservation recommended; BGLTQ+ friendly; wheelchair accessible; Wi-Fi; linens included
Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel ($$$)
51880 California Highway 190; (760) 786-2387; www.deathvalleyhotels.com/; reception open daily 24h
I promise you, in the Death Valley swelter, there is nowhere you would rather be than in a pool. Not sitting by it, not dipping your feet in, but being full-body submerged in said pool. Where can you find a pool in the remote desert? Smack dab in the middle of Death Valley, right near the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is a little village stop called Stovepipe Wells. In its hotel you can kick back and relax with its modern amenities and get really over-excited about its free coffee and cookies. It’s nothing super-duper fancy, but in a place where plain old shade is a luxury, it’s pretty much the Ritz. While some rooms might give you a view of the sand dunes, any view of the expanse before you, at sea level at the bottom of the valley, will really blow you away. If the wind doesn’t first.
Rooms from $144; reservation recommended; max stay 14 days; wheelchair accessible; linens included; WiFi; free pool for guests, public access $4
Panamint Springs Resort ($)
40440 CA-190; (775) 482-7680; www.panamintsprings.com; reception open 7am-9:30pm
If you’re down to go full-on rustic, and want to experience life in the desert like you think life in the desert is, then Panamint Springs is what you’re looking for. It’s a stop along the road, with a gas station, store, restaurant, and lodging. Calling it a town would be generous, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have what you need for a comfortable night’s rest. You can pick your level of comfort, ranging from a tent with no AC, to motel room cabins, to family bungalows. Amazing stargazing included with all of them.
Tent cabins from $35, privates from $80; reservation recommended; max stay 14 days; BGLTQ+ friendly; wheelchair accessible; Wi-Fi; linens included in rooms; pillow and sleeping bag $10/night in tents
Graham left behind the stressed-out chaos of Cambridge for the laid back life on the West Coast. A refreshing change of pace, he assumed, until the line for coffee on his first morning took 2 mins longer than he’s used to, and the Northeast nasty jumped out. Starting in Vancouver, Graham meandered south, toning his calves being a pedestrian on San Francisco’s hills and by navigating the monstrosity that is Los Angeles using just his feet and public transit (only resorting to Uber twice!) Graham’s love for the West Coast life only increased as he sat by the Puget Sound in Seattle, sipped kombucha in the crunchy cafes of Portland, climbed into a waterfall in Yosemite and stayed in an abandoned opera house in Death Valley. By the time he hit upper 80s sun of San Diego, buff calves and sun tanned, the words “West Coast, Best Coast,” almost slipped out of his mouth. Identity crisis looming, he figured it was time to go home.