Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown, Yucca Valley, California: The real western movie set you can stay at with world-class live music

A town that was developed during the 1940s to be a real set for western movies also has one of the most legendary music venues in the world.

And during the Coachella music festival, some of the world's biggest bands play its 1000-capacity outdoor stage.

Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace is an intimate venue in the middle of the desert in the Coachella Valley and the bands play outdoors as stars twinkle overhead in the warm skies.

Recently, Paul McCartney played a concert for a mere 300 guests. During this year's Coachella festival, bands Glass Animals, Future Islands and Car Seat Headrest were among the acts to grace its stage.

The Palace is renown for its fantastic mesquite barbecues and Tex-Mex food, but it also has a great bar, with friendly staff and interesting locals (including Josh Homme, from Queens of the Stone Age, who lives nearby).

If you're heading to Joshua Tree via Palm Springs, you might miss the turn-off for Pioneertown, off the Twentynine Palms Highway, which is lined with hip-looking vintage stores worth a peruse and Frontier, a popular cafe.

The road dips over desert hills for about 15 minutes until you reach Pappy and Harriet's. Behind it lies Pioneertown, which consists of one dusty, dirt street – Mane Street. Pioneertown is essentially a fake 1880s frontier town – and an Instagrammer's dream – featuring a deserted bowling alley, a sheriff's office, a couple of barns with hay bales decorating the entrance, and the Pioneertown Gazette office.

There are huge saguaro cactuses, wagon wheels, barrels, saddles, train carriages, and even a town jail. But beyond the fakery is a strip where people actually live – retirees and artists, mostly.

Behind the saloons, post offices and stables were real ice-cream parlours and motel rooms, for this used to be a real working set for western movies and television shows during the 1940s and '50s. Kind of like the Universal Studios backlot or a touristy Californian "ghost town", but a lot less cheesy, as the set was designed so that artists could live here while they were working on set.

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It was opened in 1946 and more than 50 films and television shows were filmed here. Gene Autry taped his shows at the bowling alley. You won't see many movies filmed here today, but if you show up at the right time, you may witness a mock gunfight.

If you're coming for a show at Pappy and Harriet's, the recently restored Pioneertown Motel is a great hotel with small rustic rooms that offer guests a serene getaway in the desert. Originally built for the biggest movie stars of the 1940s, the rooms have been restored to reflect the town's history, each with its own cowboy theme, including cow hides on the floor, raked ceilings, potted cactuses, and at night, it's lit with fairy lights. There are no shops, so breakfast is served at the nearest cafe – Frontier, or at revered brunch restaurant, La Copine Kitchen, in Yucca Valley – a 20-minute drive away.

The town attracts artists so you'll find unusual teepees and gardens or even houses behind the old facades further north on Mane Street. The locals have been attracted to the place for its solitude and the desert landscapes.

The road to Pioneertown has been designated a "scenic highway". It winds its way through craggy desert peaks topped with those famous yucca trees, which the neighbouring Joshua Tree National Park is renown for. Amazing sunrises and sunsets fill the desert skies.

But the main drawcard is Pappy and Harriet's, which used to serve as a cantina for the westerns filmed here.

It was bought in 1972 and for the following 10 years was known as The Cantina – an outlaw biker burrito bar – whether it served actual outlaws is anyone's guess. The owner's daughter Harriet, and her husband Pappy, took over ownership in 1982 and turned it into a more family-friendly establishment with food and live music. The name was changed to the more welcoming Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace.

When Pappy died, Harriet sold the bar and the future looked grim for Pioneertown Palace until 2003 when two fans from New York took over the place and turned it into the legendary indie venue it is today, where bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend play to more intimate crowds than those at Coachella.

And even when there are no major acts, people drive big distances for the palace's weekly open mic night.

"There was one girl that freaked everyone out by eerily sounding like Janis Joplin," one local said.

"Then another night, Peaches played and started singing crazy stuff and alarmed some of the older folks in the area. Sometimes it can get noisy so you might want to send your kids to bed with Tylenol."

Pioneertown is a 40-minute drive from Palm Springs. Stay at the historic Pioneertown Motel if you want to experience one of Pappy & Harriet's legendary live shows.

The writer visited as a guest of Greater Palm Springs.

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FLY

Qantas and Virgin fly to Los Angeles daily; virgin.com.au; qantas.com.au

To get to Pioneertown via Palm Springs, it's easiest to hire a care from LAX. Hertz.com; Alamo.com; rentalcars.com

EAT

Pappy & Harriets, 53810-54260 Skyline Road, Pioneertown; pappyandharriets.com

STAY

Pioneertown Motel; 5420 Curtis Road, Pioneertown; pioneertown-motel.com

See also: Seven of the must-see sights around Palm Springs

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