Casa Luisa, a Fil-Am’s getaway in Joshua Tree, CA
Casa Luisa’s living room, perfect for hanging out and relaxing after a long day’s hike | Photo courtesy of Joel Oconer
ABOUT two hours outside of Los Angeles’ congestion and bustle is Joshua Tree, a nature getaway welcoming to any type of visitor, whether the adventure seeker, mindful meditator, or family in need of a digital detox.
In preserving the small town, undeveloped ambiance of Joshua Tree, you won’t find big hotel chains so renting an Airbnb has become an option for guests in recent years.
One of the newer Airbnb options is Casa Luisa, a one-story home that can accommodate up to 10 guests with ample space for lounging and partaking in activities, such as BBQing, swimming and hot-tubbing, starting a camp fire, or clear stargazing.
Casa Luisa comes from the vision of Joel Oconer, a Filipino doctor prior to migrating to the U.S. in 2000, who is currently based in Los Angeles. He finds short term rental entrepreneurship both enjoyable and rewarding as a part-time job while working full time in the Medical Research Field as a Clinical Research Associate. He is part of a team in Gene Therapy study currently and Mental Health. He chanced upon this property as an investment and passion project. Named after his mother and their special mother-son bond, Oconer spent a year renovating and creating the space as his own before opening it up to Airbnb renters in May of 2019.
Since May, Casa Luisa has been enjoyed and raved about, receiving a 4.98-star rating, as of this writing with the top three comments from 50 guests who mentioned “Sparkling Clean”, “Amazing Amenities” and Outstanding Hospitality.” Oconer is also rated as a ‘Superhost,’ meaning he has provided guests with superior attentiveness and maintains his standing that is assessed every three months with rigorous standards. From the time of booking to check out, Oconer is responsive and accessible to answer any questions about the property or to provide recommendations for meals and activities, as this writer experienced during a recent trip in early December.
Upon entering the property — located near the main highway going into Joshua Tree, but far enough to have some quiet — guests come through a secure front yard that contains a plant garden, fire pit, hot tub, swimming pool, and a covered sitting/dining area. The overall decor of the front yard is reflective of Oconer’s craftsmanship and knack of going to flea markets. The entire fire pit area, for example, is adorned with metal and wood fixtures, from birdhouses to lanterns, that Oconer designed and made himself or with the help of artisans. By the pool, he constructed a cabana lounge made of Capiz shells native to the Philippines (and from his hometown Samal, Bataan) and a custom-made bamboo bench that reminds him a lot of the time he spent in the ricefields when he was young.
On the west side of the house, there’s another gated patio with more dining space, a BBQ grill and a ping pong table (his favorite sport that he played with his brothers growing up) for further enjoyment.
Inside the house, guests are immediately greeted by the living room, kitchen and dining area as the main entertainment spaces. Casa Luisa has been designed by Oconer to be a Smart Home, where guests will be pampered by technology from the very high-speed Mesh Wifi to Alexa voice-controlled assisting for music, lighting and general questions. There’s a 55-inch flat-screen TV equipped with Apple TV and Chromecast, perfect for turning on a movie while cooking or hanging out. The kitchen is equipped with the necessary appliances as well as dishes and silverware so guests don’t have to worry about having to bring those.
Down the hallway, you’ll find three spacious bedrooms to serve as the guests’ (for up to six) resting places, as well as two full bathrooms. The house can also fit three rollaway beds, a blow-up queen mattress and a futon upon request.
This level of hospitality — as many Filipinos are keen to share and are known for — is an essential part of the experience Oconer wants to create at Casa Luisa. It’s also a humbling story of the ‘American Dream,’ as Oconer is quick to share his migration story of coming to the U.S. with just $200 in his pocket.
“I see my mom as the epitome of warm Filipino hospitality to all, of giving importance to family, the value of helping others (the ‘Bayanihan’ spirit) working together as a community to achieve a common goal and that this house is built on that value along with love and harmony,” Oconer shared. The Casa Luisa logo, as with the other rope decor in the house, is also reflective of this, he added.
The fortunate thing about being in Southern California is that at any time of year, Joshua Tree is an open destination — from moderate temperatures and blooms in the spring to desert climate in the summer to crisp, colder air in the fall and winter.
Be it a family reunion or spiritual quest, Casa Luisa is a fitting accommodation no matter the purpose of the trip.
From Los Angeles, take I-10 east to Calif. 62 (Twentynine Palms Hwy.) to Twentynine Palms (about 140 miles total). Casa Luisa in Joshua Tree, California can be booked on at http://www.casaluisajoshuatree.com. Rates range from $150-300 a night depending on season. Good for up to 10 guests.
THINGS TO DO WHILE STAYING AT CASA LUISA
Joshua Tree National Park
A trip to Joshua Tree must include a visit to the National Park. As a guest of Casa Luisa, Oconer lends a park pass good for one vehicle.
One factoid going in is that the ‘Joshua Trees’ — which are abundant in the park and around town — are actually not trees, but plants also known as yucca brevifolia. As the story goes, the species got their name in the 19th century when Mormon travelers thought the plants looked like Joshua, a Biblical figure who had his hands to the sky in prayer, hence the name today.
This past October was the 25th anniversary of Joshua Tree National Monument being elevated to national park status in Oct. 1994. All 790,636 acres of the area had been designated as a national monument in 1936 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Park staff maintain 93 miles of paved roads and 106 miles of unpaved roads, nine campgrounds with 523 campsites and two horsecamps, and 10 picnic areas with 38 picnic sites. There are 32 trailheads and 191 miles of hiking trails throughout the park.
Some “must-sees” include Intersection Rock and Old Woman Rock in the Hidden Valley area; Skull Rock; and Arch Rock along Pinto Basin Road. As you’ll truly be out in the desert, cellphone reception may be spotty, so planning your destination and route before you enter is crucial.
This may sound intimidating, however, the park has trails for any duration or fitness level, ranging from easy to advanced, or any purpose, whether you want to get that “Insta-worthy” shot or admire the flora and fauna. Besides hiking, nature photography, catching the colorful sunset and stargazing are equally popular recreations to do inside the park.
‘Downtown’ Joshua Tree
Casa Luisa is conveniently located less than a five-minute drive (or about a 15-minute walk) to the town’s main thoroughfare. Though, don’t expect a shopping strip with big retail stores or fast-food restaurants, as again, it’s about supporting local and preserving the town’s quaintness. Along Twentynine Palms Highway, you can find local market Joshua Tree Health Foods to stock up on necessary provisions for your stay; art galleries featuring local and visiting artists; antique and bookstores; cafés that use local ingredients or serve up traditional comfort food classics. On Saturdays, you can stop at the certified Farmers Market to pick up local ingredients for a meal back at Casa Luisa. Other notable stops include Joshua Tree Saloon, open for every meal of the day and late enough for live music, karaoke and a night on the town, and Pappy & Harriet’s, which is a bit farther from the main town.
A stop at the outlets and casino
Most Filipinos love outlet shopping and testing out their luck at the casino so it’s a must to include the nearby CabazonOutlets and Morongo Casino, which are accessible along the I-10 as pit stops on the way back to LA. They can also be part of a day trip while staying in Joshua Tree, as they are only less than an hour drive. The more touristy Palm Springs is another nearby destination from Joshua Tree about 45 min to an hour away.
Christina M. Oriel is the Managing Editor of the Asian Journal Weekly Newspapers.