Over the years, we’ve visited the surrounding area of Joshua Tree multiple times. Located in the Southern California Desert, less than an hour away from Palm Springs, the town of Joshua Tree is a gateway to Joshua Tree National Park.
Its proximity to LA, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix means it has become a popular short break getaway location. The area has also attracted artists and creative types who over the years have created several art installations and quirky attractions.
Whether you are longing to go Boho in the Mohave Desert or explore Joshua Tree National Park, there’s one unique roadside attraction that is a must-do for hair and beauty lovers whether you need a haircut or not.
Salon and Beauty Museum Largest of its Kind
The Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum is hard to miss with its pastel pink and blue exterior set against the Southern California desert landscape. But don’t let the exterior fool you. This is much more than just a normal beauty salon.
It’s a labor of love for owner Jeff Hafler. He’s turned this apartment built in the 1940s into a hair and beauty museum with more than 3,000 vintage beauty items.
“I was 20, thinking ‘I’m going to build a beauty museum’ and so here I am living that dream.” -Jeff Hafler
“When I started collecting in 1991, the internet didn’t exist, so you couldn’t Google a beauty museum. I had just never heard of one. I was 20, thinking ‘I’m going to build a beauty museum’ and so here I am living that dream,” Jeff said.
Jeff explains the vast collection first started with old hair dryers and hair products. However, the project quickly grew into anything related to the hair and beauty industry. He still has the first item he received – a Le John hair dryer from the 1940s that still works. It has a place of honor on a spinning pink platform in the middle of his shop.
“That was a gift from my friend, Pamela, when I started beauty school in 1991. Her and I were thrift shop buddies, so she knew what I liked and she bought me that hair dryer. That’s what started the whole thing. I’ve just been collecting ever since.”
History Lover Turned “Hairstorian”
The Beauty Bubble is like stepping into a time capsule. Jeff says there’s so much stuff, even his regular customers notice something new each time they come in.
The walls are filled from top to bottom with framed hair advertisements, glass cases full of old styling tools and products, posters, records and even toys. Surrounded by these thousands of beauty artifacts, it’s no surprise to hear Jeff has always had an interest in the past.
“I loved history and I ended up in beauty school just kind of on a whim because I qualified for grants that paid for the entire education. When I was a kid, I thought I’d be an archaeologist, but instead I’m a ‘Hairstorian.’ Now they call me America’s ‘Hairstorian.’”
Jeff says the museum is built off of saving things that may otherwise have been discarded. By piecing together this collection, he’s saved both the ordinary and extraordinary items from being lost forever.
“It was things that I was saving from the landfills.” -Jeff Hafler
“If you got a new hair dryer, you throw out the old one. If you didn’t use all of a shampoo, you’d pitch it. Or if grandma passed away and you went to clean out her bathroom, more than likely all that stuff would get thrown out. It was things that I was saving from the landfills,” Jeff explains.
The Beauty Bubble’s Fun and Quirky Items
Jeff shows us around the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, taking us to a few of his favorite items. One is a hair dryer that even has its own holster on the wall – the Magnum Gun hair dryer. “This is our protection. If somebody tries to rob the Beauty Bubble, I just stand here and hide the cord,” he laughs.
There are also old hair dryer chairs from the 1960s with clear, plastic covers that lower over a customer’s head. They are still used today to process hair colors. One item that isn’t in use anymore is an old perm machine. It has long black cords hanging down with tiny clamps attached to the ends.
“This is what you would have used to process the early perms of the 20th Century. Those little clamps actually just heated up and that’s what would process the chemicals,” Jeff says. “Late 1890s is when the very first perm machine was invented and cow urine was used in the original perm solution.”
Beside the vintage machine, there’s an entire display cabinet dedicated to the perm with many products from the 1980s. Jeff says perms haven’t made a comeback from their peak popularity in the ‘80s. He says he won’t do perms today, joking he’s allergic.
Another interesting little device is the Pin Whiz. It’s a contraption in a little box Jeff pulls out for us. “This is a bobby pin stapler from the 1940s. You’d fill this with bobby pins and then it’s got a little trigger. You pull back the trigger and then you push out a bobby pin into your pin curl and hopefully not into your head. It shoots them across the room if you’re not careful.”
The oldest item in Jeff’s collection is a kerosene heated curling iron from the 1880s.
The Lustre-Creme Lounge
Jeff loves the graphics and images on the old beauty product ads and packaging. It’s a big part of his collection. He even has an entire room dedicated to a specific brand of shampoo.
“I call this room the Lustre-Creme Lounge because this is where a lot of the Lustre-Creme Shampoo ads are. Lustre-Creme Shampoo was a popular shampoo in the ‘40s and ‘50s and most of the big celebrities of the day did the advertisements,” Jeff says.
The room also shares space with hair and beauty dolls and toys with shelves towering to the ceiling stacked with My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Barbies and Mr. Bubble bubble bath.
Jeff says he hasn’t wasted any space as even the bathroom is a mini exhibit with a barbershop theme. It includes vintage shaving brushes and even some classic Old Spice.
Beauty Waste Turned into Art
Jeff also has an artistic side and has made several sculptures out of what he calls beauty waste. The sculptures are life-size hairdos made completely out of donated rollers, clips, combs, barrettes and various other hair items.
“For years, I’d just been accumulating all these things and I finally decided to pull it all out. I dumped it in the middle of the room and I had a mountain of plastic and metal stuff – beauty waste.”
Jeff’s instinct was to first separate everything by color. Ultimately, Jeff created eight magnificent hairdo sculptures. “I call them ‘hairsterical’ gals,” Jeff explains, showing us a Mohawk hairstyle made completely out of red rollers, clips and combs.
Other hairsterical gals, “The Flip” and “The Afro,” are currently on display at the SFO Museum at San Francisco Airport.
The museum wanted to host an exhibit that explored the evolution of hair fashion. A perfect collaboration for Jeff who generously loaned part of his collection for what became the “Hair Style” Exhibit. If you pass through SFO you can find the show, until August 22, 2021, post security in Terminal 1 of San Francisco Airport.
Future of the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum
While Jeff’s shop, museum and gift shop are entirely unique, he has hopes to make this place stand out even more.
“The dream, the future of the Beauty Bubble if I could,” explains Jeff, “I would build a geodesic dome and I’d make it look like a giant hair dryer.”
Jeff’s inspiration is a hair dryer he keeps in the corner of the salon. It is a turquoise blue and is what he would model it after. “So, you’d walk into a giant hair dryer when you come to the Beauty Bubble. The ultimate roadside attraction. That’s the dream.”
But even if this place is turned into the hair dryer themed building he envisions, it will always have hairdressers cutting hair inside. Jeff thinks it’s important to stay true to the roots of the business and that this will never be just a museum.
Although he hopes to someday set down his scissors and be a full-time tour guide. Jeff says it’s the most fun sharing his love of beauty history with all those who come through the doors.
Nostalgia Delights Customers of All Ages
The Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum is definitely a place to spend some time looking around and taking in all the little pieces Jeff has saved and preserved. He feels like everyone who comes in enjoys the blast from the past.
“I think it’s the nostalgia. Everybody who comes in here says, ‘Oh it reminds me of my grandmother’ or ‘This reminds me of my mother.’ Everybody has a memory attached to something in here it seems like. People are just getting the biggest kick out of it.”
While the museum aspect of the Beauty Bubble may draw people in, Jeff says they are still a fully functioning salon.
“While you’re getting your hair cut, you’re going to get to experience all this fun stuff.” -Jeff Hafler
“We do great work. You’re going to get a heck of a good haircut here at the Beauty Bubble. While you’re getting your hair cut, you’re going to get to experience all this fun stuff.”
Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum
61855 29 Palms Highway
Joshua Tree, California 92252