Quirky California: California’s Most Unique Attractions

Someone lied to me. You see for all this time I thought California was so sexy – pristine beaches, bustling boardwalks, In-N-Out Burger, Pacific Ocean sunsets, and glamourous beach houses. Maybe it was all those years watching Baywatch when I was younger or listening to too much Beach Boys.  I had romanticized California. Who knew that there were miles of cow pastures on I-5, deserts in Southern California, and a street called “Santa Clause Lane” in Santa Barbara that Santa didn’t actually live on. Shocking right? Well those aren’t the only quirks to California. Since moving here last June, I’ve found a whole host of unique attractions that you might not exactly associate with California. And while they may not exactly be sexy, they are worth a visit nonetheless.

1. Salton Sea. I’m just going to go ahead and say that my afternoon in the Salton Sea area of Southern California was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. While I didn’t walk away with any value added to my life, it was the experience of visiting what I think is one of the most fascinating areas of the U.S. The sea is one of the largest inland seas in the world, as well as one of the lowest spots, at -227 feet below sea level. The Salton Sea has a high level of salinity, even more than the Pacific Ocean, which has resulted in most fish species not being able to survive in it. Nonetheless, as you can see below, a visit to the Salton Sea resulted in one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

The quirkiness of the area only continues on the outskirts of the Salton Sea in what’s become known as Slab City. Located just southeast of the Salton Sea, Slab City is located just outside of a small town called Niland, and just 50 miles from the Mexico border. It’s located off the main highway, although you’ll see Salvation Mountain from the distance as you begin approaching it. Salvation Mountain being an art installation at the edge of Slab City that dates back to the mid-1980s and continues to be added onto. Slab City is a giant concrete slab, originally part of a military base that has long been decommissioned. As an uncontrolled piece of land, it’s often been referred to as “The last free place in America,” and home to thousands of campers every year. You may have heard of it if you’ve seen or read Into the Wild, as Christopher McCandless spent time there.

2. Cabazon Dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs, and as in the world BIGGEST dinosaurs. The saying, “You can’t miss it,” when directions are given, couldn’t be any more true than for Cabazon Dinosaurs. Located just off I-10 near Palm Springs, the Cabazon Dinosaurs go back decades. Those Pee-wee Herman fans may remember the dinosaurs from Pee-wee’s Big Adventures. Started in the 1960s, Claude Bell originally began creating the dinosaurs to attract people to his restaurant, The Wheel Inn Cafe. In addition to the dinosaurs and restaurant, the property now also includes a gift shop and creationist museum.

3. Fort Bragg Glass Beach. Since I’m being so literal, it’s only appropriate to move on to the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. Formerly a public dump, Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach is now a public beach and part of MacKerricher State Park. However, don’t be turned off by its former life, as there’s something much bigger at work here. After the dump closed years ago, mother nature went to work pounding the discarded glass on the beach, turning them into smooth, polished pieces of glass. While many of the pieces of glass glisten in the light and are pretty enough to take home, the state park asks you not to. Additionally, the beach is known for its array of tide pools.

4. Jelly Belly Factory. If you watched Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a child wishing that you could one day tour a candy factory, then here’s your shot. There’s not much in Fairfield, California, but it was worth a trip for me to throw on a doctor’s coat and hairnet and play Willy Wonka for a couple hours. While there’s a free tour that takes visitors along the top of the factory, I elected for the VIP tour, also known as Jelly Belly University, where I got my degree in Beanology. The tour takes you behind the scenes to every part of the Jelly Belly making process, which really meant eating jelly beans throughout the tour. The highlight of the tour was getting a handful of jelly beans as they were coming out of the oven.

5. Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. While there may not be the same romanticism behind a fortune cookie factory as the Jelly Belly Factory, Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is still worth the visit in San Francisco’s Chinatown. If for no other reason, when are you going to have another chance to try a fortune cookie fresh out of the oven? It may be a small operation, but the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been supplying fortune cookies to the world for decades. Grab a large bag of fortune cookies for just a few dollars or enjoy snacking on unfolded, fortuneless cookies while you watch how the magic happens.

What’s the most quirky thing you’ve seen on your travels

10 Comments on “Quirky California: California’s Most Unique Attractions

  1. Spencer,

    As a Californian who’s been living in Charleston the past three years, I’ve been enjoying your take on my home state, as I continue to explore — and try to make sense — of yours ;-)

    You’ve picked some good Cali quirks, only one of which I’ve yet experienced myself. A few others you may want to consider:

    Laughing Sal at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    Musee Mechanique at Pier 39 in San Francisco (and the Bushman, who hangs out nearby, along Fisherman’s Wharf)

    The Winchester Mystery House, a bizarre shrine to the occult, in the midst of Silicon Valley.

    Casa de Fruta, on Highway 152, at the east end of Santa Clara County. This is California’s agricultural answer to South of the Border.

    The “Gum Wall” of San Luis Obispo, and the Madonna Inn, perched above the town.

    But for the truly out-there quirky, you’ll have to head much, much further north — deep into Mendocino County and into Southern Humboldt — for the likes of Confusion Hill, the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree (the one in Legget), and the Tree House. Sadly, Hobbiton, USA — perhaps the quirkiest of all the NorCal attractions — is no longer.

    At least Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are still watching over the Trees of Mystery, near the northernmost tip of California.

    Happy travels!

    • I have awesome pictures as a kid of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. They are fascinating how bit they are!

  2. And to think the salton sea used to be a posh place to live back in the day. I can’t imagine… the same goes with Lake Elsinore.

    And the dinosaur where you climb up its butt to the novelty shop. ;)

    Least you can go to Hadley’s next door for a delicious date shake!

  3. I’ve never heard of most of these places, I’ll definately be adding them to my wish list of things to do and places to see.

  4. I came here to see if Glass Beach made it. It did. :)

    However, there are plenty of places in California that could make this list. Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz is another.

  5. Pingback: 5 Quirky Must-Visit Attractions on a Road Trip Across America

  6. Pingback: The Ultimate Road Trip

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