The travel potential in California is something everyone should take full advantage of. Up and down the Golden State there’s places where you’ll feel you’ve stepped out of reality. Let our handpicked surreal destinations become your California travel bucket list.
Found in the Sonoran desert, the Salton Sea is an inland saline lake that formed when the Colorado River burst in 1905. Well, Colorado’s loss is California’s gain. In the 60s, a town formed around the lake but ultimately became a ghost town when pollution destroyed the Salton Sea’s water. Despite all that, visiting the Salton Sea and the abandoned town is still a hauntingly beautiful sight.
Salton Sea, CA, USA
Another saline lake that will boggle your mind is Mono Lake. This ancient lake spans 70 square miles and there’s also a huge amount of tufa ― limestone columns that have formed over time to show off nature’s true beauty. Walking and kayak tours can be taken around the lake too.
Mono Lake, CA, USA
Palisades Park, Santa Monica
Palisades Park, Santa Monica
The entire town of Santa Monica is practically surreal with its beachfront homes, oceanic views, and sunsets. But there’s one spot in Santa Monica, albeit lesser-known, that is truly remarkable. Palisades Park is situated perfectly on coastal sandstone bluffs, making way for even better Pacific views.
Palisades Park, Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA, USA, +1 310 458 8300
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
Traveling bookstore lovers won’t want to leave L.A.’s Last Bookstore. It’s California’s largest new and used book and record store. There’s such a huge selection in a gorgeous, literary setting, you won’t believe it. Walk through the arch of books and explore the two stories of secret passageways and hidden rooms with, yep, more books!
The Last Bookstore, 453 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 488 0599
San Diego Old-Town
Stop by the Old-Town Historic State Park for some unbelievable pieces of history. This part of San Diego dates all the way back to 1825. You’ll really feel like you’ve stepped out of a time machine. There’s lots of shops and eateries to add to the old-timey feel.
San Diego Old-Town, 4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA, USA, +1 619 220 5422
Cypress Tree Tunnel, Point Reyes
Head north of San Francisco for about 45 miles to reach these Monterey Cypress trees that have formed a mesmerizing arch. Tourists, photographers, and even locals flock to these stunning, and somehow natural archways. It’s a true marvel.
Cypress Tree Tunnel, Point Reyes, Inverness, CA, USA, +1 415 464 5100
Horsetail Falls, Yosemite National Park
The Horsetail Falls may sound like your everyday waterfall, but you’d be mistaken. The already gorgeous 1,570-foot waterfall flows and puts people in awe from winter to early spring. However, if you’re lucky and can make it to Horsetail Falls on certain days in February, the sunset catches the falling water and mist, setting the whole waterfall aglow.
Horsetail Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA
Asilomar State Beach, Monterey
If you think you’ve seen all the beach sunsets possible, you’ve never been to Asilomar State Beach. Travelers make camp all around Asilomar. Right before sunset, it’s apparent everyone is waiting for the same thing. The beach at sunset will have you pinching yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming of this stunning scene. All the trails and alcoves add to the surreal allure.
Asilomar State Beach, Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove, CA, USA, +1 831 646 6440
Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino County
Nestled within the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear Lake is a piece of California that not a lot of people get to see. The surrounding town is casual and yet has boutique shopping and dining as well as breathtaking summits and lake views.
Big Bear Lake, CA, USA
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
Glass Beach has a harrowing origin that has turned into something stunning. For years, trash was dumped over the cliffs in the small oceanside town of Fort Bragg. However, the crashing Pacific rendered the glass that had been thoughtlessly dumped and it now graces the shores of Glass Beach in the most beautiful ways. You have to leave those little gorgeous pieces on the beach though. It’s illegal to take any glass from the beach.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA, USA
Santa Catalina Island
Just under 30 miles off the shores of Long Beach is Santa Catalina Island. This precious gem of an island is famous for its shops, nature, and wildlife. The island is tiny, only 22 miles long, but the scenery here is unbelievably gorgeous, as if from a picture book. Catalina Island is like a surreal getaway that you don’t have to travel too far off the mainland to getaway to.
Santa Catalina Island, CA, USA
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
You don’t have to be a huge Wizard of Oz fan to love the poppy fields in the Mojave desert (although it certainly won’t hurt.) These fields go on for eight miles and the wildflowers do major blooming throughout the spring months. But California wouldn’t be California without poppies, the state flower. These bright orange flowers create a wonderland you have to see to believe.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, 15101 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster, CA, USA, +1 661 724 1180
Wave Organ, San Francisco
The Wave Organ is a unique San Francisco sculpture of 25 organ pipes made out of PVC and concrete. The way the individual pieces have been methodically placed so when the tides hit, subtle music fills the air. It’s beautiful, magical, and leaves you feeling like you’re the surreal one.
Wave Organ, 83 Marina Green Dr, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 528 4444
Lava Beds National Monument
It’s well worth making your way all the way up northern California to get to the Lava Beds National Monument. These lava-created parts are the largest volcano covered area in the Cascade Range. What really makes this place surreal is that not only does the land consist of over 700 gorgeous caves, one of those is Mushpot Cave which becomes fully illuminated at night. You’ll feel as if you’ve left earth in the most beautiful way.
Lava Beds National Monument, 1 Indian Well Campground Trail, Tulelake, CA, USA, +1 530 667 8100
Joshua Tree National Park
Located in between the Mojave and Colorado deserts is Joshua Tree National Park. Some of the most spectacular sights, wildlife, and plant life can be found here. There’s plenty of hiking, camping, and rock-climbing opportunities that will leave you breathless (both literally and metaphorically.) It’s certainly suggested to visit in the cooler seasons, as Joshua Tree can reach well over 100℉ in the summer months.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA, USA, +1 760 367 5500
Treasure Island Beach, Laguna Beach
Get ready for unforgettable sandy good times and ocean views that will make you feel like you’re dreaming. At Treasure Island Beach, there’s snorkeling, scuba diving, tide pools to explore, and beautiful beachfront homes. Let the waves on the shoreline lull you away to serenity.
Treasure Island Beach, Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA, USA, +1 949 497 0426