Surreal Californian Destinations You Have to See to Believe

Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful spot to visit on a California road trip
Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful spot to visit on a California road trip | © Steven Wilcox / Unsplash
Photo of Deanna Morgado
18 August 2020

From ancient salty lakes to glowing waterfalls and wave-activated acoustic sculptures, California is home to all manner of surreal destinations. Culture Trip rounds up the weirdest and most wonderful places in the Golden State.

Salton Sea

Natural Feature
Map View
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© DesignClass / Unsplash
The Salton Sea, on the San Andreas Fault, is a saline, endorheic rift lake that formed when the Colorado River burst in 1905. A town developed around the lake, which is 80mi (130km) east of the Pacific Ocean, during the 1960s, but it quickly became a ghost town when the water became polluted. Today, it lives on as a hauntingly beautiful sight.

Mono Lake

Natural Feature
Map View
Beautiful tofu at Mono Lake in California
© Chon Kit Leong / Alamy Stock Photo
Mono Lake, in Mono County, is another saline lake that will boggle your mind. Formed around 760,000 years ago, today it spans 70sqmi (181sqkm). You can explore in a kayak, and with its high salt content, you can even enjoy a buoyant swim. Locals claim the lake is a cure-all for illnesses.

Joshua Tree National Park

Natural Feature
Map View
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© Alex Rhee / Unsplash

Between the Mojave and Colorado deserts sits Joshua Tree National Park, where you’ll see some of California’s most spectacular sights, including wildlife and plant life. There’s plenty of hiking, camping and rock climbing to be done. However, plan to visit in the cooler seasons, as Joshua Tree can reach well over 100F (38C) in the summer months.

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park

Natural Feature
Map View
The Merced River and Horsetail Falls Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California
© California Dreamin / Alamy Stock Photo
At 1,575ft (480m) high, Yosemite National Park’s Horsetail Fall isn’t California’s tallest – the grand Yosemite Falls measure 2,425ft (739m). However, it’s a beautiful waterfall, known for its evening glow. Do bear in mind when you’re planning a visit, though, is that it’s seasonal, and the best time to visit is between winter and early spring.

Palisades Park, Santa Monica

Park
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Steps leading down from Palisades Park in Santa Monica California to the Pacific Coast Highway.  Exclusive
© Mark Stout / Alamy Stock Photo
With beachfront homes, oceanic views and gorgeous sunsets, the town of Santa Monica is beautiful to visit. But there’s one spot in the city that is particularly special: Palisades Park, spanning 26 acres (11ha), lies on coastal sandstone bluffs, making way for mighty Pacific views.

Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino County

Natural Feature
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© Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash
Big Bear Lake is a beautiful corner of Southern California, complete with alpine trees and mountain trails. It’s a great destination for skiing, with Snow Summit resort a popular choice for families. And, yes, there is a chance that you’ll see bears in the San Bernardino National Forest, so be aware.

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

Natural Feature
Map View
colorful glass pebbles blanket this beach in Fort Bragg, the beach was used as a garbage dump years ago, nature has tumbled the glass and polished it
© Charles Wollertz / Alamy Stock Photo
Visiting Glass Beach is a bit of a surreal experience – the sand is covered entirely with glass, following years of trash being dumped in the small oceanside town of Fort Bragg. The pieces of glass are no longer sharp, having been molded by the waves, so you can get up close and see them yourself. However, you’re not allowed to take any home with you.

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

Bookstore, Store
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The Last Bookstore interior view in downtown Los Angeles, California USA  KATHY DEWITT
© Kathy deWitt / Alamy Stock Photo
The Last Bookstore on Spring Street is a must-visit for book lovers. It’s the largest new and used book and record store in California – and its setting is nothing short of surreal with secret passageways and walkways made out of books.
These recommendations were updated on August 18, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.