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The Mission Inn|©Daniel Orth/Flickr
The Mission Inn|©Daniel Orth/Flickr
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23 Shots of Southern California Like You've Never Seen It

Picture of Juliet Bennett Rylah
Updated: 11 July 2017
Southern California isn’t all palm trees, beaches and surfing. There are deserts and cities, neighborhoods and vast expanses of wilderness. Here are 23 visually arresting sights that go beyond the Southland clichés.

From a downtown Los Angeles helipad

On top of the The Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles is a helipad, 650 feet above ground. It’s primarily used for emergencies, though the hotel will occasionally host yoga classes and other activities up there, offering an unparalleled view of downtown L.A. and beyond.

The helipad of The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles|©Juliet Bennett Rylah
The helipad of The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

A boat ride in the desert

Glide across a man-made lake in the middle of the desert at J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa.

A gondola ride in the in Palm Desert|©Juliet Bennett Rylah
A gondola ride in the Palm Desert | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

A winery in Malibu

Vineyards aren’t just for Napa. Here’s the scenic Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu, where guests can take tours, sample wine and even go on safari.

Saddlerock Ranch and vineyard in Malibu|©Juliet Bennett Rylah
Saddlerock Ranch and vineyard in Malibu | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

Santa’s Village

Santa’s Village, a long-abandoned holiday-themed amusement park, reopened in November of 2016 to bring the area seasonal joy. Located in the mountainous area near Lake Arrowhead, the snow here isn’t always fake!

Santa's Village, Lake Arrowhead|©Juliet Bennett Rylah
Santa’s Village, Lake Arrowhead | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

Joshua trees covered in snow

We typically see Joshua trees out in the desert under the beating sun. Yet here, an image captures these distinctive trees freshly blanketed with snow in Lancaster.

Lancaster in winter|Rennett Stowe/Flickr
Lancaster in winter | Rennett Stowe/Flickr

The Salton Sea

Once a popular resort town, the area surrounding the Salton Sea is now mostly abandoned due to the salinity and pollution that troubles its waters. Its shores occasionally look like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film.

Near the Salton Sea|©mst7022/Flickr
Near the Salton Sea | ©mst7022/Flickr

An outdoor museum of assemblage art

Artist Noah Purifoy left Los Angeles in 1989 at age 72. He moved to Joshua Tree to stay with artist Debbie Brewer, and spent the remainder of his life creating art out of found materials.

The Noah Purifoy Foundation|©Rosa Menkman/Flickr
The Noah Purifoy Foundation | ©Rosa Menkman/Flickr

The Tejon Pass

The Tejon Pass can be found between the Tehachapi Mountains and the San Emigdio Mountains. Though clear most of the time, in the winter the hillsides can get covered in snow.

Bikes in the streets

Cyclists take over MacArthur Park in Los Angeles during CicLAvia, an event that turns the roads into bike-friendly routes.

Wildflowers in bloom

The ‘super bloom’ is an event that occurs in the spring after a particularly wet winter. Here it is in full effect near Diamond Valley Lake.

The Superbloom|©Rob Bertholf/Flickr
The ‘super bloom’ | ©Rob Bertholf/Flickr

The Wild West

Calico in San Bernardino County was founded as a mining town in the late 1800s. Today, it exists as a tourist attraction where you can pretend you’re in the Wild West.

A glimpse of fall

People say Southern California has no seasons. Yet this is what fall looks like on Jackson Lake in Wrightwood.

Fall in Wrightwood|©Rennett Stowe/Flickr
Fall in Wrightwood | ©Rennett Stowe/Flickr

Mesmerizing sand dunes

The Cadiz Dunes are located within the Mojave Trails National Monument. They were formed by wind blowing sand off a dry lake bed.

Cadiz Dunes|Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management
Cadiz Dunes | Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

A sky full of stars

City dwellers rarely get to experience a night sky like this, but the Afton Canyon Campground—located off I-15 between Barstow and Baker—offers perfect stargazing conditions.

Aston Canyon Campground|Photo by Kyle Sullivan, Bureau of Land Management
Aston Canyon Campground | Photo by Kyle Sullivan, Bureau of Land Management

Red Rock Canyon

Known for its colorful cliffs and rock formations, Red Rock Canyon State Park offers camping, hiking and lots of stunning photo ops.

Red Rock Canyon|©Rennett Stowe/Flickr
Red Rock Canyon | ©Rennett Stowe/Flickr

A lava tube in the Mojave

In the Mojave National Preserve, you can find natural phenomenons known as lava tubes. Lava hasn’t flowed through the tubes in 10,000 years, so hikers can explore them today—though they are not maintained by the National Park Service.

A lava tube|©John Fowler/Flickr
A lava tube | ©John Fowler/Flickr

Sea lions galore

Sea lions are often found around the Channel Islands National Park, with one of the largest rookeries in the world located on San Miguel Island. Here, a few lounge around near Ventura Harbor.

Marine friends!|©Ken Lund/Flickr
Marine friends! | ©Ken Lund/Flickr

A Danish town in California

Solvang is located in Southern California, not far from Santa Barbara, but it looks like a Danish town. The city is also home to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, dedicated to the famous children’s author.

Alleys full of art

An alley in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles offers a colorful shortcut.

An alley in Highland Park|©jar [o]/Flickr
An alley in Highland Park | ©jar [o]/Flickr

The Spadena House

Beverly Hills may be full of extravagant mansions and gorgeous homes, but you can also find the Spadena House—also known as “The Witch’s House”—there. It was built in the 1920s for a silent film studio, then relocated to its current location several years later. It’s now a private home.

The Spadena House|©Alan Light/Flickr
The Spadena House | ©Alan Light/Flickr

The Mission Inn

The Mission Inn in Riverside was not ever a mission, though it was built to look like one. The sprawling hotel is ideal for exploring, with plenty of hidden spots to find.

The Mission Inn|©Daniel Orth/Flickr
The Mission Inn | ©Daniel Orth/Flickr

A stunning transit station

While Disneyland remains the draw for many of Anaheim’s visitors, passing through the ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center) is also a treat. If it seems familiar, perhaps you recognize it from True Detective’s second season.

ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center)|©Ron Reiring/Flickr
ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center) | ©Ron Reiring/Flickr

Trona Pinnacles

The Trona Pinnacles are a group of several hundred tufa formations found in the Searles Lake, a dry lake near the unincorporated community of Trona. Their otherworldly appearance has led to their use in a number of sci-fi films and TV shows.

Trona Pinnacles|©Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management
Trona Pinnacles | ©Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management