17 Totally Surreal Places In California You Have To See Before You Die
Grab your road trip buddy!
1. Mono Lake
This ancient saline lake covers 70 square miles and is home to super gorgeous spindly limestone columns called tufa. The lake itself is too salty to sustain fish life, but supports a population of brine shrimp and alkali flies. Sign up for a kayak or walking tour!
2. Cypress Tree Tunnel, Point Reyes
3. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
Looking for a rare Harry Potter edition or your favorite Beatles vinyl? California’s largest used and new book and record store, the Last Bookstore holds over 250,000 new and used books on two floors. Is this heaven? We think so. Walk through the surreal arch of books to get to the second floor space, called the Labyrinth, and scope out the secret passageways that lead to hidden book rooms.
4. Sequoia National Park
Maybe you've heard of it? Yeah, you've heard of it. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada range, Sequoia offers camping and traditional lodging, and so many cool places to explore, like the crystal cave. Also, some huge-ass trees (technical term).
5. Salton Sea
Salton Sea is an inland saline lake nestled in the Sonoran desert, formed when the Colorado River burst through poorly built dams in 1905. A booming beach town formed around the lake in the '60s. But runoff from local agriculture led to algae bloom and pollution, and soon destroyed the water.
The town, once hailed as the new Palm Springs, deteriorated into a post-apocalyptic ghost town. You can still go check out the eerie abandoned houses, the "International Banana Museum," and see the lake, which is still the largest in California. (California is currently planning to invest $383 million in rejuvenating the sea with ponds and wetlands.)
6. Poppy Fields, Antelope Valley
Get your Dorothy on in these eight miles of trail in the Mojave desert. The wildflower season generally lasts from mid-February through May, and the preserve boasts several naturally-growing species, but none perhaps as gorgeous — and California — as the vivid orange state poppies.
7. Horsetail Falls, Yosemite National Park
This 1,570-foot waterfall flows in the winter and spring, but for a couple days in February, you have the chance to see the setting sun catch the falls at just the right moment to make it appear to glow like fire.
8. Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The art installation that launched a thousand Instagrams, Urban Light. features 202 restored cast iron antique street lamps illuminating a patch of Wilshire Boulevard. But make sure to also head inside the museum to see its prolific holdings of Asian art, Latin American art and Islamic art.
9. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
The bad news is that for years, people dumped all their trash from bottles to batteries over the cliffs in this town near Mendocino. The good news? The tides have rendered glass that was dumped in the ocean into beautiful polished treasures that now dot the beach. (Don't take glass from the beach home, though — that's illegal.)
10. Wave Organ, San Francisco
In this art installation on a jetty in the San Francisco bay, 25 organ pipes made of PVC and concrete located at various elevations produce subtle music when affected by the tides. (It's best at high tide.)
11. Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz
If you love optical illusions, head to this Santa Cruz tourist spot and actual gravity hill. Lean (kind of?) in the titled room and roll a ball... uphill? Whaaaaa? And don't leave without nabbing a signature yellow bumper sticker.
12. Lava Beds National Monument
Lava Beds National Monument is located way up northeast —like, keep driving— and comprises over 700 beautiful caves, making it one of the best places in the continental U.S. to ogle some lava-created landscapes. Crawl through the lava tubes, try to spot different kinds of bats and explore Mushpot Cave, the park's only illuminated cave, at night.
13. Big Sur
Things to do in Big Sur: gawk at the scenery, camp, hike, drive over the Bixby Bridge (famous for being in every car commercial), gawk some more. Just go. (Note: some of the coastline is closed due to the effects of 2017's winter storms, so check current closures before you hit the road.)
14. Joshua Tree National Park
The nexus of the Mojave and the Colorado deserts, Joshua Tree boats an incredible amount of wildlife, flora, and freakin' awesome views. Book a campsite or a rock-climbing trip, but beware of visiting in the summer, when temperatures regularly reach over 100 degrees Farenheit. In the winter, nights are cold, and it occasionally snows at higher elevations.
15. Monterey Beach
16. Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
This slice of Death Valley provides a stunning scenic overview to other parts of the park. You can drive the loop and scope out the sediment-based colorful mountains and the salt lake. As you might assume, it will probably be VERY hot for your visit, and if you're wondering why Zabriskie looks so familiar, perhaps you've seen the cover of U2's Joshua Tree LP?
17. The Echo Park Time Travel Mart
The whimsical retail outpost of Dave Egger's L.A. chapter of his 826 non-profits, the Time Travel Mart is a one-stop shop for all of your time travel needs. Pick up a can of "mammoth chunks" or a "fresh dinosaur egg," and do a dance or write a poem to dig for treasure at the Medieval Money Mart. Extreme bonus! All proceeds from the stores help support the free tutoring and writing programs for children at 826LA.