6 Stops You Must See To Believe – Epic SoCal Road Trip
It’s easy to get jaded and feel like you’ve seen it all once you’ve done a lot of anything. For me, it takes a lot to impress or excite me when it comes to parties for instance. I’ve attended, planned and produced so many in my lifetime and have kept up with the latest trends and offerings through industry tradeshows, blogs and celebrity planners that I feel I’ve seen every flower arrangement, candy bar setup, and balloon arrangement there is to see. So I’m always seeking something new and creative to wow me and incorporate into my next event. The same is true when I travel. I seek something beyond the typical beach resort and long for the Instagram-able, colorful, bizarre and surreal. Click through here for my tips on the 5 wild and wacky must-see spots to take your kids to in Tokyo for instance, or here for NYC’s most Instagram-able bucket list, and my 7 tips when visiting the world’s most surreal spa. But if you’re looking for a fun Southern Californian road trip with memorable pit stops along the way, Look no further. We did this day trip in December (when the weather is perfect out in the desert), and highly recommend these 6 unbelievable sights for your next road trip.
And guess what! They’re all free! Well the banana museum charges $1 if you don’t eat or buy anything there but basically all you need for these spots is an adventuresome spirit and an open mind.
What do you get when you mix rainbows, with art and Christian messaging? Salvation Mountain!
Made in the name of love, the deceased artist, Beal created this man-made mountain and painted it with over 100,000 gallons of paint over the course of nearly 3 decades! He created this unbelievably beautiful spectacle, the most colorful and happy hike you’ll ever take. The art installation consists of the main mountain, a few caves and a painted tree area. Selfie anyone? Not a single person who goes here can resist taking a photo..it is just that remarkable. Whether you are religious or not, the message is all about LOVE. And I loved it. It’s such a cheerful sight amidst the vast desert landscape. Even the grumpiest soul can’t resist smiling here.
ADDRESS – Beal Rd Niland, CA 92257. TIME TO ALLOT- 30 minutes if it’s hot or up to 1.5 hours if you’re a photographer and the weather is nice. We spent close to an hour there because it was my newfound happy place!
Dolla Dolla Bills Y’all!ADDRESS – 9596 Ave A Niland, CA 92257 TIME TO ALLOT – 5 to 45 minutes depending if you’re staying for lunch
The entire interior of this dark, otherwise dingy, non-descript dive bar is covered interestingly in dollar bills! Doubling as wallpaper and a guestbook, people write messages or their names on the bill and then paste them to the walls and even ceiling of this joint. If you need to stop for a bathroom break or want to enjoy a drink with the locals, this is the place to go! They are happy to give you tips for your travels or just hang out and get to know you. Juliet had to go potty on our road trip which is why I went in. Imagine my surprise when I saw this decor! I bought a .75 water bottle on my way out in exchange for using their bathroom (which was clean enough). And uh, if you’re not thirsty, you could always buy one of their cans filled with fish assholes. You heard me right….and they’re only $4. TIP this place only takes cash. Like I said, dolla dolla bills y’all!
This tiny, eccentric museum is one of the most memorable ones you will ever see. Having started by purchasing the world’s largest banana collection (a title awarded by the Guiness Book of World Records) off of eBay, the owner turned his family’s bar into a shrine / shop for everything yellow and exponentially grew his initial collection. Think banana shaped phones, stuffed monkeys holding bananas, banana milkshakes and ice cream and banana toys and costumes even. I went bananas in there taking pictures, trying on silly costumes and just being enthralled at the amazing collection. My 4 year old tells people she went to the banana museum when people asked her what she did in California for 3 weeks. lol I guess she found it really a-PEEL-ing!
ADDRESS – 98775 Hwy 111 Mecca, CA 92254. TIP they are known to unexpectedly close early or not open on time so you may want to call ahead to confirm opening hours. (619) 840-1429. TIME TO ALLOT – 10-25 minutes
Bombay Beach Ruins at Salton Sea
You know the crystal clear ocean water and soft sand beaches from the brochures?? Yea..this is not that. This is the creepy, apocalyptic version of that. Imagine, a deserted beach where you can look for miles beyond and feel like you’re the last person standing on earth.
( It is the largest inland body of water in California and yes that is me seemingly in the middle of nowhere land). Fun fact – the surface of the Salton Sea is 234.0 feet (or 71 meters) below sea level! And the water is so thick with salt that it doesn’t move. No crashing waves. Just dead silence. Speaking of dead, expect to see a lot of dead fish as you walk the crunchy, dry cracked sand. It is bizarre. And that’s why it is cool. You’ll wander around feeling as if you have just entered twilight zone as you come across abandoned ships covered in graffiti, hundreds of bird and fish bones, and what looks to be a mini Stonehenge.
There is also a visitor’s center there but because we had already read-up on the history and googled all there was to know about it, we skipped it and saved $5 (parking fee) just by going to the nearby beach.
ADDRESS -100-225 State Park Rd Mecca, CA 92254 TIME TO ALOT -20 minutes because it is a bit smelly with the sulfur and scent of dead fish. NOTE – the piles of dead fish that people have written about are no longer there so no worries. You kind of have to hunt for them bones now..
Wanna hang out with hippies and explore their artsy playground? Then this is the perfect place for you.
This place felt like the opposite of my hometown, Manhattan which is why I with wide-eyed curiosity, visited. What do you mean they live “off-the-grid?” No electricity? No taxes, no sewage system?? Unfathomable. But then you see the art, the wall of broken-down TVs with political messages, the supersized see-saw for adventurous adults, the makeshift bowling alley and the plane, yes a PLANE… and even the most jaded traveler snaps out of it and excitedly wanders about wanting to see more. It has a Burning Man vibe so if you’re into that you’ll love this too.
Many music videos and films have been shot here but mostly this place is a relatively unknown deserted area with residents ranging from squatters, to the homeless to the free-spirited, artsy campers. To be honest, my husband was terrified to visit at first thinking we’d be walking into a community of meth addicts who would eventually kidnap and kill us. But the reviews I read and the amount of tourists I saw when there made me feel safe enough to bring my family out of the confines of our safe rental car. How did I know there were so many tourists? OH you will KNOW who the tourists are and who the locals are. This is their drive-in movie theater btw.
Imagine movie night here!
ADDRESS Sidewinder Road, Niland, California. It is only about 10 minutes away from Salvation Mountain. TIME TO ALLOT -25 minutes to an hour depending how interested you are in getting to know the locals.
Palm Tree Farm
Does the sight of palm trees make you happy? Me too.
But things clustered in freakish numbers tend to creep me out (i.e. one pigeon is ok but a hundred flocking around a small space …not ok). That’s the effect that standing in the middle of this seemingly never-ending palm tree forest will give you. They did look beautiful from afar, perfectly lined up and all growing at the same rate and height. They’ll totally satisfy any OCD that you have. Perhaps that’s what lured me in. We parked off to the side of the road for a closer look and for a picture-esque opportunity. But I quickly found that standing next to the millions of thorny, hovering trees was not a comforting feeling. I wanted to get the hell outta there and fast! Therefore I’m setting the TIME TO ALOT as 5-10 minutes. It’s a quick pit stop. Get your freaky forest picture and RUN!
ADDRESS – off Rte 11 between Joshua Tree and Nilan (most of the area is fenced but you can find an area that is not and park along the side of the road for some quick photos!
I loved every moment of this road trip because it offered destinations that were both weird and wacky that will stand out in our memories long after we leave our beloved state of California.
GENERAL TIPS FOR THIS ROAD TRIP
- AVOID the summer season and check the weather because road tripping through the desert isn’t as fun when you’re panting and drenched in sweat. December was the perfect time to visit!
- Bring lots of water, some snacks and a packed meal as backup because there are not a lot of good places to stop for a meal unless you travel to the nearby San Diego or Palm Springs cities which is what we did for our final, dinner stop.
- Bring an extra cell phone battery and make sure your camera is all charged up and has enough storage to make room for the hundreds of pictures you are bound to take because if you don’t record and upload it later for your friends, were you really there?? haha
- Research the hashtags for the locales if you are into photography and want to make sure you don’t miss any important shots.
- Plan the perfect outfit! We made sure to have a colorful outfit that coordinated the mountain’s pastel rainbow for an extra perfect picture. But for you this may simply mean dressing in layers as depending on the time of day or season you go, you may experience a dip in temperature once the sun goes down or want to make sure you have your favorite sunglasses to shield you from the intense desert sun.
- We had no problems with cell or navigation reception along the way from Orange County, California.
- camping options can be found nearby at Joshua Tree, on the Sultan Sea at Bombay Beach and of course at Slab City but really if you start early in the day, you can cover all 6 of these areas within one day!
- It’s less than an hour from Palm Springs so it’s a great idea to start or end there!
What do you think? Would you want to take this road trip? And what other strange sights do you recommend that I must see? Please tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!