The desert is full of surprises. The California desert runs all the way from the eastern side of northern California to the most southern part of the state by the border. Along this stretch of harsh and vast terrain, you will find the most awesome art works and interesting off beat cultures. Below is a list of some of the most unseen and strange places in the California desert. This list is not ranked in order.

1. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch on route 66

Sunset at the bottle tree ranch
Sunset at the bottle tree ranch

Millions of trips are made between Los Angeles and Las Vegas every year, but more than 99% of the people will miss one of the coolest site right the middle between the two cities. Elmer Long spent years turning in his front yard into an incredible forest of bottle trees. These art installations make Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch one of the coolest roadside stops in the country.

2. Noah’s Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum

Noah Purifoy's Outdoor desert art museum

Noah Purifoy was once tired of the city life and seek to find a place big enough to express his great creativity. The desert of Joshua Tree is where he picked to spend the next several years creating large scale art works. Today, visitors can stop by this outdoor art museum to appreciate dozens of art installments in the middle of the desert. This place is located near the town of Joshua Tree and only a few miles from Joshua Tree National Park.

3. Desert Christ Park

Desert Christ Park

On the easter day of 1951, hundreds of faithful Christians travelled out into the desert near Palm Springs to observe the installments of dozens of ministry statues. These statues have a combined weight of 7 ton. You can imagine them being very hard to transport back in the 50’s. Today, the statues are still standing strong and can be visited by any visitors.

4. East Jesus Art 

the robot man
the robot man

This place is probably the biggest play ground for artists. Anyone can come by and contribute to the collections. Hundreds of art works have been installed here and the art scene is just growing. Parties and celebrations that occur weekly and randomly bring artists, creatives, and all those who seek an escape and a space where they can truly express themselves have make this spot one of the coolest sub-culture in the desert. It is located in the unofficial town of Slab City and nearby Salvation Mountain.

5. Salvation Mountain & Abandoned Water Tank Murals

salvation moutain

Abandoned water tank

One of the most well known and spectacular sites in the desert is the Salvation Mountain. It has been featured in the popular film, Into The Wild, and mentioned numerous times on popular blogs and websites. Its site is not to be missed. It is located in the eastern desert of Southern California near the Salton Sea between LA and San Diego. Leonard Knight spent 3 decades installing this fascinating piece of art work. Nothing but love and faith can drive a man to accomplish such an incredible task. This is truly a monument of love. Nearby the mountain out in the distant, on a short walk, you will find two abandoned water tanks that have been painted over. Salvation Mountain has inspired more and more artists to visit the desert to express their creativity, and this is one of the greatest addition.

6. World’s Largest Banana Museum

banana museum

How about the strangest museum? This is recorded on the Guinness book of world record as the largest museum dedicated to a single fruit. Only in the desert where you will find something like this. This place is located south of Palm Spring and it is on the way to Salvation mountain and East Jesus. Make sure to stop by, dress in banana suit, and get yourself a banana soda.

7. Cabazon Dinosaur

Cabazon Dinosaur Gift Store

This is where you will find the largest dinosaur in the U.S. On your next drive to Las Vegas make sure to stop and pay a visit to one of the most popular road stops near Palm Spring. This dinosaur gift shop sells a lot of quirky toys and dinosaurs souveniour. If you or your kid a fan of little foot and t-rex, you don’t want to miss this.

8. Bodie Ghost Town

bodielarge2

This is one of the most well preserved ghost town. It is managed by the National Park Service. This old mine town was abandoned after the gold rush due to a fire that burnt down over half of the town. Today, the ruins are still kept and preserved as if nothing has changed. You will feel like you are travelled back in time and see what it was like back then. The none existent of graffiti, trash, shops, and conveniences make this abandoned town a truly unique experience.

9. Salton Sea

salton sea beach

Dead fish ever! The salton sea is the largest lake in California. Every summer, the oxygen in the water become so scare that it creates a massive die out. Dead tilapia fill the shore and the beach is covered in fish bones. Abandoned buildings are scattered along the shore. Once a popular vacation spot turned into a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie.

10. Desert Sculptures Of Anza Borrego

Horse Sculptures Anza Borrego

The most southern desert park in California is Anza Borrego. Near the town of Borrego Spring, there are dozens of art installments place throughout the desert. These animal metal sculptures are created as a ploy to attract tourists. These sculptures are truly fascinating. There are dozens of them from horses and elephants to dragons.

bonus: 8 best easy desert hikes in California

The oasis at Borrego Palm Canyon
The oasis at Borrego Palm Canyon

Written by Snook

I do one cool thing every weekend!

7 comments

  1. Thank you! Thanks to the military, we just moved from Okinawa, Japan to Southern California. I had tons of places to take the kids in Okinawa and explore. I’ve been looking for places to take them here, places besides amusement parks. You’ve given me exactly what I was looking for! Thanks!

    1. Thank you Pam for the comment! Bodie was really cool and it was so well preserved unlike a lot of “ghost towns” that are so commercialized.

      If you know any other cool places in the desert, let me know!

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