California Road Trip Hidden GemsBy Stewart J. Guss on August 17th, 2020
The sun is shining, and we’re ready for a California road trip!
If you and your family want to hit the road and soak up the rays, look out: the best California road trip routes may not be the same anymore. Many popular destinations are restricted or closed to the public due to COVID-19, but we won’t let that keep you from enjoying some fresh air, stunning sights, and quirky finds in the Sunshine State.
Here you’ll find a dozen stops we’d make on the road less traveled, from one end of our beloved state to the other. Read on and see what inspires your appetite for adventure! Click the destination names for more information, and use our interactive map to take a closer look and plan your own California road trip route.
| Check out our top 25 summer road trip tips and prepare to hit the road!
79150 Sunvale Road, Twentynine Palms, California 92277
You’ll find this interesting little scene along an unassuming dirt road in Wonder Valley. Established in 2017 and billed as “a community for the small,” Sunvale Village is a unique art installation full of recycled materials and abandoned toys. The figurines are given new life in Sunvale Village, with new names, backstories, and even a local newspaper. Through different narrative scenes, artist Cathy Allen and collaborators use the toys to comment on themes of rejection, isolation, gentrification, and environmental issues. Follow along on the Sunvale Village Facebook page to keep up with their adventures!
200 Bellenfontaine, Pasadena, California, 91105
Literally! This jumbo pun was sneakily erected in 2009 by Pasadena resident Ken Marshall as a birthday gift for his friend Bob Stane. The 18-foot wooden fork was removed by the city at one point, but was returned in late 2011 once proper permits were obtained. It’s remained a fun photo op ever since. May the fork be with you!
35.5764° N, 118.5529° W
Remington Hot Springs consists of several tubs wedged in the picturesque setting of the Kern River, downstream from Lake Isabella. Nighttime stargazing is beautiful at this locale, and you may even see some bats flying overhead! Bring your towels and take off your jewelry, as the sulfurous water may tarnish metals.
701 South Main Street, Lone Pine, California 93545
Hundreds of westerns were filmed in the town of Lone Pine, California, and this museum pays tribute to them. Learn all about the history of the western genre and check out props, costumes, vehicles, toys, and more. You can even venture out into the nearby hills to visit actual filming locations. Additionally, the Mobius Arch rock formation and Nightmare Rock are only a few miles away.
CA-270, Bridgeport, California 93517
Bodie is a ghost town located in the hills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is recognized as a National Landmark and historic district. The town was established as a mining camp during the California Gold Rush in the 1870’s. By the 1940s it was considered a ghost town, but now many of the saloons are still standing and open to the public. You can also investigate the old gold mills and storefronts.
309 9th Street, Pacific Grove, California 93950
This whimsical abode’s owner, an artist known as J Jackson, decorated it in honor of his wife Sonja. In 1977 the couple bought the house and began extensive renovations to make it their dream home. When Sonja began to lose her eyesight in the 1990s, J realized she could still discern bright colors, so he began using more of them in his artwork. This practice eventually evolved into adorning their entire home with rainbow-colored butterfly sculptures, murals, and mosaics. At night the house is decked out in colorful lighting, so it’s just as impressive as it is during the day. Interested in more butterflies? The Monarch Grove Sanctuary is only minutes away!
Building O-11, Pier 39, San Francisco, California 94133
The perfect psychedelic photo op! There’s plenty to see on San Francisco’s Pier 39, but this mirrored blacklight maze created by Charle Magowan is a standout. Admission is $5; free for kids under 5. Check out their Instagram gallery here.
61855 Highway 62 Joshua Tree, California
This adorable little lime green destination was converted from an old photo processing booth by eclectic multimedia artist Shari Elf. Inside, she’s stashed her colorful collection of crocheted creatures. The museum is free and open 24/7, and you can check out a video with Shari here.
67402 Drive Thru Tree Road, Leggett, California 95585
You don’t even have to leave your car to see this gimmick! Also known as the Chandelier Tree, this 300-foot-tall redwood had a hole added to the base in the 1930s for automobile travelers. There are chainsaw carvings to look at and a picnic area nearby, so bring a cooler if you wish! Fun fact: a postcard of the tree was shown during the opening credits of the National Lampoon’s Vacation movie.
50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, California 92230
Artist Claude Bell began constructing the Cabazon Dinosaurs in the 1960’s to promote his nearby restaurant, the Wheel Inn. Using spare materials from construction sites, Bell built numerous dinos through the years until his death in 1988. Some weigh over 150 tons and stretch more than 150 feet long! Fun fact: the dinos appeared in the movies Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and The Wizard (1989). Admission to the outdoor trail is $13, and you can check out whimsical Instagram snaps of the dinosaurs here.
127011 Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy, Orick, California 95555
Want to feel truly immersed in nature? This gorgeous hiking trail within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park sports walls of ferns over 30 feet tall and is home to salamanders and tree frogs. The canyon was formed millions of years ago, and periodic floods now sweep through it. Fun fact: scenes from The Lost World: Jurassic Park were filmed here. Remember to bring $8 cash for the entry fee.
100 Civic Center Drive, Newport Beach, California 92660
Near Newport Beach City Hall, you’ll find fourteen ominous white rabbits arranged in a circle. Two more 8-foot-tall bunnies stand guard nearby. First installed in 2013, many residents were upset upon learning the city paid PWP Landscape Architecture over $220,000 for this art piece. But Bunnyhenge has become a beloved staple, especially for children. There are more sculptures to check out in the area as well.