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31 California Hidden Gems Only LOCALS Know About 😱

Want to find the REAL gems in California?

The places that tourists never hear about because locals keep them a secret.

Well, this post is going to reveal 31 of these extraordinary places in California that you wish you had known about sooner.

No Golden Gate Bridge or Yosemite on this list.

But you will find some of the best places to stargaze, unsolved natural phenomena, and ancient landscapes.

And that’s only SOME of the places.

Let’s get into the list of the best-hidden gems in California.

In no particular order…

1. Prewitt Ridge

Located in the Big Sur region of California, Prewitt Ridge offers one of the most stunning overlooks on the Pacific Coast. 

Known for its breathtaking views of the ocean and surrounding landscapes, this remote area provides a perfect escape for camping and stargazing

Accessible via a rugged drive, Prewitt Ridge is a hidden gem that boasts unparalleled sunset and sunrise views. 

prewitt ridge big sur

2. Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park

Located 160 miles north of Sacramento, this area offers a mix of serene lake bliss and volcanic wonders. 

Lake Almanor is perfect for water sports and family activities, while Lassen Volcanic National Park features unique geothermal sights like bubbling mud pots and steaming vents.

View towards Almanor Lake from the trail to Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Northern California

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the least visited national parks in California so it doesn’t get anywhere near as many visitors as places like Joshua Tree or Yosemite.

3. Bodie State Historic Park

An authentic Wild West ghost town that is preserved in a state of “arrested decay.”

It’s one of the best-preserved ghost towns in America allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the American West as it was in the late 1800s.

The town’s over 100 remaining structures, including homes, a church, and the old mill, offer a hauntingly picturesque glimpse into a forgotten era.

bodie state historic park

4. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, sprawling over 600,000 acres in Southern California, is the largest state park in California.

Known for its breathtaking wildflower blooms, unique desert landscapes, and a vast array of wildlife, the park offers a multitude of recreational activities, from hiking and camping to stargazing.

Its distinctive features also include massive metal sculptures scattered across the landscape, adding an artistic element to the natural beauty of the desert.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park bloom

5. The Cedars, Sonoma County

A hidden valley with some of the world’s rarest trees and unique geological formations. 

It’s a little-known, ecologically significant area that feels like stepping into another world.

6. Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz

A gravitational anomaly located in the redwood forests just outside of Santa Cruz.

Nestled in the redwood forests, this gravitational anomaly creates optical illusions and gravity-defying phenomena that baffle and amaze visitors.

It’s a fun and unique experience where balls seem to roll uphill, and people appear to stand at impossible angles, making it a must-visit for those seeking a blend of mystery and amusement.

7. The Lost Coast

California’s most undeveloped stretch of shoreline, is known for its rugged coastline and wilderness. 

It’s the largest coastal wilderness area in the contiguous United States.

The abandoned Punta Gorda Lighthouse on the Lost Coast, California USA (1)

If you’re doing a Highway 101 Roadtrip it’s a perfect place to explore.

8. Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Starting at North Fork, near the center of California, this 100-mile route offers breathtaking views of granite domes, glaciated peaks, and historic sites like the Jesse Ross Cabin and Jones’ Store.

9. Lava Beds National Monument

Offering more than 700 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields and campsites, and a high desert wilderness experience. 

It’s one of the best places in California to explore both geological and historical wonders.

Lava Beds National Monument

10. The Integratron, Landers

The Integratron in Landers, California, stands as an architectural marvel known for its unique acoustics and historical intrigue.

Built on a geomagnetic vortex, this all-wooden structure is famed for its rejuvenating sound baths, offering a deeply relaxing and meditative experience.

Originally constructed with the intention of time travel and rejuvenation, the Integratron today invites visitors to explore its mysteries and enjoy a one-of-a-kind sonic healing session amidst the serene desert landscape.

11. Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert

Kelso Dunes in the Mojave Desert presents a mesmerizing and less-traveled natural wonder.

Known for the phenomenon of ‘singing’ or ‘booming’ sand, these dunes create a mysterious, low-frequency rumble when the sand moves, a captivating acoustic experience unique to this landscape.

kelso dunes

Stretching over 45 square miles, the dunes offer a stunning desert vista, ideal for hiking, photography, and experiencing one of nature’s rare auditory marvels.

12. Racetrack Playa, Death Valley

Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park is an intriguing natural wonder, famous for its mysterious moving rocks.

These rocks, some weighing hundreds of pounds, leave long trails behind them as they seemingly glide across the dry lake bed, a phenomenon that has puzzled scientists and visitors for decades.

racetrack playa death valley

The stark, otherworldly landscape of Racetrack Playa, set against the backdrop of the rugged Death Valley terrain, offers a unique and surreal experience for those exploring this remote part of California.

13. Winchester Mystery House, San Jose

A bizarre mansion with stairs leading to nowhere and doors that open into walls, built by the widow of the Winchester Rifle fortune.

It’s a top destination for those looking for haunted places in California.

14. Convict Lake

Convict Lake, nestled in the Eastern Sierra near Mammoth Lakes, is known for its crystal-clear waters and dramatic mountain backdrop.

This picturesque lake, steeped in Wild West history, is a popular destination for fishing, hiking, and photography.

convict lake california

15. Point Reyes Shipwreck

The Point Reyes Shipwreck, an iconic and photogenic fishing boat resting in Inverness, is a beloved subject for photographers and a symbol of the rugged beauty of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Its weathered appearance, set against the scenic backdrop of Tomales Bay, adds a touch of historical charm to the area.

point reyes shipwreck

16. Murphys

Located in California’s Gold Country, about 85 miles southeast of Sacramento, Murphys is a charming town for wine enthusiasts with over two dozen boutique wineries. 

The area is also known for its historical significance and natural attractions like Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Moaning Cavern.

17. Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park, often dubbed the “Galapagos of North America,” is a remarkable collection of five islands off the California coast.

This secluded park boasts a wealth of unique wildlife, plants, and archaeological resources, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

With its isolated and diverse ecosystems, the park offers exceptional opportunities for wildlife watching, hiking, and exploring sea caves, making it a pristine natural sanctuary.

Boat anchored off Scorpian Anchorage on Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park

18. Trona Pinnacles

This remarkable landscape is made up of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Lake basin. 

The Pinnacles are a favorite for geologists and photographers and have been the backdrop for many films and commercials.

trona pinnacles

19. Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a hidden natural masterpiece along the Northern California coast.

This lush, narrow gorge is lined with walls of ferns, some dating back to prehistoric times, creating a verdant, almost otherworldly landscape.

20. Devil’s Postpile National Monument

Famous for its impressive columnar basalt formations. 

These unique hexagonal pillars were formed by a lava flow roughly 100,000 years ago.

Devil's Postpile National Monument

21. Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace, Bakersfield

Located in Bakersfield, this honky-tonk venue is a hotspot for live country music and dancing. 

It also houses a museum showcasing music memorabilia, particularly from the 1960s Bakersfield Sound era.

22. Pluto’s Cave, Near Mt Shasta

A partially collapsed lava tube that stretches for over 13 miles. 

It’s a hidden underground world that offers a unique spelunking experience.

If you’re up for it you can even hike Mt Shasta nearby which is one of the highest peaks in all of California.

23. The Wave Organ, San Francisco

The Wave Organ in San Francisco is an acoustic sculpture that creates music-like sounds with the bay’s tides.

Situated on a jetty, it offers a unique and tranquil listening experience with picturesque bay views.

24. Amboy Crater, Mojave Desert

An extinct cinder cone volcano that offers a surreal hiking experience. 

The crater, over 6,000 years old, is a rare and well-preserved example of a volcanic field.

25. The Alabama Hills

Nestled near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada in Owens Valley, famous for its unique rock formations and is a popular filming location for Hollywood films, especially Westerns.

alabama hills, lone pine,  california

26. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, located in California’s White Mountains, is home to some of the oldest living trees in the world.

These majestic bristlecone pines, with some exceeding 4,000 years in age, stand as silent witnesses to millennia.

This forest provides a unique opportunity to walk amongst these ancient natural wonders and contemplate the vast expanse of natural history.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

27. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

More than just a bookstore, it’s a labyrinth of books with unique art installations, creating a surreal and whimsical atmosphere for book lovers.

28. Napa Valley Petrified Forest

Home to some of the largest petrified trees in the world, dating back millions of years. 

It offers a fascinating glimpse into the geological history of the region.

29. Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve showcases otherworldly tufa towers, formed by calcium carbonate interacting with lake water.

This surreal landscape, combined with the lake’s vital bird habitat, offers a unique and mesmerizing natural spectacle.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

30. Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands

Situated about 140 miles north of San Francisco, these lands boast 1,700 acres of dramatic seascapes. 

Designated as part of the California Coastal National Monument, the area is perfect for whale-watching and exploring the rugged coastline, including the Point Arena Lighthouse.

31. Salton Sea

Now this one is a controversial pick.

Once a thriving resort area, now an eerily beautiful, almost apocalyptic landscape.

It’s one of the world’s largest inland seas and one of the lowest spots on Earth.

salton sea

Like the Caspian Sea and the Dead Sea the Salton Sea is also considered a lake.

However, some people think it’s one of the worst lakes in California.


Which one of these will you visit?

Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

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