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These 11 Places In California Will Make You Feel Like You’re On A DIFFERENT PLANET! 🤯

Ever been to a place and thought “Man this place doesn’t even feel like Earth!” ?

Well, there are places in California that will give you this EXACT feeling.

But not everybody knows where to find these otherworldly landscapes.

So today we’re revealing the places in California that really make you feel like you’re on a different planet!

P.S. Star Trek fans will definitely want to read about number 8 on the list.

places in california that look like a different planet google map graphic

The list is in order according to the map graphic above.

1. The Painted Dunes of Lassen

Mount Lassen and Painted Dunes, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California (1)

The Painted Dunes are a breathtaking sight, featuring vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow across the volcanic ash and pumice fields.

These colors result from the oxidation of volcanic ash layers, which have been shaped and altered by the elements over time.

The vivid, unnatural colors of the Painted Dunes set against the park’s rugged volcanic terrain create a landscape that seems to belong to another world.

Where it is: 

The Painted Dunes are located within Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California.

Things to see or do in the area: 

A hike to the Cinder Cone provides a panoramic view of the Painted Dunes, as well as the fantastic Lassen Peak.

Painted Dunes - Mount Lassen (1)

If you can handle the smell of rotten eggs then you can visit hydrothermal sites like Bumpass Hell, with its acres of bubbling mud pots.

The surrounding area offers numerous trails, including the challenging Lassen Peak trail and the relaxing Manzanita Lake loop, perfect for wildlife watching and fishing.

You can also choose to go camping by Manzanita Lake for a serene experience in nature.

manzanita lake lassen volcanic sunset

Things to see or do nearby: 

Beyond the park’s volcanic attractions, nearby McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park features one of California’s most spectacular waterfalls.

Best time of year to visit: 

The best time to visit the Painted Dunes and Lassen Volcanic National Park is from late spring to early fall when the roads and trails are most accessible.

2. Mono Lake

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Mono Lake is known for its otherworldly tufa towers – calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water.

The high salinity of the lake supports a unique ecosystem, including brine shrimp, which in turn attract nesting and migratory birds.

The combination of the towering tufa formations, the alkaline waters of the lake, and the surrounding arid landscape makes Mono Lake feel like a scene from another world.

Where it is: 

Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake located in Mono County, Eastern Sierra, California, near the town of Lee Vining.

It’s about a 30-minute drive from Yosemite National Park’s eastern entrance, making it an accessible stop for travelers exploring the Sierra Nevada region.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Walking among the tufa towers at the South Tufa Area, especially during sunrise or sunset, offers stunning views and photo opportunities.

mono lake tufas sunrise (1)

Bird watching is a popular activity, particularly during migration seasons.

Kayaking or canoeing on Mono Lake provides a unique perspective of the tufa formations and the surrounding scenery.

Things to see or do nearby: 

The nearby town of Lee Vining offers amenities and historical insights at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center.

mono lake tufas (1)

For people who love to hike, the countless trails in the Eastern Sierra provide breathtaking views of the high desert and mountain landscapes.

Best time of year to visit: 

Late spring through early fall is the best time to visit Mono Lake.

This period offers the most pleasant weather for exploring the tufa towers and the surrounding natural beauty.

mono lake in fall

Bird watchers will especially enjoy the fall migration.

3. Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills California mobius arch sunrise

The Alabama Hills are known for their distinctive rock formations, arches, and the stunning backdrop of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States.

The surreal landscapes of the Alabama Hills, with their unique rock formations and the dramatic Sierra Nevada backdrop, create a scene that feels not just removed from the rest of California, but from Earth itself!

The natural beauty and stark contrasts of the area evoke a sense of being on a distant, rocky planet.

Where it is: 

The Alabama Hills lies at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near the town of Lone Pine in eastern California.

alabama hills lone pine california (1)

Things to see or do in the area: 

Hiking to Mobius Arch and Heart Arch offers not only a mild physical challenge, but also unique photo opportunities with the Sierra Nevada peaks framed perfectly in the natural rock arches.

Rock climbing and off-road driving are also popular activities in the rugged terrain and if you’re coming in an RV you can also camp here.

Things to see or do nearby: 

The Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center, located just south of Lone Pine, provides information on the rich history of the area and its natural wonders.

alabama hills california eastern sierra

The nearby Manzanar National Historic Site offers a poignant look at a darker chapter of American history, where you can learn about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Best time of year to visit: 

Spring and fall are the ideal times to visit the Alabama Hills, when the weather is mild, and the natural beauty of the area is at its peak.

alabama hills california (1)

Spring offers wildflowers blooming amidst the rocks, while fall brings cooler temperatures and vibrant colors.

4. Death Valley National Park

death valley zabriskie point

Death Valley offers a landscape of extremes.

From the shimmering salt flats at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, to the colorful badlands of Zabriskie Point, Death Valley really feels out of this world.

Don’t forget the surreal, shifting sands of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and the unexplainable sailing stones of racetrack playa too!

The contrast between the valley’s floor and the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains adds to its otherworldly appearance.

Where it is: 

Spanning the border between California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park is a vast expanse known for being the hottest place on Earth.

The closest city to Death Valley is Las Vegas in Nevada which is about a 2 hour drive.

Things to see or do in the area:

Hiking the sand dunes at dawn or dusk provides cooler temperatures and stunning photographic opportunities with long shadows and soft light.

racetrack playa death valley

The drive to Dante’s View rewards visitors with panoramic views of the valley below.

For a touch of history, explore the ruins at the Harmony Borax Works.

Things to see or do nearby: 

The ghost town of Rhyolite, just outside the park in Nevada, offers a fascinating detour with its historic, abandoned structures and the Goldwell Open Air Museum’s outdoor sculptures.

Best time of year to visit: 

The cooler months from November to March are ideal for visiting.

Summer temperatures can soar above 120°F (49°C), making outdoor activities dangerous.

5. Red Rock Canyon State Park


Picture dramatic, jagged red cliffs and multi-hued rock formations rising starkly from the Mojave Desert floor.

This park’s striking landscape is dotted with Joshua trees (which themselves look a bit funky), making it a surreal sight against the backdrop of deep blue skies.

With its vivid red rock formations that seem to erupt from the earth and the way the landscape changes color with the sun’s position, Red Rock Canyon State Park really does feel like a Martian landscape.

Where it is: 

Located in the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada in California, Red Rock Canyon State Park offers a desert landscape that’s about 120 miles north of Los Angeles.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Try out the Hagen Canyon Nature Trail, a relatively easy walk that leads you through some of the park’s most iconic landscapes.

Rock Canyon arch view. Red Rock Canyon State park, California (1)

For a bit more adventure, you can camp overnight at the Ricardo Campground which offers stunning views of the rocks, especially under the glow of sunset or sunrise.

Things to see or do nearby: 

Just a short drive away, the historical town of Randsburg offers a peek into a living ghost town experience, where you can explore antique shops and an old-fashioned soda fountain.

If you’re willing to drive a bit further you can enjoy Lake Isabella which is a great spot for lakeside camping.

Best time of year to visit: 

The best times to visit are during the spring and fall when the temperatures are more moderate.

Spring blossons of cassia Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA (1)

Coming during spring also gives you the chance to see the desert bloom with wildflowers.

6. Trona Pinnacles

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

trona pinnacles

The spires are remnants of calcium carbonate deposits that formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when the lake covered the area.

The eerie, moon-like landscape against the backdrop of the stark desert and distant mountains makes the Trona Pinnacles a pretty surreal sight.

The spires really make you feel like you’ve been transported to another planet.

So it’s no surprise that a few sci-fi films and television series have been filmed here, including the likes of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

trona pinnacles

Where it is: 

The Trona Pinnacles are located in the California Desert National Conservation Area, near the town of Trona, about 170 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Walking or driving among the spires offers a unique opportunity to explore this otherworldly terrain.

Photography is especially rewarding here during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset when the shadows and colors of the spires dramatically change.

The location is also popular for stargazing due to the minimal light pollution and people often camp here to experience this unique part of California overnight.

trona pinnacles landscape

Things to see or do nearby: 

The nearby town of Ridgecrest offers a base for supplies and accommodation.

For more outdoor adventure, Death Valley National Park is a couple of hours’ drive away, offering a vast array of landscapes and geological features.

Best time of year to visit: 

The best times to visit are during the cooler months from October to April.

Summers can be extremely hot, making exploration less comfortable during the day.

7. Mojave National Preserve

kelso dunes

The preserve showcases a diverse desert environment, including sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and wildflower fields.

The Kelso Dunes offer a chance to hear the ‘singing sands,’ a really eerie and unique phenomenon that is rare to witness in North America.

They produce a deep and eerie rumbling sound under the right circumstances that will make you feel like an alien life form is calling at you.

As well as the Kelso Dunes you have the opportunity to see Cima Dome & Joshua Tree Forest which is one of the world’s densest spread of Joshua Trees.

Unfortunately, about 25% of Joshua Tree Forest at Cima Dome burned as part of the Dome Fire in August of 2020, but it’s still a cool place to visit.

This vast, silent, and sprawling landscape under the expansive desert sky feels like stepping onto another planet.

You’re seriously going to feel like you’ve stepped foot on Mars when you visit this place.

Where it is: 

Situated in southeastern California, the Mojave National Preserve is a vast wilderness area that captures the essence of the Mojave Desert.

It’s about 3 hours drive northeast of Los Angeles.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Hiking the Teutonia Peak Trail provides stunning views and a path through dense Joshua tree forests.

Cima Dome, Teutonia and Kessler Peaks (1)

Exploring the Kelso Dunes offers a physical challenge, but also the reward of incredible panoramic desert views and ‘booming’ dunes that sing to you.

Don’t miss a visit to the historic Kelso Depot, an oasis of human history in the middle of the desert.

Things to see or do nearby: 

Just outside the preserve, the historic Route 66 town of Amboy and its famous Roy’s Motel and Café offer a peek into the classic American road trip era.

Nearby you also have the Amboy Crater, an extinct cinder cone volcano.

Best time of year to visit: 

The best times to visit are during spring and fall when the weather is more moderate.

Mojave National Preserve (1)

Spring can also bring wildflowers, adding splashes of color to the desert landscape.

8. Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

Famous for its dramatic rock formations, Vasquez Rocks features jagged peaks and striking geological features formed by rapid erosion.

The surreal shapes of the Vasquez Rocks, carved out over millions of years, resemble landscapes more commonly found in science fiction.

These rocks, some rising as high as 150 feet, create a stark and striking landscape against the backdrop of the California sky.

The area’s unique topography has made it a popular filming location for many movies and TV shows including Sci-Fi productions like Star Trek.

It’s particularly infamous for the Kirk vs Gorn episode in Star Trek.

Where it is: 

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is located in the Sierra Pelona Mountains, in northern Los Angeles County, California.

It’s about an hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles, making it an accessible escape to nature.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Hiking and horseback riding are popular activities, with trails winding through the park offering up-close views of the rock formations.

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park 2

The Pacific Crest Trail also passes through here, offering longer hiking options.

Photographers will love the park, especially in the golden hours of dawn and dusk.

Things to see or do nearby: 

The nearby town of Agua Dulce offers charming dining and winery experiences, adding a relaxing end to a day of exploration.

For more nature adventures, the Angeles National Forest is just a short drive away, offering expansive hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Best time of year to visit: 

Spring and fall are the best times to visit Vasquez Rocks when the weather is mild and the natural beauty of the area is at its peak.

You can also catch colorful wildflower blooms if you time your trip correctly during spring.

9. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree grove, Joshua Tree National Park (1)

This park is named after the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) scattered throughout the landscape, which add to the area’s unique and surreal beauty.

The park’s varied terrain includes rugged rock formations, stark desert landscapes, and a variety of plants and animals adapted to its harsh environment.

The vast landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park, with its peculiarly shaped Joshua trees standing sentinel among the boulders and barren grounds, evoke a Martian-like desert scene.

Where it is: 

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.

The park is about a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, making it a popular weekend destination for city dwellers seeking an escape into nature.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Hiking trails like Hidden Valley offer a glimpse into the park’s unique geology and desert ecology.

Rock climbing is a popular activity, with the park being a world-renowned destination for climbers.

joshua tree national park stars night sky (1)

The park’s clear skies make it an excellent spot for stargazing, especially at the Arch Rock or Skull Rock formations.

skull rock joshua tree national park (1)

Don’t miss the Jumbo Rocks area and the Indian Cove area which both have campgrounds if you want to wake up to an otherworldly desert landscape.

Things to see or do nearby: 

The nearby towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms offer accommodations, art galleries, and eateries.

Located in Landers, the Integratron offers a unique sound bath experience and an extraterrestrial backstory.

The designer of the Integratron (George Van Tassel) claimed that Integratron was capable of rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel, and that he was instructed by aliens from Venus on how to build it.

Road to Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park (1)

Best time of year to visit: 

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is during the cooler months from October to May.

10. Painted Canyon, Mecca

Ladder Canyon Trail in Mecca, California

Painted Canyon is a striking natural wonder, known for its colorful mineral deposits that streak the canyon walls in shades of pink, red, gray, and brown.

The combination of the colorful canyon walls, narrow slot canyons, and the rugged, untouched landscape of Painted Canyon gives you a sense of being on a distant, unexplored planet.

Where it is: 

Painted Canyon is located in the Mecca Hills, within the Coachella Valley in Southern California.

It’s about a 40-minute drive from Palm Springs and is accessible via the town of Mecca.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Hiking the Ladder Canyon Trail is a must-do activity.

painted canyon mecca (1)

This moderately challenging hike includes ladders placed strategically to navigate the slot canyons, making it an adventurous and unique experience.

The trail offers incredible photo opportunities, with the best light occurring in the early morning or late afternoon.

Things to see or do nearby: 

The Salton Sea, with its eerie landscape and birdwatching opportunities, is a short drive away.

You’ve also got the city of Coachella not too far away where you can get some grub and find other amenities.

Best time of year to visit: 

The best time to visit Painted Canyon is during the cooler months, from late fall to early spring.

Jagged San Andreas Formed Canyon Landscape Of Mecca Hills, California (1)

During this time, the temperatures are more comfortable for hiking, and the chance of encountering wildflowers adds to the beauty of the landscape.

11. Salton Sea

Salton Sea shore

Once a thriving resort area in the 1950s and 60s, the Salton Sea now presents an eerie, post-apocalyptic landscape.

It has abandoned buildings, desolate beaches, and a peculiar odor due to the high salinity and pollution levels.

The stark contrast between the sea’s serene surface and the desolation surrounding it gives the area a surreal, otherworldly atmosphere.

You might feel like it’s a distant planet from a sci-fi film that humans left behind.

salton sea structures

Where it is: 

The Salton Sea is located in California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys, southeast of Palm Springs.

This large, saline lake lies directly on the San Andreas Fault, contributing to its unique geological features.

Things to see or do in the area: 

Birdwatching is surprisingly prolific here, especially at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, where over 400 bird species have been recorded.

salton sea birds

Photographers will find the surreal landscape and abandoned structures compelling subjects.

Exploring the nearby mud pots and geothermal vents in the Imperial Valley offers a glimpse into the earth’s volatile underbelly.

Things to see or do nearby:

The nearby town of Bombay Beach offers artistic installations and a small but vibrant community making the most of the unique environment.

Additionally, the 30-acre East Jesus art installation in Slab City showcases human creativity in the face of environmental adversity, located just a short drive away.

salton sea structures 2

Best time of year to visit: 

The cooler months from November to March are the best time to visit the Salton Sea, as the temperatures are more bearable and the bird migration is at its peak.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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