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17 Things To Do In California That MOST People Don’t Know About

Whether you’re a California local or just someone who loves the state, there comes a point when you might feel like you’ve done everything.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you haven’t!

The greatest thing about California is that there’s always something new to explore.

That’s why, in this guide, we’re covering 17 things to do in California when you thought you’d done it all.

There’s some real hidden gems on this list that you’ll absolutely love!

Even many locals who’ve lived in California their whole lives haven’t heard of some of these places.

1. Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock is a famous landmark in California, located on Mount Woodson in San Diego County. 

It’s known for its unique shape that resembles a thin, crispy potato chip sticking out from the mountain. 

People from all over come to hike the challenging trail up the mountain that leads to this rock, especially to take pictures standing or sitting on it. 

Despite its delicate appearance, the rock is very strong and can easily hold several people at once. 

2. Explore The Ghost Towns Around The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is surrounded by ghost towns. These eerie towns were once bustling but are now abandoned. 

Located in the southeastern part of the state, the Salton Sea is a large, salty lake that was actually created by accident in the early 1900s. 

Towns around the lake, like Bombay Beach and Salton Sea Beach, were then developed in the 1950s and 1960s as vacation spots. 

Even famous celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and the Beach Boys frequented these towns!

However, as the lake became more polluted and the water levels changed, people started to leave. 

Now, these towns are mostly empty, with old buildings and deserted streets that tell stories of a different time. 

They’re very interesting to explore and many people go there to see the eerie beauty as well as the stunning landscapes that surround the area.

3. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a special place in California as it’s home to some of the oldest trees in the world. 

It is located in the White Mountains of eastern California, not too far from Bishop. 

These ancient trees, known as bristlecone pines, can actually live for thousands of years with the oldest known tree being 4,855 years old. 

The forest is a quiet, beautiful area that lets you see nature’s incredible ability to survive in tough conditions. 

People come from all over to hike the trails, take photos and learn about the resilience and beauty of these remarkable trees.

4. Fossil Falls

Fossil Falls is a dry waterfall, located near the town of Little Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada region. 

Despite its name, there are no actual fossils or falls here. 

Instead, the “falls” are smooth, sculpted rock formations that have been created by volcanic activity and water erosion over thousands of years. 

Long ago, this area was covered by rivers and streams that flowed over the volcanic rock, shaping it into the smooth, swirling patterns we see today. 

5. Ruby Lake

Ruby Lake is a beautiful and serene spot, located high in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. 

It’s part of the Inyo National Forest which is located near the town of Bishop. 

This lake is known for its clear, blue waters and the stunning mountain scenery that surrounds it. 

mlhradio / Flickr

It’s a great place for fishing, bird watching and hiking, with trails that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

Ruby Lake is a great place to enjoy the peaceful environment and see wildlife in its natural habitat.

6. Donner Pass Summit Railroad Hike

The Donner Pass Summit Railroad Hike is an adventurous trail, located near the historical town of Truckee in the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

This hike takes you along the old railroad tracks that were once used to cross the mountains. 

Along the way, you’ll be able to explore old train tunnels and see stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. 

The trail is famous for its history and the engineering marvels of the tunnels that were hand drilled through solid granite in the 1860s. 

7. Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the largest island in the Channel Islands National Park. It’s located off the coast of Southern California near Los Angeles. 

This beautiful island is known for its diverse landscapes including rugged cliffs, sandy beaches and deep canyons. 

You can easily get to the island by boat from the mainland for a day of hiking, bird watching and exploring the rich history of the area. 

The island is home to many unique plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth, like the island fox. 

With its stunning views and natural beauty, Santa Cruz Island offers an adventure and a peaceful escape from the busy mainland.

8. Trona Pinnacles

The Trona Pinnacles are a unique natural landmark located in the California Desert, near the town of Trona in the Mojave Desert.

These pinnacles are large spires and towers made of calcium carbonate.

They were formed underwater thousands of years ago when the area was covered by a lake. 

Today, over 500 of these formations dot the landscape which has created a scene that looks like it’s from another planet. 

The site has also been a popular location for filming movies and TV shows because of its unique and dramatic backdrop. These include Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

Related Reading: 11 Places In California That Look Like A Different Planet

9. Trinity Alps Wilderness

The Trinity Alps Wilderness is a vast, wild area in Northern California, covering over 500,000 acres. 

It’s part of the larger Klamath Mountains region which is located between the towns of Eureka and Redding. 

This wilderness area is known for its stunning natural beauty including towering granite peaks, crystal-clear lakes and dense forests. 

Hikers and campers love coming to the Trinity Alps to explore its many trails, fish in its streams and enjoy the peace of the great outdoors. 

It features over 600 miles of hiking trails so you’ll never run out of new places to explore!

10. Tennessee Cove

Tennessee Cove is a secluded beach hidden away in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. 

It’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is found at the end of a beautiful 1.7-mile trail through the Tennessee Valley. 

Jeff P / Flickr

This cove is famous for its stunning views, unique dark sand and the remains of a shipwreck, the SS Tennessee, which met its fate here in the 19th century. 

The remnants of the ship can still be seen occasionally at low tide. It’s one of the few shipwrecks in California you can still see today.

11. Lost Coast

The Lost Coast is a remote and wild stretch of shoreline in Northern California, located in both Humboldt and Mendocino counties. 

It’s called the “Lost Coast” because it’s one of the few areas of the California coast that’s too rugged for major roads or development, making it a hidden gem for nature lovers. 

This untouched area offers miles of pristine beaches, towering cliffs and dense forests, all waiting to be explored. 

Hiking the Lost Coast Trail is a great way to experience its untouched beauty as it offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and a chance to see wildlife like sea lions and eagles. 

Because of its isolation, visiting the Lost Coast is a true adventure and is perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

If you plan to do this hike, please check for low tides as some parts of the trail are impassable at high tide and you might get stuck.

12. Mount San Jacinto State Park

Mount San Jacinto State Park is located in Southern California, near Palm Springs. 

It’s a massive park that covers just a part of the San Jacinto Mountains. 

It offers breathtaking views and, due to its high altitude, it features a cooler climate compared to the desert below. 

Grigory Heaton / Flickr

You can get to the park via Highway 243 or by taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which provides a scenic ride to the top. 

Once there, you’ll be able to enjoy over 50 miles of hiking trails, camping and spotting wildlife in the forest. 

The park is famous for its beautiful landscapes, from towering pine trees and mountain meadows to rocky peaks.

13. Terranea Beach Sea Cave

The Terranea Beach Sea Cave is located in Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California. It’s part of the scenic coastline near the luxurious Terranea Resort. 

This natural sea cave is carved into the cliffs along the Pacific Ocean. It’s a unique and beautiful spot to explore. 

You can access the cave by taking a short hike down a trail from the resort or the public beach next to it. 

This is best attempted during low tide when the cave is most visible and accessible. 

Inside, you’ll be able to see the power of the ocean up close with waves crashing into the cave’s walls. 

14. Shark Fin Cove

Shark Fin Cove is a stunning beach located just off Highway 1, near the town of Davenport in Northern California. 

It’s named after the large, shark fin-shaped rock that sits in the water close to the shore.

It’s actually one of the most photographed spots along the Northern California coast!

The cove features a beautiful sandy beach, clear blue waters and impressive cliffs surrounding it. 

You can even explore a small sea cave and tide pools that are home to various marine life. 

15. Hot Air Balloon Ride in Temecula Valley

Taking a hot air balloon ride in Temecula Valley is an unforgettable experience that lets you see the world from above. 

Temecula Valley is located in Southern California between Los Angeles and San Diego. 

It’s known for its beautiful wine country with rolling hills covered in vineyards. 

When you go on a hot air balloon ride here, most lift off early in the morning, floating gently in the sky as the sun rises.

From the balloon, you can see the vast vineyards, green farms and distant mountains. It’s very scenic.

16. Giant Rock in Landers

Giant Rock is a massive, seven-story tall boulder located in the Mojave Desert, near the town of Landers in Southern California. 

It’s one of the largest freestanding boulders in the world, covering almost 5,800 square feet of ground. 

This huge rock has been a significant site for Native American tribes, early settlers and even UFO enthusiasts over the years. 

Don Barrett / Flickr

In fact, back in the 1930s, a man named Frank Critzer actually dug himself a 400-square-foot home directly beneath the rock!

Legend has it that Giant Rock is not just a natural landmark but also a spiritual one with many stories and mysteries surrounding it. 

You can visit to see this enormous rock up close, take a fun photo and experience the desert’s beauty.

17. Slot Canyon

Slot Canyon is located in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California. 

This narrow canyon is famous for its towering 40-ft high sandstone walls that are so close together, you even have to move sideways at some points. 

Walking through the Slot Canyon feels like exploring a secret passage with twists and turns. Definitely don’t attempt this if you’re claustrophobic!

The light filtering down from above changes throughout the day and paints the walls in different colors and patterns. 

It’s a popular spot for hiking and photography as it offers an adventure that feels like stepping into another world, right in the heart of the desert.


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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