Ultimate California Bucket List: 100 Adventures You Need to Have in the State

As a state, California really does have a little bit of everything. From the scenic coastal drives and the arid deserts to towering Eastern Sierras and the large metropolitan cities, you could spend your whole life exploring this state and still not see all that it has to offer. I have spent the last five years trying to document as much of it as I can on my site, so I figured the five year anniversary would be a good time to create a bucket list of the 100 best spots I have seen over my time exploring. Check them out below and let me know what you would add to this list in the comments.

1. Marvel at Burney Falls

burney falls

One of my personal favorite spots, Burney Falls in Northern California is probably the best waterfall in the entire state. Sure there are bigger ones in Yosemite, but for me, the cascading power of this waterfall makes it something I keep coming back to again and again.

2. Hike to Hollywood Sign

hollywood sign-1

There are few things more iconic in California then the famous Hollywood Sign. Hiking to it is a rite of passage for many a Southern California hiker, and while you can’t get that close to it, you can still look down on this icon with the city of Los Angeles behind it, making it a must do in the state.

3. Drive the Big Sur Coastline

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The Big Sur coastline has been inspiring people for centuries with its rugged mountains that lead right down to picturesque beaches. Make sure you have a few days to explore though as there is so much to see.

4. Get Your Feet Wet at Fern Canyon

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One of California’s best and easiest hikes, Fern Canyon in Northern California was a spot used in the filming of Jurassic Park, The Lost World. If that doesn’t tell you how beautiful it is then just remember this movie was supposed to take place on a tropical island. It is one of those hikes you won’t forget.

5. Stargaze at Glacier Point

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There are lots of great places for dark night skies in California, but my favorite is Glacier Point in Yosemite. There is just something about watching the sunset fade over half dome and then seeing the stars light up the sky behind it that is just magical to me.

6. Kayak to Fannette Island in Emerald Bay State Park

Kayaking to Fannette Island-21

In South Lake Tahoe sits one of my favorite state parks in all of California, Emerald Bay. In the middle of the bay is an island with an old tea house on top of it. Rent a kayak and paddle out to the island, where you can leave the kayak and walk up to the old tea house.

7. See the Rocks Move at the Death Valley Racetrack

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No trip to Death Valley is complete without taking the 27-mile dirt road out to the racetrack where the rocks move on their own. This desolate spot, out on an old dry lake bed, is a place you need to see with your own eyes to believe.

8. Watch the Sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge

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The Golden Gate Bridge is up there with the Hollywood Sign as one of the most notable man-made objects in the state. I never get tired of seeing it, as it is just so majestic. Take the time to sit and watch the sun go down on it when you are in the area. I like Moore Pier or Battery Point for this.

9. Walk up Salvation Mountain

salvation mountain

One man’s tribute to God’s Love is a really fun road trip destination out in the Salton Sea. Sure it can be a strange place to visit and incredibly hot in the summer, but you will never forget seeing this crazy painted mountain right out in the arid desert.

10. Climb to the Highest Point in the Contiguous USA, Mt Whitney

View-from-Mt-Whitney-Summit

If you are a hiker then of course Mt Whitney is on your list. While it is not technical, it is a real grind to get to the top especially considering the high altitude which tops out at over 14,000 feet. However, once you get there, you will be standing on top of the tallest mountain in the lower 48, which is quite an achievement.

11. Wine Taste at the Oldest Winery in the State

Buena Vista Winery-16

In Sonoma County sits the oldest, continuously running winery in all of California. At over a century and a half old it is even on the National Register of Historical Places and it is a fun spot to say you visited when in CA. The winery is called Buena Vista, and it has an awesome old stone building that you wine taste in.

12. Explore the Capitol Building in Sacramento

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Sacramento itself is a great spot to spend some time and dive into the awesome Farm to Fork scene they are cultivating. However, the most unique thing you can do in the city is visit the Capitol Building and see the different Houses represented there. I found this to be really interesting and something that should be on everyone’s list.

13. Take a Boat to the Channel Islands

Inspiration Point Anacapa

The Channel Islands are one of the least visited national parks in the entire United States, which makes them an amazingly peaceful spot for exploring and for relaxing your mind. Whether it is kayaking, hiking or wildlife viewing you will find something to love on these remote islands.

14. Watch the Sunset over the Sunset Cliffs

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By far one of my favorite spots for watching the sunset is the aptly named Sunset Cliffs in San Diego. I have been here countless times, and I never tire of how beautiful the area is and how amazing the sunset appears as it eases slowly down over the rocks and water. It feels remote even though it is right in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the USA.

15. See the Oldest Trees in the World

Patriarch Grove Bristlecone-22

Taking the trip up to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest outside of Big Pine should be on every adventurer’s list. The oldest living tree in the world is situated up there and even if that wasn’t the case, these gnarled, and unique pine trees are a photographers paradise.

16. Walk the Cypress Tree Tunnel in Point Reyes

Cypress Tree Tunnel-3

Sure you have seen this on one of your favorite photographer’s Instagrams, but have you thought about visiting yourself? It is such an easy spot to get to a you literally just drive up. The pictures are just incredible with the old cypress grove seeming to close in on you as you walk the road.

17. Sit at the Base of the Largest Tree in the World

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Not to be overshadowed by the oldest tree in the world, the largest tree in the world is also in California, in Sequoia National Park. It is hard to comprehend when you see it as it is just so large, but it really does make you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things.

18. Repel into Moaning Cavern

Moaning Cavern-11

When you think of unique adventures in California, it is hard to think of something as unique as this. In Central California, there is a cave that the Statue of Liberty could fit into and that you can pay to repel into. It was such a crazy experience that I highly recommend you get over your fear or heights and do it as well.

19. Hike to the Top of Half Dome

Half Dome-1

Half Dome is probably the most recognizable natural attraction in California and for good reason. The hike to the top is not for the faint of heart, as you have to do 16 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation to complete it, a few hundred feet of which is by pulling yourself up anxiety inducing cables. I was so proud of myself for finishing it, but I probably would not do it again.

20. Road Trip to the California Missions

Mission San Francisco Solano-2

The 21 Spanish California Missions are unique pieces of California history. If you have grown up in the California school system, then you will study them in the 4th grade, but if not you can make a fun, week-long road trip visiting these buildings, which are some of the oldest in the entire state.

21. Bike the Devils Slide

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Outside of Half Moon Bay, there is an old piece of Pacific Coast Highway that was so dangerous that it was closed. When they closed it though they repaved it and made it a multi-use trail for walking and biking. It is one of the most beautiful bike trails you can do in the state as you get to look at staggering views without worrying about cars.

22. Hang Out with the Elephant Seals in Ano Nuevo

Ano Nuevo State Park-8

Ano Nuevo State Park is unique in California as it protects the elephant seal population but also provides an almost safari-like experience for the visitor. During the summer months, you can hike out to the area where the elephant seals are at and watch them in their natural habitat. It is a lot of fun as there are sand dunes and such which make it so you never know what you are going to find over each new hill.

23. Explore the Wine Castle in Napa Valley

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Sure the true wine people might not love this recommendation, but it is just such a fun spot to explore that it is an easy suggestion for me. The castle itself has over 100 rooms and you can take a tour that takes you through dungeons, courtyards, and ballrooms. They call it the Disneyland for adults and it is easy to see why.

24. Snowshoe to Fallen Leaf Lake

Snowshoe Fallen Leaf Lake-9

During the winter months in Lake Tahoe, grabbing some snowshoes is one of the best ways you can see the area without other people. I like the trail to Fallen Leaf Lake as it is approachable for almost anyone, yet the views at the end are stunning.

25. Marvel at the Avenue of the Giants

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The Avenue of the Giants rivals Big Sur for me in terms of drives that just continue to blow your mind. This ride takes you 31 miles through one of the most beautiful groves of redwoods that you have ever seen. Each bend provides another fantastic spot for a photo and you can stop at dozens of groves to explore and experience the trees up close as well.

26. Spend a Day in the Alabama Hills

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While I wouldn’t recommend this during the summer, during the spring and fall the Alabama Hills are a wonderland for the adventurer. With hundreds of arches, most that don’t even have trails, you can scramble around rocks, drive the dirt roads and just get lost trying to find new rock formations.

27. Watch the Sunset over the Kelso Dunes

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As one of the easiest to access set of dunes in California, the Kelso Dunes are an amazing spot to spend some time at. I will say that the hike up is not very enjoyable, but if you watch the sunset over the desert from there it is hard to beat.

28. Sit in a Hot Spring off Highway 395

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There are a dozen or so hot springs around the Bishop / Mammoth area and while some are better than others, it is hard to beat sitting in a hot tub fed by natural warm water and looking out over the Eastern Sierras.

29. See the California State Fish in the Golden Trout Wilderness

Golden Trout Wilderness 19

The golden trout are only really found in one particular area of California, called the Golden Trout Wilderness. Located at 10,000 feet, these high altitude lakes and streams are incredible places to explore even if you don’t like to fish.

30. Hike to the World’s Largest Wooden Trestle 

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As one of the tougher short hikes you can do in California, visiting the Goat Canyon Trestle is an epic bucket list adventure. This bridge is the largest freestanding wooden trestle in the world, so it makes sense that the adventure would be worth the payoff.

31. Explore the Geothermal Pools of Bumpass Hell

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While nowhere near what you would see in Yellowstone, California’s geothermal area in Lassen National Park is still worth seeing. Bumpass Hell is the highlight of the area as it has crazy colors and a boardwalk that takes you right over the bubbling pools.

32. Tour the Historic Mission Inn Hotel

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The Mission Inn is one of the most beautiful and historic hotels in California. It has welcomed many presidents and was the place where Richard Nixon got married. The hotel is gorgeous and really fun to walk around and explore. Bonus points for going during Christmas when they have one of the best Christmas light displays in the USA.

33. Take a Sound Bath at the Integratron

Located out in the middle of California’s desert, the Integratron is a fantastic spot for an unusual experience. They do a sound bath on select days during the month where you lay in a room and just relax while all sorts of sounds cascade over you, something you have to experience to understand.

34. Get in the Christmas Spirit at Robolights in Palm Springs

Robolights 2015-4

As one of the largest private Christmas light displays in all of the USA, Kenny’s Robolights in Palm Springs is a positively uncommon experience. The robots and characters that fill this massive property are covered in more lights than you can imagine one person facilitating.

35. Drive through Bishop Creek in the Fall

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Bishop Creek is one of the most beautiful spots in the entire Eastern Sierra range year round; however, when the colors change in the fall it becomes gorgeous. I go pretty much every year and it never gets old.

36. Have a Drink with a Mermaid

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Dive Bar in Sacramento has a full aquarium above the bar, and during select weekend nights they have mermaids and mermen that swim in the aquarium while interacting with the fish and the patrons below.

37. Marvel at the Devil’s Postpile

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Located on the backside of Mammoth Mountain, Devil’s Postpile is a fantastic National Monument with a crazy rock formation. Bonus points for also hiking to Rainbow Falls while in the area.

38. Whale Watch in Santa Cruz

Chardonnay II Sailing 7

Santa Cruz is a great town in general, but when the whales are coming through the area it becomes magical. I recommend getting out on a boat and seeing the animals up close, but often you can even see them from the pier as well.

39. Wander through California’s Best Aquarium

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While the Monterey Aquarium can be expensive and crowded, it truely is an amazing way to see the coast’s plethora of sea creatures. I can easily spend a half day just walking around and taking in all of the fantastic fish, eels, and seahorses they have on display.

40. Make a Frog Jump in Angels Camp

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Angel’s Camp is home to a yearly fair where they have a unique event, frog jumping. While you should go just to watch the “professionals” you can also try your hand at the sport as well. This event became famous through the Mark Twain novel called “The Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County.”

41. See Yosemite’s Second Valley at Hetch Hetchy

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While the issue of the dam at Hetch Hetchy is incredibly polarizing, no one can debate about the beauty of the area itself. There are miles of trails that take you around the areas waterfalls and rivers while looking down on the lake itself.

42. Enjoy Beach Hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines Reserve-12

As one of my favorite hikes in Southern California, Torrey Pines is a great spot to do some beach hiking. The trails lead to multiple overlooks while eventually taking you down to a picturesque beach as well.

43. Get a Donut at One of California Most Iconic Spots

Randys donuts with plane flying overhead

The giant donut that sits on top of Randy’s in Los Angeles has been beckoning visitors for decades. I for one go nearly every time I am in the area and it never gets old. The donut has been featured in tons of movies as well, such as Iron Man 2. I recommend the chocolate devils food.

44. Float down the Sacramento River

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One of the most popular Northern California adventures in the summer is grabbing an inner tube and just getting out on the river to float. They have one of the largest floats in California during memorial day weekend in Chico or you can avoid the crowds and go any other day of the year.

45. Backpacking Yosemite

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While hiking the John Muir Trail is one of the most iconic hikes in all of the USA, most people will not have the opportunity to do it and I wanted to keep this list approachable to everyone. Backpacking in Yosemite is one of the best ways to explore the park while avoiding a lot of the crowds. I recommend doing something like Glen Aulin or Clouds Rest if it is your first time and be sure to research and understand what you are doing before you go.

46. Walk Across the Border to Mexico

Tecate Peak Brewery 17

Since California shares a border with Mexico, you really should visit it while living / exploring the state. Most people will choose to walk over the border at Tijuana and do some shopping, but for me I like to head east and walk over the border at Tecate. This city is home to the famous brewery and it can be fun to wander around and have a drink or a burrito then walk back across.

47. Take Surf Lessons in San Diego

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If you are in California then you should try your hand at surfing, which is a relative state sport here. There is no better spot to do it then in the magical city of San Diego with its fabulous beaches and perfect weather.

48. Bike from Huntington to Newport Beach

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While there are lots of great beach bike trails like San Clemente, I really like biking from Huntington to Newport. This trail lets you explore both of these fun SoCal beaches along a beautiful bike path. Stop at Wahoos in Huntington for some fish tacos after.

49. Explore the California State Railroad Museum and Old Town Sacramento

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I love trains, but even if you don’t share that love, it is hard to think of anyone not enjoying the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento. It is one of the best museums I have ever been to. Be sure to stroll the streets of Old Town Sacramento after visiting the museum.

50. Camp on Angel Island

hipcamp quarry beach

While most people will visit Alcatraz while in San Francisco (which of course they should), Angel’s Island is a unique spot for a more private outdoor adventure. You can take a boat over and hike or camp on this island with views of San Francisco and little to no people.

51. Kayak the Sea Caves of La Jolla

Kayaking-in-la-jolla-sea-caves

La Jolla is a great spot for kayakers of all abilities to test out being in the open water. If you are more advanced though there are a few sea caves that you can navigate into which are unique to this stretch of Southern California coast.

52. Eat an Oyster from the Tomales Bay at Hog Island

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Oysters are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you haven’t had them directly from the water, then you should give them another try. Hog Island on Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful spots you will ever eat oysters, as they are pulled right out of the Tomales Bay in front of you.

53. Tour the Jelly Bean Factory

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Located in Fairfield, the Jelly Bean Factory is really fun spot to explore with the whole family. Take the free tour and look out over the sea of jelly beans while getting to try each step of the creation process. I love the atmosphere they create here and eating jelly beans is just a plus.

54. Eat at a Thomas Keller Restaurant in Yountville

Bouchon-11

Thomas Keller is one of California’s most famous chefs. His main restaurant “The French Laundry” has been named the best restaurant in the world multiple times. While that spot is hard to get into and expensive you can opt to try one of his two other restaurants in the town of Yountville, my favorite is Bouchon. It’s a legit culinary adventure.

55. Harness your Inner Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison Museum

Folsom Prison Museum 1

Folsom Prison was made famous by the Johnny Cash song and the concert he held in the prison. They created a small museum on site that talks about all of this and more prison history. It’s pretty crazy to go there and learn about the Johnny Cash influence while also seeing all of the different things prisoners have snuck in and other exhibits.

56. Explore the Ghost Town of Bodie

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Bodie is California’s most well-preserved ghost town and it is a blast for the whole family to visit. I always enjoy walking the streets and imagining life in this once booming town.

57. Climb the Mosiac Steps in San Francisco

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This spot became popular during the rise of social media, but it is a truly great place for photography. You can climb the hundred or so mosaic steps; then when you get to the top, there is a park that gives you a fantastic view of San Francisco below.

58. Drive Through a Tree

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Driving North on Highway 101, it is fun to pull off at one of the three drive through trees for a fun photo.

59. Spelunk into the Caves of Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles-National-Monument

Pinnacles National Park is the newest National Park in the country and because of that it is not very well known. The caves there are easily accessible by a short trail and because of that, it is a really unique way to get a non-guided tour cave experience.

60. See the Purple Sand of Pfeiffer Beach

purple sand pfieffer

Pfeiffer Beach is amazing in its own right, but if you go right after the rain then you will be in for a treat with the purple sand that comes down from the mountains behind it.

61. Tour the Crazy Winchester Mansion

front-of-the-winchester-house

This mansion was the brainchild of the heir to the Winchester Company fortune. She believed that she would die if she ever stopped building though, so the house has stairs that lead to nowhere, doors to brick walls and all sorts of craziness. It is so big that you walk over a mile while on the tour of it.

62. See the Dead Fish Beaches of the Salton Sea

Salton Sea State Park-6

Salton Sea is a lake that went through a massive chemical transition which killed nearly every fish that lived in it. Now it is an eerie yet beautiful spot. The state park itself has beaches with dead and decaying fish scattered all over them; it is something you have to see to believe.

63. Take a Selfie with Giant Paul Bunyon at Trees of Mystery

Tree of Mystery-1

These 50-foot tall statues mark the entrance to the Trees of Mystery which is a fun tourist attraction in Northern California. You won’t be able to miss them when you drive up Highway 101 and why would you want to, they are awesome!

64. Find Out What the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot is All About

Mystery Spot Santa Cruz 2

I am sure you have seen the bumper stickers for this crazy gravitational anomaly in Santa Cruz. It is a fun spot to bring the family and turn off your mind to marvel at the displays they created to mess with you.

65. Wander the Shores of Glass Beach

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This is the beach where people threw trash, and the ocean returned beautiful pieces of glass. It is a stunning spot in Northern California with a small shore full of smooth pieces of glass.

66. Find all the Metal Statues in Anza Borrego

Borrego Springs Sculptures 4

With over a hundred statues situated all around the park, it is an utter blast to just drive around and try and find them all. Many of them are massive like the above dragon and the scorpion, making them fantastic for photography and overall exploration.

67. Explore Olympic History in Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley Tram-5

The Olympic Museum in Squaw Valley is only accessible via a tram that takes you to the top of the mountain. In the building situated on top of the mountain is the small museum itself. While there isn’t a lot to really see at the museum, it is super fun to take the tram up and see the massive Olympic Rings.

68. Hike the Rubicon Trail along Lake Tahoe

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This trail goes from DL Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay. Along the way you see stunning views of the immaculate blue water stretching out in front of you. It is hard to find a more beautiful trail in the area.

69. Gaze Down at the Yosemite Valley from Taft Point

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Another incredibly popular Instagram spot, I am still surprised by how many people have seen it but didn’t know how easy it was to get to. This 2-mile round trip hike is relatively flat and it takes you to one of Yosemite’s best viewpoints.

70. Walk the Granite Steps up Moro Rock

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Moro Rock in Sequoia is a short hike with anxiety-inducing granite steps that takes you to the top of a massive rock overlooking the valley. I recommend it at sunset but make sure to bring a flashlight for the walk back.

71. Visit a Bakery in Solvang

Solvang Christmas 8

The Danish town of Solvang, along the Central Coast, is a great place to feel like you have left California. The city itself is entirely Danish inspired, and the bakeries all around town are home to some amazing pastries as well.

72. Eat at a Fairy Tale Restaurant in Santa Barbara

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If you are talking about amazing places to eat, then no list would be complete without mentioning Cold Springs Tavern. With literally nothing around it, this spot has become a local favorite ever since it was a stagecoach stop over 100 years ago. Be sure to order the tri tip.

73. Indulge your Inner Movie Star at Paramount Ranch

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The old movie town of Paramount Ranch is still a really popular filming location for Hollywood. Since it is on public property though you can go explore it, even when they are filming. I love walking down the dirt streets and indulging my inner movie star here.

74. Explore the Underground Gardens of Fresno 

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One of the most strange and unique spots along Highway 99, the Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, are something you need to take a tour of to appreciate. The brainchild of one man over many decades, these gardens are a labyrinth of underground exploration.

75. Take a Ghost Tour of the Haunted Queen Mary

New Years Queen Mary-1

The Queen Mary is the famous ship that sits in the Long Beach Harbor and has become one of the state’s most popular museums. It is supposedly haunted and they have a fun tour that takes you on the ship and tells you about the haunting.

76. Learn at the Museums of Balboa Park

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Balboa Park houses more than a dozen museums and is virtually impossible to explore without a few days. The museum’s are some of the best in the state with Museum of Man, Air and Space and the Miniature Train Museum being a few of my favorites.

77. Take the Boat to Alcatraz

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Alcatraz is one of San Francisco’s most popular attractions and it is a fun spot to explore for a half day and get out of the city. Be sure to book the tour in advance though as it always books up fast.

78. Drive Historic Route 66

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Route 66 ends in California. Because of that, there are a lot of adventures you can have on the Mother Road in the state. Some of the highlights for me are the original McDonalds Museum and Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch.

79. Stand on the Lowest Point in North America

Salt lake in badwater

Badwater in Death Valley is the lowest point in North America at -280 feet below sea level. The salt flats that stretch out before your eyes are stunning, just make sure not to go in the summer.

80. Spend a Night at Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn Old World Suite

Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo is a hotel where every room is different. I love staying there and picking a new room each time. My favorite is the Old World Suite though with its rock waterfall shower and stone walls.

81. Explore California Literary History

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Whether it is John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Mark Twain’s Angels Camp or Jack London’s Sonoma, there are so many ways you can dig into literary history all over the state.

82. Stand on the Unofficial Center of the World

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Sure you really need to be committed to make it all the way to this spot, but the Unofficial Center of the World is located in California. Weirdly, it is not recognized by California itself but it is acknowledged by places like France and others. There are plenty of additional things to see here too like an original piece of the Effiel Tower.

83. Snorkel off Catalina Island

Avalon Catalina 14

It is a joy to be able to get to an island off the coast of California after only a 45-minute drive and a 45-minute boat ride from Los Angeles. Catalina is a great spot to indulge in a slower island lifestyle for a few days and the snorkeling is the best you will find in California.

84. Wander Through an Aircraft Carrier at USS Midway

USS-Midway-Far-Shot

The aircraft carrier in the bay of San Diego is a great spot to bring the family and get lost exploring the massive boat. I have been a few times and I still don’t think I have seen everything as I always seem to get lost going down all the different corridors.

85. Visit Hearst Castle

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Heart Castle sits in the mountains above the central coast and it is one of those spots I always skipped over on my trips. When I finally made it there I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it though. It is such a crazy place full of immaculate rooms and pools, make sure to add it to your list.

86. Tour Mercer Caverns

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Mercer Caverns is one of my favorite of the popular tour caves. This one has a lot of history, allows you to go deep into the cave itself and has sections where you actually feel like you are in an adventurous cave with steep staircases.

87. Walk out on Potato Chip Rock

Potato-Chip-Rock

Potato Chip Rock is a relatively polarizing spot in San Diego that many hikers love while other hate. I for one think it is a really unique experience so I recommend you do it if you are wanting to get into hiking and have a cool payoff at the end.

88. Climb the Stairs to the Fire Lookout at Sierra Buttes

Sierra Buttes Fire Outlook 4

This hike is one of my favorites in the Tahoe area as it leads to a vertigo-inducing staircase and the ultimate payoff of a fire overlook that looks out over the area below. It is beautiful and well worth a spot on your hiking list.

89. Grab the Headlamp and Explore Lava Tubes National Monument

One of the hardest to reach parks in California, Lava Tubes is located in the Northern part of the state. It is an unusual spot with many really long caves that you can explore with a flashlight and a little courage.

90. Walk Across the Sundial Bridge

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As you can tell, I love bridges and this one in Redding is really different. It is fun to walk across as the bridge itself never actually touches the water below it.

91. Fly Over San Diego in a Biplane

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While there are a ton of great experiences you can have in San Diego, I love seeing it from above. The best way I ever did that was by getting in a historic biplane and staring out over the coastline below.

92. Snowshoe to a Sequoia Grove

Tuolumne Grove-5

It is hard ever to be alone with some of the famous giant trees in Sequoia or Yosemite, but if you wait till it snows and strap on some snowshoes then you can walk down to see the trees pretty much all by yourself.

93. Find a Mine in Joshua Tree National Park

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Joshua Tree is full of gold mines with some being nothing but holes and others still having full stamp mills. The latter of which is my favorite and it is called Lost Horse Mine, but finding any of the mines in the park makes for a fun adventure.

94. Visit Elvis Honeymoon Home in Palm Springs

Elvis Honeymoon Home-1

Many people do not know about this unique connection between Elvis and California, but it is actually where he spent his honeymoon. The house has stayed relatively the same since that time and it has become a draw for all of the Elvis lovers out there. I wouldn’t put myself in that camp but I still found it to be a really fun place to explore.

95. Stand Under California’s Tallest Bridge in Auburn

Foresthill Bridge-8

The Foresthill Bridge in Auburn is the tallest in the state, and it is pretty scary to look out over the edge of bridge. There are even a few trails around the area that let you walk under it and marvel at how massive it truly is.

96. Wander Land’s End and the Sutro Baths

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Land’s End is one of the most picturesque trails in all of San Francisco and it is a go-to for me in the area. The trail has fantastic coastal views, the Sutro Baths, and vista points for the Golden Gate Bridge.

97. Experience the Poppy Bloom in Antelope Valley State Park

Poppy Reserve 21

When it is in bloom, Antelope Valley is a magical field of orange that stretches as far as the eye can see. It is highly dependent on the weather we have each year, but when it is right, the poppies are mind blowing.

98. Tour Nit Witt Ridge

Nitt Witt Ridge 40

The poor man’s Hearst Castle, Nit Witt Ridge is a collection of trash, art and not following building codes that lead to this crazy mansion in Cambria. They offer tours a few times a week and it is something I guarantee you will have not seen before.

99. Stare into the Ubehebe Crater

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The Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley is just another of the natural wonders you can visit in this fascinating park. It is so massive though that you need to see it with your own eyes as pictures do not do it justice.

100. Eat a Burger Animal Style at In & Out

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I figured I couldn’t let this list end without the quintessential California experience of eating In & Out. This burger joint is as California as anything on the list. If you are visiting then get a double-double animal style, you can thank me later.

So there you have it, my California Bucket List suggestions after exploring for five years. Thanks for reading all the way to the end! I would love to hear what you think I left off in the comments and be sure to let me know how many you have done yourself as well.

Ancient Bristlecone Forest: Patriarch Grove & the Largest Bristlecone Pine in the World

I can’t believe that in California we have two of the biggest trees in the world and a few of the oldest living trees in the world as well. The former can be found in Sequoia, and the latter can be found in the Ancient Bristlecone Forest. These trees sit right at around 11,000 feet and because of that, they have adapted to survive at such brutal high altitudes. To see this particular grove, which has the largest Bristlecone, you need to drive 12 miles down a dirt road and reach heights of up to 11,300 feet. Here is all the information so you can check it our for yourself.

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Details

  • 12-mile dirt road, may need 4WD after rain
  • Plan on at least a half day to get there, starting from Bishop
  • The two trails here are about 1 mile total round trip and 100 feet of elevation

Getting There

From Bishop, you will head South to Big Pine, where you will see signs that direct you up the mountain and to the Bristlecone Forest. It is about an hour to the visitors center from Bishop as it is a lot of uphill on small windy roads. From the visitors center, you will continue to drive to the Patriarch Grove, which is 12 miles along a dirt road. This part is another 45 minutes to an hour each way depending on the state of the road.

The Drive

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If you do not like driving on a dirt road or have a low clearance car, you can just do the hikes they have at the visitors center which are also great. You can read about of them here.

When I went, the road would have been technically accessible with a two-wheel drive car, but it would have been slow going, and I imagine that based on the weather there are times when it would be not open to a car like this. I would recommend just asking at the visitor center what the road conditions are and if they recommend not going, then just hike around the center where there is a lot of amazing stuff to see. When we made the drive, it was easy to follow and nice and bumpy all the way to the Patriarch Grove.

The Grove

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What sets this grove apart from the one at the visitors center is how desolate the area is. This is the top elevation that these plants can live at, and it looks like some type of lunar landscape. This grove is about 1,200 feet higher than the forest at the visitors center.

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After reaching the grove, you can park in the dirt lot which has a pit toilet and then head out on one of two different trails, Timberland Ancients Trail or Cottonwood Basin Overlook.

Timberland Ancients Trail

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I headed out on the Timberland Ancients Trail first, which left from the West side of the parking lot.

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Almost immediately I got to the Patriarch Tree, which is the largest bristlecone pine in the entire world. I will say, this was a massive tree, and it looked a lot less gnarled then some of the others along this path.

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You can walk around and look at it from all angles as the terrain is mostly just loose rock with little else growing on it.

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The pathway is relatively easy to follow as it is rock lined and every 150 feet there is a small plaque that talks about the area and the plants.

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I found this to be informative, and I looked forward to each one which is rare for me with these types of discovery trails. These trees and how they live in this landscape was just fascinating.

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The path continues along on a mostly flat walk, and around each bend, there are more and more unique trees. I for one liked the trees that didn’t have many leaves and had gnarled limbs spiraling out of them.

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This trail ends at the bathroom after about .3 miles and from there you can head over to the Cottonwood Basin Overlook Trail.

Cottonwood Basin Overlook Trail

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This trail is a half mile round trip, but it does gain a little elevation. This incline might not seem like a lot, but remember that you are at 11,300 feet so elevation like this can be tiring. Just take your time though and it will be fine.

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The trail heads out from the parking lot and after about 100 feet it starts to head up.

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Along the way up there are a few more twisted trees that stick out of the landscape and that provide awesome photo opportunities as you are walking below them and can photograph up.

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The view back towards the parking lot and the other trail is great as you continue gaining elevation.

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After about a quarter of a mile, you will reach the top and receive some grand views of the surrounding basin. I found the views to be a little anti-climactic, but that is most likely due to the hazy sky, and cloudy weather was moving in when we were there.

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From here the trail heads down the other side of the hill as it is a loop trail. I found this section to have the best collection of trees in the area.

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My favorite tree was located right at the base of this hill. It must have been a favorite for others as well since there was a bench situated right next to it that I took full advantage of.

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You can see the parking lot from this location, so you simply take the trail back to the lot. Do remember that from this spot you are a good hour and 45 minutes from Bishop, so note that when planning other adventures in the area.

All in all, I loved my time at this grove. It was a beautiful spot and one that is not visited very often for a National Forest. It is a stark contrast from the landscape you see even 1,000 feet below at the visitors center. Do be sure to research the road conditions before setting out though as you don’t want to risk any car issues just to see a grove. Let me know if you have been in the comments and what you thought.

Mt Whitney Historic Fish Hatchery on Highway 395

As you may know, I am a huge fan of driving Highway 395. Each and every time I make the trip I find something new to explore and this time was no different. While driving through the town of Independence, I saw a sign for the Mt Whitney Historic Fish Hatchery, so I decided to get off the highway and check it out. I can honestly say it is a fantastic stop and one I recommend, especially when it is open. Here is all the information.

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Details

  • Open Thurs – Mon but grounds open anytime
  • Location: Oak Creek Rd, Independence, CA 93526

Getting There

The Mt Whitney Fish Hatchery is located right off Highway 395 on Oak Creek Rd (just North of Independence). The one-mile road will take you all the way to the Hatchery.

History

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The building itself was built in 1917 with the help of the local community. The gardens were landscaped by a gardener brought in from Golden Gate Park. The first trout were hatched in 1917, and the eggs were transported by mule team to the surrounding mountain streams. It continues to this day with golden trout being brought in every year but they no longer use mule teams to transport the fish.

The Hatchery Grounds

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When you arrive in the large dirt parking lot, you will immediately be greeted by the beautiful facade of this historic building.

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The building looks like something you would see in a small Eastern European town. The fish hatchery is truly beautiful with its stone walls and accentuated third story.

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The hatchery building sits behind a large lake with lots of shade and picnic tables, making it a great stop for exploring on a family road trip, even if the interior isn’t open. You can walk all around the pond and see the fish swimming in it or buy a pack of fish food from the hatchery so you can feed them yourself.

The Interior

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If you go when the hatchery is open, then you are in for a treat. The hatchery building entrance has a small gift shop and fireplace with a few chairs.

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The main draw for the area is the actual hatchery though where they have lots of fish in different troughs. I was impressed as there was a lot more than I anticipated, and there was a lot of information about the fish and what they were doing here.

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This area also has plaques and information about other places you can see in the county as well such as the Eastern Sierra Museum.

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Along the back wall, there is an exhibit about how they restored the hatchery building to its original glory.

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There is one more room in the hatchery which houses a bunch of information about the animals in the area as well as a movie about the hatchery itself.

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All in all, this is a great stop for the whole family. When it isn’t open, you can walk the ground and have a picnic at the tables, and when it is open, you can learn all about the fish hatchery process. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

Crowley Lake Columns: Strange Formations on the East Side of the Lake

The Crowley Lake Columns are a mysterious site that many people do not know about along Highway 395. These natural columns are not easy to get to, but they are rewarding for any adventurer who makes their way out there to see them. Here is the information if you want to check it out.

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Details

  • 40 minutes off Highway 395
  • 20 minutes on a dirt road where you NEED to have 4WD

Getting There

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Driving up Highway 395 from Bishop, you will turn right on Benton Crossing Road, the road that has all of the hot springs on it. From there you will follow it as it heads towards the mountains then bends around the lake and heads towards the east side. Exactly two miles after you pass the dirt road named Layton Springs Road you will see a small dirt road off to the right (watch your odometer). I would highly recommend looking at satellite view on Google Maps for this section as it is easy to get lost with all of the different offshoots on the road. You will drive along this dirt road for about 15 minutes as you make your way to the beach. When you reach the beach, you can continue to drive left if your car can do it or you can park here and hike along the beach to the left to eventually reach the columns.

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I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND not making the drive to the beach without 4WD. There were massive potholes in the road, a few steep sections of sand and even some rocks jutting out from the road. It was not bad with 4WD, but I wouldn’t do it without.

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When you finally make it to the beach, you can drive along the sand or park and head South East along the beach till you see the columns in front of you.

The Columns

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You can pretty much walk for the next mile along the beach seeing all of the columns as they go on for quite a while.

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Some are small and not defined while others are 15 feet tall.

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There are many small caves that you can explore while you are hiking around.

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Learn more about the history of the columns here.

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The best area to see the columns is about a half mile walk along the beach, and they include columns that are about 15 feet high. You can even walk around these as they go back about 4 feet into the rock.

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I spent a lot of time just exploring here as the columns are so beautiful and unique that they really need to be experienced to be believed.

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I am guessing you can probably also get here by boat as well as I saw a boat only 20 or so yards off the shore when we were there.

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When you get up close to the columns you will notice they are really coarse to the touch.

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After spending some time exploring you can head back the way you came.

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Do make sure that if you go you protect these rock formations as they are old historical spots that should be preserved.

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All in all, this is a great place to explore, one that I highly recommend if you are in the area, and you have 4WD. Let me know if you have been in the comments and what you thought. Also, if you are looking for more places to explore near Bishop then check out this video.

Half Dome: The Ten Best Viewpoints for the Iconic Rock

Half Dome, the iconic slab of granite in Yosemite Nationa Park that you know from your pre-loaded Mac desktop screensaver. It is one of the most easily recognizable things in all of California, up there with even the Golden Gate Bridge. If you haven’t seen it in real life then be sure to add it to your list; however, if you have seen it, then consider seeing it from another viewpoint, like the ten options below. All of which provide a different angle for the famous rock. Be sure to let me know in the comments if I left off a view you love as well.

Mirror Lake

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The first viewpoint is from Mirror Lake, a short hike in the Yosemite Valley. This view lets you look up at the face of Half Dome from below. It is one of the most unique views as you have a really low vantage point which makes the rock very prominent.

Glacier Point

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The most famous viewpoint and the most unobstructed, as you are practically right across from Half Dome itself. The valley that is between you provides a great foreground for photos as it is incredibly beautiful and very vast. This is the best spot for stargazing as you can see the outline of Half Dome below the stars. It is also a really popular sunset spot where you can get great photos of the last light on top of Half Dome.

Washburn Point

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Only a mile from Glacier Point, Washburn Point provides beautiful and different views of Half Dome. While Glacier Point is more straight on, Washburn Point is a little more to the side so the dome is not as defined as you would expect it to be.

Cook’s Meadow

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This is one of my favorite viewpoints as I love the way Half Dome looks with the old tree in the foreground. For added awesomeness, go to this spot when there is snow. The snow adds a lot to the view, especially at sunset.

Sentinal Dome

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One of the less popular hikes in the park, this 2-mile loop on Glacier Point Road provides a similar view of Half Dome as Glacier Point, but from higher up. The top of this dome is almost at the same height at Half Dome so it is pretty epic.

Olmstead Point on Tioga Pass

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When driving Tioga Pass in the summer, be sure to stop at Olmstead Point as you can get a great view of Half Dome from the backside. I love this view as it gives you an appreciation for how epic the climb is up the backside if you haven’t done it.

Top of the Sub-Dome

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Of course of the of the best views of Half Dome requires a lot of work, such as hiking to the upper part of the sub dome. The sub dome gives you a close up view of the backside of Half Dome and the infamous cables that allow you to climb it. The above photo is one of my personal favorites as the view is just ridiculous.

Top of Half Dome Itself

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If you want to see all of the different characteristics of this unique rock, then you need to get on top of it and look over the edge. Half Dome is a lot bigger on the top than you would anticipate and it is crazy to stand upon it and look out over the valley.

Tunnel View

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This is one of the main views that everyone sees when they enter Yosemite from the South. It is fantastic and a personal favorite of mine as you get to see the valley with El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls in front of you and Half Dome in the back. I will never forget the first time I saw this view as a kid.

Viewpoint near Foresta on Highway 120

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If you are driving in from the North, then you do not have a point of view like Tunnel View, but the viewpoint near Foresta on Highway 120 is a great spot to stop and marvel at the iconic dome peaking its head out over the top of the mountains.

So there you have it, my ten recommendations for viewing Half Dome. What did I leave off? Be sure to let me know in the comments.

Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns on Highway 395

While driving up Highway 395, you have no doubt seen the historical marker signs for the Cottonwood Kilns, South of Lone Pine in the Owens Valley. These kilns used to sit on Cottonwood Creek, which dried up when the water from the lake was diverted, and now they sit in relative disarray as a memory from a lost time. I got a chance to visit them, and it was a great little detour that I recommend, here is all the information.

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Details

  • 1-mile dirt road
  • Time needed: 10 minutes

Getting There

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North of the town of Cartago and Olancha, keep your eyes peeled for a historical marker sign for the Cottonwood Kilns. The road then heads off to the east for one mile before you arrive at the kilns. You can park in the dirt here.

The Kilns

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These kilns were at one time used to provide the charcoal needed for the profitable Cerro Gordo mine. In the late 1800’s there was even a saw mill built here that they used to process the wood that was being cut down to keep the kilns at the mine operational.

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Today there are only two kilns still in existence and both are not whole, but they are still a great piece of history that you can explore.

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When I arrived at the kilns, they were surrounded by a fence with razor wire at the top; however, the door to the fence was completely open, so I walked right in to see the kilns. I am not sure what happened to the door but interesting to see the kilns up close.

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The two kilns were both a lot bigger than I anticipated, standing at probably 20 or so feet tall. After exploring the kilns for 5 minutes, I headed back out to the road. These are an interesting stop along the Highway 395, and I recommend you check them out if you are in the area (be sure to check road conditions when you get there though). Let me know if you have been in the comments.