No road trip would be complete without a stop at a roadside attraction. At one time there were hundreds of these attractions scattered along California Highways. Many of these iconic landmarks disappeared with the construction of multi-lane freeways. Today there are still a few of the original roadside attractions along with “internet attractions” made popular by social media and websites like this one.
Southern California Roadside Attractions
One of California’s most iconic roadside attraction is located just off Highway 101 in the central coast just outside of the town of Buellton. Visitors can feed and take photos of the huge birds that live on the 33-acre farm. A small gift shop features Ostrich related items including jerky and Ostrich eggs. Ostrichland USA 610 E Highway 246 Solvang, CA 93463.
The one-time ranch of pop star Michael Jackson has become a roadside attraction for fans from all over the world. The ranch gate is as close as most people ever get to Neverland. Fans leave notes, presents, and tributes to Michael Jackson on the gate and adjacent walls. You can peek over the fence but Jackson’s ranch home is not visible from this vantage point. Michael Jackson Neverland Ranch 5225 Figueroa Mountain Rd, Los Olivos, CA.
Founded in 1924 Shields Date Garden is one of California’s oldest roadside attractions. In the 1950s the buildings that house the store, theater, and date packing area were added. Shields looks almost the same as years ago including the iconic Knight Sign that guards the entrance to the gardens. Shields Date Garden 80225 CA-111, Indio, CA 92201.
Cabazon Dinosaurs Cabazon California
If there was an award for best California roadside attraction Cabazon Dinosaurs might just get the title. Since 1964 the Dinosaurs have attracted motorists attention along interstate 10. The original intent of the giant creatures was to draw customers to a now-closed restaurant, the Wheel Inn. Today there is a small museum, gift shop, and Dinosaurs. Cabazon Dinosaurs 50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, CA 92230
Fallen Star Cottage La Jolla California
The cottage perched on top of a building at the University of San Diego is an artwork by Korean sculptor Do-ho Suh. The little house is furnished and even has artworks on its wall. Visiting hours to see the cottage in the sky are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. Fallen Star 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA 92093
Salvation Mountain is an off the beaten path roadside attraction near the Salton Sea. The mountain is a creation of a single man—Leonard Knight—who failed at an attempt to launch a hot air balloon made from bed sheets with bold letters emblazoned on the side stating, “God is Love” in the 1980s, led to the 26-year construction of his glorious mountain. Salvation Mountain Beal Rd, Niland, CA 92257.
Desert View Tower is a unique roadside attraction along Interstate 8 between San Diego and Imperial County. The tower reminds us of good old fashioned roadside kitsch and is worth the stop. Adjacent to the tower is Boulder Park, a collection of wind-weathered rocks that form a network of caves and walkways. Desert View Tower is located off of In-Ko-Pah Road, about four miles east of Jacumba.
Historic Owl Cafe Red Mountain California
Most travelers along Highway 395 pass through the dusty little town of Red Mountain without realizing what a historic place it is. Red Mountain was once the location of the largest producing silver mine in the United States. During the prohibition years, gambling, alcohol, and a booming red light district attracted a wild crowd of revelers including Hollywood Celebrities. Today Historic Owl Cafe serves as a museum that features hundreds of photos and artifacts about the cafe and surrounding Randsburg mining district. On your next trip to Eastern High Sierras along Highway 395 take time out to visit Red Mountian and the Historic Owl Cafe. Red Mountain is 3 miles south of Randsburg Road on Highway 395.
Elmer created his bottle tree masterpiece out of junkyard pieces and hundreds of bottles. The bottle ranch is a must see as you drive along the National Trails Highway. Be sure to leave Elmer a tip in the mailbox before you continue your road trip. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch 24266 National Trails Hwy Oro Grande, CA 92368.
Galleta Meadows Estates is a collection of over 100 welded-steel sculptures. These prehistoric animals, farm workers, saints, and cactus are the work of Ricardo Breceda. You can see these amazing steel sculptures just outside of the town of Borrego Springs. The majority of the sculptures are located along Borrego Springs road north and south of downtown. Borrego Springs is located 90 miles northeast of San Diego.
The small central coast town of Harmony was founded in 1869. Local dairy ranches used the creamery to process their products. In 1955 the creamery closed and most of the towns residents moved on. Today Harmony is alive again as a roadside attraction just south of Hearst Castle on Highway 1. Visitors can check out the pottery store, glass works, get married in the chapel, or taste wine Harmony Cellars Winery. Harmony California is along Highway 1 between Moro Bay of Hearst Castle.
It took him 50 years to build his castle on a hill. With a shovel and a hammer, he chiseled away at the hillside and built himself his own little mansion completely out of other people’s trash, salvaged materials, and beachcombed junk. Nitt Witt Ridge 881 Hillcrest Dr, Cambria, CA 93428.
Bennett’s sells 100%, pure raw honey, along with a large selection of flavored honey. Wildflower, Eucalyptus, Orange Blossom, Blueberry, Clover, Cinnamon, Lemon, Sage, and Hawaiian honey. There are two free honey tasting stations with tiny spoons where you can sample all the different kinds of the sweet substance. Bennett’s Honey Farm 3176 Honey Ln, Fillmore, CA 93015.
International Banana Museum
The Banana Museum is way off the beaten path for many reasons. Located along Highway 111 adjacent to the Salton Sea this little museum is defiantly one of a kind. We don’t recommend visiting here just to see the museum. But if you are planning a trip to Salvation Mountain it’s definitely a nice little stop. Address: 98775 CA-111, Mecca, CA 92254. Phone: (619) 840-1429. Hours vary.
Northern California Roadside Attractions
Perhaps one of the last remaining original roadside attractions in California, the Trees of Mystery opened in 1931 and offers a truly unique experience for both adults and children of all ages. There is so much to see and do in Northern California and this wonderful attraction should defiantly be on your to-do list. Trees of Mystery 15500 U.S. 101, Klamath, CA 95548.
Santa Cruz Mystery Spot Santa Cruz, CA
California roadside attraction since 1940. Located in the redwoods three miles from downtown Santa Cruz, this is a place where the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply. You’ll see things like water that appears to be flowing upward and balls that roll uphill. Santa Cruz Mystery Spot 465 Mystery Spot Road Santa Cruz, CA 95065.
Bravo Farms is a roadside attraction on Highway 99 Tulare and Fresno. The Kettleman City location is the largest of the four Bravo Farms stores. The theme here is the wild west, complete with a ghost town, restaurant, huge farm store, there is even an area for dogs to play. Bravo Farms 33341 Bernard Drive Kettleman City, CA 93239
Shine Drive Thru Tree is a roadside attraction along the famed Avenue of the Giants. There is a small fee to drive through the tree along with some interesting tree houses carved out of redwood tree stumps. There is also a gift shop with souvenirs. Only small cars can make it through the tree. Shrine Drive-Thru Tree 13708 Avenue of the Giants, Myers Flat, CA 95554
Olancha Sculpture Gardens Olancha California
There are about 20 sculptures scattered across the desert floor. Just a few of Jael Hoffmann artworks that are on display for public viewing. The sculptures are located on the west side of US 395 if you are traveling from Southern California. 1.5 miles south of the intersection of Highway 395 and 190. Turn left on Walker Creek Road, right on Old State Highway.
Seeing is believing, and visitors to Forestiere Underground Gardens will be totally amazed at this wonder of the world, built entirely underground. The gardens were largely done with hand pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow, the creativity in engineering, architecture, masonry, and landscaping is stunning. Forestiere Underground Gardens 5021 W. Shaw Ave. in Fresno.
According to popular belief, Winchester thought the house was haunted by the ghosts of the people who fell victim to Winchester rifles, and that only continuous construction would appease them. The home has many bizarre adornments that Mrs. Winchester believed contributed to its architectural beauty. Many of the stained glass windows were created by the Tiffany company. Winchester Mystery House 525 South Winchester Boulevard, San Jose, CA 95128
Old Faithful Geyser of California is located in the upper Napa Valley near the town of Calistoga. Napa Valley’s geyser is only one of three “old faithful’s” in the world. Along with the geyser, there is the small herd of fainting goats, a breed that faints when startled. With so many visitors, the goats have become used to noise and are not easily scared. Old Faithful Geyser 1299 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga, CA
San Francisco Bay Model Sausalito California
While not intended as a roadside attraction, the San Francisco Bay Model could certainly be one. Built-in 1957 this huge 320 x 400 foot model of the San Francisco Bay was used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study water flows in and around the bay. The model is still operational but no longer used. You can visit the bay model Tuesday-Saturday: 9 am-4 pm. Admission is free. Bay Model Visitor Center at 2100 Bridgeway Blvd. Sausalito, California.