Salton Sea Ca

Salton Sea, California

An Amazing, Wonderful, Magical, Weird, Super Affirdable Vacation Adventure!


Location: Salton Sea, California
Driving Distance: 2.5 hours from San Diego, 3 hours from LA, 4.5 hours from Phoenix and Las Vegas

Time Required: It only takes a half day to see the main sights if  you do it on the way between the cities above.  Seeing all the sights will take a full day.
Fun Scale: 7 out of 10

The Salton Sea area of California is one of the most unique areas of the country.  Culturally, this area has been a crossroads over the last 50 years for Celebrities, commoners, people seeking religious salvation and hippies. 

The geography is also unique and is boast a man-made mountain, large date farms, a huge salty sea, and the giant Imperial Sand Dunes.

History of the Salton Sea

From a thriving hot spot for the rich and famous, to its demise into urban decade, the Salton Sea has quite an interesting history.


Major airports near Salton Sea Beach, California


50 miles to Palm Springs International Airport.

118 miles to LA/Ontario International Airport.

134 miles to San Diego International Airport.

144 miles to Tijuana International Airport.

146 miles to John Wayne Airport.

171 miles to Los Angeles International Airport.



The Early 1900s

One of the world’s largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth at -227 below sea level, Salton Sea was created in 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed the irrigation canal gates leading into the developing Imperial Valley. 

For the next 18 months the entire volume of the Colorado River rushed downward into the Salton Trough.  By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breaching water in 1907, the Salton Sea had been born at 45 miles long and 20 miles wide – equaling about 130 miles of shoreline.

Instead of quickly soaking into the ground, the water stayed because the spot was actually the location of the ancient lake dating back to 700 A.D.  Sitting at lowest point of the basin the lake has collects enough water runoff to maintain its water table.




Where to Rent A Camper

Peak Time 1950s-1960s




The Salton  Sea Today

The sea still has a really high salt content, 25% more than the ocean, and remains a quite deserted but cool to stop at. Starting in the 1990’s and still going on, the government has been trying to find ways not only to be able to use water from the Sea but also to be able to control the rising salt water to protect the current wildlife. 

The salt level continues to go up and the fish continue to die, however, it is still the biggest stop for migratory birds in CA and recent tests show you can catch the more fish per hour here than anywhere else in CA. 

Because the high salt content creates extra lift on boats allowing them to go faster, the Salton Sea is the currently the fastest place in the nation for recreational boating. 

While the boating and fishing remain quite good, there are only trickles of visitors and the most beaches are now covered in crunchy white barnacles. 

The best actually sandy beach is located at Mecca Beach which is just south of the state park headquarters.  You can find a ton of really neat deserted buildings on the east side of the Sea both at Desert Camp and Bombay Beach. 

If you are looking for something uniquely cool, check out the mudpot field located just south of Niland.

The Sea may be quite deserted but you can still get gas and food in the 1,000 person town of Niland and can get Wifi on the north side of the lake at the park office near Desert Beach. 

Overall, the cool beaches, date palms, wildlife, rundown/abandoned buildings, and mudpots are not only cool to see but led to some of the most unique photo opts around.

The Salton Sea is also a bird lovers paradise

Salvation Mountain Tour

Location: Niland, California
Visiting Hours: Daily Dawn-Dusk
Cost: Free, however any donation truly from the heart is welcome

Fun Scale: 8 out of 10

A visit to the colorful Salvation Mountain is an amazing experience an example to one man’s devotion to his religion. 

It’s hard to miss a colorful, Dr Seuss-esque mountain springing out of the barren desert…

Getting To Salvation Mountain:
The mountain litterially sits halfway between San Diego and Phoenix in Niland California near the Salton Sea.

About 1 mile east of Niland take Hwy 111 south to Niland and turn left (East) on Main Street, Main Street turns into Beal Street just keep going and you’ll see the mountain on the right

As seen 2007 hit movie Into The Wild, Salvation Mountain is an inspiring man-made adobe beauty.  50% Dr Suess, 50% Wizard of Oz, and 100% devotion to God, Leonard Knight used 30 years of his life and gave up everything to build this colorful masterpiece. The mountain itself colorful springs out of the barren desert as a focal point and can be climbed as long as you stay on the Yellow Brick Road.  We love the incinerate details Leonard left on all of the vehicles surrounding the property and most of all love the Tree Room under the mountain that is an explosion of Dr Suess. 





The MudPots

Known locally as Davis-Schrimpf Seep Field, the bubbling mudpots are a hidden gem. 

The mudpots themselves are pocket of warm clay and mud which bubble and gurgle to the surface. 

The bubbles in the mud occur because of geothermal activity forcing warm water to the surface. 

Because the area of the Salton Sea lies on the San Andreas fault line, there is a lot of geothermal activity to be had.  Some of the mudpots have been bubbling long enough that they now have developed in tall mud volcanoes.  If you listen to them, you can even hear the mudspot gurgle. 




Imperial Sand Dunes

Out of nowhere rises a 15 mile long and 3 mile wide stretch of 400 foot tall sand dunes that will make you feel like you are standing in the middle of the deserts of Africa. 

The Dunes have been the home to the tapping of many movies including Stars Wars and is a huge haven for dune buggy enthusiasts.

Even if you’re not into extreme ATVing or dune buggy running, make sure to check out one of the parking areas and walk out onto the dunes to experience it for yourself. 

This is one of our favorite things to do in the area.
Permits are require people who are camping or ATVing, however, if you are just looking to walk or hike out onto the dunes there are a few great spots where you can park for up to 2 hours with no fees required. 

Evan Hughes Oasis
It seems like only locals know about this Oasis even though it is right next to the highway.  Just West of the Southern end of dunes off Hwy 8, the Oasis can easily be accessed by taking Exit 131 (Even Hughes Rd). 
The large cluster of bushy palms surrounding the dark green oasis pond make it a really cool place to take photos.
  It can gather homeless vagabonds after dark but during the day is usually always void of them and great to visit.

Dos Palmas Spring Oasis

The Dos Palamas Spring a key watering hole for many settlers crossing the desert landscape on their way to the California coast.  

The Spring was originally named in the 1800’s for the the two palm trees it harbored, but since then the spring as grown much, much larger. 

The photo to the left is from when the spring was featured in Desert Magazine in January 1947. 

This oasis is cool, but if you are pressed for time feel free to skip in and just one of the smaller oases on this list instead as they are right off the highway.

State Park Oasis
If you weren’t able to stop by either of the other two Oases, you’re in lucks and there is a smaller one right next to the office near the entrance of the State Park. 
This Oasis, while natural, feels a little staged, but still is worth a stop.  Right next to the oasis they have set up a nice cactus garden where you can check out different types of local desert plants. 
If you have yet to see the Salton Sea, the park offers perfect access to the beach and water. 




Date Farms

The Date Farms are the most important part of the Salton Sea area’s economy today. 

Ever since the celebrities and tourists stopped coming in the 1960’s most of the area has become a rundown, dingy area, but he Date Farms have stayed strong. 

It’s easy to get a couple pics by pulled onto a side street, but the best experience comes from actually visiting a Date Farm.  The Oasis Date Garden is another farm that does tours with notice.


Joshua Tree National Forest


 (90 Minutes): Huge 800,000 acre National Park covering parts of the Mojave Desert and even the San Andreas Fault is home to the Joshua Tree, Desert Tortoise, and many Palm Oases. 

Joshua tree forest is extremely easy and common to visit as many travelers naturally pass right by it on Hwy 10 on their way to or from the Salton Sea. 

The biggest things in the park are rock climbing, camping, hiking, and star gazing.  They actually have park run star gazing parties one Saturday per month, usually around the new moon, starting at dark and lastly an 1 1/2. 

If you are more into hiking or rock climbing, the website for the park has a lot of great trail maps here.





Where to Rent A Camper


Palm Springs


 (1 Hour): The best way to sum up Palm Springs is to say it’s a mini desert Hollywood.  Well it’s not quite filled with the high level of stars it was in the 50’s when the Salton Sea was booming but it is still a beautiful place to visit. 

This oasis town has had many famous residents including Sonny Bono who became mayor, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and even JFK was a part-time resident. 

Currently still living in Palm Springs are Suzanne Somers and Barry Manilow, among others. 

There are a number or celebrity tours including Best of the Best Tours, which will show you over 50 famous celebrity homes in an hour and a half for $25.

There are a couple other cool things to check out while in Palm Springs as well.  The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactariumtake which only costs $3 but will let you see over 3,000 cactus’s, and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which carries travelers up 8,500 ft near to top of San Jacinto Peak for amazing views. 

The cost for the aerial tramway is $23 for adults/$16 for children however they also have great deals where for just a few extra dollars you can also get a full meal at the club house once you reach the mountain’s peak.
  If you feel like making a stroll through town the main drag, Palm Canyon Dr, is lines with a ton of palm tree and a 250 person walk of fame.
If you are just quickly passing through make sure to stop and snap some photos under Seward Johnson’s 80 foot tall Forever Marilyn Monroe statue shown on the map above.

Fun Things to do in Palm Springs with Kids

Visiting the Greater Palm Springs during the Spring Break? Here are 20 Fun Things to do in Palm Springs with Kids. From riding the world’s largest rotating tramcar to riding a boat, a camel, and maybe even a dinosaur. If you’re visiting during the hotter months, don’t forget to visit some of the dessert spots in the desert!

Splash Around at the Palm Desert Aquatic Center

73751 Magnesia Falls Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260

This is a swimming paradise for the kids with massive pools, waterslides, and splash pads. It gets a bit busy with the locals during the summer but the center is large and waiting times on the waterslides isn’t too bad. Plus, lifeguards on duty make sure the little ones are always safe.

World’s Largest Dinosaur Museum

(90 Minutes): The museum, featured in the movie Pee-Wees Big Adventure, is the definition of a road side attraction. 

Overall it is pretty corny as a museum and only worth a ticket if you are traveling with kids, but it’s a must stop photo op if traveling along Hwy 10.  Just west of the Museum one exit is a large outlet mall if you are looking to get some shopping done.


Palm Canyon


 (Anza Borrego State Park – 90 Minutes): If you’ve ever wondered what Jurassic-sized palm trees may have looked like then the Anza-Borrego State Park and Palm Canyon is your chance to see. 

This grove of 100 foot tall bushy palms is crazy.  The park is located to the west of the Salton Sea the the hike from the park’s visitor center to the Palm Canyon is easy and takes around 45 minutes each direction.

If you feel like hiking further there is also a waterfall in the canyon.  Please visit the Visitors Center before hiking as you will be hiking in a desert. 

 Notice how tiny the people look while being towered by these well over 100 foot palms.

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