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Once know as the next hot vacation spot for Southern Californians, the Salton Sea is now a tourist spot for a whole different reason – ART! Located in the Sonoran Desert in the Southeastern part of California, it’s an easy day trip from San Diego or Los Angeles. If you haven’t been, it’s totally worth the trip.
The Salton Sea is a pretty interesting place.
Living in San Diego for 15 years, and making regular trips between here and Tucson, I can’t believe this is the first time I ever visited the Salton Sea.
How to Get to the Salton Sea
If you’re coming from San Diego, you’ve got a couple options.
You can hop on the 8 East, take the 111 North, and cruise around the whole sea.
OR, take my favorite option and go through Julian and down Banner Grade. This is the most beautiful drive. It will take you a little longer but it’s totally worth it.
If you take my suggested route, don’t forget to stop in Julian for a piece of pie at Mom’s. They have the best pie, and I absolutely love to order a hot apple cider. I don’t care if the weather is hot.
Road trip to the Salton Sea ya’ll!
What to do at the Salton Sea
The sea is about 35 miles long and about 15 miles wide. We drove around almost the whole thing. It’s a lovely drive.
At the north end of the sea, there are many green, lush date farms. You can even find little stands on the side of the road during the right time of year.
Dates are delicious guys. You should totally buy some if you run across a stand.
The Salton Sea is an artists mecca. Many of the ruins in the settlements around the sea have been made into art work.
Since we arrived at the East side of the sea, coming in from Ocotillo, we headed straight up the 86 to Salton City first.
What an interesting place.
Years ago, in the 1950’s, the Salton Sea was going to be the next big resort spot. All the big shots were going to be here. It would be the prime vacation spot for Southern Californians.
Once the salinity of the sea rose exponentially, the resorts and towns dried up. Home prices declined significantly, and there are now signs on the highway boasting the sale of plot of land for $5K!
I momentarily considered it. I do like the quiet.
In Salton City, you can see where the land was divided into plots for houses to be built. Most of the plots of land are empty, and many of the roads remain unpaved.
Closer to the water, there are people who have chosen to live there. I guess you get used to the smell. But $5K for a plot of land, am I right?
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that the sea smells? It does. Kind of like dead fish and sulfur. You do get used to it after you’ve been there for a little while.
If you didn’t pack a lunch, this is a great place to get some food as the other side of the sea has no options.
We chose to pack a picnic lunch. Picnics are fun.
Before you leave Salton City, be sure to get some gas. There are no options on the other side of the sea.
Salton Sea Recreation Area
If you’re short on time, you can skip this. It costs $7 to get into the park, and it is basically set up if you want to BBQ, camp, etc.
However, we did enjoy the visitor center where we learned a lot of neat facts about the Salton Sea. So if you’re going, have plenty of time, and don’t mind shelling out $7, check it out.
It’s a least a nice walk on the beach, and a great place to eat your picnic lunch.
As you continue along the 111 South, there are many pull offs for beach access and picnic areas. I highly recommend pulling off when you feel like. This is a road trip guys, be spontaneous!
You can find the neatest places when you just drive.
My favorite part of the whole trip.
This was one of those places that totally felt light you had entered the twilight zone.
You know, that feeling where you’re not sure if you will be murdered or not. It had that feeling.
Like how I imagine Rick and company feel on the Walking Dead. Seriously the best show ever.
It was dead quite, except for the several other cars driving in to check it out.
The quiet was peaceful, if not a little unsettling.
There are about 250 residents who live in the town, and I imagine this Ski Inn is frequented by the residents, given there are few services for about 40 miles. Plus it looks like this is where you get your mail.
When you turn onto the main road, keep following it and it will take you up and over the dunes toward the water. Once you descend the other side of the dunes, you’ll see some pretty neat art.
Old buildings, equipment and docks have partially disintegrated (likely by the extremely high salt content of the sea, about 50% higher than the ocean) and made into art exhibits with bright colors and interesting designs.
You can continue driving on paths all around.
Just be careful where you go. The roads are not paved, and if you get close to the water you may sink in mud. We watched someone do this.
Being in a little 2 door Honda Civic, we were pretty careful.
And don’t forget to check out the movie theater on your way out. I doubt that movies are played here, but I like the artistic touch.
This is another little town where plots of land were set up, but it is now inhabited by people who come out here during the winter. Many of the inhabitants just pitch their RVs and stay. This area is also filled with artist creations.
For more on slab city, check out this post by California Through My Lens.
Right down the street from slab city, salvation mountain is a small “mountain” of brightly colored art, strongly religious in nature.
For more on Salvation Mountain check out this post by Califonia Through My Lens.
If you’ve never visited the Salton Sea, you’ve got to go. Check out the art work and all the eccentricities that make this place super cool.