With California’s popularity among tourists worldwide, it may seem difficult to believe that there are any mysterious attractions or landmarks remaining. However, thanks to the state’s large size and dramatic landscape, you can still find a huge variety of hidden gems. From ghost towns to castles and shipwrecks, California is packed with exciting spots and beautiful vistas. As you plan your trip itinerary, choose California vacation rentals near these breathtaking secret spots.
1. Amboy Crater, Amboy
Hike around the rim of a huge cinder cone at the Amboy Crater. Standing 250 feet high and measuring 1500 feet across, this remarkable cone rises dramatically from the desert. The area is open year-round, but the best time to visit is in the spring, when wildflowers turn the surrounding landscape into a riot of color. Getting to the crater requires a bit of a drive – look for vacation rentals in nearby Amboy or Bagdad.
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2. Fern Cave, Tulelake
Discover an underground wonderland in Fern Cave in Lava Beds National Monument. As you descend into the earth, the light from above illuminates a carpet of greenery. On the walls, ancient rock paintings have survived for hundreds of years. This stunning cave is only accessible on a ranger-led tour – usually, one per weekend in the summer and early fall. Book vacation rentals in Tulelake or Mammoth, and plan to stay several days to explore the rest of the lava caves and the surrounding wilderness.
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3. Bodie State Historical Park, Bridgeport
Explore an eerie ghost town at Bodie State Historical Park. Once the home of miners during California’s gold rush in the 1800s, the town now stands abandoned in a state of arrested decay. Some buildings are open, including the church; be sure to peek in the windows of the other buildings to see historic furniture and dry goods still in place. Although the park is accessible year round, the roads leading to it may close in the winter. If you’re planning to stay in the area, look for rentals in Willow Springs or Bridgeport.
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4. Mono Lake, Mono City
Step into an alien landscape at Mono Lake, a bizarre saline lake that’s home to a large population of brine shrimp. The lake’s crowning glory is the collection of tufa rock formations that extend up out of the water. On a clear day, the rocks reflect in the still water, creating an awe-inspiring, Instagram-worthy sight. Mono Lake is stunning during any month, and it’s particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset. If you stay in Mono City, you can be at the lake in minutes.
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5. Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, Gilroy
If huge theme parks aren’t your thing, pack up the kids and head to Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park. After you ride the family-friendly roller coasters and carnival rides, head over to the park’s hidden secret: the Circus Trees. These remarkable trees have been cultivated to form unexpected shapes, creating living works of art. The park is open in the summer and on weekends in the spring, fall, and early winter. San Francisco, which is just an hour and a half away, makes a great home base.
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6. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
Brilliantly colored sea glass covers the beach at the aptly named Glass Beach, a small spot along the coast in Fort Bragg. In the early 1900s, the ocean near the beach was a garbage dump – now, the sea has worn down the historic trash into pieces of smooth sea glass. Feel free to explore, touch, and play with the glass, but don’t take it out of the park. Vacation rentals in the northern end of Fort Bragg are within walking distance of the beach, which is open year round.
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7. Saline Valley Warm Springs, Death Valley
Brave the heat and harsh landscape in Death Valley to reach the Saline Valley Warm Springs. This oasis springs up out of the desert, resplendent with a brilliant green lawn, trees, and crystal-clear hot springs. Be prepared – the springs are quite remote, and you should take a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle and a large supply of water. Visit any time, but be aware that the summer brings intense heat. After your long drive back out of the desert, relax in a vacation rental in Lone Pine.
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8. S.S. Monte Carlo, Coronado
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, head to Coronado to walk through a historic shipwreck. Just steps from the sand, the ruins of an early-1900s ship poke up from the water at low tide, so you can wander around the hull. Before it sank, the boat was used as an illegal offshore gambling destination. To reach the wreck, head to Stan’s Beach, which sits within an easy walk of Coronado’s waterfront vacation rentals.
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9. Broken Hill Loop, Torrey Pines State Reserve
Torrey Pines State Reserve isn’t a secret, but inside the park, you can find one of California’s loveliest hidden gems: the Broken Hill Loop. This lightly traveled hiking trail, which is open year-round, takes you high into the hills overlooking the park’s famous bristlecone pines and the Pacific Ocean. Pack plenty of water, especially if you’re visiting in the summer, and consider coming for the spectacular sunset views from the top. There are plenty of vacation rentals around the reserve; some of the best options are in La Jolla.
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10. Hearst Castle, San Simeon
Head out into the hills of California’s Central Coast to find Hearst Castle, a sprawling mansion. Once a private residence, the estate is now a museum and a National Historic Landmark. Stroll past the lavish pools, check out the airstrip, and head down to the private zoos to meet the resident zebras. Hearst Castle is open all year; stay in San Simeon for lovely views of the coast and an easy drive to the castle.
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