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13 Hidden Gems in California That Are out Of This World

13 Hidden Gems in California That Are out Of This World

From Oakland to Santa Barbara, California’s hidden gems add a touch of eccentricity to the state that feels both authentic and outlandish.


6 min read

July 23, 2021

Inside the infamous Cave Store is a century-old tunnel that leads through the sandstone cliffs of La Jolla Cove and into Sunny Jim's sea cave.

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Perhaps the most stunning treasure in the Sky Village Swap Meet is Bob's Crystal Cave. Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura.
Hidden in the hills of Hollywood, this secluded Oz-themed garden is dotted with dozens of thrones. Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura.
The Internet Archive provides free public access to collections of digitized materials. Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

8. Internet Archive Headquarters

Location: San Francisco

With the mission of providing universal access to all knowledge, the Internet Archive is an ambitious cataloging project helping researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public. Headquartered in a column-fronted and sculpture-adorned eye-catching building that used to be an Old Christian Scientist Church, the IA is a hidden gem in San Francisco that’s definitely worth a visit. The building houses millions of books, movies, television, music, software, and video games that were collected and digitized by the project—visiting this place is definitely an eye-opening experience.

9. Peephole Cinema

Location: San Francisco

In an alley hidden in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, a tiny theater plays a constant stream of short silent films. The literal hole-in-the-wall cinema is marked by a small sign with an eye on it—it’s very easy to miss. Next time you’re in the area, don’t forget about this hidden gem in San Francisco. Crouch down and peep through the hole for a tiny movie break before you go about your day.

The Allegory of California is a small mural with a huge female figure representing the state of California. Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

10. The Allegory of California

Location: San Francisco

Located in the former San Francisco Stock Exchange building, this hidden gem is bound to excite art lovers in the state. Why is that, you ask? This is the location of the first-ever fresco the legendary Mexican artist Diego Rivera painted in the United States. Aptly titled “The Allegory of California,” the mural is filled with representations of California culture and history. Have a good look at this hidden gem in California and try to find as many references as you can.

The Marin County Civic Center has distinct pink stucco walls, blue roof, and scalloped balconies. Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

11. Marin County Civic Center

Location: San Rafael

This California hidden gem is not so much a must-see sight for what it represents, but more so for its architectural history. Being Frank Lloyd Wright’s largest public project, this ambitious complex—which includes an 11-acre lagoon and 20-acre park—is pretty cool to explore. Not only was the building’s plan designed by the legendary architect, but so were the doors, signs, and furniture in the center. Think the colorful building looks familiar? You might have noticed it in the ‘97 film Gattaca or in Dr. Dre’s 2011 music video for I Need a Doctor.

Preston Castle is the most significant example of Romanesque Revival architecture in the Mother Lode.

12. Preston Castle

Location: Ione

Although it’s abandoned today, this Romanesque red-brick building used to be the location for one of the first reform schools in the U.S. The Preston Castle Foundation has been working on preserving and restoring the decaying castle since 2001, but an eerie feel still lingers in the building. In fact, this hidden gem in California has quite the paranormal reputation, with many people staying overnight hoping for ghost encounters.

13. The Cayetano Juárez Adobe

Location: Napa

Just off a busy intersection in Napa is a buzzing Mexican eatery surrounded by cacti and agave plants. What many of you may not know is that this tasty restaurant is housed inside Napa’s oldest building. Named after Cayetano Juárez, who built the structure as his home, this hidden gem in Northern California is a cool little sight to see. Plus, you get to feast on delicious Mexican food when you visit, so it really can’t get any better.

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