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11 Unexpected Natural Wonders to See in California

11 Unexpected Natural Wonders to See in California

Planning a trip around the Golden State? Here are 11 unexpected California natural wonders to check out.

Roubina Al Abashian


5 min read

May 28, 2022

California’s man-made phenomena sometimes result in us forgetting that we’ve got the best natural wonders right in our backyard. Between the gigantic skyscrapers of Downtown L.A. and San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge, it's easy to forget that nature hides tons of show-stopping splendors. From a mysterious rock that travels unannounced in the California desert to a seashore studded with glass pebbles, the Golden State has a massive collection of awe-inspiring destinations. Diving deep into California’s nature and exploring its wonders is an adventure you won’t want to return from.

Natural Wonders to Witness in Southern California

The 498-plus inch tree will be difficult to fit into your camera lens.

1. Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Santa Barbara

The Moreton Bay Fig Tree is the largest of its kind in the United States, with a circumference that measures over 498 inches. The SoCal hidden gem has an interesting story behind it as well; back in 1876, an  Australian seaman gave the seedling of the tree to a local girl. The girl moved away from Santa Barbara, but her friend Adeline Crabb planted it in its current location on her friend’s behalf. This designated historic landmark is a sight to behold.

Who wouldn’t want to visit the only excavated Ice age site in an urban jungle?

2. La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Starting 50,000 years ago, hundreds of animals, insects, and plants got trapped in a piece of land made of sticky asphalt in Los Angeles. Since the early 1900s over 100 excavations took place in this spot, resulting in the discovery of unexpected fossils, which are now on display in the on-site museum. Today, the La Brea Tar Pits is the only excavated Ice Age site located in the midst of an urban jungle. It’s no wonder that this cool natural place makes it into every L.A. bucket list.

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3. Eagle Rock, Los Angeles

Between Pasadena and Glendale, along the Ventura Highway is the Eagle Rock neighborhood, which shares its name with a conglomerate rock formation. If you happen to be in the area at the exact same time as when the sun hits the face of the rock, you’ll notice an eagle-like, shadowy figure flying straight out of it. For anyone willing to take a closer look at the mysterious figure, the Eagle Rock Canyon Trail is the path to take.

The mystery behind California’s sailing stones is still unsolved. Maybe you can put an end to the guessing.

4. The Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa, Inyo

While large rocks might not be something you’re interested in seeing, one that moves on its own accord is a can’t-miss sight to see. Visit Death Valley National Park to see the famous large rocks that have miles of tracks left behind, some as long as 800 miles. Scientists haven’t yet agreed on a single theory behind this phenomenon, but have a couple of valid explanations. If you want to catch the rocks in action, your best bet is to visit the area during the winter months. 

The red, yellow, green, and purple colors of Artists Palette would’ve even inspired Picasso to paint.

5. Artists Palette, Death Valley

No one in California gets to ask “are there mind-blowing natural attractions near me?”, especially since you’ll always be just a short ride away from Death Valley. In one of Death Valley’s most rugged areas, you can find the Artists Palette, a colorful display of multicolored rocks in the middle of the desert. The red, pink, yellow, green, and purple colors have been created over time due to the oxidation of metals present in the rock formations. If you want to see this natural beauty, all you need to do is drive along Artists Drive for about five miles, and you’ll reach your destination. Remember to take a lot of photos.

6. Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, Lancaster

Would you like to hike an eight-mile-long California trail surrounded by beautiful poppy flowers? Visit the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve and enjoy miles of the vibrant flowers stretched before you. Even though poppies are the California state flower, nowhere else in the State can you find them so harmoniously lined up.

Must-See Natural Wonders in Northern California

Once you finish visiting all of California’s waterfalls, make sure you visit its famous Firefall too.

7. Horsetail Falls Firefall, Yosemite

Horsetail Falls is a spectacle that continues to leave thousands of visitors in awe every year. The waterfall is the highlight of Yosemite National Park and can be best admired from the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. The waterfall looks like a Firefall between mid to late February every year, when the setting sun hits the waterfall at the right angle. The glowing red and orange colors make it seem like the waterfall is on fire.

San Francisco Bay’s Salt Ponds create a colorful canvas you won’t be able to take your eyes off.

8. Salt Ponds of San Francisco Bay, Newark

Before you even set foot in San Francisco, and as your plane is making its final pass before landing at the airport, you can see one of California’s most marvelous natural wonders. As you pass above them, the salt ponds of San Francisco Bay look like a colorful canvas. The bright red and green pond pockets are created as a reaction the microalgae living inside them have towards salinity. Make sure you have your camera ready as you prepare to land in S.F.

9. Enchanted Forest, Whitethorn

“Where can I find a beautiful nature spot near me?” is not a question you get to ask if you live in or around Whitethorn. After all, you're in close proximity to one of California’s most gorgeous natural wonders, the Enchanted Forest. Deep in the lost coast of California are a group of redwood trees that survived logging efforts and harsh ocean winds. The fractured trees in the forest continue to grow towards the sky in bizarre candelabra-like forms, making this one of the most enchanting natural places in all of California.

Calistoga’s Old Faithful Geyser knows a thing or two about attracting visitors.

10. Old Faithful Geyser, Calistoga

On a weekend getaway to Calistoga, you’ll be delighted to know that you’ll be surrounded by a fair amount of beautiful nature sights to admire. One that stands out is California’s own Old Faithful Geyser — there are only two others in the world. Old Faithful Geyser shoots steam and hot water into the sky every five to fifty-five minutes, and the eruptions can go as high as 80 feet. Next time you’re in Calistoga, make sure you stop by this weird attraction.

Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach is the most colorful beach your eyes will ever see.

11. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

Many of California’s most unique beaches are natural wonders that need to be experienced firsthand. Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is in fact partly man-made and partly nature-made. During the 1900s, what is now known as Glass Beach was a water dump, where residents discarded their waste. But, at some point, Mother Nature decided to pull a magic trick on the area, turning the trash into art. The waves smoothed up the glass discarded all over the shore and turned them into colorful pieces spread all around. This beach is a must-stop during any summer road trip.

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