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11 Unique Places to Visit in California
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11 Unique Places to Visit in California

Pick your favorite spots among the most unusual places to visit in California and build an adventure of your own.

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5 min read

December 19, 2021

The Golden State is no stranger to the strange. Built on the backs of adventurers, dreamers, speculators, gold-seekers, and those who wanted to escape the ordinary, California has always inhabited a lifestyle that tethered on the edge of normalcy. Unsurprisingly, the state’s unconventional history has also left it dotted with plenty of unusual attractions and weird towns you can visit today. An abandoned warship that used to host parties, a kitschy cafe that found itself as the set in a foreign film, a little house on the seventh story of a college campus are all among the most unique places to visit in California—each has plenty of stories to tell.

Pick your favorite spots among the most unusual places to visit in California and build an adventure of your own. The Golden State embraces its weirdness in the best way, and visiting these places will prove to you why that is so.

Unique Places to Visit in Northern California

The original street level can be seen throughout Old Sacramento under the boardwalks and in basements. Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

1. Sacramento’s Original Street Level

Location: Sacramento

Did you know that Sacramento once stood 10 feet lower than it does today? You can still see remnants of the original street level by visiting a sunken courtyard in Old Sacramento. Located just opposite the entrance to the California State Railroad Museum, this unique place to visit in California gives you a taste of the state capitol in the 1860s. 

2. Empire Mine State Park

Location: Grass Valley

Grass Valley was once a Gold Rush era boomtown in every sense. During this period, the Empire Mine was a major point of attraction, producing 5.8 million ounces of gold between the years 1850 and 1956. While it’s no longer in operation, you can still tour one of the most unique places to visit in Northern California and get a taste of its olden glory days.

The Foresthill Bridge is the highest by deck height in California, the fourth highest in the U.S., and among the seventy highest in the world.

3. Foresthill Bridge

Location: Auburn

Foresthill Bridge is the tallest bridge in California. Opened in 1973, this structure was built as part of the Auburn Dam Project, which would have filled the canyon below, drowning the road that connects the town of Foresthill to the rest of the world. While the project was halted for environmental concerns, the one-of-a-kind bridge is still extensively used and one of the most unique places to visit in California.

4. Sacramento Old City Cemetery

Location: Sacramento

Albeit a bit eerie, the oldest cemetery in the state capital deserves a visit. Take a volunteer-led tour and see graves of historic governors, criminals, and other historical persons of interest. This unique place to visit in Northern California also offers a popular nighttime tour before Halloween—do mark it on your calendar next time your favorite holiday rolls around.

Completed too late to see war service, SS Palo Alto was mothballed until 1929 when she was intentionally grounded off a Northern California beach.

5. SS Palo Alto

Location: Aptos

SS Palo Alto has gone through four phases in its lifetime. It was originally built to be a World War I tanker, but was later converted into a floating amusement park. Soon, the ship was abandoned and turned into a fishing pier. Now, it's sunken enough to be an artificial reef. As one of Aptos’s main attractions, this unique place to visit in Northern California is still peeking out from its surrounding waters. Visit, admire, and take pictures of it, but don’t attempt to go near—it’s not safe enough to do. 

6. Black Chasm Cavern

Location: Volcano

Black Chasm Cavern is a 20-foot long crack in the earth hiding millions of sparkling crystals, which was a well-kept secret until gold miners swarmed the area in the 1850s. The calcite formations it houses—called helictites—are rare geological treasures that are better looked at than touched. Head to this unusual place to visit in California for a very interesting and educational guided tour.

Unique Places to Visit in Southern California

Solvang's origins date back to 1804 when Mission Santa Inés was founded by the Spanish under Esteban Tápis.

7. Solvang

Location: Santa Barbara County

Solvang is a Danish village in the Golden State—yes, really. Delightfully unusual in the best way, this charming small town in SoCal has a rich history, Scandinavian architecture, and delicious bakeries that’ll keep you cheery, stuffed, and busy throughout your stay

8. The Houdini Estate

Location: Los Angeles

Two cheetahs guard the entrance to what once used to be Harry Houdini’s home.  They say that Houdini and his wife Bess stayed here while he worked on films like The Grim Game and Terror Island. However, the underground tunnels that connect this mansion to another create an air of mystery, suggesting that Houdini might have not actually been residing in the building after all. You can check out this unusual place to visit in California, but since it’s private property, you’ll have to settle with admiring the exteriors. 

Bagdad Cafe is the set location of German filmmaker Percy Adlon’s 1987 indie cult-classic of the same name,.

9. Bagdad Cafe

Location: Newberry Springs

Bagdad Cafe might not mean much to tourists, but to old-school international film buffs, it’s a bucket-list destination. Having served as the set of a 1987 German indie cult-classic film, this unique place to visit in California is the Mojave Desert’s cinematic claim to fame. Get a burger and a cup of coffee to go and admire the cafe’s interior covered in flags, photographs, stickers, and guest books overflowing with comments in every language.

10. Fallen Star

Location: San Diego

Aptly named Fallen Star, this little blue house looks like it dropped from the sky and landed straight over the campus of UC San Diego. Installed by Do Ho Suh—a Korean-born and Rhode Island School of Design-trained artist—this house is actually fully furnished with a cozy interior you can step into. Just be careful when you attempt this unique thing to do in Southern California. Due to its slanted floors, spending too much time in the house will make you feel light-headed.

These kaleidoscopic roadside signs remind us all that love transcends borders. Photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

11. The Love Signs of Twentynine Palms

Location: Twentynine Palms

You can certainly feel the love at this unique place to visit in Southern California. A fairly recent addition to California’s long list of quirky roadside attractions, these colorful signs in various languages are an artistic collaboration meant to remind us that love knows no boundaries. The bright signs are written in English, Amharic, Chinese, Spanish, Farsi, and Kannada; they look striking against the backdrop of the arid desert.

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