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Weird Cities You Won't Want to Miss
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Weird Cities You Won't Want to Miss

There are several weird cities in California worth checking out—some are preserved, others left to the mercy of time and nature.

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5 min read

June 01, 2021

The obscure and unusual certainly has its place in California. Oddities in the Golden State are almost normalized; weird cities come and go, boom and bust, flourish and become abandoned. From those that turn heads for their unusual names to ones that are merely ghost towns, these California attractions are among the strangest cities in the world. 

There are several weird cities in California worth checking out—some are preserved and repurposed, others left to the mercy of time and nature. Visit the ones that spark your curiosity and try to imagine what it must be like to live in (or haunt) these weird towns in the Golden State.

Weird Towns Near your Favorite Attractions

People visiting Slab City are especially drawn to Salvation Mountain, Leonard Knight's tribute to God and his gift to the world.

Slab City

The absurdly colorful Salvation Mountain is a roadside attraction in SoCal that's gained popularity over the last few years on social media. However, the strange town nearby is no less interesting. Slab City—or as locals call it, The Slabs—hosts a community of people living off-the-grid in Imperial County. You’ll find people from all sorts of backgrounds here who have realized they no longer want to adhere to the mainstream way of life. 

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Exploring Slab City and getting to know the locals is the best way to learn how this weird city is run. But, remember to be mindful of trespassing and violating people’s personal boundaries. After all, as far away from regular life as it seems, this weird city in California is still home to many people and should be treated as such.

Amargosa Opera House and Hotel is a historic building and cultural center with the most interesting history.

Amargosa

Visiting Death Valley is a bucket list-worthy national park experience for many. But don’t limit your desert trip to just the national park. You’ll find quite a few interesting towns near Death Valley that are just as worthy of exploring. One of these strange towns is Amargosa.

A tiny town constructed in the 1920s, Amargosa was facing complete abandonment until Marta Becket came to visit. Falling in love with the weird city, Beckett purchased the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, renovated and preserved it, and staged dance and mime performances there until she passed away. Her efforts and dedication piqued the interest of admirers from all over the world, and soon enough, she began to have audiences present during her lonely performances.

Next time you’re on the road, visit the opera house, check out the cafe in town, and spend a night at the adjacent hotel for a once-in-a-lifetime California desert experience. 

Funny City Names Worth Stopping For

We dare you to pronounce Zzyzx correctly on the first try! This town is located within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve.

Zzyzx 

Formerly known as Soda Springs, Zzyzx only got its complicated name in 1944. If you’re wondering how to pronounce it, Zzyzx rhymes with Isaac’s. The culprit was Curtis Howe Springer, a Methodist minister, radio evangelist, and self-proclaimed medical doctor. Springer chose the strange town name claiming it to be the last word in the English language.

The radio evangelist lived and operated in Zzyzx until the early 1970s when the federal government discovered that he in fact didn’t have any legal rights to the land. Consequently, he was evicted and briefly imprisoned. But thanks to Springer, Zzyzx is forever remembered for having one of the weirdest California city names.

Rough and Ready

You may not have heard about the little town of Rough and Ready, but it’s most definitely a real place on the map. Located along Highway 20 between Grass Valley and Yuba City, Rough and Ready is a strong contender on the list of weird city names in California.

Wondering why the town was named so? The census-designated place got its name when the Rough and Ready Mining Company settled in the area in 1849. The company was named after General Zachary Taylor—the 12th president of the United States—who had gained the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.”

Today, the small town with a strange name is occupied by only about 1,000 residents. It’s definitely worth making a quick detour when road tripping in Nevada County.

Strange Towns in Northern California

Bodie became a boom town in 1876 after the discovery of a profitable line of gold; by 1879 it had a population between 7,000 and 10,000.

Bodie

More of a NorCal attraction than a full-fledged town, Bodie is an extremely well-preserved ghost town you can’t miss. Tucked away in Bridgeport, northeast of Yosemite, this weird city in California takes you back in time. Looking at it today, it’s tough to imagine that Bodie was once a booming mining town in the 1870s, with a population of over 10,000 and more than 65 saloons.

While the residents of Bodie have abandoned it, many of the structures remain in their primal conditions. You’ll find over 100 builds including shops, saloons, and more. If you happen to visit, don’t pick up and take anything home with you. Not only is doing so prohibited, but many people who have taken a piece of this weird town home have reported experiencing bad luck.

Allensworth

Allensworth itself isn’t a particularly weird place to visit in California, but it has significant cultural and historical weight going back to the early 20th century. The land it sits on was purchased by four Black men who had a vision of forming the first town in California founded, financed, and governed by an entirely Black population. Their plan succeeded for a while. Just a few years later, the town had a schoolhouse, became a judicial district, and was home to a Baptist church, hotel, and library. 

But tragedy struck the town in 1924 when Colonel Allensworth was killed in an accident. After this, the town slowly declined but refused to fully die. Visit today and you’ll still find people inhabiting the small but culturally significant town. 

Strange Cities in Southern California

Pioneertown, located in the Morongo Basin region of San Bernardino's High Desert, is surrounded by federally protected lands.

Pioneertown

Ever wondered what it’s like to live in a movie set? Well, so did the founders of Pioneertown. Drive four miles northwest from Yucca Valley and this strange town will appear in all its kitschy, Old West-inspired desert glory.

Pioneertown was established for the sole purpose of becoming a living and breathing movie set in the 1940s. The strange town was the epitomization of a place where the cast and crew of Western movies could work and play without having to travel far from L.A. and Palm Springs. Plan a getaway to this ghost town and you’ll find operating movie sets, the famous Pioneertown Motel, old-timey saloons, and more weird town attractions.

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