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What to See and Do in Imperial County
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What to See and Do in Imperial County

See a unique and largely undiscovered area of the state by visiting the attractions of Imperial County, CA.

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4 min read

November 29, 2020

Sandy shores, salty seas, and sunny days are all part of SoCal's beauty. When in the southern part of the state, swing by Imperial County—it's a whole other world. From the striking landscape of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the sand dunes of Imperial Valley, the dry, arid region welcomes you wherever you journey within Imperial County.

Found south of Palm Desert, in the southeast corner of the state, Imperial County was California's last created county. Don’t let the county's late formation throw you off—it has so much to offer both locals and visitors, especially given its close proximity to Mexico. Here are the best things to do in Imperial County, CA.

Things to Do in Imperial Valley and County

The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is full of mystery and intrigue, making it a great place to visit in Imperial County.

Salton Sea

One of the best things to do in the Imperial Valley is head to the Salton Sea. Bordered by sand, the Salton Sea is often regarded as the jewel in California’s crown for its ever-so-mesmerizing biodiversity. The 35-mile stretch of water is home to 400 species of birds and boasts plenty of outdoor activities. Start your trip at the Salton Sea Visitor Center, where you'll learn about the area’s history. Wander about, taking in the strange and obscure scenery ranging from desert-like landscapes to mud pots. Located at the southern end of the Salton Sea is the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge—pack your binoculars to observe the migratory birds who momentarily call this place home. 

When visiting Imperial County, make sure to marvel at the unique geological formations surrounding the area.

Obsidian Butte

The Salton Sea is full of mystery—especially for geology fanatics. The area is flanked by humongous obsidian buttes dating back 8,000 years; these giant domes add a unique and unearthly feeling to the deserted landscape. The buttes were a result of volcanic activities occurring underneath tectonic plates. Visitors can walk along the buttes and take obsidian samples for themselves as a souvenir.

Davis-Schrimpf Seep Field

Eccentric geological feature enthusiasts should also head to the desert located right outside of the Salton Sea. The Davis-Schrimpf Seep Field is full of gas vents and bubbling mud pots, as a result of short muck volcanoes. These volcanoes are warm due to the build-up of carbon dioxide underneath. Some may not even consider them actual volcanoes due to temperature and mud eruptions. Nonetheless, the bubbling noises and enjoyable warmth make them all the more sought-after attraction.

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Adrenaline junkies are bound to love Glamis, the largest off-highway vehicle recreation area for sand dunes in the nation.

Glamis

When in the county, heading to the Imperial Sand Dunes is an absolute must. Found in the heart of the dunes is Glamis—the largest off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation area for sand dunes in the United State. Glimmering golden sands are spread as far as the eye can see. Glamis is all about the best recreational fun; the dune is about 40 miles long and five miles wide. It gets better—many of the dunes rise to 300 feet, making them a well-known landmark for passersby on Highway 78 and Interstate 8. After a day of running wild in the desert dunes, stop by El Jumping Bean Taqueria for authentic Mexican cuisine.

Pioneer Museum

The Pioneer Museum features a collection of archives, documents, clothing, and artifacts dating back to the times of the Imperial Valley's early settlers. The museum also pays tribute to the locals who took part in the Civil War. History buffs and agriculture enthusiasts will enjoy learning about the region’s growth and development at the museum.

Slab City, also called The Slabs, is a secluded and quirky area situated east of the Salton Sea.

Slab City

The Slabs, as most locals call it, is a campsite and substitute living community (for the winter months). Slab City was an old World War II base named for the many concrete slabs that still remain today. Aside from the small local population, "snowbird" retirees relax at this desert location during harsh winter months. Most of the “snowbirds” head over in their RVs and camp out in Slab City until it's warm enough to return home. 

El Centro

The desert community of El Centro is located about 50 feet below sea level, making it one of the largest below-sea-level settlements in the country. Founded in 1905, the city was built to become Imperial Valley's main commercial and transportation center.

Calexico is where California and Mexico meet, so visit the border town to experience the best of both worlds.

Calexico

The Mexican border city of Calexico, founded in 1900, is located about 122 miles from San Diego. The name is a combination of California and Mexico, paying tribute to the city's geographic location. Calexico boasts plenty of outdoor areas such as Las Casitas Park, Border Park, and Herbert Park. For an outdoor shopping experience, head over to the Gran Plaza for the latest on all things fashion. Road trips through SoCal also call for quick pit stops; Mount Signal Cafe is just the place to do so. When in Calexico, enjoy a lovely afternoon meal at D' Poly Cocina Mexicana where authentic Mexican cuisine awaits.

Calipatria

Formerly known as Date City, Calipatria houses the tallest flagpole in the country, standing high and mighty at 184 feet. The city also has many cool and unique gems in store for all its visitors.

For a taste of the Wild Wild West, head to Brawley, a small town with a significant cattle and feed industry.

Brawley

Previously known as Braly, Brawley is one of the most renowned Imperial Valley cities. The city is home to many "wild wild West" events such as the Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo, an annual celebration where visitors can frequent an old-fashioned rodeo. The rodeo began in 1956 to commemorate the valley’s cattle production. The event and parade take place in a 50-acre arena—considered one of the most exceptional rodeo grounds in the southwest. The Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo is typically a weekend-long affair that includes a cookoff, cowboy poetry, mariachi performances, and bluegrass. The Western parade sets the mood for the rodeo, where visitors can enjoy live shows, food, and music all night long.

Bucklin Park

Plan a day out with your kids at Bucklin Park, home to a children’s playground and horseshoe pits. The park is a great spot to spend quality time with the family and is equipped with many picnic areas and barbecue grills. Enjoy a walk along the paved paths as your kids run around exploring nature's bounty. 

After curing your wanderlust in Imperial County, take a road trip to California’s national parks for the ultimate Golden State adventure. 

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