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10 Underrated Places in California

underrated places to visit in california mono lake
There are so many beautiful places in California. The state is diverse with majestic mountains, breathtaking beaches, and more. If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path California sights you’ve come to the right place. Need to know where to go in California? Here are 10 underrated places in California to add to your list!

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10 Underrated Places in California

Looking for the most underrated California nature spots? Here are some of the best places to go in California for anyone who wants to beat the crowds.

Underrated Places in Southern California

If you’re looking for California sights in the southern region check out some of the gems.
Kelso Dunes
The Kelso Dunes are located in the Mojave National Preserve. This protected area is free to enter and the dirt road, although might be a bit rough, is passable for most cars. These sand dunes are enormous and once you’re there you don’t even feel like you’re in California anymore. It’s definitely one of the more underrated places in California.
underrated calfornia kelso dunes mojave
Vehicles are not allowed onto the dune area but you can hike to the top. Sunset and sunrise are the best times to go because you’ll beat the heat and it’s perfect for photos. The hike to the top of the tallest dunes takes about 1.5-2 hours round trip. Take a flashlight or headlamp if you’re planning to start the hike before sunrise or end after sunset.
woman at Mojave kelso sand dunes at sunset
 No fee to enter or park
Anza Borrego State Park
Anza Borrego is a state park located between San Diego and Palm Springs. This desert park has a rugged landscape formed by the forces of erosion that uplifted mountains. In the spring, the wildflowers bloom and it’s absolutely stunning.
badlands mountains anza borrego desert state park california The park is a popular place to go hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Be sure to check out the Galleta Meadows Sculptures just outside the park in Borrego Springs.
 Day Use Fee: $10 per vehicle
Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California with 240,640 area in acres. It’s located between Palm Springs and the Mexican border. The lake is shallow and saline. The deepest point is only five feet and it’s shrinking more and more each year. It was a hot spot with celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Sonny Bono in the 1950s and 1960s. Tourism became to decline in the 1970s and never recovered.
Why visit the Salton Sea? If you’re into quirky places and art visiting the Salton Sea is with the drive. This isn’t a typical spot to visit, it’s one of the more unique places in California. Be sure to check out the International Banana Museum and Bombay Beach. There are usually funky art installations in Bombay Beach. Stop for a drink at Bombay Beach Bar, known as the last bar in the middle of nowhere.
salton sea california underrated
If you’re planning a quick stop you can plan to visit Palm Springs, Salvation Mountain, or Slab City along the way. It’s also about an hour away from Joshua Tree National Park (south entrance.)
Day use fee: $7.00 ($5.00 for Seniors)
Palomar Mountain State Park
Palomar Mountain is a state park located between Anza-Borrego and Temecula. It’s a 1,862-acre forested area up a winding mountain road featuring hiking trails, campsites, and more. This gem will blow you away. The elevation within the park averages 5,000 feet above sea level. In the spring and summer when nearby cities such as Temecula are warm, Palomar Mountain remains cool in temperature.
palomar mountain state park california Talk a hike amongst large pine, fir, and cedar trees. It will have you feeling like you’re not in Southern California at all. If you’re looking for hidden gems in Southern California check out Palomar Mountain.
palomar mountain state park california deer in woods
Day use fee: $10 per vehicle (cash or check only)

Underrated Places in Central California

Visiting California? Central California is not to be missed. Some of the best national parks are in this region, the coast is stunning, and the mountains are amazing.
Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is located in Death Valley National Park. It is the lowest point in North America, at an elevation of 282 ft below sea level. These salt flats are incredible and cover nearly 200 square miles. These are the latest salt flats in North America.
Death Valley is not as popular as some of the other national parks in the state. However, it is truly one of the best points of interest in California. If you’re visiting be sure to also check out Artists Palette and Zabriskie Point.
Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle (valid for seven days), “America The Beautiful” National Parks annual pass can also be used
Mono Lake
Mono Lake is a saline lake in Mono County, California. It’s one of the most unique places to visit in California and the third-largest lake. The lake is known for its Tufa Towers that are a result of limestone deposits.
woman at mono lake south tufa towers
Popular things to do at Mono Lake include kayaking, photography, and birdwatching. It’s stunning at sunrise and sunset and these are the best times to go. If you’re looking for interesting lakes to visit in California this one is not to be missed. It’s also the perfect spot to add to your itinerary if you’re planning an Eastern Sierras road trip.
Alabama Hills
If you’re looking for cool places to visit in California check out the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, known as BLM. BLM land is federal land and free for camping and day use. You’ll find a lot of vanlifers and RVs parked in the area. It’s also a cool spot for hiking and there are a lot of interesting rock formations in the area.
woman and dog at alabama hills movie road lone pine california
rock formations to check out:
Mobius Arch
Lathe Arch
The Eye of Alabama
Whitney Portal Arch
No fee to enter or park
Santa Cruz Redwoods
Henry Cowell State Park is one of the lesser-known sights in California. These redwoods are only a 20-minute drive from downtown Santa Cruz in the city of Felton. That’s right you can go from the coast to a redwood forest in a short drive.
henry cowell state park redwood santa cruz california
These redwoods are one of the more underrated places in California. Look out for huge yellow slugs called Banana Slugs, they’re specific to the area. The redwoods are perfect for hiking, biking, camping, and there’s even a train ride that takes you to the beach.
Day use fee: $10 per vehicle

Underrated Places in Northern California

Search for Northern California places to visit? These gems will leave you in awe.
Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is located in the Big Sur is not only stunning but quite unique. The beach has purple sand and got that hue from the manganese garnet rocks in the cliffs above. The sunlight peeks through the sea cave usually around mid-January. It’s called the “Keyhole Arch Lightshow” and it’s truly beautiful! You’ll most likely see a few professional photographers waiting for that magic moment.
rock formation sea cave Pfeiffer Beach big sur california coast Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places in California and there are a lot of cool places to check out in the area. However, Pfeiffer Beach is a spot not to be missed. The parking lot is small and does fill up quickly so plan your visit accordingly.
Day Use Fee: $12 for parking
Painted Dunes at Lassen Volcanic National Park
There are many places in California to visit including beautiful national parks. Lassen Volcanic National Park is a particular park on its own but the coolest sight to see is the Painted Dunes. The Painted Dunes are pumice fields formed by the oxidation of volcanic ash. These multicolored dunes are incredible and one of the more underrated places in California.
painted dunes lassen volcanic national park california
Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle (valid for seven days), “America The Beautiful” National Parks annual pass can also be used

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dirt road alabama hills lone pine california


If you’re looking for the best places to visit in California without the crowds I hope you enjoyed this list. The state is full of unique gems that often get overlooked by popular California destinations.  

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