California’s 10 Coolest Roadside Attractions for Kids

Southern California is the land of dreamers, oddballs, and visionaries. And they’ve certainly left their imprint on the landscape. If you’re looking for road trips that will take you right into the heart of all that’s peculiar, have we got some oddities for you! Sure to please kids – and spice up your Instagram account – these offbeat attractions range from spiritual to artistic and then veer left to just plain bizarre. So pack a bag, some snacks….and don’t forget your camera!

Agoura: Paramount Ranch Western Town

If you’ve ever dreamt of stepping into the Wild West (or wanted to be a part of a real-live movie set), this place has both covered. Created in 1927 as a movie ranch, it allowed the Golden Era of movie making to create some on-screen beauties set in a variety of locales. Previously dressed as colonial Massachusetts in The Maid of Salem (1937), ancient China in The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938), a South Seas island in Ebb Tide (1937), it’s now found its final destiny as a Western Town where you can explore a variety of very authentic looking buildings. If that weren’t enough, there are several stunning hikes through the Santa Monica mountains.

Anza-Borrego: Ricardo Breceda’s Animal Sculptures

It’s not just the wildflowers or the desert lunarscape that attracts visitors here. Richard Breceda’s 130 enormously sized metal sculptures of animals long passed, those still around, and others quite mythical dot the landscape. From your kiddo’s favorite prehistoric giant to massive bugs and other wild beasts, there’s plenty to explore in this southernmost California desert. Picture-perfect in this landscape, there are photo ops a plenty.

Baker: The World’s Tallest Thermometer

Hey, hot-stuff! This can’t-miss-it landmark located in Baker is an electric sign that commemorates the record 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) recorded in neighboring Death Valley on July 10, 1913. The thermometer is relatively new – it was built in 1991 by the Young Electric Sign Company, and survived a rough start: Soon after construction, 70-mph winds snapped the thermometer in half, and two years later brutal gusts rocked the statue so much that its light bulbs popped. Since then, it’s been steady – and a steady attraction for streams of sweating tourists as they pass through the Mojave Desert. While there, check out the gift shop. (Sorry, but the Bun Boy Diner has closed down.)

Cabazon: The Biggest Dinosaurs in the World

Cabazon Dinosaurs, formerly Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs, is a rip-roaring roadside attraction featuring two ginormous steel-and-concrete creatures dubbed Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex. Located just west of Palm Springs, the 150-foot-long Apatosaurus and the 65-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex are easy to spot from Southern California’s Interstate 10 (near Palm Springs). What’s more, these guys are movie stars best-known for their appearance in the 1985 classic comedy, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Sculptor and Knott’s Berry Farm theme park artist Claude Bell began construction of the dinosaurs in 1964 and Dinny and Mr. Rex were completed in 1975 and 1986, respectively. Dinny’s belly houses a store with something for everyone, and you can climb right up into Mr. Rex’s head if you feel like having a bird's-eye view of the desert below. Old Claude passed on in 1988 at age 91 and his family sold the property. Since then, Cabazon Dinosaurs has been the site of a roadside creationist museum.

Felicity: The Official Center of the World

Right at the border of Arizona, in a town with a population of no more than ten, sits the Official Center of the World. When Jacques-Andre Istel walked into this corner of the oppressively hot Sonoran Desert, he had a vision: Buy up the land and make it a destination. So he did what any man would...write a children’s book about the center of the world, use the book to convince Imperial Country to legally recognize his land as the center of the world, build a pyramid, purchase some old Eiffel Tower stairs and other oddball attractions, declare himself mayor, and get ready to greet his visitors. Yes, it’s as wacky as it sounds but well worth the visit.

Newport Beach: The Pirate House

Ahoy mateys and arrrrg, you salty dogs! The Pirate House is a quirky gem indeed. It’s a private residence with a very public façade boasting statues and fiberglass effigies of (you guessed it) pirates, wenches, and fish nets, but also: Old West cowboys, a donkey, The Statue of Liberty, the American flag, and even a giant chicken! Cruise by with care, and respect for the privacy of the residents – though they must love the attention or they wouldn’t have made their humble abode into the raucous roadside attraction, would they?

Niland: Salvation Mountain

Several miles from the Salton Sea sits Salvation Mountain, an outsider art masterpiece with one simple message: God is love. Emblazoned with biblical messages, it’s made of local adobe, donated paint, and a mishmash of found objects. Leonard Knight spent 30 years of his life turning trash into art in order to spread his message. You’re free to climb the mountain as long as you stay on the yellow brick road. Once you reach its 50-foot summit, you’ll also have amazing views of the surrounding desert and town; and don’t forget to visit the museum. Bring a bucket of paint to donate for the maintenance of the mountain and start clicking your camera away.

Oro Grande/Route 66: Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch

A forest in the middle of the desert, you wonder? Well, it’s an impressive one indeed. A forest of bottle trees (literally metal structures sporting a variety of glass bottles) welcomes visitors driving Route 66 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Gorgeous photographic opportunities abound and Elmer himself is a gem, if you’re lucky enough to spot him. With over 200 installations all made from Elmer’s own bottles collected since 1952, this place is a visual treat accompanied beautifully by the sounds of the desert breeze making its way through the humming glass.

San Luis Obispo: Bubblegum Alley

A living work of art, Bubblegum Alley is an ever-mutating organism with hundreds of new pieces of gum added daily. Nestled in the heart of downtown SLO, it’s a far cry from its surrounds: upscale wineries, boutiques, and cafes. Perhaps one of the town’s strangest landmarks, the bubblegum-covered alley is a 15-foot high, 70-foot long ode to feuding students from two local high schools. While not ideal for germaphobes, it’s a great place to take a photo with the kids and add your own piece of Trident to the landmark. Located between 733 and 734 on Higuera Street.

Yucca Valley: Desert Christ Park

Ever wondered what it would be like to join the Last Supper? Here’s your chance. Over 35 larger-than-life concrete sculptures dot the 3.5 acres of this park. Each piece depicts a different scene in JC’s life and have impressively withstood over 60 years of the harsh, desert climate. Tongue-in-cheek to some, inspirational to others, it has a wonderfully mysterious and eerie quality. Not so much a must-see but really, if you’re in the area...why not?!

What are some of your favorite SoCal California roadside attractions? Share with us!

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