Salton Sea: Attractions, Art, Mud Volcanoes and Dead Fish

The Salton Sea is one of those really unique parts of California history that has changed a lot in the last century. Originally a destination location for Hollywood’s elite to play at, now this park is a much more desolate and somewhat smelly place that gets a lot fewer visitors. In that, however, there is a charm that makes it worth the visit, even if just for the unique art communities that thrive in this brutal desert. If you go, here are all of the things you can visit in the Salton Sea from North to South.

Salton sea 3

Details

  • Make sure to check the hours online for anything you want to go to as there are a lot of places with weird hours.
  • Make sure to get gas before you head in as there are not a lot of stops around the lake for it.

The International Banana Museum

International Banana Museum-19

This excellent, small museum is a great place to stop as you enter the area. It literally has banana everything! Make sure to check the hours as it is only open Friday – Monday most weeks and you don’t want to miss it. Read all about it here.

Salton Sea State Park and Visitor Center

Salton sea 2

This is the official State Park in the Salton Sea. It has camping, hiking, beach and fishing access. The park itself offers some crazy experiences such as a beach that is literally dead fish, bones and gills. You have to see it to believe it.

Salton sea 7

Salton Sea State Park is also where the visitor center is so you can get info on the history of the lake and the area that surrounds it if it is open.

Salton sea 1

Read more about the state park here.state park here.

Trains

trains

If you are a fan of trains like me, this road follows a train track, and there are a lot of opportunities to stop and take pictures. I love photographing the trains alongside the stark desert.

Bombay Beach Ruins

Oak Glen Hike 13

This place is a total trip. Located at the west end of the small community of Bombay Beach are a lot of ruins from the houses and mobile homes that used to be on this stretch of the beach. There are TVs and tires on the beach and many different types of broken down houses to interact and photograph. It is a must stop in the area, and you can read my full post here.

Oak Glen Hike 2

Salvation Mountain

salvation mountain

A lot of people come out here just to visit Salvation Mountain, and it really is worth it. This mountain is a labor of love for one man and is a massive accomplishment.  I guarantee you will tell others about your time here if you go as it is that unique. Read my whole post on it here.

Slab City

Slab City 4

If you stop at Salvation Mountain and turn around, then you miss a lot of awesome Salton Sea places. Right after Salvation Mountain is the town of Slab City which is essentially a community of people that come and live in this vast desert during the winter months. Many just pull up in an RV and stay, making art and adding to the unique aspects of the community. Here are the things to see:

The Sole Tree

Slab City 2

Named for the soles of the shoes that hang from its branches, the sole tree is a fun stop in Slab City, and it is right across from the bedazzled truck.

Bedazzled Truck

Slab City 1

Right across from the sole tree, this truck is covered in rhinestones; it’s a sight to see for sure.

Slab City Bike Sign

Slab City 3

This sign is cool as it shows the vast art community and their style. The sign itself is even made out of an old bike. After seeing the sights in Slab City, check out the art community at the end called East Jesus.

East Jesus

East Jesus 35

I can’t explain this place very well, you really just need to visit it. It is a community of artists that live together, create art and party in the desert and the stuff they make is super awesome. A great stop for sure and the people there have always been nice. Here is my full post on East Jesus.

Buckshot Deli and Diner

Salton Sea Food

I have eaten here before, and they have good burritos and salsa. It is often hard to find places open in this area, so this cafe is a good stop if you are hungry.

Salton Sea Food (1)

The Bubbling Mud Pools

Salton Sea Mud Pots 10

I have no idea if this is private property or not so just make sure you look for signs. The mud pots are located in the middle of a field and are literally boiling pools of mud that pop like bubble gum when you go out and see them. Not easy to get to but worth the effort. Here is my post on it.

Sonny Bono Bird Area

Sonny bono

There is a hiking trail here to a rock that overlooks the beach and lake. There is also a visitors center that talks about the birds of the area and has a platform for looking for them. If you are a bird fan, this is where you need to be. Best time is when it is getting cooler near November.

Salton Sea Birds

So there it is, my guide to the Salton Sea. Make sure to bring a camera and have fun if you go there as this is a place that I guarantee you will at least consider unique when you visit. Let me know if I left anything off in the comments.

Video

Here is a video I made on spending 24 hours in Salton Sea.

Get Directions

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Thanks for checking out the blog, I am happy to be sharing my adventures with you! You can get to know me by reading my about me, which includes a video and additional information on the site, myself and my full disclosure. Also, follow along on Twitter here or read all of my posts on this blog here.

  • It’s official. I want to visit the Salton Sea.

    • haha thanks for the comment! It’s a unique place for sure. You may not visit more then once but there really is a lot of crazy stuff to see.

  • No problem, thanks for the comment. You can really see a lot in one day so I would say that is enough unless you really want to spend a lot of time at a specific place.

  • Kathie

    Your blog is fantastic and is leading me on many wonderful adventures, especially to the “bizarre” sites. Your attitude towards all that you encounter is really great. I want to go to the sites you visited at Salton Sea, but I don’t see your usual link to directions, etc. Can you provide some? Many thanks.

    • Thanks for the comment, each recommendation should have a link to the post with the directions to that area specifically but I will look at adding a full map to this post as well! Thanks for the recommendation.

      • Kathie

        Thanks! The map is a big help!

  • Marcus

    It’s probably called the Soul Tree because shoes have soles.

    • That sounds like a good guess to me

    • Andrea

      And I suspect it’s probably called the SOLE tree…not that I have a clue, not having been there

      • That is probably true, nice catch!

  • Alison Rogers

    Just spent the day at Salton Sea yesterday and did everything you suggested on the post. My kids and I had a great day. Thank you for the detailed directions. Everything you said was ‘spot on’. They loved Salvation Mountain the most because they were able to run around freely and explore. Thanks again! Highly recommend this day trip!

    • No problem! Glad you had fun, that is a great place to explore!

  • Ed

    Just took this trip but traveled south to north. WOW! Great advice. The rangers at Sony Bono Wildlife Refuge confirmed the mudpots are private property. We skipped it because he mentioned the owner is not always in the best mood. Also confirmed, the burrito at Buckshot Cafe is very good-as well as the grilled cheese and BLT. Fun times!

    • Glad you had a fun trip Ed! I agree Salton Sea can be pretty amazing for a day of adventure.

  • GooliZAP

    I want to make a travel site similar to this, but specializing in Desert Travel. Any advice? What server do you use??

    • Feel free to email me if you have questions on this.

  • white hunter

    In the 1960’s my father worked with a man who with his wife and sons liked boating and they had a trailer at Salton Sea. They would water ski there. We went there and since we liked boating also my parents and I would go there and water ski. We went to a place called Sundial. This is where they had their trailer. We also bought a trailer and parked it at Sundial. You had to wear shoes in the water because the bottom had stones with barnacles on them and they would cut your feet to shreds. In the day it was 110 in the shade and at night you froze. After many years the two families drifted apart because everyone got older. I have not been there for over 40 years. after seeing your blog I am interested in going again.

    • Thanks for the comment and for sharing your story! I love visiting as there is a lot to see, not in the summer though it is way too hot!

  • Sara

    really helpful, thanks josh! i have to make my way from palm springs to tuscon, and salton sea is kinda on my way. looking forward to visiting.

    question: do you get cell reception there? i have verizon. i’m wondering if i can rely on my gps in the area or if i should print directions. thanks!

    • I had reception at most places but near the mud area and near the oasis the reception is fleeting. I would say it is best to have some sort of back up just in case. Thanks for the comment!

  • Anson

    Thanks for the ideas and directions for these places. Have had two amazing trips out to the area now. Have you been to the metal sculptures around Borrego Springs? Saw those on my way back last trip, and want to go back for some astrophotography with those in the foreground. Thanks for a great blog, and keep up the good work!

    • Ya I have, I love checking out those metal sculptures. I agree they would be awesome for night photos. Be sure to share them with me if you take some!

  • meberg500

    Great list, though I’d recommend taking a trip down the east shore as well! Salton City is pretty fascinating. Just look at the streets on google maps, then switch to satellite view. City that never quite happened, but there is a trailer park, motel and restaurant tucked away in one little area on the water.

    Also – surprised the buttes were left off this list! They’re the only “active” volcanoes in CA. One, the smallest and most boring, is the trail to a rock you referenced at Sonny Bono Bird Area. A little south is Obsidian Butte, which is closer to a pile of rubble, but there is black obsidian all over the place. Also has the best waterfront access of the three. Red Hill at the Red Hill Marina is my favorite. It’s got lots to explore and climb around on, and the wind erosion leaves some really nifty formations. Every one of these are within a 15 min drive of the mud volcanoes! You can easily make an afternoon of exploring this area. Though the summer heat is pretty brutal.

    • Thanks for the comment and for giving me yet another reason to return to this unique area!

  • Ynot

    Josh, I’d like to take a group of friend photographers to this area. Do we pretty much stick to Grapefruit Blvd/ the 111 whole way through? What’s the most popular spot for sunset images among photographers? Also where is the should tree and truck located? Thx

    • Yep, you will pretty much be on the 111 the entire time, with short ventures off. For sunset it is pretty hard to beat Salton Sea State Recreation Area, it has a beautiful view over the water. The shoe tree and the truck are both located in Slab City which is right past Salvation Mountain.

  • Reyna Baeza-Oregel

    What’s the best time of year/season to visit?

    • I would recommend anything but summer. It is so hot in the summer that I would not recommend heading out that way

  • domthedj

    It’s called Soul Tree because of the soles of the shoes

  • Heather

    going next week, thanks for all the helpful info ! 🙂

    • No problem, have fun and stay cool / bring lots of water, it is probably pretty hot out there right now.

  • Heather

    going next week! Thanks for all the helpful info 🙂

  • Kato Mateu

    hey thanks for the article. i was wondering about that road following train tracks, where is it located?

    • Highway 111 is what I was talking about. There are large portions in the middle that parallel the tracks.

  • Lucie Cali

    thanks for all the tips! had no idea which side to visit first now I know.

    • No problem, have fun exploring that area!