seeking weird, wild & wonderful
January 7, 2013 3:28 PM   Subscribe

What are some quirky and/or beautiful destinations within a 2 or 3 hour drive of San Diego?

Lately, I've been pretty crazed with wanderlust. But while I have a flexible job, my SO doesn't, and often a 3 day weekend is the best we can do if we want to travel together.

So, we're seeking destinations within a 2 or 3 hour drive of San Diego. But not OC/LA city attractions or spots along the coast, unless they're really quirky or unexpected; the stretch between Santa Barbara and San Diego is super well-trod for us. Other than that, we're open to almost anything: cultural oddities, charming towns, weird ruins, natural beauty, forests, mountains, deserts, any kind of serendipity. We're cool with camping, but if there's a noncreepy motel or hotel nearby (bonus if it allows dogs) it's more likely we'll make the effort. We like hiking and taking pictures and eating at random roadside diners, stuff like that.

We've already spent time in Palm Springs proper, Borrego Springs, Big Bear, Calico, Temecula and Julian. We've spent time driving in Mexico but are still a little skeeved out by it. I'm definitely planning a trip to poke around the Salton Sea & see Salvation Mountain (that kind of thing fascinates me). I've also never been to Joshua Tree National Park and know I should remedy that.

What are we missing?

(I should say the 2-3 hour limit isn't rigid; we're also interested in destinations within a 6 or 7 hour drive, but those are only worth it to me when SO gets a rare 4-day weekend, so closer = priority. thanks!)
posted by changeling to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Watts Towers.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology.
And see this question and various links in it to other similar questions.
posted by Dansaman at 3:37 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like cultural oddities and taking photos too. On my list to see next time I'm between LA and San Diego: Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, boat houses in Encinitas.

In LA, I want to visit the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant and Japanese Garden. Between LA and Santa Barbara, you might have missed the Oil Museum in Santa Paula.

I know of some nice ruins near Santa Barbara - the Arroyo Hondo bridge just north of Santa Barbara, Knapp's Castle in the mountains, and the Barnsdall-Rio Grande Service Station in Goleta.

North of Santa Barbara, I recommend the Oil Zoo in Coalinga.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:56 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

For a longer weekend, I would recommend a road trip to Lone Pine. There a many, many places to explore in the Owens Valley and surrounding mountains, and Lone Pine is an excellent base of operations.

You can poke around in the storied Alabama Hills (locale for many a Western), or cruise on up to the lower reaches of the Eastern Sierra below Mt. Whitney for pretty day hikes.

En route, you could stop at creeeeeeeeeepy Randsburg.

And be sure to make a trip to Manzanar while you are in the vicinity. It is haunting and heart-wrenching -- esp. the graveyard -- and the scenery is stunning.

Less far-flung from San Diego are the Kelso Dunes. I really love driving the desert byways to get there. Lots of weird side-of-the-road sights. The train depot at Kelso is pretty neat, and the dunes themselves are magical.
posted by nacho fries at 4:00 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could go to Pioneertown and stay at the motel.
Gublers Orchids in Landers is well worth a visit and then you could visit the Dome or check out Giant rock.
posted by adamvasco at 5:35 PM on January 7, 2013

If Yuma AZ isn't too far of a run for you the Quartermasters Depot and the Territorial Prison are pretty fun and interesting. As you can see from the link there is quite a bit more there too. Not a bad destination for a little jaunt.

If you don't mind making a day trip out of the ride to Yuma, I suggest taking the 94 from San Diego (beautiful ride) and stop in Campo to visit the Rail Road Museum and the Campo Stone Store which is supposedly haunted (we definitely took some haunted photos there). It's also home to a museum for Camp Lockett, last home of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Just East of there on the 94 is the Transport Museum of Cameron's Corners. A few miles more will put you on the 8 East and you'll be on your way to more adventure. Have fun!
posted by snsranch at 6:07 PM on January 7, 2013

Joshua Tree National Park can be pretty amazing and the town (or "census designated place", technically) of Joshua Tree is getting kind of hip in a way it never used to be. The "Cosmic American Motel" where Gram Parsons died has been there for a long time, but seems to have been cleaned up. There's another hipster motel down the road. There's this place. There's a couple of art galleries and a decent diner. If you haven't been and are into that kind of place, its definitely worth a stop.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:29 PM on January 7, 2013

Re: the Pioneertown rec: Pappy & Harriet's is fun place to see live music thereabouts.

If you're in the general vicinity, perhaps after a day exploring J-Tree, you could buy a day pass to the dirt cheap (and somewhat dirt-bag) Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel. It attracts an odd lot: snowbirds; Slavs; rock climbers. Great way to enjoy a desert night under the stars while soaking your bones and chit-chatting with quirky types. (In case it's not evident: this is NOT a posh spa.)
posted by nacho fries at 7:52 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pretty much all of the mighty Mojave is worth poking around in, but a particular gem is the Airplane Boneyard. (Check out the photos in that link. Wowsa.)
posted by nacho fries at 10:51 PM on January 7, 2013

Response by poster: thanks everyone, such great suggestions! we are particularly enchanted by joshua tree as a whole, hicksville, the integratron and the desert hot springs spa hotel. I definitely need to get to manzanar sometime. and I'm pretty sure I went through randsburg on my way back from burning man -- VERY creepy.
posted by changeling at 5:57 PM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: update: over the 3-day weekend, we took a first desert trip -- salvation mountain, slab city, the eastern edge of the salton sea including bombay beach, up through landers (and into the integratron!) & pioneer town, and ended in joshua tree/29 palms. it was so, so fantastic, possible my favorite road trip ever. we stopped at weird roadside garage sales and ruined salton sea marinas. I left a copy of my second novel in the slab city library. some instagram pics, if you want to see.

thanks again for the advice! next trip we'll head deeper into mojave & the lone pine area, and maybe out to yuma another time.
posted by changeling at 7:39 PM on February 21, 2013

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