Smack in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies the unpretentious town of Borrego Springs, population 3,429. It’s the only California town that is completely surrounded by a state park, and that’s just one bullet point in its list of bragging rights. It’s also an official International Dark Sky Community—the first and only one in California—dedicated to protecting the night sky from light pollution. Backyard stargazing parties happen almost every night. Then there’s the ruby red grapefruit season, which begins in late December and ends when all the grapefruit are eaten. Some local fruit stands are run on the honor system: pick up a bag and place your money in the box.
The downtown area has a passel of ice cream shops, restaurants, and lodgings, but the local art scene evokes the most community pride. First, there are the supersize prehistoric and fantastical beasts that both line area roads and are sometimes seemingly dropped randomly in the middle of nowhere, far from any road or foot traffic. Insider tip: A map with the GPS locations of all the sculptures is available at the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association desert store, which is one block west of downtown’s Christmas Circle. The meticulously crafted metal creatures, rust-colored and featuring such details as curling eyelashes and “fur” of shaved iron, are the work of metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda. Then there are galleries with more works by local artists, the Plein Air Invitational painting event and the Circle of Art Show, both in spring. Get your own art on with a watercolor or pottery-making class offered by the nonprofit Borrego Art Institute.
Visitors to Borrego Springs who would like to camp have it especially good—you are allowed to camp for free anywhere in the surrounding Anza-Borrego State Park under the following conditions: 1) Your vehicle is not parked more than one length off the road (though you may walk further in to set up your site); 2) Your camp is set up at least 100 yards from any water source; 3) The prohibition of ground fires is observed (fires in metal containers ok); 4) Campers bring their own firewood; and 5) Leave No Trace principles are followed. There are also several campgrounds and RV parks in the area.