The California deserts have long attracted artists, makers, and seekers in search of an off-the-grid lifestyle that only wide-open miles of sandy land can provide. In the first episode of California Pop, friends Anthony and Shikira head east from Los Angeles in search of weird and wonderful roadside attractions.
California’s stunning desert parklands offer exceptional natural beauty and what Anthony describes as “ground zero for California kitsch.” The night skies are filled with sparkling stars thanks to designation as International Dark Sky Places, and the landscape is marked by massive boulders and formidable cacti. The region is also home to mind-bending public art and the uniquely talented people who make it. Watch “Southern California Desert” to follow the friends’ journey, and get to know the locations they visited below.
Large-Scale Art in Bombay Beach
An abandoned resort town located on a dying lake by the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach is home to only 250 or so residents. But thanks to the Bombay Beach Biennale festival, you can find massive, interactive art pieces seemingly marooned on the sand. Think: climbing into the tail of the nose-down crashed plane sculpture by artist Randy Polumbo.
Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum
When Jeff Hafler first attended beauty school, he began collecting hair and beauty artifacts. Visit the Beauty Bubble in Joshua Tree and you can now browse his memorabilia—all 3,000-plus pieces of it—and get a haircut while you’re at it.
Visit this outdoor art gallery in Joshua Tree, founded by Shari Elf, to find the tiny-but-cheerful World-Famous Crochet Museum, eclectic screen-printed shirts, reclaimed art, and complimentary aura cleanses.
Take a trip back in time at Peggy Sue’s Diner off Interstate 15 in Yermo. Built in 1954, the retro vibes are in full effect with Elvis decor, an old-fashioned jukebox, waitresses in sodajerk–style uniforms, patty melts, and massive slices of icebox pie.
Ricardo Breceda Sculptures
Ricardo Breceda created his first scrap-metal sculpture, a giant T. rex, for his dinosaur-obsessed daughter Lianna. Nearly 20 years later, the self-taught artist has created more than 130 hauntingly beautiful pieces. Find a 350-foot-long serpent, battling stallions, and more around Borrego Springs.
Head to Imperial County, northeast of Niland, to find a massive, beautiful, and brightly colored man-made mountain. First created in the 1980s by Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain was built from hay bales, adobe clay, sand, auto parts, and thousands of gallons of paint. Hike to the top for panoramic desert views.
Lovingly dubbed “The Last Free Place in America,” Slab City in East Jesus is part commune, part art museum, and unlike anywhere else in the world. Visit the interactive Art Garden to find a painted bus half-buried in sand, an adult-sized seesaw, a sand-filled bowling alley, and a wall of TVs emblazoned with maxims of the counterculture.