I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love color. I find anything containing vivid coloration, especially on a grand scale, whether in nature or man-made captivating, like bright blooms carpeting a hillside, murals spray painted on walls, and artistic structures radiating brilliance. All of these physical manifestations of chroma make me a happy camper and make my kiddo wide-eyed with wonderment and curiosity. So it would come as no surprise that we’re always on the hunt for rainbow destinations within relative driving distance from our home in Los Angeles. And while our search didn’t necessarily uncover any Palmitas Murals (Mexico) or favela paintings (Brazil), we did manage to find some awesome off the beaten path, vibrant and visually stunning landscapes and spaces in and near Southern California worth driving to plus one much further afield. So gas up the ride and juice up that camera and let’s hit the road.
Salvation Mountain | Niland, CA
Mosaic Tile House | Venice, CA
Seven Magic Mountains | Las Vegas, NV
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden | Escondido, CA
Capitola Beach | Capitola, CA
Gabba Alley Project | Los Angeles, CA
Flower Fields | Carlsbad, CA (seasonal: spring)
On the desolate sands of Imperial County east of the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain stands as a testament to the passionate faith and single-handed determination of Leonard Knight, a Vermont transplant and accidental American folk artist. As the story goes, Leonard had an epiphany one day in 1967 that would forever change the course of his life. With his newly acquired devotion to Christ, Leonard wanted to share his message of love and God’s glory to the world. His first attempt was with a hot-air balloon that he had sewn the Sinner’s Prayer to. But when he couldn’t get it to fly (after 14 years of trying really hard), he moved on to a different project but remained focused on spreading the good news of the Lord. Fashioned out of adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons of donated paint, Salvation Mountain is a multi-sensory experience that should definitely be on your SoCal off the beaten path bucket list.
Tip: Avoid visiting Salvation Mountain in the summertime when temps can reach well over 100 degrees. Before your road trip, make sure your vehicle is in good working condition with a full tank of gas. Trust me, the last thing you’d want happen is for your car to break down in this barren land that’s only 50 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. Bring water, sunscreen, snacks (in case you get hungry), and cash to leave a donation.
603 Beal Road, Niland, CA 92257
Admission & Hours
Open year round from dusk ’til dawn. Free, but donations are appreciated and used for the preservation and maintenance of the monument.
Phone: (760) 624-8754
Mosaic Tile House
Artists by trade, the married couple of Cheri Pann and Gonzalo Duran (pictured above) have been transforming their Venice abode into a mosaic wonderland for the past two decades. Reminiscent of Simon Rodia’s and Antoni Gaudi’s works, the otherwise plain and ordinary 1940’s home is covered with brightly hued mosaic tiles, broken pottery and ceramics, mirror shards, and basically any type of material that can be cemented. The metamorphosis of 1116 Palms first began with the addition of an art studio in the backyard. Then came the face lift to the first-floor bathroom. Thereafter, the couple’s obsession with mosaic tiling and its whole process became evident that they set out to makeover their entire 6000+ square foot property.
Tip: After your visit to the Mosaic Tile House, take a leisurely stroll down the street and marvel at all the other unconventional looking homes with unique curb appeal. After all, Venice is known for its creatives. And if you get hungry, grab a bite to eat at the hip and trendy Superba Food + Bread nearby on Lincoln Blvd. FYI, the Venice canals are only 1.5 miles away.
1116 Palms Blvd., Venice, CA 90291
Admission & Hours
Open Saturdays from 1pm to 4pm. If you’re coming from out of town, just to be safe, you may want to email the owners to confirm they’re open the day of your visit.
Kids ages 7-12: $10
Kids ages 6 and under: Free
Seven Magic Mountains
Ten miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada, near Interstate 15, the neutral colors of the desert floor are visually awakened with the addition of the Seven Magic Mountains sculptural installation created by Swiss artist, Ugo Rondinone. It’s a large scale art piece of colorfully stacked boulders forming seven 30 foot high towers. The display opened to the public in May 2016 and was originally intended for a two-year exhibition. But with its resounding success, plans are being made to extend the exhibit into the future.
Tip: Watch where you tread as the area is also home to snakes, scorpions, and other creepy crawlies.
From Los Angeles, drive north on I-15 to Jean, NV (exit 12). Turn right (east) on NV-161 toward Las Vegas Blvd. Drive approximately 5 miles north on Las Vegas Blvd. and the installation will be on your right (east).
Admission & Hours
Free and open to the public 24/7.
Phone: (775) 398-7228 or (775) 636-2567
Decided on a last minute family road trip to Las Vegas for the long holiday weekend. On the way, we stopped at the “Seven Magic Mountains,” a public art installation in the desert. They are seven structures composed of balancing rocks (boulders), and painted with bright colors. They’re on display until May 2018 only, so come check them out if you’re headed to LV. They’re bright, cheery, and fun. Just be forewarned of the wildlife in the area such as venomous snakes, tarantulas (we saw one crawling!), and endangered desert tortoises. . . . #7magicmountains #ugorondinone #paintedrocks #hoodoos #balancingrocks #nevadaart #nevadamuseumofart #publicart #roadtrip #lasvegas #nevada #toddlerlife #toddleradventures #familyadventures #momblogger
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden
Designed by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle and finished in 2003 after her death, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is a magnificent, bright, and bold sculpture garden incorporating mystical creatures influenced by Native American, pre-Columbian, and Mexican art. The Magical Circle features a maze entryway covered in black, white, and mirrored tiles that lead into a central courtyard showcasing several totem-like sculptures, and the centerpiece, Queen Califia standing atop a bird-like creature whose five legs are protecting a golden egg. The entire sculpture garden is then encircled by a wall of undulating giant serpent figures. The site is a SoCal hidden gem and a magical playground that invokes the imagination of both the young and the old. And in case you were wondering, Queen Califia is a fictional warrior empress who ruled over a kingdom of Moorish women living on the mythical Island of California.
Tip: Since the sculpture garden isn’t that big and won’t take up too much of your time, why not make a day of it in Escondido and include a visit afterward to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is just a few miles away.
Located in the Iris Sankey Arboretum at Kit Carson Park.
3333 Bear Valley Parkway, Escondido, CA 92025
Finding the sculpture garden itself can be a bit tricky since there are no directional signs for it (that I could see) and it’s not visible from the parking lot being hidden behind trees. So here are some helpful instructions. Once inside Kit Carson Park and while driving on Castaneda Drive, look for the sign that reads El Arroyo Picnic area. It’ll be on your left and park at that lot. Walk on the short wooden footbridge and you’ll see a set of swings to your right and a covered picnic area directly in your front view. It’s on the other side of that picnic shelter surrounded by a black fence and camouflaged by vegetation. Walk around it to reach the gated entrance. From the footbridge to the garden is approx. 200 yards.
Admission & Hours
Limited hours; open only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am to noon and also open on the second Saturday of each month from 9am to 2pm with docents available to answer questions. Closed on weekday holidays and when it rains, as well as within 24-48 hours of rain due to the tiled flooring being slippery when wet. Free and open to the public.
Phone: (760) 839-4000 (Information, including hours and directions.)
While Capitola is nowhere near SoCal (in fact, it’s on the opposite end of the state), I just couldn’t resist including it in our post endorsing rainbow destinations drivable from Los Angeles (that’s if you’re willing to go that far.) Capitola is the quintessential California seaside community boasting of a laid back beach town vibe with great surf and sand. Add to that the cute little waterfront cottages painted in all sorts of pretty shades and you’ve hit Insta gold. But even way before the dawn of the social media age, crowds have flocked to Capitola making it one of the oldest resort towns in the state and another reason why it’s a must on your Pacific Coast road trip.
Tip: Parking for Capitola Beach can be a daunting affair, especially during peak season. You can try your luck scavenging for a spot on Esplanade or Monterey Ave. or save yourself the time and energy and head straight for the Beach and Village Parking Lot at 420 Capitola Ave. Parking there is only .50 cents an hour up to 12 hours and during the summer offer free shuttle service on certain days to and from the village. This is especially useful if you’re towing beach or baby gear or both. But hoofing it shouldn’t be too bad as the village and beach are less than half a mile away.
The colorful complex of two rows of beach front cottages is located west of the Soquel Creek adjacent to the wharf and sits directly behind the khaki colored Capitola Venetian Hotel.
Admission & Hours
The privately owned cottages can be admired from the sand or the wharf most optimally when the sun is out.
Gabba Alley Project
In an effort to beautify the alleyways of Historic Filipinotown, Gabba Gallery owner, Jason Ostro solicited the assistance of local and international street artists to transform “blight to bright” by replacing tagged up walls and littered alleys with bright and colorful murals. With permission from the homeowners and the businesses that would be affected, Ostro revamped the area into what’s essentially become an outdoor gallery. Since the first mural painted in 2014, the project has since grown into an art movement numbering well over 100 murals created by countless street artists. It has also been officially recognized by the City of Los Angeles.
At this time, the murals are concentrated in four alleys, three of which are located near the Gabba Gallery. The fourth, otherwise known as Animal Alley for its animal-themed artworks is located behind 160 Glendale Blvd. and runs from Colton Street to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. The photos shown here are from Alley Project #3, which is sandwiched between N. Vendome Street and N. Dillon Street and Beverly Blvd. and Council Street. Enter on Council Street.
Admission & Hours
Free and open to the public 24/7, but because you’re there to admire the brightly designed murals, it’s best to go during daylight hours.
Phone: (323) 604-4186 (Number to the Gabba Gallery.)
Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
For six to eight weeks out of the year (early March to early May), a hillside in north San Diego County welcomes visitors from around the world to marvel at the spectacular 50-acre display of rainbow-colored Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and flanked by the 5 Freeway to the west and the Legoland California theme park to the east, the Flower Fields is a horticultural feast for the eyes. It’s truly a state gem and one of our personal favorite Golden State attractions. The Flower Fields are officially closed for the season but check back in 2019 for dates.
Tip: Bring the usual stuff i.e., hat, sunscreen, water, and have cash handy for the vendors, including the ice cream stall and the sluice mining activity. For the littles, there’s Santa’s Playground, a little tribute to Santa’s Village of yore.
5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Admission & Hours
Seasonal occurrence; only open to the public in the springtime. Check the official website for future dates.
Children 3-10: $8
Seniors 60+: $14
Phone: (760) 431-0352
Originally published May 28, 2018.
Updated August 12, 2018.
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