Colorful Off the Beaten Path Destinations in Southern California

Colorful Destinations in Southern California by Sugarfoot and Ry Famventures.

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)


Salvation Mountain

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Salvation Mountain | Niland, CA

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.

Location
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.

Connect
Phone: (760) 624-8754
Email: Info@salvationmountain.org
Web: salvationmountain.us

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The main message of Salvation Mountain is that “God is Love.”
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After Knight’s passing in 2014, Salvation Mountain, Inc., was established to keep the project alive.
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All of the paint is donated and volunteers help to maintain the site.

Mosaic Tile House

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Mosaic Tile House | Venice, CA

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.

Location
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.
Adults: $15
Kids ages 7-12: $10
Kids ages 6 and under: Free

Connect
Email: mosaictilehouse@mac.com
Web: cheripann.com

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The first room to receive the mosaic tile treatment.
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Upon entering the home you are greeted with an explosion of color in the front gallery and the kitchen.
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Every inch of the residence, including the outside has artistic elements.

Seven Magic Mountains

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Seven Magic Mountains | Las Vegas, NV

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.

Location
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.

Connect
Phone: (775) 398-7228 or (775) 636-2567
Web: sevenmagicmountains.com

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Vibrant splashes of color against the pretty blue sky and bland desert floor.

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden

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Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden | Escondido, CA

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.

Location
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.

Connect
Phone: (760) 839-4000 (Information, including hours and directions.)
Web: queencalifia.org

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The focal point of the garden is Queen Califia herself.
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Ry in the mouth of a Saint Phalle statue.

Capitola Beach

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Capitola Beach | Capitola, CA

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.

Location
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.

Connect
Web: capitolavillage.com or cityofcapitola.org

The cottages are awash in pretty colors.
The colorful facades make for some fun backdrops.
Ry enjoying himself at Capitola Beach.

Gabba Alley Project

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Gabba Alley Project | Los Angeles, CA

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.

Location
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.

Connect
Phone: (323) 604-4186 (Number to the Gabba Gallery.)
Email: contact@gabbagallery.com
Web: gabbagallery.com

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The exterior of a business is boosted with color.
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Baby Ry in front of two murals.
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Yes! The murals are pop’n in Historic Filipinotown.

Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

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Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch | Carlsbad, CA

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.

Location
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.
Adults: $16
Children 3-10: $8
Seniors 60+: $14

Connect
Phone: (760) 431-0352
Email: info@theflowerfields.com
Web: theflowerfields.com

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Beautiful ranunculus flowers herald in the spring season in Southern California.
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On our wagon ride of the gorgeous flower fields.
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Pretty ranunculous flowers in various states of bloom.

Originally published May 28, 2018.
Updated August 12, 2018.

Copyright © 2015 – 2018 by Sugarfoot and Ry Famventures.
All rights reserved. This website or any portion thereof may not be reproduced unless otherwise specified by the author.

9 comments Add yours
  1. Wow, I had no idea any of these places existed. I would love to visit the mosaic house as well as the other colourful places. It looks like you had a nice time exploring. I was just captivated by your photos <3

  2. I absolutely love these and had no idea any places like them existing in Southern California! I want to pick a favourite but they’re all so fun and funky! I’m going with the toilet in the Mosaic Tile House!

  3. What a fabulous break down of the sites of southern Cali! The photos are beautiful and really show how colourful and fun each place is! These really make me want to visit and see the incredible artwork for myself! Very helpful with the locations as well! Thank you!

  4. Woah, so much colour! That mosaic tiled house and the seven magic mountains in particular look like so much fun to explore! I’ll definitely visit some of these places when I eventually get round to doing a US road trip 🙂

  5. We used to live in Pacific Beach but a lot of these are new to us. The tile house is really cool and I would definitely recommend a pilgrimage to Salvation Mountain and Slab City beyond (with a full tank of gas). Queen Califia’s is a pretty cool place too. Have you check out the statues at UCSD? (and the library too). The statues remind me of Califia’s.

  6. What stunning pictures!
    I’ve not yet made it to Cali and wasn’t sure there was much that would appeal to me, but these pictures are so fun and quirky! It’s really shown me a whole new side to what I thought I’d see to Cali and made me really reconsider!
    Thanks!

    Stephanie

  7. I really would love to visit Salvation Mountain and the Seven Magic Mountains in Las Vegas! I’ve been several times to Nevada and I still couldn’t make it there! For some reason I was sure they’d opened way before 2016, it’s pretty recent then!

  8. In general, I have not been a fan of bright, vibrant colors. Although, as I get older, and as I live with two artists, I appreciate the color palette more than I used to. We have been to the Carlsbad flower fields, but we have never made it during peak time. Still the fields are wonderful. The mosaic tile house would be a fun one to visit. How nice that they allow passersby into their residence. Here’s to more color in your journeys.

  9. I still can’t believe I lived in LA for 4 years, have visited every year since I’ve moved (so this year is #11) and haven’t heard of these! The Mosaic Tile House looks just like the Philly Magic Gardens. Have you been to or heard of them? if not, check them out! Also can’t believe I’ve been to Vegas 6 times and didn’t know about the Seven Magic Mountains! FAIL! I’m so excited to check these out now!

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