California’s Most Unusual Attractions


by Aaron Feigenbaum

Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City: Arguably L.A.’s most bizarre museum, the Museum of Jurassic Technology on Venice Boulevard will leave you scratching your head at its sheer weirdness. The museum claims it’s dedicated to exploring the “Lower Jurassic” but leaves that term’s meaning open to interpretation. The displays range from Soviet canine cosmonauts to x-rays of flowers to watching live doves fly about. The randomness of the exhibits can be off-putting but the exhibition is described as “intriguing,” “defying simple explanation,” and wonderfully “creepy.” Adult admission is $8, children are $5.

Museum of Jurrasic Technology

Wende Museum, Culver City: Not nearly as weird as the previous museum, but fascinating nonetheless, this hidden gem explores the history of the Cold War. You can see actual artifacts and documents pertaining to the Cold War including a real chunk of the Berlin Wall and busts of Lenin and Stalin. Admission is free but reservations are required.

Wende Museum, Culver City

Murphy’s Ranch, Pacific Palisades: If you take the trail near the corner of Capri and Casale off Sunset Blvd, you can reach a concrete bunker that was built by the Nazi-sympathizing Silver Legion of America. The builders planned on using the building as a base of operations for a potential Nazi invasion but it was shut down by the authorities after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The bunker, now owned by the city, is covered in graffiti but has survived calls for its demolition.

Shipwreck Hike, Rancho Palos Verdes: The wreckage of the WWII-era Liberty Freighter the SS Dominator that ran aground in 1961 lies strewn across the beach near Paseo del Mar and Cloyden. The hike is a little dangerous as it involves walking down a large pipe but it’s well worth the reward of seeing a rusted ship in contrast to the beautiful beach.

Shipwreck Hike, Rancho Palos Verdes

Ostrichland USA, Solvang: An unusual stop near Santa Barbara, this farm features ostriches and emus and is great fun for the whole family. For a small fee you can feed and pet the animals. Be sure to check out the gift shop where you can choose ostrich and emu gifts including real eggs. Admission is $4 and feeding is $1 per bowl.

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Fremont: Dedicated to the mostly forgotten art form, this museum has everything related to silent films: vintage projectors, movie posters, and, of course, movie screenings with live piano accompaniment (only on Saturday nights). This is also where Charlie Chaplin got his start in the movie business two years after the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company came to the tiny town of Niles in 1912. If silent films appeal to you then this place is a must-see, especially with a movie admission price of only $5!
(For something a lot closer to home, check out the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax.)

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

Safetyville USA, Sacramento: This 3-acre size oddity is a miniature version of Sacramento that you can walk through. It is mainly geared toward children and teaches them how to be safe through hands-on experience rather than a classroom lecture. Activities include fire safety, electrical safety, learning to look both ways before crossing a street, and making a mock 911 call. For adults, it’s worth it to go there just to see the cute mini-version of the Capitol Building.

Museum of Making Music, Carlsbad: This amazing interactive museum consists of playable guitars, mandolins, drums, and exotic instruments like the electric harp. The display portion of the museum fills you in on the history of American popular music from the 1890‘s to today and features almost 500 vintage instruments. The museum is small but the amount of fun, engaging activities and low admission cost (free, but $5 suggested donation) makes it well worth the time.

Museum of Making Music

Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga: Ever wanted to visit a medieval castle but can’t afford airfare to Europe? Then here’s the next best thing. Located in the heart of Napa Valley, the castle is actually a winery but sadly the wine is not kosher. Despite that, the castle itself is breathtaking. From the beautiful medieval-style wall paintings to the armor displays to the torture chamber with an authentic iron maiden device, this is an architectural marvel that rivals some of Europe’s best castles.

Castello di Amorosa

Wave Organ, San Francisco: Built by the Exploratorium, this is an amazing piece of art located on a jetty in the San Francisco Bay. As the name suggests, the waves that hit the PVC pipes of the sculpture produce a subtle sound when listened to closely. It’s outdoors so admission is free but be prepared for a long walk to the end of Yacht Road. It’s best to go during a high tide.
Goldstone Deep Space Network, Fort Irwin: Located in the Mojave Desert, this is a radio telescope/communication array operated by NASA that is mainly used for communication for space missions, but is also used to search for extraterrestrial life and make radar maps of moons and planets, among other things. It forms part of the Deep Space Network along with two other arrays in Spain and Australia. You can get an escorted tour as you follow your guide’s vehicle in your own. Tours are free but must be scheduled in advance.

Calico Ghost Town, Yermo: Calico is undoubtedly one of America’s most famous ghost towns. It was a mining center in the late 1800‘s but its fortunes soured by the turn of the century with a sharp decrease in the price of silver. Many of the buildings standing today are not original so the town is pretty touristy but there’s still plenty of exciting things to see and do that make it worthwhile. Some of these things include a mine tour, seeing gun stunt shows, and gold panning. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for youth.

Calico Ghost Town

International Banana Museum, Mecca: For something a bit wacky, check out this museum near the Salton Sea that’s dedicated entirely to the banana. The museum claims to have over 20,000 banana-related items. They also have a banana shake that can be purchased a substitute for the cost of admission (not sure it it’s kosher though). The museum may be small but it certainly it memorable.
National Ignition Facility, Livermore: Included on the tour of Lawrence Livermore National Lab is a tour of the National Ignition Facility which houses one of the world’s most powerful lasers and was recently used to crush a diamond, the hardest known substance. You’ll be awestruck by the machine’s sheer complexity. You can also reserve a separate tour of the lab’s Site 300 explosives testing-ground.

The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz: This little building located in the redwood forests outside Santa Cruz is full of great optical illusions where the laws of gravity seem to be defied. You can expect to be disoriented but also have a lot of fun. Admission is $6 per person and parking is $5.

Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, San Francisco: If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to stop by Pier 39 for a weird, psychedelic trip through a hall of 77 neon-lit mirrors. For just $5 you can go through the maze as many times as you like.

Musee Mecanique, San Francisco: And while you’re at Fisherman’s Wharf you can head over to Pier 45 to visit this museum/arcade filled with vintage penny and nickel arcade games ranging from arm wrestling to baseball pinball to Pong (arguably the first video game). Admission is free.

(Sources: Wikitravel, Atlas Obscura)