If you’re looking to explore abandoned places in California, I got you covered. Below are 22 of my favorite abandoned locations all across the state.
Abandoned Places In California
1. Murphys Ranch
A sanctuary established by Nazi sympathizers is located in Pacific Palisades, California. A 3.8-mile circle track leads down to the remains of a little plot of property with a nearly mythical past. Winona and Norman Stephens were persuaded by a German named Herr Schmidt during WWII in the late 1930s. He fell for the idea if Germany won the war, the American government would be unable to stay afloat, and the country would tumble into anarchy.
He and his band of loyalists would emerge from Rustic Canyon once the dust had fallen over the ruins of Los Angeles to help escort in the new fascist dictatorship in America. The purpose of Murphy Ranch was to provide a safe haven for Third Reich supporters waiting for America to fall to the Nazis.
Although much of the ranch has succumbed to time and bush fires, numerous structures survive, and the route is an excellent destination for history and architectural enthusiasts. The gardens have been reduced to a few raised cement beds that have been overgrown with the local grass.
They are distinct since there are a large number of them. Before returning to the gravel road, this also affords a good view of the powerhouse from above. Many details about this scourge on Los Angeles history have been lost to time, but hikers can still investigate the ruins.
Murphy’s Ranch is one of the more popular abandoned places in California, but that doesn’t take away from its unique history and beauty.
2. S.S. Garden City
The Garden City, which was built in 1879, was 208 feet long, weighed 1,080 tons, and had a crew of 19 men. The riverboat could transport passengers as well as automobiles into San Francisco. It was permanently anchored at the Eckley Pier in the Carquinez Strait, where it served as a fishing resort until the 1970s, when it was abandoned.
It was set on fire and burnt to the waterline during a strange shore-side brush fire. All that remains of its last anchorage are the rusted drive train, boilers, and other mechanical equipment, as well as the remaining pilings from the pier to which it was anchored. Today, visitors come for the Eckley Pier fishing, Bull Valley Trail trekking, and vistas of the northern Bay Area.
3. Bombay Beach
The Colorado River broke through a canal in 1905 and burst into this barren desert valley, creating a habitat for hundreds of fish and birds. In the 1950s, Bombay Beach and a few other resorts sprung up and flourished. For people who live in the surrounding areas, the Salton Sea is quite dangerous. Rising and dropping water levels affect Bombay Beach, as well as a number of other beaches along the east shore of this body of water.
When an ecological crisis struck Bombay Beach, a tourist town in California’s desert marooned by a fading lake; the outcome appeared dreadful. Birds and fish died as a result of the disaster. Toxic particles whirled around the room. The air was foul. The majority of tourists and residents left, leaving a veritable ghost town of abandoned, decaying homes.
It’s a crowded ghost town in every way; dilapidated homes, rusted automobiles, and abandoned trailers abound, with the shadow of lost souls lurking around every corner. The drier side, with a population of less than 300 people, is a wonder in and of itself.
People travel around by golf cart and probably spend a lot of time indoors because the next gas station is 20 miles away in Nil-land. The ruins of Bombay Beach attract a large number of visitors who like photographing and seeing ghost towns or otherwise it’s just a neglected parcel of land.
Bombay Beach is personally one of my favorite abandoned places in California. The site is huge and you can easily spend a full day exploring. Just don’t forget your sunscreen and bug spray.
4. Lake Dolores Waterpark
The Mojave Desert in California is home to the Lake Dolores Waterpark. Local businessman Bob Byers built a waterpark on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert in the 1950s with the intention to construct a park not just as a financial enterprise, but also to provide entertainment for his big family.
The water park first opened its doors to the general public in 1962. It was named after Byers’ wife, Dolores. A lazy river, zip line, bumper boats, and steel water slides feeding into a man-made lake were among the attractions.
Despite the varied attractions and its hype around the towns, the waterpark’s popularity began to fade in the late 1980s. The park was formally closed in 2004 after repeated attempts to restore the 1950s icon.
This full history of Lake Dolores is actually pretty wild, involving numerous lawsuits and scandals.
To date, it became a canvas for graffiti artists, a rummage yard for metal scraps, and an obstacle course for thrill-seeking skateboarders. When I visited it was easy to jump off the freeway and park out front. While it’s considered off-limits there was no fencing and little enforcement.
5. George Air Force Base
The George Air Force Base, which covered a massive 5,347 acres, was created during WWII and closed in December 1992. Its goal was to assist tactical fighter operations and provide hazardous and non-hazardous material use and disposal training for aircrews and maintenance workers. More than 250 buildings were constructed on the base. Hospitals, businesses, residences, clubs, and libraries were built alongside barracks and military structures.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the eventual conclusion of the Cold War, the air force base was closed. The residents relocated to adjacent cities.
The first signs of pollution were discovered in the 1970s, and the entire area is today classed as a severely contaminated area. The base was closed in 1992, but flight training continued. The Air Force began cleanup efforts in 1981 because many aircraft maintenance tasks produced hazardous trash. Contaminated groundwater and soil were among the locations targeted.
Many abandoned structures, including hundreds of residences, a hospital, a hotel, dozens of barracks, a photo lab, and the ruins of a few schools, may be discovered at the site. Of all the abandoned places in California, George Air Force Base is by far one of the largest
6. Chemung Mine
Chemung lies just one and a half miles west of the Nevada border, at a height of 8,000 feet. In 1909, the Chemung mine was discovered. More than a million dollars in gold ore was extracted at the Chemung Mine and Mill. Chemung has been demolished and rebuilt three times. This was bad for business, but the gold mines were so abundant that it was worthwhile.
Until 1938, the Chemung mine was completely operational when the last ten or so miners left. Since then Chemung Mine was shuttered and abandoned.
Chemung, like all Ghost Towns, has its unique ghost legends. It’s heartbreaking to see what time does to places, and how humans don’t seem to care what happens to the things they don’t need. All of the artifacts have been stolen, and none of the old structures contain anything of much significance.
Although a lot has been lost the ruins of the mine still make for some great shots, especially with the desert backdrop. Nature aided in the destruction of Chemung Mine, yet the process itself offers a rustic charm.
7. Bayshore Roundhouse
Between 1907 and 1910, the famous Bayshore Roundhouse was constructed. A roundhouse is a structure used for storing and maintaining railroad steam engines on a regular basis. Mainline steam engines were built to pull trains that were predominantly faced forward. Freight engines were maintained at Bayshore Roundhouse, while smaller passenger engines were serviced at Mission Bay Roundhouse. 3,000 people worked at the roundhouse, railyard, and shops.
The Bayshore Roundhouse is the last brick roundhouse left in the city of California. Unfortunately, when diesel engines became popular in the 1950s, the Bayshore Railyard began to suffer. The Bayshore Roundhouse escaped closure; however, it was no longer used for its intended purpose of steam engine maintenance after 1958. The roundhouse was instead used to store diesel trains until October 1982.
Some of the Bayshore’s structures are still in operation today. The tank and boiler shop are leased by Lazzari Fuel for the storage of charcoal. The area, however, has significant pollution risks as a result of its previous use, and the Brisbane city council has yet to approve any proposals.
8. Fannette Island Tea House
Fannette Island, located in Emerald Bay near the lake’s west side, is the only island in Lake Tahoe. Ben Holladay Jr. built a two-story, five-room resort on Emerald Bay in 1862, and in 1863, he engaged Captain Richard Barter to be the resort’s keeper and to live there during the winter.
Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight later constructed Vikingsholm, an exquisite 38-room castle on the Emerald Bay shores, in 1928-1929. The only way to get to Fannette Island is by boat, kayak, or canoe. Weather and vandalism have left the Tea House in a miserable condition.
On the island, the ruins of a modest stone building can be seen. “Tea House” is the name of the ruin. Captain Dick’s tomb and Holladay’s resort are both long gone. To protect the habitat of migrating geese, the island is closed for part of the year (February through June).
Of all the abandoned places in California, Fannette Island might be the most difficult to reach. Photographers should consider bringing a telephoto around two to three thundreded millimeters. Or maybe invest it in a raft? 😂
9. Bodie Ghost Town
The community of Bodie was founded in the summer of 1859, when four daring prospectors ventured into the Eastern Sierra foothills in pursuit of mineral riches. In the summer of 1892, a cooking fire destroyed part of the town to the west of Main Street.
The settlement was restored, but the harm had been done, and numerous residents had gone. After large-scale mining ceased in 1915 and small-scale mining ceased in the early 1950s, the remaining structures continued to deteriorate as occupants left or passed away.
The Bodie Foundation preserves and maintains the Bodie State Historic Park, which was established in 1962 by the state of California. Even tho it’s fairly commercialized it’s still a cool place to shoot when the tourists clear out, especially during sunset.
10. SS Palo Alto
The Palo Alto was launched on May 29, 1919, by the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company in Oakland, California, as an oil tanker. The S. S. Palo Alto (“The Cement Boat”) is the most famous concrete ship on the west coast. The ship was parked in the bay, with a lengthy pier connecting it to the shoreline.
The ship was outfitted with an arcade, dining room, dancing hall, and even a pool. During the Great Depression, the company went bankrupt, and the ship cracked in the middle during a winter storm. The Palo Alto was converted into a fishing pier after being stripped of all recoverable metal and fittings.
After the clean-up, the ship continued to degrade. Winter storms in February 2016 forced the wreck onto her starboard side and split her back half apart, after she had been fragmented into four roughly segmented parts throughout the decades. While it’s not one of the most exciting abandoned ships, you’ll want to check it out if you’re in the area.
11. Kaiser Quarry
Henry J. Kaiser established the Kaiser Permanente Cement Plant in 1939, naming the company after the Permanente Creek in whose valley it is located. Kaiser is a limestone quarry in Santa Clara County, California, located west of Cupertino. Round Top Park, one of the first three East Bay Regional Parks was created from the quarry in 1936.
A few discarded relics found at the place remind us of a time when the area was a flourishing limestone. The road was later transformed into a trail, and you can still see portions of the old concrete as you walk along it.
Salt harvesting from Koehn Dry Lake prompted the establishment of this town in 1914. Long ago, the desert Indians used this location as a source of salt. The firm produced 20,000 tons of salt in its first year of operation. Around 70 people worked at the facility, which transformed the area into the settlement of Saltdale, equipped with modest dwellings and a post office.
By the 1940s, the once-thriving salt industry had begun to collapse, due to the lack of rainfall.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much left, and the salt has hastened the demise of the railway and structures. The buildings have almost completely eroded due to the saline character of the landscape. One of the few remaining traces of the settlement that once thrived here is a railroad track. While there are certainly more exciting abandoned places in California, Saltdale is still an alluring place that is eerily void of life.
13. Sauce Bros Barge
Many stories claim the barge was pushed ashore in 1995, while others claim it was grounded during a storm in December 1983. An abandoned 150-foot barge lies on the beach between Marina and Moss Landing in the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge, and its origins have become a local mystery.
Once you are on the beach, go about a mile towards north through the sand to the barge, where fishermen hop on board and utilize the holes to drop a line and fish. Anyone brave enough to take a walk on it will be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity and breathtaking landscape.
The barge is one of the few abandoned places in California that is completely legal to visit, and conveniently located right on the California gorgeous coastline.
14. Año Nuevo Island
Father Antonio named Ano Nuevo Island in 1603. Because it had low-profile rocks projecting into the water, this island posed a threat to ships travelling along the California’s coast south of San Francisco. Finally, the government constructed a steam fog whistle and a keeper’s residence in 1872.
In 1890, a light was installed to enhance the warning system. The island eventually grew to include a tramway, a chicken house, a cistern, a water tank, and several storage structures. Because of the harmful sea air, maintaining these buildings proved to be a persistent concern.
As a result of the station’s escalating maintenance costs, it was closed in 1948. The lighthouse was torn down in the early 2000s to preserve the multitudes of marine species that currently swarm the island’s coasts.
The island currently serves as a wildlife preserve and is inaccessible to the public. Only approved researchers are allowed to visit and be romanticized by abandoned buildings. The island has become one of the major breeding grounds for elephant seals and endangered Stellar sea lions.
While this might be one of the more inaccessible abandoned places in California, you may be able to get legal permission if you contact the wildlife preserve ahead of time.
15. Devil’s Slide Bunker
The Devil’s Peak bunker was established during World War II as a triangulation and observation post. When it was operational, a watcher with binoculars would keep an eye out at sea, and if they detected any enemy ships, they simply fired a gigantic cannon nearby, which would sink them right there.
Unfortunately, when more sophisticated missile systems became available, the station became outdated, and in 1949, the whole facility was abandoned, leaving just an empty bunker atop Devil’s Slide.
The Devil’s Slide Bunker was bought by a private owner and is currently closed to the public. Despite this, graffiti artists continue to come and they have covered the majority of the surfaces with art pieces, designs, and slogans. Even tho its covered in graffiti, you’ll want to add this to your own list of abandoned places in California.
16. Rockhaven Sanitarium
Agnes Richards, a psychiatric nurse, founded the sanitarium in 1923 as a private mental health facility for women suffering from moderate mental and nervous problems. Her little, privately run Rock haven Sanitarium started out as just one small rock home (hence, rock haven).
It was the first mental health center developed by a woman in the United States. To accommodate its rising population attracted by its peaceful and calming landscape, it grew to more than three acres in size, absorbing numerous neighborhood residences.
Rock haven was sold to a private hospital in 2001 but had to be closed in 2006 due to a lack of profitability.
The community preserved it from demolition and was purchased by the City of Glendale with the intent to reopen the property for public. Many remains of the medieval garden sanctuary remain scattered around the land, including fountains, stone walkways, arches, and cottages. Tours of the site are periodically organized by a non-profit group devoted to recognizing the excellent work done at Rockhaven, to preserve the site’s unique heritage for future generations.
17. Nike Missile Control Site SF-51
Nike Missile Site SF-51 was one of missile-firing sites built to tackle Russian air assault. This site was thought to protect the Bay Area with super-sonic missiles available at a moment’s notice. The installation was equipped with a powerful radar for identifying incoming.
Fortunately, the button was never pressed, and the entire complex served as an effective deterrent. The Nike program became obsolete when intercontinental-range bullets were introduced, and the cinderblock structures on the Pacifica site were left to disintegrate in 1974.
The site is currently a part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area which is accessible by foot or a bicycle. Although, all of the dangerous equipment has been removed from the site, still, the abandoned buildings appear to be most popular among graffiti artists, who have completely covered the walls with spray paint.
18. Ludlow Ghost Town
In 1883, the town of Ludlow was founded as a railroad water stop. It remained an important rail halt for the mining sector. The local mining and railway operations had halted by the 1940s, and the town survived by providing the needs of travelers on the renowned Route 66. With a Motor Court with bungalow cabins, the sleek modern Ludlow Cafe, a gasoline-service garage, and shade, Ludlow was a great place to rest along the desert.
The town was bypassed when Interstate 40 was developed in the late 1960s, rendering it obsolete. The few inhabitants abandoned their houses and businesses. The ghost town is now a great place to stop along Route 66. Visitors may go inside the ancient garage, crumbling homes and buildings, and see some rusted vintage vehicles that were abandoned along with the rest of Ludlow.
19. Randsburg Ghost Town
Gold was found in Randsburg town in 1895, which transformed the Death Valley dream into a global center of trade and entertainment. In 1896, the first post office opened, followed by an opera theatre, a general shop, and several saloons.
Unfortunately, two big fires occurred in 1897, engulfing almost half of the town. A third fire destroyed most of the remaining structures before they could be rebuilt, and the populace departed as fast as it had appeared.
As of today, a few tens of people live there. The General Store is still functioning, offering the necessities to the small population. Most of the visitors are off-road vehicles or campers who rush to the town to see the abandoned buildings and enjoy a drink in the old saloon. Randsburg has also been featured in many films and music videos.
The California Wine Association relocated from their SOMA headquarters in San Francisco to Richmond’s Point Molate where they built a new winery of unparalleled architectural beauty: Winehaven, following the 1906 earthquake’s devastation.
Winehaven employed approximately 400 people who make 12 million gallons of wine each year. Winehaven even had its own post office cottage-style homes where employees would stay during peak season. In 1919, Prohibition put a stop to all the splendor. Winehaven stood virtually underused and abandoned until 1941, when the United States Navy purchased the land and built a fuel station on the site. But ultimately, it was deactivated in 1995.
Surprisingly, the ruins of Winehaven have survived to this day. The National Register Historic District recognizes over 35 structures on the land built between 1907 and 1919. In my opinion, Winehaven is one of the most impressive abandoned places in California. If you intend to visit, be aware that security guards monitor the area often. If you are caught, you will face severe fines as well as the possibility of going to jail.
21. Suisan Bay Ghost Fleet
The rusted remnants of the West Coast’s biggest combined WWII fleet. The Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet (SBRF), a phantom fleet of up to 350 ships, once existed. In reality, the fleet is slowly deteriorating, groaning and rusting as it awaits the scrapyard.
Unfortunately, by January 2014, most of the remaining fleet ships had been salvaged and either sold for scrap metal or recycled. As of August 2017, only ten ships remain as part of the Suisun Reserve Fleet. A good view of the fleet is at the vista point off Highway 680, between Benicia and Fairfield. Take the Lake Herman Road Exit.
22. Old Zoo Picnic Area
Old Zoo Picnic Area:
The Old Griffith Park Zoo first opened its doors in 1912 and closed in 1965. One of the oldest ruins in Los Angeles is the abandoned zoo in Griffith Park. The original zoo, a few miles away, was not knocked down or destroyed when the Los Angeles Zoo moved to its current location in the 1960s. The zoo was instead abandoned and turned into a picnic park named as Old Zoo Picnic Area.
A collection of empty animal cages is on exhibit in addition to the outdoor dining necessities. Hundreds of covered picnic tables and BBQ grills allow a lovely picnic point. It’s the most unusual picnic spot in the neighborhood, yet it’s fairly easy to find.
The picnic area is a great entry-level place, even suitable for families who want to explore a bit of history. This spot is definitely one of the easier abandoned places in California anyone can explore.
Go out and explore!
That concludes our list of abandoned places in California, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to find. Take the back roads, follow train tracks, and find some places for yourself. There are plenty of places I kept off this list so get out there and explore.