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Take a trip through California to visit some of the country’s most famous ghost towns, including Bodie, Allensworth, and Bombay Beach. Though they aren’t what they once were, these boomtowns have fascinating histories—and you’ll drive through some of the prettiest parts of the state along the way.
California is home to some of the biggest metropolitan areas, but the third-largest state in the nation has many abandoned ghost towns tucked away in its vast land expanses. While they may not be the boomtowns they once were, California’s ghost towns are rich with history and are worth a visit.
Of course, deserted gold mining or farming towns are often abandoned for a reason—they are often remote locations that can only be reached by unkempt roads.
With your car protected with the car insurance super app Jerry, you can hit the road and visit California’s best ghost towns without a worry.
What is the story of Bodie?
Founded in 1859 after William (Waterman) S. Bodey found gold at a nearby bluff, Bodie, California became a booming gold mining town. The town started with 20 miners, but it grew as 9,000 gold rush hopefuls rushed to the area over the next two decades. Throughout its golden hay-day, Bodie miners uncovered over 10,000 pounds of precious metal from the area’s hillsides.
However, Bodie was rife with crime and became known for its “wicked” reputation—as was typical of many boomtowns. At one point, the town boasted over 60 saloons, numerous brothels, gambling halls, and opium dens. The town also operated outside of the law, as a vigilante group ran the city.
By 1882, the town’s reputation and rampant over-mining caught up with Bodie, and the population began to dwindle. In 1892, a destructive fire tore through the town, hastening its decline. Another fire in 1932 all but decimated Bodie, leaving the once-thriving city to become a historic ghost town.
What makes Bodie special?
Today, Bodie is a National Historic Landmark and state park, which welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Here are some of the highlights:
- The town has almost 200 buildings standing in a state of “arrested decay”, cementing old saloons, the stamp mill, Methodist Church, and other buildings in California ghost town history.
- Perhaps one of the most visited spots in Bodie is the cemetery which has the gravesite of Rosa May, a prostitute who was known to take care of sick miners.
- Visit the town museum, to learn more about Rosa May and the stories of others who lived in the town.
- Tourists can visit Bodie for a $5 entry fee.
Pro Tip: A word of warning—it is illegal to take anything from the protected state park. Not only will you be fined if you pocket any part of the town—including a pebble—it is well-known that a supposed curse follows those who steal from the town.
How to Visit Bodie
Bodie is in Northern California, east of the Sierra mountain range. To get to Bodie, take Highway 395 to State Highway 270. Continue approximately 10 miles to the end of the paved road. Then, continue the unpaved portion for 3 more miles.
Keep in mind, at 8,000 feet, Bodie can be quite chilly—there hasn’t been a month on record that hasn’t had frost. The area gets quite a bit of snow in the winter, and the roads can become unpassable. Be sure to check weather conditions before you go.
There is no camping allowed in Bodie, and the park retains as much of its original character as possible. As such, there are no gas stations or food options near Bodie. The nearest services are in Bridgeport or Lee Vining.
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What is the story of Allensworth
In the early 1900s, Colonel Allen Allensworth moved from Kentucky to California, following his retirement from the U.S. Army. Hoping to start a new life away from the Jim Crow South, Allensworth—who was born into slavery—established the town, along with Professor William Payne.
Together, the men set about to create a city in which African Americans could own property, govern themselves, and thrive outside of a racist system. At its height, the farming community had a successful community, complete with its own school system, library, and bank.
After Allensworth died in 1914, the town began its decline. The success of Allensworth was further hampered when irrigation faltered and water dried up—which decimated the town’s agricultural industry. The discovery of arsenic in the soil in 1966 caused the town to be abandoned.
In the 1970s, Allensworth was designated a State Historic Park, preserving the town for its historical and cultural importance.
What makes Allensworth special?
Today, historic Allensworth is preserved as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.
- Visitors can see the ghost town’s recently restored buildings, including the schoolhouse, Baptist Church, and Colonel Allensworth’s house.
- Paramount to the Allensworth experience is a self-guided tour through which visitors can learn about the history of the city, particularly the importance of agriculture to the town’s early success.
- The town holds yearly festivals to recognize the perseverance of its founders and the city’s continued importance in California history as the first city founded by Black citizens.
- There is a yearly Black History Month Festival, a Gospel Festival, and a Juneteenth celebration—all of which celebrate Black excellence.
How to visit Allensworth
Allensworth is located in California’s Central Valley, just north of Bakersfield and west of Highway 99. To get to Allensworth, take Highway 99 to Exit 65 onto Ave 56. After that, head toward Alpaugh and continue 7.4 miles on W. Sierra Ave. Turn right at Highway 43 and continue to Palmer Ave, where you will find the entrance of the park.
There is camping available in the park, which costs $20 per night for one of the 15 campsites. If those campsites are full, there are other camping options available in the nearby Rocky Hill Campground or Tule Recreation Area. Day passes cost $6 per vehicle.
The best time to visit Allensworth is in the fall or the spring, as temperatures can soar past 100 degrees in the summer, and winter can be below freezing.
What is the story of Bombay Beach?
While many ghost towns were established because of the gold rush boom in the 1800s and the turn of the century, the resort playground of Bombay Beach came to prominence because of a faulty levee. In the early 1900s, the Colorado River breached its levees and flooded a dried-up plain, creating the Salton Sea—an oasis in the middle of the desert.
Like its neighbor, Palm Springs, Bombay Beach because a destination for the rich and famous, attracting such names as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and more. In the 1950s and 1960s, the town was a thriving beach resort, featuring yacht clubs, beach resorts, and lavish homes.
However, by the mid-1970s, a poor drainage system, high salinity, and lack of rainfall caused the lake to dry up, leading to pollution and odors from dead fish. Additionally, the health concerns surrounding the Salton Sea led to an exodus from the once-popular paradise. This caused a steep decline in tourism, rendering Bombay Beach a ghost town by the mid-1980s.
What makes Bombay Beach special?
Though rotting fish and abandoned resorts may not seem like an enticing destination, Bombay Beach has found a rebirth in recent years as an off-beat artist retreat.
- A few people still live in the area—mostly artists who are using the deserted building to create new art installations and social commentary.
- There is an opera house created in an abandoned bright blue house. Talk about a unique place to catch a performance.
- Tourists can visit the town to see the Bombay Beach Ruins and other unique art exhibits, which attract documentary filmmakers, journalists, and influencers—all of whom feel the allure of the glamour that once lived on these shores.
How to visit Bombay Beach
Bombay Beach is roughly an hour south of Palm Springs. To get to the deserted resort town, follow I-10 E to CA-86 S. Then, follow CA-111 to Bombay Beach.
Keep in mind, the water of the Salton Sea is toxic, so do not go in or touch the water. Additionally, Bombay Beach is located in the middle of the desert, which can see temperatures over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, so it is best to go outside of the summer months.
While there is nowhere to stay in Bombay Beach itself, there are several nearby campsites, including the Fountain of Youth RV Resort and Glamis North Hot Spring Resort, both of which have safe water.
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What is the story of Cerro Gordo?
While Bodie may be a more famous ghost town, the abandoned silver mining town of Cerro Gordo is giving it a run for its money as one of California’s most enticing ghost towns.
Cerro Gordo—Spanish for “fat hill”—was established in 1865 when a miner named Pablo Flores set up a silver mining and ore smelting site near Buena Vista peak. After its initial success, miners began to flood the site, and businesses were built. A road was established in 1868, allowing mule teams to transport ore down from the remote location.
However, Cerro Gordo was difficult to get to—as it sits above Death Valley in the Inyo Mountains. The steep road was 275 miles long, making it an expensive and treacherous trip for the mule teams. Additionally, the town’s propensity for crime made it decline in popularity, and the mines were tapped shortly after the town hit its peak.
By 1920, there were only 10 miners left—a far cry from the 1,500 residents of its hay day. The town was completely abandoned in 1938, making Cerro Gordo a ghost town.
What makes Cerro Gordo special?
Though it doesn’t have the prosperity it once had, the town’s location—sitting at 8,500 ft above sea level and perching over Death Valley—makes it a beautiful spot to visit.
- Cerro Gordo is a beautiful private reserve of over 300-acres.
- Like Bodie and other ghost towns, spirits are said to haunt the deserted city. At the height of its profitability, Cerro Gordo had an influx in violent crime—averaging one murder per week. It is rumored that these spirits still linger in Cerro Gordo, making the mining village a popular spot for ghost hunters.
- The privately-owned reserve is still open to visitors with reservations. Guests can book guided tours in advance.
- Tickets are available for $10 for adults.
How to visit Cerro Gordo
To get to Cerro Gordo, take I-5 North from Los Angeles to CA-14, which you’ll follow as it becomes US-395 N. From there, take CA-190 E to the private property. Take note, the last eight miles of the drive are steep and treacherous. It is not recommended for low-clearance vehicles.
Though there are bathrooms on-site, there are no other services available. The nearest store is 30 miles away, so it’s suggested that visitors plan in advance for gas and food.
Why you need good car insurance
Ghost towns can be spooky, but getting there shouldn’t be. Because ghost towns are often in remote areas, you could likely get into an accident or have a collision with wildlife on your way. It’s incredibly important that you have the right car insurance policy.
That’s where Jerry can help! Jerry is your handy-dandy insurance broker app. In just seconds, Jerry will source quotes from over 50 top insurance providers and send them right to your phone. Once you make your choice, Jerry will take care of everything else—from filing paperwork to helping you cancel your old policy.
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