California City ghost town

Is California City a ghost town?

by Michael on February 22, 2016

As we’ve been driving around the country seeking ghost towns we came across one that was unusual; the California City ghost town has a population of over 14,000 people so why would it be considered a ghost town?

California City ghost town welcome sign

A bit of background first. California City is a massive planned community that was carved out by developer Nat Mendelsohn in the heart of the Mojave Desert in southern California. That was back in the 1950s when it seemed like you couldn’t go wrong investing in California real estate, even if it was just sand. Mendelsohn was quite optimistic so the city he built is so big geographically that it’s the 3rd largest city by area in the Golden State and one of the largest in the country. That’s awfully big for the number of people who actually moved there.

California City street sign

Streets were put in and infrastructure for the large city was constructed. But then the market spoke and it turned out there weren’t enough people who wanted to live in the remote location.

California City ghost town

Driving around California City today there are people and schools and all the trappings of a small town. But the eerie edges yield to empty streets and the harsh desert pretty quickly.

California City ghost town street sign houses

On the bright side, neighbors don’t have to worry about being too crowded and there are a few steady employment opportunities in the area: Edwards Air Force Base and a prison, among other things. One other “growth” area seems to be the proliferation of real estate offices. After all, they have plenty of plots of land to sell.

California City real estate office

California City is located only 100 miles north of downtown Los Angeles so it’s an easy road trip if you’re in Southern California.

California City ghost town

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If you make it to California City you’re only 30 miles west of Boron, California, home of the Rio Tinto Boron Mine, which is the largest open-pit mine in California and the largest boron mine in the world. If you’re familiar with 20 Mule Team Borax, this is where it comes from.

Borax Mine Visitor Center

There is a free Borax visitor center that includes a museum and overlook of the mine which is actually quite fascinating. If you’re in the area it’s worth visiting.

Route 66 El Rancho Motel sign Barstow California

And once you’re in Boron you’re only 40 miles west of Barstow, one of the scenic sights on the old Route 66 and the spot where it turns south to head into Los Angeles for its final stretch. That’s the fun thing about road trips, wherever you go there’s always something else to see just over the horizon.



28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Meghan February 26, 2016 at 10:28 pm

Ghost towns are fascinating, but modern era ones, even more so! Thanks for the look at California City!

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