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.

PRO TIP: Check here for a complete list of California Landmarks.

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

Here are Amazon’s top books about California travel
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.


For More spooky stuff, visit Sedona in the Fall and checkout out the nearby old mining town of Jerome, Arizona. The hotel is a former hospital, and the restaurant is called “The Asylum” . . . shivers!

Larissa 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.

Los Angeles is the focus of a sprawling metropolitan area with widespread places like Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Pasadena, all connected by the infamous freeways, making day trips from Los Angles an easy thing to do. But walking around downtown Los Angeles, no car required, is a fun way to spend a day in this auto-centric city. L.A. also boasts an interesting downtown core, one that many Angelenos have never even visited.
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Visiting the Nixon and Reagan libraries

When Ronald Reagan finished his second term he rode off to his ranch in California, atop a wave of popularity that helped his vice president get elected to succeed him. Our last image of Richard Nixon was quite different. Read more

Visitors to the City by the Bay, and even locals like me, are always looking for free and cheap things to do in San Francisco. From hilly streets to chocolate treats, here are 10 of my favorites:

1. Explore the secret parks (called “POPOS”) that downtown building owners don’t want you to find.

Due to a quirky zoning code, many downtown San Francisco buildings operate secret public parks, rooftop terraces, and gardens that are on private property but are open to anyone. These privately-owned public open spaces (“POPOS”) are sometimes difficult to find, but locating them makes a fun scavenger hunt for the chance to enjoy a picnic in the park, likely all by yourself. Click here to check out a Google Map of these parks or download a smartphone app.

POPOS San Francisco

2. Skip the expensive cable car, ride the historic trolleys instead. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation agency (Muni) operates a number of beautifully restored vintage streetcars built from 1912 through the 1940s. They run on a scenic route (the F-Line) from Fisherman’s Wharf around the coast and up Market Street through Downtown. At only $2.00 per ride, this journey through history is a fraction of the cost of the cable car.

San Francisco Streetcars

3. Wander the Mission District. Check out the colorful street art and explore this fast-changing but still diverse Mexican and Central American community. Get a burrito or tacos from one of the Mission’s famous taquerias. El Farolito and El Tonayense are my favorites.

Mission Street Art, San Francisco

4. Taste delicious SF-made chocolates and get a tour of the Dandelion Chocolate Factory. While you are in the Mission, stop into the cafe owned by bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Dandelion Chocolate (740 Valencia Street). Sample a few of their chocolate bars for free in the front of the cafe and then take a free, thirty minute tour of the factory.

Dandelion Chocolate, San Francisco

5. Peep through the fence to watch a San Francisco Giants Game. Walk along the waters of McCovey Cove (adjacent to AT&T Park) and watch the game through a fenced opening in the wall for free. You can catch a few innings before the security guards shoo you away. Keep an eye out for fans in boats and kayaks in the water, wielding fishing nets in the hope of collecting a home run ball.

SF Giants, AT&T Park, San Francisco

>>Book a tour with Viator in San Francisco<<

6. Explore the Ferry Building’s gourmet food stalls and go on a free city walking tour. San Franciscans live for food, and this shopping center devoted to all that is delicious is the easiest way to experience the city’s foodie culture. For the full experience, go on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday mornings, when one of the city’s largest farmers markets is set up outside. During the Saturday and Tuesday markets, volunteers from San Francisco City Guides offer free walking tours of the Ferry Building. If you’re an adventurous eater, stop in to the wild mushroom store, Far West Fungi, and buy an ice cream bar, naturally flavored with candy cap mushrooms — it sounds scary, but it is delicious and will remind you of maple syrup!

San Francisco Ferry Building

7. Sample one of San Francisco’s favorite sweet treats, an It’s-It. This curiously-named ice cream sandwich is a San Francisco tradition. The company was founded in 1928 by a vendor at the San Francisco Beach boardwalk. He baked two large oatmeal cookies, pressed them together with vanilla ice cream, and covered them in a hard chocolate shell. When the boardwalk was demolished in 1970, the stand closed down, but San Franciscans didn’t forget about It’s-Its. In 1974, the company reopened, and began selling the frozen treats to local mom and pop stores across the city. You can find these nostalgic (and cheap) eats at almost every corner market and grocery store in San Francisco.

It's-Its San Francisco

8. Get a free, panoramic view of  the city from the top of the de Young Museum. While you do need to pay a standard entrance fee to visit  this fine art museum, the elevator ride to the Hamon Tower Observation Deck is free. This 360 degree, glass-paned view deck offers a great look over the city’s rooftops, the Pacific Ocean, and the green expanses of Golden Gate Park.

de Young Museum Tower, San Francisco

9. Take it outside to hike the stairs and catch more great views from the city’s many hills. Telegraph Hill, prominently topped by Coit Tower, is one of the more famous hikes where it’s possible to ascend a series of sometimes rickety, wooden steps. Look for one of the hundreds of feral green parrots that live in the trees on this hill. The nonprofit organization Greenbelt Alliance regularly offers free group hikes. A few years ago on New Years Eve we did a night hike going up and down Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill and Russian Hill, ending near the waterfront to watch the fireworks.

Coit Tower, San Francisco

10. Get out of San Francisco (but not that far) for the best view of the city and the bridge. Cross over the Golden Gate Bridge into the Marin Headlands. The most radient view is in late afternoon (what filmmakers call the Golden Hour) as the setting sun lights up the face of the bridge. Even on foggy days (and there are a lot of them!) you can often catch an iconic shot of the bridge peeking out from beyond the thick fog.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

What offbeat places do you recommend in San Francisco?

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cassie kiferCassie Kifer writes about travel, food, and photography at Ever in Transit. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spends her time plotting her next journey and eating adventurously. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, or Google+.


With guest writer Sofie ~ Los Angeles is chock full of  amusement parks, fancy restaurants and trendy night clubs. But these things all cost money. Visiting Los Angeles doesn’t have to be expensive, though. Here are a few hidden gems among the free things to do in Los Angeles. But to keep your day free, make sure to heed our warning below about the extremely aggressive parking ticket people in Los Angeles.

Free things to do in Los Angeles

1) Get taken for a ride at the Automobile Driving Museum

automobile driving museum LA model t

The Automobile Driving Museum in Segundo, five minutes southeast of Los Angeles International Airport, boasts that it is the only car museum in North America where you can actually ride in the vintage cars. Every Sunday they roll 4 or 5 cars off of the museum floor and take visitors for a spin around the block. On any given Sunday you might get taken for a ride in a 1947 Studebaker, a 1909 Model T or even a 1975 AMC Pacer. Check their website where they post the schedule of which cars will be taken for Sunday drives.

2). Walk the Walk of Fame

The Walk of Fame stretches over the public sidewalks on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood. It’ll be more calm checking out the stars on Vine Street, but to get the real Hollywood buzz you have to be at Hollywood Boulevard, where you’ll also find the TCL Chinese Theater where you can see where stars (both human and animal) have placed their footprints, paw prints and autographs in cement for posterity. If you believe your idol deserves a star on the Walk of Fame, you can submit a nomination with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Stars are voted in once a year in June and on average 20 new celebrities get a star on the Walk of Fame each year.


3) Gaze at another type of star at the Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory is named after Griffith J. Griffith, a former wealthy local who donated both the Griffith Park and the Observatory to the City of Los Angeles. The Observatory is free to visit and has different exhibits on display. Located on Mount Hollywood, the terraces around the Observatory offer great views on the city and the famous Hollywood sign.

4) Rock on at the Fender Guitar Factory

fender guitar factory jam room

The list of legendary musicians who’ve played Fender guitars is almost endless: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dick Dale and Kurt Cobain are just a few. While there is an admission charge to tour the factory in Corona, the museum devoted to the history of Fender instruments is free. There is a Jam Room where all the guitars and amplifiers made here by Fender are on display. Best of all, anyone can stroll right in, take a guitar off the wall, plug it into one of the amps and wail away. How cool is that?

5) Hike through Runyon Canyon Park

Los Angeles Sophie canyon

Runyon Canyon Park is known as one of the places in Los Angeles to spot celebrities. Because it’s so close to the Hollywood Hills and some of Hollywood’s residential areas, you might just see some famous actor walk his dog. And even if you don’t spot Johnny Depp, Runyon Canyon still offers great views over Los Angeles. The wide paths go up and down, making a treadmill or any other machine you’d use at the gym look like a comfortable couch. Tip: go hiking in the morning, preferably before the sun is up, and bring enough water.

6) Stroll along Venice Beach

muscle beach venice

Sunbathing at the beach is an obvious free thing to do on vacation, but Venice Beach has much more to offer than just a strip of sand. There’s the famous Muscle Beach, where you can see bodybuilders and others train their muscles in the sun. They have to fight for attention with the many street artists doing tricks or selling their work along the Ocean Front Walk. Of course there are also the typical seaside shops, some with cool clothes, others with cheap souvenirs. More interesting is the beach skate bowl where youngsters on skateboards and inline skates dive in and jump back up against the background of a setting sun. And if you think you’ve seen it all, you can always follow the beach path or the Ocean Front Walk all the way until you reach Santa Monica.

7) Take a cultural trip to the Getty Center

gety museum

This one is free . . . and it’s not. You see, there’s no entrance fee to visit the Getty Center, but you do have to pay for parking ($15 per car during the day, $10 per car during the evenings in summer). The Getty Center cannot be missed, though. The different exhibition halls offer something for everyone: paintings, photography, decorative art, sculptures, manuscripts . . . It’s all there, presented in the modern buildings of the Center. It wouldn’t surprise me if the architecture of the Center is the main reason some people visit the Getty, built on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, offering great views from the Central Garden.

8) Walk like an Egyptian

los angeles central library pyramid

The Los Angeles Central Public Library was built in the 1920s, when the Egyptian Revival design craze was sweeping America. That could explain why it’s topped off with a pyramid shaped tower. Stroll around and see how many sphinxes you can find. Travel geeks should make sure to visit the travelogue and vintage map collections on the lower level.

9) Climb the secret stairs

los angeles secret stairs

In the 1920s, before cars were everywhere in LA, outdoor staircases were built in neighborhoods with steep hills so people could access the trolley cars.  Some houses were built along them as they provided their only access to the outside world. Some of the staircases are in better condition than others. Try the 861 step Beachwood Canyon stair climb for a classic view of the Hollywood sign or the Pacific Palisades, where the houses are perched precariously as they hope to avoide the next mudslide, for spectacular and secluded ocean views. Find out more at: Secret Stairs-LA where you can also download walking maps.

10) Ascend City Hall

los angeles city hall observation deck

The building is recognizable since it is featured prominently on the badges of LAPD officers, but this free gem isn’t even known by most Angelenos. Sign in at security and ride the elevator to the top of City Hall for a 360 degree view of Los Angeles. From there you can gaze upon the Pacific Ocean, the Hollywood sign and more.

11)  Take a peek behind the Iron Curtain

wende museum cold war los angeles

The Wende Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of life in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War. They are building up an incredible collection of artifacts that portray what it was like living behind the Iron Curtain. From cast-iron Lenin statues to propagandist artwork to dairies of ordinary citizens, visitors get a sense of life under a totalitarian regime in the not-too-distant past.

12) Attend the Grammy Museum for free

grammy museum lecture series peter guralnick

The Grammy Museum offers a free evening lecture series where you can participate in interviews with award-winning artists and journalists. Recent shows included Placido Domingo, Elvis Presley biographer Peter Guralnick and the The Beatles are Coming: The Birth of Beatlemania in America. As an added bonus, the event takes place in a wing of the museum where you can view the latest special exhibition for free. Check out the list of upcoming programs at the Grammy Museum.

Bonus Pick: Take flight at the Flight Path Learning Center

flight path learning center Los Angeles

Hidden among the runways at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the Flight Path Learning Center, a museum dedicated to the history of commercial flight. The docents are retired flight attendants and are probably the cutest and most gracious anywhere. Exhibits include ephemera from the first century of commercial flight including racks of vintage stewardess uniforms and silver cutlery from flight’s Golden Age. But the real reason you come here is for the incredible runway level views of one of the most active airports in the world. A radio plays a live feed of the control tower so you can hear the pilot being guided in then watch the plane land. You can even walk out onto the runway, closely supervised of course, to board a DC-3. For airplane geeks the Flight Path Learning Center is a must see.

Do you know something that’s both free and fun to do in Los Angeles?

Travel warning for Los Angeles from editor:

Los Angeles has the most aggressive parking ticket enforcement we have seen anywhere. On several occasions we were ticketed as well as people we were traveling with. What made it particularly galling was that we had put an hour on the meter and only been gone for 55 minutes. The cost of a parking ticket in Los Angeles is a whopping $63. Now we know why the city makes over $134 million in parking fees per year. When parking in Los Angeles beware.

Co-Ala sofie pic (216x250)uthor Sofie is a Belgian, language lover and travel aficionada who combines a full-time job with a freelance writing career and a never-ending wanderlust. She uses her weekends, vacation days and public holidays to travel the world and share her experiences. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook or connect with her on Google+.

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