Not All Highways & Skylines: 10 Natural Wonders In Southern California

Best Natural Wonders in Southern California
| 5 min read

Many travel to Southern California for the exciting tourist attractions, sun-kissed beaches, and mild weather. But many also anticipate congested freeways and lots of hustle and bustle. With several big cities in the region, people can forget that Southern California offers postcard-worthy natural beauty. From breathtaking landscapes to unique wetlands, here are 10 natural wonders in Southern California that will make your jaw drop.

1. La Brea Tar Pits: stunning excavation site in LA!

Diorama of the La Brea Tar Pits, California (Pleistocene) 5
Source: Photo by Flickr user James St. John used under CC BY 2.0

One of the world’s most famous fossil locales, La Brea Tar Pits houses exhibits of fossils, plants, and animals that have been uncovered here. Mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and more are on display at this rare and unique place. However, it’s the Tar Pits themselves, where tar is still bubbling to this day, that is the real attraction for visitors.

New Ice Age specimens are discovered every day. Want to get in on the action? Take the Excavator Tour and get a behind-the-scenes look at the history of the La Brea Tar Pits and view scientists working on recently excavated fossils. The tour includes a look at a live dig site!

La Brea Tar Pits

Address: 5801 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Website: La Brea Tar Pits

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2. Ballona Wetlands: treasure chest of watery delights

California Sunflower, Ballona Wetlands
Source: Photo by Flickr user Jim McDougall used under CC BY 2.0

There’s so much of nature’s beauty on display at Ballona Wetlands. Located south of Marina del Rey and just east of Playa del Rey, Ballona Wetlands is a beautiful area comprised of various marshes, streams, uplands, and other water habitats. With the aid of more than 95,000 volunteers, Ballona Wetlands has been restored and protected for 40 years. Visit the Freshwater Marsh, open to the public from dusk to dawn, and stroll the trail that runs along the perimeter. Don’t forget your binoculars to check out the various wildlife, particularly the many birds in the area.

Ballona Wetlands

Address: 33.9656° N, 118.4451° W

Facebook page: Ballona Wetlands

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3. Placerita Canyon State Park: front-row seat to nature's allure

Placerita Canyon Natural Area
Source: Photo by Flickr user Konrad Summers used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Located 32.7 miles (52.6 kilometers) north of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains, is Placerita Canyon State Park. An idyllic place to explore, Placerita Canyon State Park is a unique canyon that features sloping chaparral terrain, shaded woodlands, and a seasonal stream. The stream is a big draw for kids, so make sure to bring an extra pair of shoes for them. Placerita Canyon State Park has 8 wondrous trails that cover over 12 miles (19.3 kilometers), and is also where hikers can find the famous “Oak of the Golden Dream”, where gold was first discovered in California in 1842.

Placerita Canyon State Park

Address: 19152 Placerita Canyon Rd, Newhall, CA 91321

Website: Placerita Canyon State Park

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4. Get seduced by Mother Nature on Mount Wilson

Mount Wilson aerial, LA
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Doc Searls used under CC BY 2.0

With an elevation of 5,713 feet (1,741 meters), Mount Wilson is a great place to get spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest. Mount Wilson features an observatory that in the early part of the 20th-century was the most famous observatory in the world. Mount Wilson Observatory has also captured the most detailed photos of Mars! To experience an intimate feel for the area hike Mount Wilson Trail, a 12.5 mile (20.1 kilometer) loop trail that features a wonderful waterfall. If you choose to take the trail, it’s best you’re an experienced hiker.

Mount Wilson

Address: 34.2264° N, 118.0642° W

Website: Mount Wilson

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California Tour Guide

Stephanie Eley

Stephanie Eley

I'm a graduate of ITMI, International Tour Management Institute and 17 years as a licensed Tour Director and Program Director. My expertise began in NYC and Washington, DC where I'm a licensed guide and has expanded to Europe, South America, Cuba and the Western / Southwestern National Parks of the US. I'd love to introduce you for a day or a week to Denver, Colorado and the 4 corners region of the US: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona! Let's GO!!

Tours by Stephanie

5. Enticing trees & more at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree NP 1
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jarek Tuszyński used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Comprised of 1,235 square miles (3,198.6 km2) of natural beauty, Joshua Tree National Park is home to the unique and hauntingly beautiful twisted and bristled Joshua trees. Joshua Tree National Park is sandwiched between two well-defined ecosystems; the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. An expansive protected area, Joshua Tree National Park is characterized by dramatic rugged rock formations and stark stellar desert landscapes. Explore the region by camping, hiking, or simply relaxing and absorbing Joshua Tree National Park’s astounding beauty.

Joshua Tree National Park

Address: 33.8734° N, 115.9010° W

Website: Joshua Tree National Park

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6. Mojave National Preserve: nature's enchanting best

Mojave National Preserve, California
Source: Photo by Flickr user Ken Lund used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mojave National Preserve is a 1.6 million acre (647,497 hectare) park nestled in the Mojave Desert. Mojave National Preserve is a treat for practically all of the five senses. Hear “singing” sounds from the humongous dune mounds of Kelso Dunes, and view the stunning Hole-in-the-Wall cliffs that are peppered with holes and crevices. Mojave National Preserve also features cinder cones and lava flows. Mojave National Preserve offers a distinct atmosphere of dynamic landscapes in quiet surroundings. Don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in this special Southern California place of immense beauty.

Mojave National Preserve

Address: 90942 Kelso Cima Rd, Kelso, CA 92309

Website: Mojave National Preserve

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7. Arroyo Tapiado Carrizo Badlands Mud Caves: surprised splendor!

best natural wonders in southern california | arroyo tapiado carrizo badlands mud caves: surprised splendor!
Source: Photo by Flickr user The Greater South... used under CC BY 2.0

Arroyo Tapiado Carrizo Badlands Mud Caves, found in Anzo Borrego State Park, is home to the largest known mud cave systems in the world. There are 22 captivating caves to explore, and many with very distinct appearances. A few of the mud caves are over 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) long, with areas up to 80 feet (24.3 meters) high and 30 feet (9.1 meters) wide. Some mud caves even have multiple levels. Fossil bones dating back one to two millions years, such as mammoth, camel, and sabertooth cat, have been found at Arroyo Tapiado Carrizo Badlands Mud Caves!

Arroyo Tapiado Carrizo Badlands Mud Caves

Address: 32.92344°N, 116.18797°W

Website: Arroyo Tapiado Carrizo Badlands Mud Caves

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8. Want to be awestruck? Death Valley National Park is the place

0802 DV view from DantePeak
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Scott Catron used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Death Valley National Park’s landscape is marked by salt flats, ancient geological formations, roughcast canyons and the lowest point in the Americas. Offering an amazing and stunning contrasting landscape because of ongoing drought and record summer heat, Death Valley National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime area to experience. View tall peaks adorned with winter snow and see a wide array of wildflowers produced by rare rainstorms. Not to be missed are the surreal salt flats at Badwater Basin, Titus Canyon, with its colorful rock formations, ghost town, and petroglyphs, and so much more!

Death Valley National Park

Address: 36.5054° N, 117.0794° W

Website: Death Valley National Park

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9. View Slot Canyon eye candy at Anza Borrego State Park!

The Bridge in Slot Canyon - Anza-Borrego State Park, CA, USA
Source: Photo by Flickr user Ron Kroetz used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Also located in Anzo Borrego State Park is Slot Canyon. One of the best desert slot canyons in Southern California, Slot Canyon at Anza Borrego State Park is a short hike, but a memorable one. The pathways will take you through a gorge so narrow, you must turn sideways to get through some areas. Experience Slot Canyon at different times of the day if possible. With the changing of the sunlight and shadows that are produced, it can be an unexpected and delightful adventure.

Slot Canyon/Anza Borrego State Park

Address: 33.2602° N, 116.4343° W

Facebook page: Slot Canyon/Anza Borrego State Park

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10. California Poppy Reserve: a blanket of beauty!

Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Thomas used under CC BY 2.0

Though the length and magnitude of colors and scents change from year to year, when the California Poppy Reserve is at its best it is an amazing kaleidoscope of breathtaking color. Lasting from mid-February through May, wildflower season at the California Poppy Reserve offers a vivid patchwork of yellows, oranges, purples, reds, and more. Add to the scenery chirping birds, hawks flying overhead, and other various wildlife activity and you have a relaxing way to spend a pleasant afternoon.

California Poppy Reserve

Address: 15101 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster, CA 93536

Website: California Poppy Reserve

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Nature...your beauty is showing in Southern California!

Travelers to Southern California can enjoy the desert landscape, the dramatic Pacific Coast, and every natural wonder in between. Practically all facets of nature’s charm can be found in Southern California. So what are you waiting for, nature lovers? Or those who simply appreciate great beauty? Explore Southern California, a region that’s a true symbol of nature’s inspiring beauty.

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Catherine has written professionally for over 10 years, and a sizable amount has been travel writing. Her desire to see the world was sparked at a very young age. Growing up, there were many family...Read more

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