The most eclectic half-ghost town, half-inhabited town I’ve ever come across, hands down, is Bombay Beach in Imperial County, California. With around 300 residents, you wouldn’t know that anyone even lives here – this town feels completely desolate the moment you enter it. Graffiti-ridden, abandoned homes and structures can be found all throughout this tiny strip of land.
From Palm Springs, drive along 111 South to reach the intriguing town of Bombay Beach. Signs will begin to appear for the small town, and a slight right will transport you into a quiet, empty town. Follow the gravel road around the Bombay Beach community to take in the numerous abandoned sights as well as the places people still call home today. Head up to the beach to capture some unique photo opportunities of abandoned furniture and structures still propped along the deserted sand beach.
Tourists and photographers flock to Bombay Beach to capture stunning images of the ruins left behind. When we ventured to Bombay Beach, we were one of two cars making a loop around the small town and ran into one of the local residents who provided us with more backstory to this whimsical town. He mentioned that it is a tight-knit community of people, most who live alone in their small homes. What was once a town primarily made up of white retirees, now is also inhabited by a younger, African-American population. The people of Bombay Beach are used to visitors and enjoy chatting with curious tourists. Our new friend revealed that Bombay Beach has even been used as a location for movies, documentaries, promotional videos, and even music videos.
Many of the abandoned structures and RV’s in Bombay Beach still had possessions and furniture scattered about, as though everyone had to leave unexpectedly without time to pack up their belongs. Walking down the street the atmosphere is so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and many times we felt as though we were the only people there. We combed through some of the homes – graffiti was prevalent in nearly every abandoned home/trailer/shack. One home had a dead bird pinned near the front door which added an extra fear element to this journey. Some homes also had angry/terrifying words scrawled across their sides and inside. Try not to let a few angry people ruin your experience however, as Bombay Beach has many visually pleasing sights to offer.
The small one square mile grid of paved street that makes up Bombay Beach is undoubtedly one of the coolest, eeriest, weirdest towns in America I have ever come across but is also one worth visiting. Not only is Bombay Beach on a longer route back north from Palm Springs, it is also close to a slew of other eccentric sites nearby such as Salton Sea, Slab City, and Salvation Mountain.
Bombay Beach Backstory
The community was first founded as a private development in 1929 by R.K. Gilligan and quickly grew in popularity with weekend visitors and retirees flocking to the area. The area was flooded in 1976 and once again in 1977, when tropical storms hit the area, resulting in the Salton Sea rising drastically. The once famous shoreline bar, “The WaterFront” was washed away in the floods, along with a popular mobile home park.
As of 2010, according to Wikipedia, there were 295 people living in Bombay Beach; comprised of 68 families and 175 households. Most residents use golf carts to transport themselves around the small community while others ride bikes. The nearest gas station is 20 miles away in Niland.
Located on the Salton Sea, it is the lowest community in America, located 223 feet below sea level.
Salton Sea – Once Glamorous Resort Town Now Apocalyptic Wasteland
In the 50s and 60s, Salton Sea was a booming tourist attraction, marketed as a “miracle in the desert.” It was more appealing than Palm Springs with its beaches and attracted over half a million visitors annually. Yacht clubs found homes on the shores, people came eager to fish and waterski, and celebrities like the Beach Boys and Sonny Bono would visit to drive speedboats.
Property was in such high demand that real estate agents would fly people up in light aircraft to view the properties from the air without even having to land to view it. The once resort town turned into a nightmare. The Salton Sea – surrounded by nearly half a million acres of agricultural land – became too hostile to sustain life, and the shoreline became raided with thousands upon thousands of dead fish.
The dead fish and rotting algal blooms filled the air with foul scents, forcing the tourists to pack and leave this once on-the-rise town. What was once a promising tourist destination is now little more than a ghost town, with dead fish still washing ashore to this day.
Drive down Highway 111 toward Niland from Palm Springs and you will see remnants of what once used to be attractive – abandoned buildings, boarded up structures, pieces of furniture scattered along the beaches. Flocks of birds fly over murky brown ocean, white sand beaches are comprised scattered bones of dead fish, and dead birds can even be found while walking along the shoreline. The air is still filled with the scent of dead fish.
Bombay Beach Tips
Tip 1: Be mindful of the residents. While this town is slightly abandoned, people still live here so treat this community with the same respect and care as you would with your own.
Tip 2: Leave only footprints. Do not leave anything behind. As you will see, the town is littered with trash and doesn’t need anymore.
Tip 3: Say hi to the locals. If you see one zooming by on an electric golf cart say hi! They have a wealth of information that some are willing to share, after all, some have been living here for decades.
Tip 4: Drive a little farther down Highway 111 to Niland to take in the majestic Salvation Mountain.
Tip 5: Ditch the Salton Sea Visitor Center. It is $5 to park with little to offer, other than tips on things to do nearby. Not worth it in my opinion.
Tip 6: Be prepared for heat. This is in the middle of the desert!
Address: Bombay Beach, CA 92257