Visiting abandoned Bombay Beach, CA

Bombay Beach – the abandoned town

Bombay Beach is located on the east coast of the Salton Sea, in the Sonoran Desert in the Imperial County, California, and marks the southern end of the San Andreas Fault. With its location of 223ft (68m) below sea level, Bombay Beach is the lowest city of the United States.

Bombay Beach used to be a really famous resort in the 1950’s and 60’s. The visitors swam in the sea, did some waterskiing, went golfing during the day and to the party in the Yacht Club at night.

Nowadays Bombay Beach is an abandoned, rusty and inconsolable city in the middle of the desert. The water smells like pure salt, fuel and rotten fish. The shoreline, which, before, was covered by sunbathing people on their vacation is now covered with green mud and desiccated fish. It looks like the aftermath of an apocalypse.

The resort turned from paradise into a ghost town. Responsible for that is the history of the Salton Sea.

In 1905the Colorado River flooded the desert which was known as Salton Sink. The water was flowing for over 12 years creating the Salton Sea with the measurements of 15miles (24km) 35miles (56km). And this is how the biggest lake in California was created. Even though nowadays the lake cannot be used for anything, it used to be very useful for new businesses like boat rentals, hotels and many others, as well as the nearby farmers. Therefore it was called “miracle in the desert”.

In the late 70’s the ecosystem got worse and worse. Because there was no good drainage and there is nearly no rainfall and all the chemicals from the surrounding farms got into the sea, it became toxic and saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Frequent floodings brought the polluted water closer to the resorts. The exhausted oxygen killed many animals in the water. If you walk along the coast now you will see many dilapidated fish bodies that are dried from the sun.

There is still a lot of evidence from the heyday of the Salton Sea. Boarded-up motels, rusty ship wrecks and broken swimming pools covered in graffiti are only some of the remaining.

Still, there are approximately 250 people living here. Most of them drive around with old golf carts since the next grocery store and gas station are about 40miles (65km) away. Bombay Beach itself only holds one grocery store with only a few items in it and one bar with a restaurant called “Ski Inn”.

Despite all the negative descriptions of this place, I have to say that it is really worth visiting this place! Just the road leading there is wonderful! Notwithstanding the toxication of the sea, this is a beautiful place and great background for taking pictures. Bombay Beach is located super close to the Mexican border and there are already some border controls.

To get to Bombay Beach you have to take California State Route 111 which leads to the Mexican border to Calexico. In southward direction there are no controls, only when you drive northwards back on the 111. That means you have to stop at the control station. You are definitely able to see it from far away since you are still in the middle of the desert and there is literally nothing around. Surrounded by tons of cameras and cop cars you are asked to make a stop next to a small house to answer some questions to the police man waiting there. First we were a little bit confused and worried we “accidentally” crossed the border. But the police explained to us that this is just for security reasons to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the border. We were just asked where we came from and if we could identify ourselves.

All in all I would warmly recommend you to visit this area. On our visit we also saw Joshua Tree National Park, Salvation Mountain and Calico Ghost Town. Also you can explore so many random stuff in Bombay Beach itself. In an old, abandoned Drive-In we explored old cars that had old phone books, documents and books in them. Most importantly please be careful exploring here. Besides this border control, which ironically was not even a BORDER control lol, we did not see a single police car or cop. Without having any prejudices, seeing those houses you definitely have many different scenarios of someone getting  murdered here and never being found in your head. I mean in case of an emergency the people have to defend themselves somehow (maybe with a gun?!). Just be mindful and respect the privacy and private properties even though the property may not be marked very obvious.

There are many campgrounds around the sea but I would not recommend staying here. Just read my “Salvation Mountain” article. In a lot of those campgrounds rules anarchy. A really good accommodation can be found in the close-by Joshua Tree National Park.

Another point I really like about the post-apocalyptic looking town is that I really deserves to be called a ghost town. I really do not want to be here in the dark at night. Compared to other so-called ghost towns, like Calico Ghost Town, there is not as much tourism here. It may be the fact that this place really is in the nowhere but still  a little detour is worth it! It is so much fun to just explore the area and hang out.

Where you can find this place in media:

  • “The Mentalist” Episode 1, Season 6 “The Desert Rose”
  • In the movie “Sky” from 2015, it shows an unhappy married french couple on vacation in south California. They mention Bombay Beach because there is a high potential for an earthquake*
  • When we were there we saw a music video shooting. Unfortunately we don’t know the name of the artist and neither of the song.

Just a “fun” fact on the side: There is a big earthquake risk around the Salton Sea and surrounding basins because they sit over the San Andreas Fault, San Jacinto Fault, Imperial Fault Zone and a “stepover fault” shear zone system.

9400 Ave E, Niland, CA 92257

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