The Bombay Beach Road Trip Guide
Bombay Beach, California. Picture it. A bustling resort town alongside a desert lake oasis.
Look again and see the wasteland. Because in Bombay Beach, apocalyptic ruins with decrepit, bleached structures sit alongside some of the strangest and most interesting art you’ll ever see.
It feels like something you’d only ever see in a movie. But it’s real, and you can actually visit it.
Where Is Bombay Beach and How Did it Come to Be?
Bombay Beach is a mostly abandoned old resort town along the Salton Sea in the south-central California desert.
The story of how Bombay Beach came to be has everything to do with the Salton Sea and its formation. This lake is the largest in inland California. It sits in the desert – a place typically devoid of large bodies of water.
In the early 1900s, the Colorado River swelled and breached its levees. As a result, the river flooded the area formerly called the Salton Sink, a low desert valley in the California desert. Subsequently, the river flooded for two whole years, creating the 15 miles wide by 35 miles long Salton Sea.
A Bustling Lakeside Resort in the Desert
It didn’t take long for people to capitalize on this newly created massive lake in the middle of the desert. Initially, from the 1940s to the 1960s, Bombay Beach was a booming lakeside resort for the rich.
Famous people like Bing Crosby, the Beach Boys, and even Frank Sinatra visited and relaxed in Bombay Beach.
Activities like water-skiing, fishing, and boating were popular. Bombay Beach once attracted half a million tourists a year!
Bombay Beach had hotels, a yacht club, and many other resort-style businesses and amenities, all taking advantage of the huge desert oasis.
The Desert Oasis Would Never Last
The levees that the Colorado River breached were along the canals built for farmers to use as irrigation. No good things last forever, and the breach was eventually plugged. Thus the river no longer provided the lake with fresh water.
The lake began to shrink and started becoming more and more uninhabitable for wildlife. The salinity of the lake increased, chemical runoff from nearby farms started to pollute the water, and it slowly became an apocalyptic wasteland.
Soon, the water became toxic. The shorelines were littered with rotting fish carcasses. The people abandoned the buildings and resort to the harsh climate where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees.
Apocalyptic Wasteland Turned Art Colony
Today, Bombay Beach is still a mostly abandoned resort town alongside a toxic desert lake. The lake still experiences periodic flooding and receding and has been called an ecological disaster in the making by many scientists.
But this small desert town still maintains a small population. And, artists have come from all over to make their mark, making Bombay Beach still a popular destination… Far from the reasons it became one in the first place.
Is Bombay Beach dangerous?
Bombay Beach itself could be considered dangerous, depending on what perspective you’re coming from.
The water of the Salton Sea is toxic and often smells terrible. The ruins themselves can be dangerous. So look, don’t touch. In addition, the temperature in this area can reach over 120 degrees in the summer. Those temperatures are dangerous for anyone regardless of their health.
Overall, Bombay Beach is a cool place to check out on a road trip, but not in the summer. And never touch the water!
Is Bombay Beach Open?
Bombay Beach is open to visitors, but the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, Bombay Beach access, closes periodically. Still, you can stop by and see what remains of the old resort town, check out the art, and maybe even meet some of the residents.
Does the Salton Sea have fish?
The Salton Sea is known for its mass fish and bird die-offs, with fish deaths in the millions and birds in the thousands.
The increasing salinity and pollution paired with a decrease of oxygen in the lake have nearly killed all the fish in the sea.
It’s unclear how many fish remain in the Salton Sea if any. As this massive lake continues to dry up, the habitat will become more and more volatile, preventing wildlife from thriving, let alone surviving.
The Best Campgrounds Near Bombay Beach
Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort
Address: 1500 Spa Rd, Niland CA 92257
Why You’ll Love it: Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort is a huge RV resort located near the town of Bombay Beach in Niland, California.
You’ll love the resort-style amenities like hot spas, mineral spas, personal soaking tubs, two swimming pools, saunas, and more.
Price: Daily full-hookup sites are $55 in the on-season and $45 in the off-season. You can also choose cheaper primitive sites or more expensive premium sites.
Glamis North Hot Springs Resort
Address: 10595 Hot Mineral Spa Rd, Niland, CA92257
Why You’ll Love it: If you love off-roading, you’re going to love this hot springs RV resort. Glamis has OHVs available for rent, as well as 16 different spots to experience the relaxing water of the hot springs! And, of course, RV and tent sites as well as cabins for rent.
Price: Daily rates vary but you can expect rates to start around $45 for daily rates.
Bombay Beach is A Must-See Relic of Yesteryear
If you find yourself on the road through south-central California (hopefully in the wintertime), a stop at Bombay Beach should definitely be on your bucket list. Without intervention, the Salton Sea will eventually dry up.
Who knows what could happen to this ruin? While you’re there, be sure to soak up the hot springs nearby in Niland and stop by Slab City and East Jesus. This is a truly unique spot in the California desert.
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
You should give it a try!
As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site!
We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:
I remember it well. It’s where I learned to water ski.
Watch boat races and the fishing was great!!
That was back in the late 60’s early 70’s. Water was salty even more than the ocean. There were three main types of fish that the State introduced that thrived.. Sargo, yellow fin croaker, and corvina.
Corvina were the best fighters and tasted the best.
If I remember the record was close to 30 lb.
Largest I caught was just over 10 lb. We would like catch so many that we bought a smoker to use.