Much of central California gets a bad rap for being a drive-thru region with limited attractions. Located smack dab in the desert between Death Valley and Bakersfield, Ridgecrest often falls victim to this claim. However, Ridgecrest actually makes for an excellent stop-off point where you can easily spend a few nights en route to your eventual destination. Ridgecrest is surrounded by four mountain ranges: the Sierra Nevada to the west, the Cosos to the north, the Argus Range to the east, and the El Paso Mountains to the south. Ridgecrest is part of the larger Kern County, which is famous among Californians for being an excellent region for outdoor recreation. Ridgecrest also has a fair amount of indigenous history, so don’t be surprised if you stumble over some ancient artifacts. But if you’re just looking to stay in town, there are enough restaurants and shops to keep you pleasantly entertained.
First off, we highly recommend visiting the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons. Here you’ll find two large canyons with over 20,000 documented images painted on rocks by Paleo Indians and Native Americans. Feel free to hop on a guided tour of the Petroglyph Canyons or tour the rocks yourself.
For an exhibition on the cultural and ecological history of the Ridgecrest area, check out the Maturango Museum. The Museum houses hundreds of artifacts that are central to Native American cultures and the surrounding Joshua Tree ecosystem. We recommend visiting the museum around one of the springtime festivals: the Wildflower Show, or the Ridgecrest Desert Wildflower Festival.
Curiously enough, the United States Navy’s largest portion of land dedicated to research and development lies hundreds of miles inland from the sea. Ridgecrest is home to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which is a live testing ground but also a museum where visitors can tour the old fighter planes and other artifacts.
If you’re headed on a roadtrip and looking to break up the drive, there are plenty of vacation rental options in Ridgecrest. Whether you’re looking for mountain views or a rental with a pool, the city has plenty of options. We recommend staying in the heart of town, as it isn’t too big, and you’ll be close to the action.
Ridgecrest is within a stone’s throw from Death Valley, also known as the hottest place on Earth. Thus, it’s best to stay away during the summer months. Consider visiting between October and March for the best and most agreeable weather.