One of the things I love most about California is how diverse the natural environment is. When most people think about California they picture beaches and maybe the Sierra Nevada mountains, but they tend to forget about its vast and striking desert landscapes. Surprisingly, California is home to some of the hottest places on Earth. So, grab a cold drink and let’s explore California’s hottest destinations!

The heat in Death Valley

Death Valley…the name says it all

1. Death Valley

In 1913, Death Valley set the record for the highest reliably recorded temperature on the planet at a staggering 134 degrees at Furnace Creek Ranch. Nestled within the expansive desert landscapes of eastern California, Death Valley is a captivating destination that evokes both awe and intrigue. Beyond its scorching temperatures, Death Valley offers a mesmerizing array of natural wonders and breathtaking vistas that beckon adventurers.

With average temperatures consistently exceeding 100°F (38°C) during summer and dangerous highs well above 120°F (49°C), it holds the top spot on anyone’s list. 

Attractions

Located in Death Valley National Park, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, sitting at 282 feet below sea level. The salt flats shimmer in the heat, forming a vast expanse that stretches as far as the eye can see.  It’s a mesmerizing sight.

Artist’s Palette, a colorful geological formation within Death Valley features an array of vibrant hues, resulting from various minerals and oxidation processes. The intense heat has contributed to the formation of these stunning colors.

Offering panoramic views of Death Valley’s rugged terrain, Zabriskie Point is renowned for its dramatic sunrises and sunsets. The interplay of light and shadows across the undulating landscape creates a captivating spectacle that is enhanced by the region’s scorching heat.   For more information, check out Death Valley National Park!

From Las Vegas: Death Valley Day Tour: This tour exceeds expectations.  Enjoy the rugged extremes of the western United States with a guided tour of Death Valley in the Mojave Desert. Discover some of the area’s scenic locations such as Dante’s View, Badwater Basin, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  This is an incredible half day tour.  

Manly Beacon in Death Valley

Manly Beacon in Death Valley National Park

2. Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Downtown Palm Springs

Palm Springs boasts an average annual temperature that consistently surpasses 90°F (32°C). You can expect it to be warm pretty much throughout the year. During the scorching summer months, temperatures regularly surpass 115°F.  The desert’s low humidity makes the heat more tolerable compared to humid regions but most people take shelter in the AC or in the pool during the peak heat of summer days.

Attractions

Palm Springs is renowned for its collection of stunning golf courses and hiking trails, drawing enthusiasts from all over the country. The city is also known for its luxurious resorts and spa retreats, where you can bask in the heat while indulging in rejuvenating treatments and relaxation.

The Coachella Valley Preserve, located nearby, provides a unique glimpse into the desert ecosystem and offers opportunities for nature enthusiasts to observe diverse plant and animal species adapted to the hot climate.

One of my favorite attractions is the Palm Springs Tramway that takes you up to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. It’s always surprisingly nice and cool and the top!

My kids love the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and lastly the Open Jeep tour of the San Andreas Fault is a blast and allows a stunning view of the dessert.

3. Blythe

Blythe Intagalios

Blythe Intaglios

Blythe sits along the banks of the mighty Colorado River, which somewhat surprisingly, makes a brief appearance in the southeastern part of the state.  In Blythe temperatures soar to incredible highs in the summer months, highs regularly surpass 110°F (43°C).  It’s a paradise for outdoor and off-road enthusiasts who don’t mind the heat!

Attractions

Off-roading and desert exploration: Blythe’s vast desert expanses offer an ideal playground for off-road enthusiasts. With rugged terrain and sandy dunes stretching as far as the eye can see, the city attracts thrill-seekers looking to conquer the desert.

Palo Verde Historical Museum: To gain insights into the rich history of the region, a visit to the Palo Verde Historical Museum is a must. Discover the stories of Blythe’s early pioneers, Native American culture, and the area’s mining heritage, all of which contribute to the city’s unique identity.

Blythe Intaglios:  Blythe Intaglios offer a fascinating glimpse into ancient Native American art. These immense geoglyphs, created by clearing rocks and soil to reveal the lighter desert floor beneath, depict figures such as humans and animals, leaving visitors in awe of the mysterious historical legacy etched into the arid land.

Quartzsite: Located just a short drive away, Quartzsite is a bustling desert town known for its annual gem and mineral shows, attracting rock collectors and enthusiasts from around the world. 

4. Needles

Needles!

Needles is a small city that embraces the extremes of desert living.  The city experiences brutally hot summers, with average temperatures consistently exceeding 100°F (38°C) for extended periods. For those who can withstand the intense temperatures, Needles offers a gateway to explore the wonders of the Mojave Desert.

Attractions

Mojave National Preserve: Just a short drive away from Needles lies the Mojave National Preserve, a vast expanse of desert wilderness. Here, visitors can explore towering sand dunes, Joshua tree forests, and rugged mountain ranges. Hiking, camping, and stargazing opportunities abound, offering a chance to immerse oneself in the raw beauty of the desert landscape.

Jack Smith Memorial Park: Jack Smith Memorial Park provides a serene escape from the heat. This waterfront park offers picnic areas, playgrounds, and a boat launch, allowing visitors to enjoy the riverfront scenery and engage in recreational activities in a tranquil setting.

5. El Centro

El Centro

Downtown el Centro

El Centro is no stranger to extreme heat, particularly during the summer months when temperatures frequently soar above 110°F (43°C). This relentless heat shapes the daily life and activities of residents, as well as the region’s rich agricultural heritage. 

Attractions

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area: Just a short distance from El Centro, the Imperial Sand Dunes offer a thrilling playground for outdoor enthusiasts. With vast expanses of towering sand dunes, this natural wonderland attracts thrill-seekers looking for off-roading, sandboarding, and hiking. 

Naval Air Facility El Centro: If you have an interest in aviation, a visit to the Naval Air Facility El Centro is a must. This military installation serves as a training ground for various military aircraft. 

Bucklin Park: Seeking a reprieve from the heat? Bucklin Park offers a serene oasis in the heart of El Centro. Enjoy shaded picnic areas, walking paths, and playgrounds for the little ones. The park provides a tranquil setting to relax and rejuvenate, surrounded by lush greenery and soothing fountains.

6. Coachella

Coachella

Coachella…the town

Situated in the breathtaking Coachella Valley, the city of Coachella experiences relentless heat in the summer months.  Temperatures above 110°F are not uncommon, making it one of the hottest destinations in California. Despite the blistering sun, Coachella continues to attract visitors who are eager to experience the magic of the music festival and the mesmerizing desert landscapes.

Attractions

Coachella Valley Preserve: Explore the rugged beauty of the desert at the Coachella Valley Preserve. This protected area is home to lush palm oases, diverse wildlife, and scenic hiking trails.

Joshua Tree National Park: One of my favorite places.  Just a short drive from Coachella, Joshua Tree National Park showcases the unique and enchanting beauty of the desert landscape. Marvel at the otherworldly Joshua trees, rock formations, and starry night skies. Lots of hiking, rock climbing, and stargazing.  A really  extraordinary national park.

Date Palm Orchards: The Coachella Valley is renowned for its date palm orchards, where these sweet and delicious fruits thrive in the desert climate. Visit one of the local date farms to learn about the cultivation process, taste a variety of date products, and perhaps even take home some of these delectable treats as souvenirs.

Shields Date Garden: Step back in time at Shields Date Garden, a historic landmark that offers a glimpse into the region’s date farming heritage. Take a stroll through the lush gardens, learn about date cultivation through informative exhibits, and savor their famous date shakes, a refreshing treat that provides respite from the heat.

7. Indio

Indio

Beautiful hills behind Indio

Indio is renowned for its intense heat, with average summer highs surpassing 105°F (40°C). The sun-drenched days and warm evenings are lovely.

Attractions

Vibrant arts scene: Indio boasts a thriving arts community, with a range of galleries, art centers, and public art installations. Explore the city’s cultural offerings, attend art festivals, and immerse yourself in the creativity that flourishes in this arid landscape. The heat serves as a backdrop for artistic expression, adding an element of raw energy and inspiration to the local arts scene.

World-class golf courses: For those seeking recreational activities in a stunning setting, Indio is a golfer’s paradise. The city is home to several world-class golf courses, where players can enjoy challenging fairways and breathtaking views of the surrounding desert. Tee off against the backdrop of towering palm trees and expansive blue skies, embracing the heat as you perfect your swing.

8. Thermal

the racetrack in thermal

Thermal racetrack

Thermal, a city that lives up to its name, has average summer temperatures well above 100°F (38°C).

Attractions

Salton Sea: Explore the fascinating Salton Sea, a vast saline lake located near Thermal. This ecological marvel is a favorite with birdwatchers, with hundreds of species along its shores.   Drought has significantly impacted the lake in recent years and the lake is now the focus of signifiant restoration efforts.

9. Calexico

Calexico

Calexico on the border

Welcome to Calexico, a vibrant city located on the California-Mexico border. Calexico experiences sweltering summers, with average temperatures surpassing 100°F (38°C).

Crossing Borders: Calexico’s location on the California-Mexico border makes it an intriguing destination for travelers. it’s a great place to experience the unique blend of American and Mexican cultures.

Outdoor Adventures: Embrace the desert heat and embark on outdoor adventures in and around Calexico. Discover nearby natural wonders, such as the stunning Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

10. Barstow

Barstow

Barstow – gateway to the Mojave

Barstow is renowned for its scorching temperatures, with summer highs often surpassing 100°F (38°C). The regions draws adventurers and nature enthusiasts to explore the rugged beauty of the Mojave Desert.

Historic Route 66: Barstow holds a special place along the iconic Route 66, often referred to as the “Mother Road.” As you travel through this historic corridor, soak in the heat and experience the nostalgia of a bygone era. Explore vintage motels, nostalgic diners, and roadside attractions that pay homage to the golden age of American road trips.

Calico Ghost Town: Step back in time and visit Calico Ghost Town, a living museum that transports you to the days of the Old West. Wander through the preserved buildings, mine for gold, and witness reenactments of gunfights in the scorching heat of the desert. This historical attraction offers a glimpse into the past, reminding visitors of the resilience of those who braved the desert heat in search of fortune.

Tips To Stay Cool Under The California Heat 

California’s desert regions are amazing but do take caution in the summer. It’s crucial to stay cool and safe in the scorching temperatures. These essential tips will help you beat the heat.

  1. Stay Hydrated: Staying hydrated in extreme heat is crucial. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Carry a reusable water bottle and refill it regularly to ensure you stay hydrated, especially during outdoor activities.  Skip or go easy on the alcohol. 

  2. Dress Appropriately: Opt for lightweight, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing to help your body regulate its temperature. Light-colored clothing reflects sunlight, keeping you cooler than dark colors. Don’t forget to wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the direct sun.

  3. Seek Shade: When the sun is at its peak, find shade to shield yourself from direct sunlight. Look for covered areas, umbrellas, or trees to provide relief from the heat. It’s particularly important to take breaks in shaded spots during outdoor excursions or sightseeing.

  4. Planning Outdoor Activities: If you have outdoor activities planned, schedule them during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon. This way, you can avoid the most intense heat and still enjoy your adventures comfortably.

  5. Use Sunscreen: Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by applying sunscreen with a high SPF. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection. Reapply it every two hours, or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.

  6. Use Cooling Aids: Utilize cooling aids to help combat the heat. Wear a neck fan, use a portable misting fan, or bring a cooling towel to keep yourself refreshed. These simple tools can provide instant relief and make your experience more comfortable.

  7. Stay Informed: Keep an eye on weather forecasts and heat advisories in the area you’re visiting. Stay informed about any potential heat waves or extreme weather conditions and plan accordingly. It’s always wise to adjust your plans or reschedule activities if necessary.

Conclusion

Exploring the hottest places in California offers unique experiences but requires careful consideration of the intense heat. The spring and fall are both beautiful and can be a little easier to manage.   But whenever you go, have fun and stay cool!

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