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Striking Gold! Unique Underground Destinations to Explore in California

unique underground attractions in california
Written by Suzy Guese

As the saying goes, if you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen. In California, a state where the sun always seems to be shining, you can often get out of the heat and head underground for not just one type of cool. The Golden State is full of legendary underground destinations – everything from an underground garden dug out solely by hand to 250 million-year-old caverns. California takes the cake when it comes to below-ground attractions. In fact, much of the state’s history is linked to what lurks below, beginning in the late 1840s when people from all over the world came in search of gold. Here’s your chance to experience a whole other side of California by visiting these unique underground attractions.

Forestiere Underground Gardens, Fresno

Image via Flickr CC-David Prasad

Image via Flickr CC-David Prasad

When Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere came to California, he had visions of building up a citrus empire. Instead, he created one of the top underground attractions in not just California, but also the world. Located in Fresno, the Forestiere Underground Gardens consist of a system of subterranean tunnels, chambers, and grottos spanning 10 acres. The catacomb-like underground attraction has a decidedly Ancient Roman vibe with a chapel, open air skylights, and an underground fishing pond as well as many fruit trees, shrubs, and vines that are over 100 years old.

Baldassare Forestiere dug out the entire gardens from 1906 to 1946 solely by hand!

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as you wander as deep as 23 feet, you’ll be floored (pun intended) by how Forestiere created this underworld. He dug out the entire gardens from 1906 to 1946 solely by hand! Borrowing from the idea of cellars in Sicily, Forestiere ultimately wanted to create a cool space in Fresno during the summer months. Tours are offered of his underground gardens Wednesday through Sunday.

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Subway Cave, Lassen National Forest

Image via Flickr CC-J.Stanley

Image via Flickr CC-J.Stanley

Deep in Lassen National Forest, you will find yet another underground California attraction. Close to Lassen Volcanic National Park and near the town of Old Station, you can follow a self-guided trail to the Subway Cave. The lava tube stretches around one-third mile long. Open from April to October, it hails as one of the largest and easily accessible lava caves in the world. Those who loathe the heat will delight in the lava tube’s cool 46°F. The Subway Tube is also quite dark so it’s best to bring a flashlight to experience its spookiness.

Painted Cave, Channel Islands National Park

Image via Flickr CC-daveynin

Image via Flickr CC-daveynin

Located near Santa Barbara, visitors to the Channel Islands National Park are treated to a look at one of the world’s deepest sea caves. Plunging a quarter mile into Santa Cruz Island, the Painted Cave opens out on the northwest coastline. Measuring in at 100 feet wide with an entrance ceiling of 160 feet and a waterfall to boot (in spring), you can appreciate its splendor on a guided tour. You’ll even get the chance to hear the barking sea lions that call the cave home.

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Lake Shasta Caverns, Lakehead, California

Lake Shasta Caverns, Lakehead, California

The Lake Shasta Caverns have been in the works for 250 million years. Located on the north end of Shasta Lake, you can head down some 600 stairs into the Lake Shasta Caverns. The series of natural limestone caves feature plenty of cave coral, gravity resisting helicities, and cave-like curtains that’ll make your jaw drop. Considered a National Natural Landmark, the caverns are also a cool 58°F with humidity levels ranging from 90 to 95%. Part of the appeal of the Lake Shasta Caverns is their exclusivity. You must take a boat ride across the lake to get there.

From sea caves to man-chiseled underground gardens, California bears no shortage of attractions above and below its surface. If you just need to get out of the heat or you want to see a different side to the state, these underground spaces are just what you need to see!

Have you traveled to any cool underground locations in California? Share your favorite underground destination in the comments section below.

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About the author

Suzy Guese

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at http://suzyguese.com.

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