Bombay Beach is an unforgettable destination with a history filled with highs, lows, and ghosts!
In recent years Bombay Beach has become a popular destination for those looking for something unique off the beaten path. Located on the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach is the lowest community in the United States, sitting 223 feet below sea level! The town has developed a reputation as a ghost town, and it certainly has the population to prove it. Their 2010 census showed that only 295 lived in the area! The population estimate for 2020 was 415, as reported by the El Centro, California, metropolitan statistical area, so things are looking up.
Bombay Beach was a popular beachgoing hot spot from the 1950s until the 1980s. In the 80s, the draining and increasing salinity of the Salton Sea eventually destroyed the lake’s ecosystem, driving locals out of the area and turning Bombay Beach into a ghost town. However, in 2018 many people started moving into the area, with the town’s abandoned structures becoming a draw for visitors. The Guardian reported that Bombay Beach was “enjoying a rebirth of sorts with an influx of artists, intellectuals and hipsters who have turned it into a bohemian playground.” An annual art festival, The Bombay Beach Biennale, is also a major draw for tourists.
In the Swinging 50s and 60s, Bombay Beach enjoyed the status as a hit beachgoing destination. During this time, teen beach culture was at its peak, starting out as a counter-culture until eventually becoming acceptable mainstream culture. Important film franchises of the time like Beach Party and Gidget encapsulated this. One of the best SoCal spots to enjoy Californian beach culture was the eclectic Bombay Beach! Celebrities like Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and Bing Crosby frequented the luxury resorts along the Salton Sea, known for their water sports. The area was so popular that it rivaled Yosemite Nationañl Park in popularity and attracted half a million tourists annually.
Bombay Beach started declining in the 1970s when runoff led to an increase in the lake’s salinity. Around the 80s, many Bombay Beach residents were driven to move out by flooding and draining of the Salton Sea. The remaining residents use golf carts to get around since the nearest gas station is 20 miles away in Niland. Bombay Beach only has two stores, one of which is a convenience store. The closest hospital is more than 45 minutes away in Brawley. But they do have a bar! The Ski Inn bar and restaurant is the only eatery in town.
What Bombay Beach lacks in standard amenities and population, it more than makes up for in charm and unique art installations.
The “Bombay Beach Drive-In,” consisting of old, abandoned cars at a drive-in theater, is the most recognizable art installation. Its status as a “living ghost town” has attracted many photographers, filmmakers, urban explorers, and tourists. This town has a rich history, so paying a visit to its shores is an immersive way to learn about essential SoCal history while enjoying an eclectic outing!
Featured image: Jenn SoCal Adventures