The jewel of Kern County, Ridgecrest is the only incorporated area in the Indian Wells Valley. To say that it’s a stunning town is an understatement. This often-overlooked desert getaway is steeped in loveliness.
It’s located in the western Mojave Desert, so it’s the perfect place for anyone who has a particular fondness for arid temperatures and panoramic views of the desert and mountains. Visitors can attribute the scenery to the four mountain ranges that hug the area.
There are around 28,000 inhabitants of Ridgecrest, California, a town that has only been official since 1963. The area actually only got a post office after the U.S. belatedly entered WWII.
Shortly after that, the Naval Ordnance Test Station (now Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake) was built here, so naturally, they needed somewhere to send and sort mail for all those engineers, sailors, and scientists. Since then the military presence has actually been a positive one and provides a good percentage of jobs.
It should be noted that Ridgecrest has been affected by many earthquakes over the years. The good thing about that is that much effort and planning have gone into making this part of California safer for those who call it home as well as those passing through.
If mountain biking, cultural history, and unique landmarks interest you, Ridgecrest is definitely worth checking out. There isn’t an overload of things to do here, but what there is here just so happens to be tip-top! Just be prepared for those hot days and pack shades and sunscreen!
To help you structure your trip accordingly, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Ridgecrest, California!
SpringHill Suites Ridgecrest is located in Ridgecrest, California. The hotel has an outdoor pool and a hot tub, and guests can enjoy free WiFi. Each studio comes with cable TV with HBO and a kitchenette with a microwave, a refrigerator and a coffee machine.. There is also a sofa bed as well as air conditioning and heating.
Hampton Inn & Suites Ridgecrest is the first hotel you will see when you enter Ridgecrest. It is conveniently located next to Maturango Museum, one of California's most interesting museums. The Hampton Inn offers spacious rooms with comfortable amenities and a friendly staff that acts more like family than an employer.
The Best Western China Lake Inn proudly serves the Area of Ridgecrest, California. This area is known as a place where you can enjoy nature and its magnificent beauty by visiting the nearby attractions such as Death Valley, Lake Isabella, Red Rock Canyon, Ghost Towns and the Petroglyphs.
- Most significant landmark – Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons
- Best park – Leroy Jackson Park
- Best free activity – Rademacher Hills
- Best activity for kids – Freedom Park
- Best activity for adults – China Lake Golf Course
- Best food – China Lake Golf Course
- Best nightlife – Maturango Museum
- Best all-around accommodation – Holiday Inn Express – China Lake
Best & Fun Things to do in Ridgecrest, California
1. Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons
Address: G2 Tower Rd, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
When you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, you might be close to the Big or Little Petroglyph Canyon. These are essentially twin landforms — fraternal, of course.
Within these canyons are a plethora of rock paintings. These were done by ancient inhabitants of the area, the Coso People, who were from the Coso Range Mountains.
Little Petroglyph Canyon has about 20,000 images, far exceeding any other collection like it. The annual Ridgecrest Petroglyph Festival is a celebration of the art and Native American heritage where you can learn all about the magnificent Coso Range petroglyphs.
If you’re up for a wander, know that this is desert terrain, and you won’t want to be hitting the trail or checking out the petroglyph canyons after dark. Remember also that these are original tribal grounds, so be respectful. Do also make sure the canyons are open to tourists before coming out.
See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November
2. Maturango Museum
Address: 100 E Las Flores Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Maturango Museum is on a mission to keep the cultural history of the Northern Mojave Desert alive. There’s a reason it’s the most popular of Ridgecrest tourist attractions.
Here, you can admire art and other artifacts, attend lectures, listen to concerts, take tours, walk through the garden, go to a star party, and show up at the annual wildflower show. Pretty much anything you can imagine that puts a focus on the local native culture, the Mojave Desert, or Death Valley you can find here.
The most interesting offerings of the museum are the guided tours of the Coso Rock Art District by the Naval Weapons Station. Want to learn more about the area’s petroglyphs? Another interesting option is the Little Petroglyph Canyon Tour.
To see the petroglyphs, drop by Maturango Museum in the spring or autumn, and for the rest of the year, get a deeper look at other examples of ancient art like the Coso Rock Art District. If this sounds up your alley and you’d like to spend a couple of days exploring and learning about these incredible images, you can rest nearby by booking a room at Clarion Inn Ridgecrest.
3. Leroy Jackson Park and Sports Complex
Address: 300 French Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
The largest park in Ridgecrest was built specifically for a family-fun type of day. This is also a great place for some sporting activity since there are several different types of sports played here. In total, there are six tennis courts, three football fields, and two lighted softball fields across the campus.
But it’s not all sports and building up a sweat. Whether you’re waiting for a game to end or just having a calm day at the park, there’s a place to rest.
Outside of the sports, picnic areas are a central focus of Leroy Jackson Park. Not only is this a good place to have a relaxing bite to eat, the park often hosts events throughout the year.
Plus, just across the street is Petroglyph Park with 12 acres of Native American culture on show.
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4. Rademacher Hills
Address: 2602 S China Lake Blvd, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Sometimes you just need to get out and stretch your legs, and Rademacher Hills is an incredible place to get some fresh air in your lungs as well as get in a legit workout. In total, there are 16 miles of desert hiking trails for you to explore.
Each trail varies in length from half a mile up to almost four miles. If this is your first time hitting up hiking trails in general, you might want to take the time to consider the area before heading out. The same sentiment should be applied to children and those who might prefer easy trails, because unfortunately for novices or those with tiny legs, there aren’t any “easy” trails to take.
All of the trails at Rademacher Hills have been classified as “intermediate” or “difficult”. Only more experienced hikers should attempt heading out on these paths.
Of course, if you’re up for the challenge, it might behoove you to start with RC28, as it’s the shortest. That way, you can get a taste of what it might be like to traverse longer, more intense trails.
If you view yourself as more of a seasoned pro, get your hike on any time during daylight hours. Stay close by to get an early start at Holiday Inn Express – China Lake.
5. China Lake Museum Foundation
Address: 130 E Las Flores Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
China Lake represents the largest naval research area in the U.S. It’s a weapons development station and has an insane amount of weapons developed and stored here. In fact, this location also accounts for 38% of all the Navy’s land holdings in the world and 85% of the Navy’s space for developing weapons and armaments. So, to say China Lake is important to the Navy would be an understatement.
So, what to do with all these tools of war? For the older ones at least they’re on display at the China Lake Museum. And what can a mere civilian see at this museum? Quite a lot!
Not only is this a museum but it’s a foundation focused on preserving the history of naval weapons and equipment. Because of the enormous amount of work that happens here, tons of guns and a whole lot of other nautical and aeronautical knick-knacks have been saved over the years to showcase in great exhibits.
Old fighter planes, prototypes, information stations, sample weapons, and more are what you can expect to see in person at this naval museum. In addition to exhibits, there’s storytelling throughout the museum. Walking from room to room allows you to get a peek into the past through pictures and descriptions of everything you see.
Take home a piece of the museum by stopping by the gift shop. Along with clothes and keepsakes, there are books and DVDs that provide a more thorough look at what goes on at the China Lake facility. As something of an aficionado, this is one of the most interesting military museums in California.
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6. Ridgecrest Regional Wild Horse and Burro Corrals
Address: 3647-A Randsburg Wash Rd, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Visiting Ridgecrest is an informative day out, and great if you want to learn more about wild horses and donkeys. You can learn about why corrals exist and what they are doing for the wild populations. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about the care of horses and burros, what happens at the corrals, and even indulge in some horseback riding.
Here in Ridgecrest, animals are brought in and taken care of so they can be fit for adoption. Services rendered are meant to make sure the animal is as healthy as it can be and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Part of that process includes vaccinations, deworming, and even freeze marking.
Many in the industry are proponents of freeze marking, as opposed to the more common and painful firebrand. Thanks to technology, the freeze-marking process doesn’t hurt the animal. Another benefit is that it remains way more visible than the ones typically done with a red-hot branding iron.
If you’re ready to take the next step in horse or burro ownership, there are adoption events regularly. Before heading out to take a look at some horses, be sure to call first. And if you’re not into horses or donkeys? At the very least, this is another great place to enjoy some hiking in the Ridgecrest area.
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7. Cerro Coso Sculpture Garden
Address: 3032 College Heights Blvd, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Located on the Cerro Coso Community College campus, this modest sculpture garden has been wowing visitors since 1997. The best part of the installment is that it incorporates local talent as well as other sculptors from across the U.S.
From abstract structures to unique human poses, these art pieces provide a lot to the college. Not only are there professionals who’ve added their talent to the garden but students right here from the school.
It’s not the biggest sculpture garden in the world and may not be the reason you’re in Ridgecrest, but many who call the town home would highly recommend at least stopping by for a while. It doesn’t take long to walk through but that doesn’t mean you can string out the time. It’s not uncommon to see families bringing picnics to enjoy or students using the outdoor space to study when the weather is nice.
If you’ve seen the gardens, also referred to as Luis Miro de Acevedo Sculpture Garden, there is a reason to keep coming back. Some of the pieces are on loan and are traded out for other pieces over time, ensuring something new for your next visit!
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8. Furys Sports Bar
Address: 1453 W Inyokern Rd, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Aside from special events at the museum, there isn’t much of anything to do after hours around Ridgecrest – kinda weird considering the military presence. Thankfully, there is at least one place with extended hours that is ready to welcome regular customers and newbies alike. Furys Sports Bar is the top spot in town where all the night owls find themselves when they want to connect and let loose.
To keep the masses entertained, there are bar games, live music events, karaoke, dancing, and even game nights. There’s also a patio area so you can enjoy your beverage under the California night sky. So, if you want something to get you out of the house or are looking for late-night fun with the locals, Furys is the place to be.
9. Freedom Park
Address: 100 W California Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
This is a memorial park that doubles as a mini-water park, open daily from 6 am through 10 pm. Built in honor of those who have served, this is really a place for families to connect and for kids to have a splashing good time!
It was designed in a way that allows parents to be a part of the children having a fantastic time in the water and yet removed enough to not get soaking wet. Installed in the center of the park are aquatic structures that allow kids to splash and get splashed in a multitude of ways.
There are interactive jetstreams, water blasters, and rain machines that are constantly running. Is there a better way to push off the overwhelming heat in Ridgecrest? Probably not.
For parents, there are covered areas around the outside with plenty of tables to sit at. Not only can the kids have fun but everyone is completely safe. This part of the park is on a concrete rectangle but between that and the grass around it, no one can walk up without being seen.
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10. China Lake Golf Course
Address: Hasley Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Located on Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake is a relaxing 18-hole golf course. Spread across 248 acres is a 72-par course that was brought into existence in 1956, as something to keep all those naval officers entertained.
You don’t have to be a club member (or in the Navy) to play, but if Ridgecrest is home for you, then it might be worth it for the discounts at the pro shop. Other activities include rentals, lessons, after-dark specials, a driving range, and a practice area.
Play any day from sunrise to sunset, and after your round, head over to the clubhouse and grab yourself a bite to eat – this might actually be some of the best food in town (the home fries are fantastic). It’s rarely busy, except on weekends, and if you want to get ahead of the crowds, book a tee time online. There’s also no need to rush if you book a room at Econo Lodge Inn & Suites.
What is Ridgecrest known for?
Apart from the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Ridgecrest is mostly known for its petroglyphs and proximity to the Mojave Desert and the Death Valley National Park. If you’re a local, you might say the bright, sunny days with panoramic sunsets are what attract people to the area.
What’s the most popular thing to do in Ridgecrest?
If you’re wondering where the crowds are, it’s at Maturango Museum. The building is on the smaller side but they have a lot of interesting exhibits. It’s especially a great place to stop if you’re new to the area. The museum offers maps of Ridgecrest and the surrounding areas, as well as info from the immediate local area who can offer suggestions. Also, the budget-friendly entrance fee is attractive to all travelers.
Is Ridgecrest a good place to live?
For the most part, it’s a really nice place to live. If it’s the right place for you to move to really depends on your preferences. If you appreciate the desert terrain and enjoy access to hiking trails that promote that kind of scenery, Ridgecrest is for you. The town is small and the community is more tight-knit and [ahem] God-fearing than most, but people here are largely exceptionally friendly. There are plenty of outdoor activities including parks and festivals throughout the year.
Is Ridgecrest high or low desert?
This part of the Indian Wells Valley is considered a high desert. Daylight hours are on the hot side and the nights tend to lean in a much cooler direction. Not surprisingly, Ridgecrest is dry so it’s unlikely you’ll have a wide garden variety in your backyard. Learn to love cacti.