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Top 10 Things to Do in Ridgecrest, California

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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 fond of 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 compiled a list of the best things to do in Ridgecrest, California!

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons
  • Best park – Leroy Jackson Park
  • Free activity – Rademacher Hills
  • Activity for kids – Freedom Park
  • Activity for adults – China Lake Golf Course
  • Place to eat – China Lake Golf Course
  • Nightlife – Maturango Museum
  • Place to stayHoliday Inn Express – China Lake

Things to Do in Ridgecrest, California

1. Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons

Petroglyphs in California

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. Ancient inhabitants of the area were the Coso People from the Coso Range Mountains.

Little Petroglyph Canyon has about 20,000 images, far exceeding any other collection. The annual Ridgecrest Petroglyph Festival celebrates art and Native American heritage, and 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 hit the trail or check out the petroglyph canyons after dark. Remember also that these are original tribal grounds, so be respectful. Also, the canyons should be open to tourists before they come out.

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

2. Maturango Museum

Maturango Museum Entrance
Qfl247, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 attend 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 few 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. 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 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, which has 12 acres of Native American culture on show.

See Related: Things to Do in Malibu

4. Rademacher Hills

Rademacher Hills Sunset Scenery
image by BirdsEyePix is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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. There are 16 miles of desert hiking trails for you to explore.

Each trail varies from half a mile 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 the Rademacher Hills trails 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 taste 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

China Lake Museum Foundation Exhibit
image by Perkadventures/TripAdvisor

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 with an insane amount of weapons developed and stored here. This location also accounts for 38% of all the Navy’s land holdings worldwide 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 should we 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 work here, tons of guns and many other nautical and aeronautical knick-knacks have been saved to showcase in great exhibits over the years.

You can expect to see old fighter planes, prototypes, information stations, sample weapons, and more in person at this naval museum. In addition to exhibits, there’s storytelling throughout the museum. Walking from room to room lets you 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, some books and DVDs 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.

See Related: Things to Do in Pleasanton

6. Ridgecrest Regional Wild Horse and Burro Corrals

Ridgecrest Regional Wild Horse and Burro Corrals
Ridgecrest Regional Wild Horse/tripadvisor

Address: 3647-A Randsburg Wash Rd, Ridgecrest, CA 93555

Visiting Ridgecrest is an informative day, and it is great to learn about wild horses and donkeys. You can learn why corrals exist and what they do 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 horseback riding.

Here in Ridgecrest, animals are brought in and taken care of to be fit for adoption. Services rendered are meant to ensure the animal is as healthy as possible 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, unlike 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.

Adoption events are regularly held if you’re ready to take the next step in horse or burro ownership. Before heading out to look at some horses, call first. And if you’re not into horses or donkeys? At the very least, this is another great place to enjoy hiking in the Ridgecrest area.

See Related: NorCal vs SoCal

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 welcomed 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.

These art pieces provide a lot to the college, from abstract structures to unique human poses. 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 why you’re in Ridgecrest, but many who call the town home would highly recommend stopping by for a while. Walking through doesn’t take long, 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.

There is a reason to return if you’ve seen the gardens, also called Luis Miro de Acevedo Sculpture Garden. Some pieces are on loan and traded out for other pieces over time, ensuring something new for your next visit!

See Related: Things to Do in Santa Monica

8. Furys Sports Bar

Drinks in Furys Sports Bar
image by Management/TripAdvisor

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, at least one place with extended hours 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.

There are bar games, live music events, karaoke, dancing, and even game nights to keep the masses entertained. There’s also a patio area where 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

Freedom Park, Ridgecrest, California

Address: 100 W California Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555

This memorial park doubles as a mini-water park, open daily from 6 am through 10 pm. Built in honor of those who have served, this is a place for families to connect and for kids to have a good time!

It was designed to allow parents to be a part of the children having a fantastic time in the water, yet it was removed enough not to get soaking wet. Installed in the center of the park are aquatic structures that allow kids to splash and get splashed in many ways.

Interactive jetstreams, water blasters, and rain machines 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 also completely safe. This part of the park is on a concrete rectangle, but no one can walk up without being seen between that and the grass around it.

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10. China Lake Golf Course

China Lake Golf Course in Ridgecrest, California
China Lake Golf Course/ Facebook

Address: Hasley Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555

China Lake is a relaxing 18-hole golf course located on Naval Air Weapons Station. Spread across 248 acres is a 72-par course that was brought into existence in 1956 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.

FAQs

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 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 has many interesting exhibits. It’s a great place to stop if you’re new to the area. The museum offers maps of Ridgecrest and the surrounding areas and 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 nice place to live. Suppose it’s the right place to move to, depending on your preferences. Ridgecrest is for you if you appreciate the desert terrain and enjoy access to hiking trails that promote that kind of scenery. The town is small, and the community is more tight-knit and [ahem] God-fearing than most, but people here are largely exceptionally friendly—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 hot, and the nights tend to lean in a much cooler direction. Not surprisingly, Ridgecrest is dry, so you’ll unlikely have a wide garden variety in your backyard. Learn to love cacti.

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