Old-School Road Trip: The Mystery Spot

Lean sideways -- further, further -- just outside of Santa Cruz.

PRE-MEMORIAL DAY DISCUSSIONS: People who dig adventure, but who are tied to their daily lives a little tightly, can feel a certain pressure rising come the week leading into Memorial Day. The summer season is near -- it's practically on top of us -- and yet we haven't put in for time away from the desk, and we couldn't go all that far even if we had. This is the sort of bind that California's old-time, charm-laden, been-around-for-decades roadside stops help to address. They're not all that far from where we are and we don't need more than a tank, or even half a tank, to reach their front doors.

CALIFORNIA CLASSICS: Trees of Mystery, near Klamath, is at the top of the state, it is true, and the Madonna Inn is near the middle, but by gosh a road-tripping Californian can probably push towards either over a weekend. And then there is the area near Santa Cruz, one of the verdant sources for all things roadside. There's a Bigfoot museum in the region, and Roaring Camps Railroad, and the venerable, balls-roll-uphill Mystery Spot. When moviemakers want to tap into our nostalgia, these are the kinds of places the characters go. You can, too, of your summer vacation is limited and you want to give the kids that feel of hitting the open road in the way you did, not so long ago. The Mystery Spot has been around for 75 years, and people are still leaning way, wayyyy sideways, to the delight of their friends; are you and your small ones next up for this Golden State tradition?

THEN HEAD FOR THE REDWOODS... and the "gravitational anomaly" and place of "strange phenomenon" that's up a tree-dotted hill. There's always the issue of spoilers when it comes to the Mystery Spot, but you likely know, even if you've never visited, that illusions and strangenesses with how people tilt to one side and how ropes swing and how balls roll in ways balls seemingly do not roll at home. Kids think it is a gas, the adults laugh and scratch their heads, trying to ferret it all out, and everyone but everyone buys an iconic yellow bumpersticker before they split. It's all very nostalgic, as it should be, as it looks much as it did in 1940, when it first opened. And summertime=nostalgia, at least in terms of the vintage-style roadtrip. Best of all? You don't need to plan, plan, plan to go. It's no mystery that the Mystery Spot is but a doable drive away.

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