Experience the Strange and Unusual at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz
If you've spent any time driving in California, surely you've noticed at least one car sporting a bright yellow "MYSTERY SPOT, Santa Cruz, Calif. - U.S.A." bumper sticker. What is this mysterious Mystery Spot, what is it all about, and why would you put a sticker about it on your car? We've visited the Mystery Spot several time to experience firsthand the strange phenomena of this classic roadside attraction, but realized recently that we've never taken the kids there. Time for a road trip to Santa Cruz!
You'll find the Mystery Spot in a redwood forest just east of downtown Santa Cruz. This venerable slice of roadside Americana has been confounding and confusing visitors since is was discovered back in 1939, and it's still going strong. It's a place where the laws of physics cease to exist and gravity goes haywire.
Balls roll uphill, trees grow in odd ways, people stand at extreme angles without falling down, and you may even experience a change in height! It's fun and mysterious and definitely a must-do activity when you're in the Santa Cruz area.
What's behind the unusual experiences at the Mystery Spot? Some say it's a magnetic anomaly from a meteorite or even a crashed alien spacecraft. Others claim it's due to a hole in the ozone layer. Some spoilsports will attempt to explain it away as an optical illusion. Whatever the truth may be, approach the Mystery Spot with an open mind and a sense of fun and you'll have a great time!
Our energetic and hilarious Mystery Spot guide, Nicholas, gave our group an introduction to the Mystery Spot that included a brief history of the attraction and a demonstration of the kinds of odd phenomena in store for us. After ascending the path up a steep hillside, we came to a ramshackle wooden cabin that purportedly slid down the hill back in the 1940s to rest at an odd angle at the very vortex of the Mystery Spot. Here Nicholas gave us a demonstration that showed balls rolling and water flowing downhill on a board that was, according to his level, pointing uphill, and showed how we could stand at crazy angles and not fall over.
We then entered the cabin with its vertiginously pitched floors and walls where he gave some more demonstrations of the strange anomalies encountered here in the Mystery Spot's vortex as well as regaling us with some pretty funny bad jokes.
(Nicholas, if you're reading this, we forgive you for all the horrible tree jokes.)
After a few more examples of the mysterious way physics work in the vortex, including a baffling demo where volunteer participants seemed to inexplicably change height on a level surface, the tour was over. The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes, and at the end we received a handful of free Mystery Spot bumper stickers, which we haven't decided if we're going to put on the car yet. On our way down the hill, we got to meet one of Santa Cruz's wildlife mascots, a banana slug, and see the Mystery Spot's new banana slug habitat.
As expected, there's a gift shop on site selling a wide variety of Mystery Spot swag including T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, coffee mugs, decor items, and more. Prices were pretty reasonable, too. After your tour you can relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings and even go for a walk on their hiking trails, which takes about 30 minutes to traverse.
Is the Mystery Spot a real gravitational anomaly or just an illusion? We won't venture a guess—you'll have to experience it yourself and come up with your own theories. A visit to the Mystery Spot is definitely an experience you and your family will remember, and we'll be back for another visit the next time we're in Santa Cruz. To learn more about the Mystery Spot, visit www.mysteryspot.com.
If You Go
The Mystery Spot is located in the Santa Cruz hills, approximately a two-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. To get there, take Highway 101 south through San Francisco to Interstate 280. Follow 280 to Highway 85 in Mountain View, then take the exit for Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. Follow Highway 17 until you exit at the Scotts Valley Road/Granite Creek Road exit (exit 5). Follow the signs to Granite Creek Road and take Granite Creek Road over the highway and south toward Santa Cruz. Turn right on Branciforte Drive, then right onto the aptly named Mystery Spot Road.
Admission to the Mystery Spot costs $8 per person. It's free for active-duty military personnel with valid ID. Parking in the lot costs $5. You can buy tickets and pay for parking in the gift shop, but during busy periods it's advisable to buy your tickets online in advance because it can get really busy. There are no self-guided tours at the Mystery Spot; you must buy tickets for a guided tour. The gift shop accepts cash, checks, and debit cards but not credit cards.
You can bring your own picnic and eat at the picnic tables or benches on the Mystery Spot grounds. The gift shop sells drinks and snacks like hot dogs and vegetable samosas, and on weekends and holidays the Mystery Spot Canteen offers a variety of food for sale.