El Centro Vacations

This city in California's Imperial County fascinates with its desert, outdoor activities, fossils and geological phenomena.

With canyons, mountains, mud volcanoes and vast tracts of desert, El Centro is known for its natural attractions. Once you have explored the spectacular scenery and wildlife, relax in the city’s downtown area.

Take advantage of El Centro’s position in a desert region to pursue a range of outdoor activities. Embark on an off-road adventure across the long dune system at the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. Go hiking or backpacking through 600,000 acres (242,811 hectares) of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Study the rock carvings of skulls and animals near Desert View Tower, a rock tower overlooking the Imperial River. Head to Fossil Canyon and Painted Gorge, where you can see fossils embedded into the canyon walls. Marvel at the mud volcanoes and pots of bubbling mud at the Salton Sea Mud Pots and Geothermal Mud Volcanoes.  

Drive 14 miles (23 kilometers) west of El Centro to Yuha Desert for the Native American geoglyphs. These images made from rocks stretch for hundreds of yards across the desert floor. Drive an off-road vehicle through the desert on designated routes. During your desert trip you may see 6-million-year-old fossils of barnacles and oysters.

For bird watching, visit Imperial Valley’s lagoons, lakes and canals. Finney LakeRammer Lake and Fig Lagoon also support many different bird species.

Escape to the Colorado River for fishing, boating and other water-based activities. Jet Ski across Senator Wash Reservoir, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from El Centro. 

In the evening, head into town for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant; find several options along Imperial Avenue, the city’s main street. Then catch a show at the Southwest Performing Arts Theater.

The nearest major airport to El Centro is San Diego International Airport, 116 miles (187 kilometers) away. From there you can take a bus or rent a car. A rental car is a good option to explore the wild scenery surrounding El Centro.

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