Calico Ghost Town

Visiting Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town in the California Desert
••• John Elk/Getty Images

Calico Ghost Town isn't exactly a ghost town at all if you define a ghost town as a deserted town with few or no remaining inhabitants. You could get technical and say that few people still live in it, so it fits. But the fact is that it's always full of people, even though most of them are just passing through. 

It's probably more like a mini-theme park than a haunting, desolate remnant of the past.

But that doesn't mean it isn't a fun place to visit. You just need to know what to expect.

What to Expect at Calico

Calico started out as a silver mining town. It popped up in 1881 during a silver strike, which was the largest one ever found in California. The town boomed, but only until the mines started to play out in 1896. By 1904, it was abandoned. Many of its original buildings are still standing.

Fast forward to today, and you'll find there's more than one way to make money on a mine. Calico has a new life as a tourist attraction.

You can visit the old town for a little while, or you can spend the night there. Bring your tent or RV - or stay in one of their basic cabins. Calico is between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and makes a good place to break up your drive if you're not in a hurry.

Besides all that, Calico hosts a special event for almost every holiday of the year. That includes Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

They also put on a film festival, Civil War reenactments, and a bluegrass music festival.

Because Calico is a real 1890s town, not all areas of it are ADA accessible.

Calico Ghost Town With Kids

Kids love panning for gold in at Calico. They also love the Mystery Shack, a mind-bending spot where optical illusions make water look like it's running uphill.

And they get positively giddy riding the narrow-gauge mining train that circles the town.

What's Fun About Calico Ghost Town

Calico is best for is a quick stretch of the legs when you're traveling between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. That's especially true if you're traveling with restless kids (or adults) who need to get out of the car and do something.

What you'll think about it depends on what you're expecting—and your age. Kids seem to uniformly enjoy it, having a great time panning for gold or riding the stagecoach.

Some adults like Calico for what it is. That's more like Tombstone or Superstition, Arizona than less-touristy towns like Bodie, California or Rhyolite, Nevada. Many folks complain that it's too commercialized, but as one online reviewer put it, "they have to support it somehow."

You can get a sample of what people think by reading reviews on Yelp, where you'll see that some people love it, and some people hate it.

What You Need to Know About Calico

Calico is located just east of Barstow. Unless you're a big fan of touristy ghost towns, it's a bit far from Los Angeles or San Diego for a day trip.

Calico is open every day, except Christmas (December 25). You don't need reservations, but they do charge an admission fee.

Most people spend an hour or two there at most, but they stay longer during their special days.

You can visit anytime, but it can be hot in summer. If you go on a weekday, some things may be closed.