This Might be the Creepiest Abandoned Town in All of California

Bombay Beach, California, is a ghost town located on the shores of the Salton Sea, a body of water created by accident at the beginning of the 20th century when the Colorado River irrigation system flooded. This once thriving seaside community became almost entirely abandoned in the 1970s after a series of ecological disasters, including severe flooding and the death of marine life due to rising salt levels. However, in recent years, Bombay Beach has been reborn as an art hub, attracting artists and tourists alike.

Ecological Disasters and Abandonment

In the 1970s, Bombay Beach was hit by a series of ecological disasters that rendered the landscape nearly inhospitable. Severe flooding caused by Hurricane Kathleen in 1976 forced businesses and residents to relocate, leaving behind abandoned homes and establishments. The rising salt levels in the Salton Sea also killed off fish species, causing millions to wash up dead on the shores and creating an unpleasant smell. The ecological disaster had a significant impact on migrating birds, with a large number dying from avian botulism after eating rotten fish

The Bombay Beach Biennale

In the early 2010s, life found a way back to Bombay Beach through art. The Bombay Beach Biennale, an annual art celebration, was co-founded in 2015 by director Tao Ruspoli and others. The festival transforms the remains of the town into impressive art installations, drawing artists and tourists to the area. The Bombay Beach Biennale aims to amplify the largely unknown and ignored ecological crisis that is the Salton Sea, with some art pieces referencing the town’s golden years and highlighting the ecological disaster’s impact

The Bombay Beach Ruins

The Bombay Beach ruins have been transformed into mind-boggling art pieces, with artists and intellectuals creating a new personality for the town. The ruins, once a collection of splintered stumps whittled by salty winds and triple-digit temperatures, now serve as a canvas for creative expression

The Return of Residents and Rise in Property Prices

Despite the challenges, a group of retirees began returning to Bombay Beach in the 2010s, and artists and people looking for a unique place to live joined them. As the town’s popularity grew, property prices started to rise, with what used to cost a few thousand dollars now going for tens of thousands. Today, Bombay Beach is slowly coming out of hibernation, with two grocery stores, a restaurant, and a growing population.

What Are Some of the Challenges Faced by the Bombay Beach Biennale

Some of the challenges faced by the Bombay Beach Biennale include:

Environmental Challenges: The festival takes place in an area facing ecological challenges such as drought, pollution, and the impact of the declining Salton Sea, which has lost a third of its water over the past 25 years due to agricultural pollution and plummeting water levels.

Economic Hardships: Poverty and mismanagement in the region pose challenges for the festival and the community, affecting resources and support for artistic endeavors.

Unique Circumstances: The festival faced a unique challenge in the 1980s when the Salton Sea submerged much of the area underwater, leading to creative solutions like filmmakers and guests donning scuba gear to watch screenings.

Property Theft and Vandalism: The rise in property values has led to issues like theft and vandalism, with abandoned properties being ransacked and stripped for valuable materials like copper, impacting the community’s sense of security and stability.

Community Perception: Despite efforts to revitalize Bombay Beach through art, there are still challenges in changing perceptions about the town, which was once considered an apocalyptic wasteland. The festival organizers aim to create a positive image of Bombay Beach through art and cultural initiatives.

These challenges highlight the complex environment in which the Bombay Beach Biennale operates, requiring innovative solutions to overcome environmental, economic, and social obstacles while continuing to foster creativity and community engagement.

How Has Bombay Beach Been Transformed Into an Art Hub

Bombay Beach has been transformed into an art hub through a remarkable journey that saw the town evolve from an apocalyptic wasteland to a vibrant center of creativity. The town, once a thriving desert resort, faced ecological disasters in the 1970s that led to its abandonment by residents. However, in the early 2010s, life found its way back to Bombay Beach through art.

The transformation began with the return of retirees to Bombay Beach in the 2010s, followed by artists and individuals seeking a unique place to live. Artists and intellectuals started creating a new personality for the town, with quirky art pieces scattered throughout the area. In 2016, a group of artists co-founded the Bombay Beach Biennale, an annual festival celebrating art, music, and philosophy. This festival has grown from being an “art moment” to an “art movement,” with many permanent art installations becoming part of the town’s identity.

The Bombay Beach Biennale serves as a tool to amplify the ecological crisis of the Salton Sea, drawing attention to the town’s history and its transformation through art. The festival features impressive art installations that reference Bombay Beach’s golden years and highlight the impact of the ecological disaster on the town. Despite challenges like property abandonment and rising salt levels in the Salton Sea, life has returned to Bombay Beach through artistic expression and community engagement.

Today, Bombay Beach is no longer a ghost town but a thriving art hub with around 231 residents who have embraced the town’s new identity. Property prices have risen significantly, attracting new residents and visitors interested in experiencing the unique artistic atmosphere of Bombay Beach. With two grocery stores, a restaurant, and a growing population, Bombay Beach is emerging from hibernation as a testament to resilience and creativity in the face of adversity.


Bombay Beach, once a thriving seaside community, became a ghost town after a series of ecological disasters in the 1970s. However, in recent years, the town has been reborn as an art hub, attracting artists and tourists alike. The Bombay Beach Biennale and the transformation of the ruins into art installations have given new life to this once abandoned town. Despite the challenges, Bombay Beach is slowly coming out of hibernation, with a growing population and rising property prices.

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