The iconic yet confusing Santa Cruz Mystery Spot is more than just a bumper sticker

Our vast and unknowable planet is full of mysterious places. But the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot has something the Bermuda Triangle and Stonehenge could only dream of: a hugely popular bumper sticker.

If you’ve ever driven in the Bay Area with your eyes open, then you’ve seen it: “MYSTERY SPOT” in bold black type on a yellow background. It’s probably the most popular bumper sticker in the Bay Area alongside Keep Tahoe Blue and Coexist. It can even be iconic – If you search for “Mystery Spot Bumper Sticker”, Google Images will also recommend “California Hippie Car Starter Pack”. But what is this place, promoted on so many wings of the Bay Area?

“The Mystery Spot is a gravitational anomaly located in the redwood forests just outside of Santa Cruz, California,” says the official site. “It’s a circular area of ​​effect about 150 feet or 46 meters in diameter. In the Mystery Spot, you will be amazed when your perceptions of the laws of physics and gravity are challenged. To find out more, myself and two SFGATE reporters, Madeline Wells and Joshua Bote, decided to head to Santa Cruz to uncover the mysteries for ourselves.

After a 1.5 hour drive south of town, we finally reached the redwood forests, where there was as much beautiful scenery as there was no cell service. We knew we had come to the right place when we pulled into a parking lot with two cars fully covered with the famous yellow stickers.

The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California

Jasmine Garnett / SFGATE

The Mystery Spot, created in 1941 by George Prather, was listed as a California Historic Landmark in 2014. The destination – sold as a “tilt-box” or “gravity house” roadside attraction – was one of the first of its kind in California and gained popularity in the mid-20th century.

Passing past a snack bar and gift shop, we joined our group of about 20 people at the foot of a small hill, or what looked like a hill. Our guide was explaining that we were right on the edge of the Mystery Spot and should start to expect gravity and physics to start acting weird beyond this point.


To demonstrate this, she had two people stand on either side of a flat panel, half of which stood on the edge of the Mystery Spot. The taller person standing outside was easily looking over the shorter person’s head. But once they changed places, the two were looking at each other in one way or another. The crowd whispered their approval. “Sorry, no refund!” said our guide.

As we walked up the hill to a small hut, our guide explained that the closer we were to the center of the place, the more our bodies would tilt. In the center of the cabin, we would be standing at a tilt of 17 degrees. It is four times thinner than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “You might feel a little dizzy at first,” she said. Madeline, who had consumed between four and six adult drinks the day before, did not look happy.

The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California

The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California

Jasmine Garnett / SFGATE

Our guide let us go to take pictures when we got to the cabin. Full 17 degree tilt activated, we climbed ladders and tables and swung a giant (mysterious) pendulum. Walking through the building, Josh said he felt “dizzy and amused”. Just walking in a straight line took a lot of effort and it felt like I was climbing a steep hill.

Standing on a piece of furniture only amplified the disorienting feeling of feeling like I was constantly about to fall but never did. “I’m going to pass out,” Madeline whispered after stepping down from a table.

Outside, our guide presented questionable theories to explain the miracles of science we had just experienced. Some believed that an alien spacecraft had crashed at the site and was buried under the cabin, or maybe it was a hole in the ozone layer? The Mystery Spot website also lists “a magma vortex, the highest dielectric biocosmic radiation known to the world, and dowsing” as possible causes.

“The theory I know is that it’s just an optical illusion,” says former Mystery Spot tour guide Kevin Breakstone. “Everything is tilted in a different direction, the fences are tilted, the trees grow on a hill so they are tilted, the cabin you walk through is at all types of different angles. I think the cabin is from an old kit they used to use for Mystery Spots in the past.

The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California

The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California

Jasmine Garnett / SFGATE

“So you’re never at a level. And so your idea of ​​what’s going up and what’s down gets lost over time and then the tour guide says some things to make you think some things are. level or up or down, and do things like get people to stand on a bench in order of height, then turn them around and make the shortest person look tall and the taller person is short, and all of that kind of fits into this idea of ​​the Mystery Spot being this mystical place, ”Breakstone said.

Breakstone was a tour guide in 2005. As a student, the Mystery Spot seemed a lot more interesting than a typical temporary job. It really looked like he had made his wish come true, as he mentioned that he once passed out on a tour and woke up in the hospital with his front teeth chipped. He learned to do the job by following other guides and discovering things as they went, including optical illusions, which were never explained.

“They never set down and said,” Well, the house is tilted this way, this board is tilted this way, it looks like it’s happening. “You just learn to take the tour. So as a tour guide at first you kind of buy into it. And then over time you find out as well. And you never get an official explanation.”

Every now and then a visitor was convinced that the Mystery Spot was real. A doctor, he recalls, told her after a round that she didn’t believe it until she saw it with her own eyes. “I wanted to tell him, ‘It isn’t!’ But I didn’t want to spoil his experience, ”says Breakstone. “Maybe it’s better to have that little sense of mystery still there, right?” You want there to be some inexplicable things in life.

The Mystery Spot is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $ 8 and can be purchased in advance at the Mystery Spot website.

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