GETTING THERE: The Salton Sea is about 150 miles from Los Angeles. Take I-10 east past Palm Springs; exit at Highway 86 south toward Coachella/Brawley. For Calipatria and the Salton Sea's north shore, take Highway 111 south toward Niland. For Salton City, continue on Highway 86 south toward Brawley. WHAT TO DO: Bird-watching, fishing and boating are the main activities, but you must bring your own gear. Swimming and water skiing are also allowed on the lake. Most of the sporting activity takes place around the state recreation area on the north shore. The area's fishing jetty and Salt Creek Beach are two popular spots to catch corvina and other fish right from the shore. Some of the best bird-watching spots can be found at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. Pick up detailed lists and guides to the area's wildlife here or at the state recreation area's visitors center.
WHERE TO STAY: Sleeping options are limited, unless you own an RV. Calipatria Inn (Highway 111 and Young Road, Calipatria, 760-348-7348) has 42 comfortable rooms and caters to a wide assortment of guests, from dove hunters to tourists to families visiting inmates at the local prison. Doubles begin at $63 and include continental breakfast. Another good option is the 87-room Brawley Inn (575 W. Main St., Brawley, 760-344-1199). Doubles from $80, including breakfast. If you want to be closer to the water, try Ray and Carol's Motel (Sea Garden and Ontario roads, Salton City, 760-394-0062, www.quickwebpage.com/rcmotel), a four-room inn run by a retired couple who will gladly supply bird-watching tips with the price of a room. Doubles start at $41.
WHERE TO EAT: Escalera's Su Casa (749 South Hwy. 86, Brawley, 760-344-1435) is a popular local restaurant with most entrees under $10. The menu of burritos, combo plates and seafood comes with live entertainment on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. It also serves beer, wine and margaritas. Dinner for two is about $25. The Brass Rail (538 E St., Brawley, 760-344-9750) is a steakhouse that serves locally raised beef a dozen ways. Dinner for two is about $50. Bianca's Mexican and American Food on Calipatria's Main Street (just west of Hwy. 111) is good for a quick burrito lunch or plate of rice and beans (lunch for two: $12).
INFORMATION: Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, 760-348-5278, pacific.fws.gov/salton. Salton Sea State Recreation Area, 760-393-3052, parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=639
-- Laura Randall