The Mystery Spot is an illusionary attraction based in Santa Cruz, California. Visitors can enjoy many gravity-defying demonstrations on the short, steep uphill hike to the main tour location. The Mystery Spot has gained worldwide acclaim for being a “gravity box” or “tilted house” illusion. It’s a unique spot where the laws of gravity seem to twist and bend as onlookers watch water pour uphill, balls roll up inclines, and visitors lean off of various surfaces well past their toes in direct defiance of gravity. It was the first of its kind and remains one of the finest examples of the illusion in the world. The Mystery Spot was one of the first attractions to build upon the burgeoning market for roadside curiosities in the wake of the popularity of the automobile.

The attraction was discovered by George Prather in 1939. An electrician, mechanic, and inventor by trade, he was born near Fresno and moved to Santa Cruz in 1920. Inspired by the popularity of the nearby Oregon Vortex, which opened to the public in 1930, Prather bought 3 acres of land on the hill in 1940. On his first visit, he said he felt dizzy spells, and further exploration with a compass apparently resulted in bizarre shudders and unexplained occurrences. Prather died in January 1946 and the Mystery Spot passed to his son Bruce until his own death in 2015. The property is now owned by an unnamed Santa Cruz lawyer and has recently been officially declared as the 1055th California Historical Landmark.

The site itself is located in Santa Cruz, California, just off Highway 17. The sense of disorientation at the site is further enhanced as even the redwood trees in the area grow crookedly.

Illusion Explained

For those of you who simply must know how it all works, even if it might ruin the magic, we’ll touch briefly on the basic science of the Mystery Spot. Spoiler alerts! The visual illusions are all essentially and quite simply caused by the unusual slant of the environment. Inside the titled rooms, misperceptions of the height and orientation of objects occur. Even when standing on the level ground outside, the slant of the building and roof causes misperceptions as visitors use the roof to judge rather than the true horizon. This disorientated and distorted vision becomes heightened and exaggerated by the other senses reducing while your visual senses increase, trying to make sense of what they’re seeing.

The tour guides offer another explanation, however, and instead blame the phenomenon on a meteor that fell in ancient times and left a magic circle at the site. They also claim that, due to the residual electromagnetic field, animals will not live near the Mystery Spot. We’ll let you choose which explanation you prefer.

The site is open for tours 365 days a year and also includes a beautiful hiking trail nearby.

Having garnered a decent amount of notoriety in its many years of business through press coverage and having even been featured in comic strips from Dennis the Menace to Ren & Stimpy, the Mystery Spot is a surefire hit and bound to leave a lasting impression.

Book your tickets in advance to avoid being left waiting for a tour during busier periods.

Back to: Things to Do in Santa Cruz, CA

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