El Centro is the county seat of Imperial County, California. It is one of the largest cities in the Imperial Valley and one of the lowest cities in the United States. If you come in from Interstate 8, watch for the water tower – it'll have a line painted on it marking sea level and the main road is well below that line. Beyond low, El Centro is hot. The temperatures often reach 120 degrees in the summer, but the year-round sun and the milder climate - summers excepted - means that this stretch of desert is a prime agricultural spot for winter vegetables like carrots and lettuce.
However green the fields may be, they transition shortly into the blond sands of flanking dunes. The Imperial Sand Dunes occupy Imperial Valley's eastern perimeter and they're hard to miss. Some are over 300 feet tall. Several impressive landmarks, such as Painted Canyon, are best accessed by off-road vehicles, and others, like Mount Signal, are actually in Mexico. Though it might be hard to imagine this place harboring much water, aside from irrigated fields, El Centro's other famous natural landmark is a lake, the Salton Sea. This is California's largest inland body of water and a veritable "Dead Sea". You can boat and fish here, as well as hike and off-road around its shores.
El Centro's population is largely Hispanic and its culture reflects this. You may want to stop by a show at a local theater, catch a fiesta and get in the spirit of things at an annual parade. Plus, Mexicali, Mexico is only sixteen miles away.
El Centro is located 616 miles southwest of San Francisco, 117 miles east of San Diego, 245 miles west of Phoenix Arizona and just 15 minutes from the international US/Mexico border and Baja California. El Centro is accessible via Interstate 8, State Highway 86 and State Highway 111.