Remember! It is your responsibility to know the rockhounding laws and regulations for each site you visit. It is also your responsibility to verify and gain permission to visit each collection site that is mentioned on this website. Always respect private property!
California covers a huge area, filled with the remnants of past volcanic activity. This naturally leads to a lot of places for the determined rockhound to dig up a wide variety of different gemstones.
So, planning on a trip to the West Coast? If so, let’s take a look at some of the best areas to go gem mining in California!
1, Himalaya Mine – Tourmaline, Sunstone
The Himalaya Mine in Southern California, specifically in the Cleveland Forest off the 76, is a great place to dig for tourmaline. This is a paid dig site with a free of $75 per adult, so it’s not quite as free as many of the places you’ll find. Kids pay half price, which isn’t bad for the experience.
The prices for sunstone mining are a bit higher, running at $150-200 per “ore pile.” They also allow digging directly in the pits for a similar price.
In the case of tourmaline, you’re limited to digging through high-grade ore. That’s not a bad thing at all, considering that miles of tunnels create the actual mine and it’s not a good idea for untrained rockhounds to be running around underground.
There’s a chance for some seriously cool stones here. At the current date (March, 2022), the site is temporarily closed. But keep an eye out for it to re-open if you’re looking for one of the best gem hunting experiences in California!
2. OceanView Mine – Tourmaline, Kunzite, Morganite
The OceanView Mine is located in San Diego County. It’s located in the heart of the historic Palas Mining District, alongside a few other mines that aren’t open to the public. It can be found by following Magee Road off Highway 76.
It’s a bit remote, but the dig setup is pretty nifty. Rather than having to drag in your own equipment, they’ll have everything you need to begin panning through the local gravel in search of gemstones.
The majority of gem material from this mine is tourmaline, but kunzite and morganite are also known from the spot. This gives you a bit of mineral diversity and hopefully makes up for the long drive you’ll be undertaking. No one said rockhounding was easy!
Take a look at their dig instructions before you decide. It’s a great opportunity, but you’ll be on a strict 4-hour timetable and the dig site is pretty closely controlled. On the other hand, you can also get out of there with an extra 5-gallon bucket of rocks to search at your leisure later.
3. Opal Hill Mine – Opal, Fire Agate
While currently closed, Opal Hill Mine is a good spot to keep an eye on for the future. It appears there’s just been a bit of a delay due to a zoning plan issue. If you can make it out there, however, then you’re looking at a spot that has opal… and is the only known source of high-grade fire agate in California.
You’ll need a 4×4 to make the last mile of road to get out here, unfortunately, so you’ll want to plan ahead. You’ll also need all of your own equipment, making this a bit lengthier of an adventure than many.
The area is replete with veins of fire agate and opal. The majority of the opal is of the common variety, but there are also quartz crystals to be found in the same area.
Overall, this is a great spot for rockhounds who have the vehicle to get out there. Keep an eye out for it re-opening, I certainly am. Fire agate is rare, expensive, and collecting your own is an experience all on its own!
4. Pala Chief Mine – Tourmaline, Kunzite
Located near OceanView Mine, the Pala Chief Mine is a bit different of an experience. It’s still a paid dig, but you’ll need to bring your own equipment. This is open digging, going through old piles of stone left behind by previous mining operations.
Due to the latter fact, children under 12 aren’t allowed. That’s a bit of a bummer for family trips, but if you’re all of a sufficient age… well, it can be quite an experience. Just remember you’ll need all of your own equipment for this adventure, unlike the OceanView mine.
The majority of the gems pulled from the ground here are tourmaline, but kunzite, morganite, and others await those with patience and luck. Quartz crystals are also a regular find in the area.
It’s worth a shot if you’re in the San Diego County area and want a more immersive digging experience. Just be aware that they limit times and dates, you can’t just show up for this one. Check out their page and see if it doesn’t sound right for you.
5. Benitoite Mine/CalState Gem Mine – Benitoite
Benitoite is a rare gemstone only found in California, it’s even the state’s gemstone! It’s a blue stone that’s rarely found in jewelry but cuts into great facets with the right touch. There’s only one place in the world that produces gemstone-grade material… the Cal State Gem Mine.
Because of limited access, their paid digs are the only way for the public to get their hands on rough they’ve mined themselves. The setup is nice: you just need to bring food and protective clothing while they provide the rest. The fee is $100, and you’ll be allowed to take a quart-sized bag full of stones home with you.
The site is very strictly controlled. You’ll be in one area, a limited patch of ground with screening tables spread around it. The rules make it very apparent how tight the ship is run, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for amateurs on their first dig.
On the other hand, while this area presents a unique opportunity, the strict control of the dig site may not appeal to every rockhound. That said, there’s no other way to get your hands on these beautiful blue gemstones without paying retail prices.
That alone makes it worth the trip at least once or twice.