Welcome Center Helps Find the Fun


“What do you do for fun around here?”

This is often the question tourists ask when visiting a city for the first time.

How we answer that question is key when considering that a thriving local economy relies heavily on drawing visitors from far and wide as they bring a demand for businesses to grow their services and offerings. From dining options to entertainment venues, museums, transportation services, healthcare facilities and beyond, tourism brings vital dollars and enrich the community we live in.

An increased number of tourists can also motivate our local government to improve local infrastructure from everything from making smooth roadways to opening up EV charging stations around town.

Keeping the benefits in mind, it had long been a dream of organizers to open an official Welcome Center in Ridgecrest. This dream came to fruition in November 2021 when the 22nd California Welcome Center opened its doors at 880 N. China Lake Blvd.

“Our goal was to build a relationship with Visit California. Oftentimes, no one really knows where Ridgecrest is. We knew that we had an opportunity to gain a lot of visibility with California Welcome Center program,” said Kari Crutcher, executive director.

Generally, Welcome Centers operate as a concierge for travelers. A bank vault, if you will, of valuable information and support services that exist within any given community. Maps, brochures, points of interest, restaurants and amenities are among the “buried treasures” that are waiting to be uncovered when visiting a Welcome Center.

So, what does the local Welcome Center offer that the other 21 do not?

An authentic, high-quality experience that tourists will remember for a long time.

Said Crutcher, “Our Ridgecrest Welcome Center is very unique because of the exhibits we have.”

For example, guests of the Welcome Center will be able to travel virtually to Death Valley National Park through the use of Oculus VR headsets available at the center.

Said Crutcher, “This is 100 percent unique to our center. The virtual reality experience that we have here at the Welcome Center promotes Death Valley. We know that Ridgecrest is often thought of as the “gateway to Death Valley,” but not all visitors in Ridgecrest are actually traveling to Death Valley. Our virtual reality experience offers a fantastic, realistic tour of the national park for those who are unable to visit.” This is particularly important for individuals who have accessibility or mobility issues and are not able to experience the outing in person.

More importantly, the exhibit is just plain fun for visitors.

A TV and Film Experience exhibit is also available to visitors, featuring projects filmed in Death Valley, Lone Pine, Red Rock Canyon, and other areas around the region. QR codes can link to location maps that include the sites for Lady Gaga and Rihanna’s music videos, Top Gun: Maverick, Iron Man, Star Trek, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Agents of SHIELD, and Westworld. Video presentations focus on sci-fi locations and continue to draw productions to the unique topography of California’s deserts.

Said Crutcher, “This is also unique to our Welcome Center. For us, it’s perfect because we manage not only the visitor’s bureau but also the film commission. Tourism and the film industry often work hand in hand, so it was the perfect marriage for us to build that exhibit. Many of our visitors are here for film productions.”



Visitors of the California Welcome Center - Ridgecrest can enjoy the many exhibits on display or take a virtual tour. COURTESY PHOTO


Along with the TV and Film Experience, the CWC now features the top five Amazing Archaeological Adventures of California, appealing to those with more historical interests.

Said Crutcher, “The thing that we hear the most often, mainly from the locals, is that from the minute that they walk in, it is a ‘Wow.’ No one realizes that we have these exhibits.”

So, what are the top three locations visitors to the Welcome Center ask about?

The Trona Pinnacles, Death Valley, and the national parks such as Yosemite.

Said Crutcher, “We have many visitors who stay the night while passing through and heading north to the national parks.”

A cool gift shop inside can be found in the hub of the Welcome Center. It is filled with all things Ridgecrest/California related, and it features the work of some area artists. “We are proud to feature a few local artist’s items available for sale on consignment at the Welcome Center. We are working towards featuring new artists in the coming year,” said Crutcher. She also added, “The Welcome Center is the perfect place to purchase souvenirs. Ridgecrest locals are discovering it is the best place to find Ridgecrest merchandise.”

As with all Welcome Centers, visitors can find brochures, magazines, and advertising information for local attractions, dining, and hotels in and around the area.

The Welcome Center is also available to the public for hosting parties, receptions, meetings and other community events.

The Welcome Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Contact the Welcome Center in Ridgecrest by calling 760-375-8202 or info@goRidgecrest.com.