Salton City is a census-designated place (CDP) in Imperial County, California. It is the largest Imperial County development on the Salton Sea coast. It is part of the El Centro, California Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 3,763 at the 2010 census, up from 978 in 2000. The population estimate for 2020 was 5,611.
Although planned and developed as a large resort community with an extensive road, water, sewer and power grid capable of supporting 40,000 residents on 12,000 residential lots, demand for property in Salton City fell drastically short of the planners' expectations. According to the 2010 census, 81% of the surveyed lots in Salton City remain undeveloped, and 38% of the habitable residences in Salton City are unoccupied. Despite Salton City's higher population compared to nearby Salton Sea communities such as Bombay Beach and Desert Shores, the eerie, mostly-abandoned appearance of the area has led some to call it a modern ghost town.
Salton City was developed in the 1960s and established in 1958 primarily by M. Penn Phillips and the Holly Corporation, the Texas-based oil refiner and land developer. It was intended to be a resort community on the Salton Sea, a saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, yet by 1965 limited development was achieved due to its isolation and lack of local employment opportunities and the downfall of the town began.
In the 1970s, most of the buildings constructed along the shoreline, including the city's marina were abandoned due to rising sea elevation. In the 1980s, the Imperial Irrigation District took proactive water conservation measures to reduce the flow of unused canal water into the Salton Sea. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as salinity and suspected pollution levels in the Salton Sea increased, the attraction of the Salton Sea as a recreational destination diminished.