Best Route 66 Stops In California: From Santa Monica To Needles

California is home to 315 miles of historic Route 66 and you can trace most of the original route on a road trip from Santa Monica to Needles on the Arizona border.

Mojave Desert Preserve in California, USA.

Route 66 is a bucket list road trip for many people around the world. This legendary highway begins in Chicago and travels 2,500 miles to California. The iconic road passes through eight states, and for this reason, it is often best to focus on just one section, leaving plenty of time for exploring stops in greater detail.

California’s stretch of Route 66 is arguably the most scenic of all eight states. Beginning on a palm-tree lined beach in southern California, you’ll make your way across the starkly beautiful Mojave Desert and end the drive on the banks of the Colorado River.

Along the way are lots of iconic landmarks, historic cities, ghost towns, two fantastic museums, nostalgia-induced diners, and quirky attractions galore.

Route 66 in California quite possibly has more fun stops than any other state, so the longer time you have to dedicate to this road trip, the better!

Which Direction Should You Drive Route 66 In California?

Traditionally, those taking a Route 66 road trip drove across the Mother Road from east to west. That was because during the Dust Bowl Era, many Americans from the Midwest were using the highway to escape to California. Later during the 1950s and 1960s, the highway became a well-trodden route for Midwest vacationers headed to the Grand Canyon and Disneyland.

These days, Route 66 is no longer an escape route, and with the establishment of interstate freeways, nor is it the quickest way to travel between states anymore.

Now, Route 66 is a destination in itself. So it doesnt really matter if you drive it from east to west or vice versa. It’s more about logistics.

For many people, Los Angeles is one of the easiest cities to fly into. And actually, LAX airport is only twenty minutes south of Santa Monica Pier which is the “official end” of Route 66. Therefore, you could easily pick up a rental car and be cruising down the Mother Road within an hour of landing in L.A.

Of course if you haven’t been to Los Angeles before you should hang around for a day or two if you have time because the City Of Angels has an infinite number of exciting things to see and do.

I suggest doing this road trip from west to east, where you can then continue on to complete Arizona’s section of Route 66. If you don’t have time for Route 66 in Arizona, you can drive up to Las Vegas to drop off your rental car.

To complete this road trip from east to west, fly into Las Vegas and then drive down to Needles. Another option is to base yourself in one of the larger towns along Route 66 like Barstow or Needles and explore in either direction.

Calico Ghost Town in Yermo, California.

How Many Days Do You Need To Drive Route 66 In California?

This California Route 66 road trip is 315 miles long and would take about seven hours to complete without stopping.

On Day: If you want to complete this road trip in one day, keep your visits to each destination under an hour. I also suggest heading from Santa Monica straight to Victorville and skipping downtown Los Angeles and San Bernadino.

Two Days: With a two day driving itinerary you can spend more time enjoying fasincating places like Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch and the two museums at Victorville and Barstow. You could also fit in a side trip to Calico Ghost Town and Mojave National Preserve.

Three Days: Three days is recommended for this road trip. With more time you won’t have to rush through seeing top sights, you can pull over at any strange roadside attractions you see along the way for photo opportunities, and you could even visit Amboy Crater or hike to Kelso Sand Dunes.


MAP OF ROUTE 66 IN CALIFORNIA

Map of Route 66 in California.

Here is a map of the route. Note that in Los Angeles County most of Route 66 has been replaced with several streets including Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard. Also note that the drive through most of Los Angeles offers little Route 66 history since L.A. has grown so much in the last century.

In Cucamonga and San Bernadino, Foothill Bouldevard follows original Highway 66. Afterwards, Interstate-15 and Interstate-40 bypasses most of Route 66, however from Victorville you can jump off the freeway and cruise down National Trails Highway to Barstow and then onto Needles.


Route 66 Stop: Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier in California

Santa Monica is a monumental place to begin your road trip across Route 66 in California. After all, it was California’s coastline that attracted thousands of Americans from the Midwest to make the 2,448 mile journey.

Soak up southern California’s sunshine and beach culture by putting your toes in the sand at Santa Monica Beach. If it’s not May Grey or June Gloom, you might even fancy going for a swim.

Then grab a bicycle and ride along the promenade to Venice Beach. On your return, take the opportunity to ride a rollercoaster or the ferris wheel at Pacific Fair.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t miss getting your photo taken with the official Santa Monica “End of the Trail” sign on Santa Monica Pier!

The “End of the Trail” sign on Santa Monica Pier marks the unofficial end to Route 66 therefore it’s a must visit if you’re attempting to tick off visiting iconic places in California on Route 66.

So where is the official end to Route 66? When Route 66 was first established in 1926, the original end of the highway was in downtown Los Angeles on the corner of 7th Street and Broadway.

Santa Monica became a part of the road’s history on January 1st 1936 when the original terminus was extended to the intersection of Lincoln and Olympic Boulevards in Santa Monica. There are no signs at the official end, but there is a plaque dedicated to Will Rogers, a man who inspired many to drive across the legendary highway, that marks the official end of the drive.

Since the plaque was so anti-climatic, some folks got together and on the 83rd birthday of the highway’s inception, a nostalgic sign was erected on Santa Monica Pier looking out over the Pacific Ocean to end the epic roadtrip on a high note.

Route 66 Stop: Colorado Bridge in Pasadena

Colorado Bridge in Pasadena, California.

The Colorado Bridge is a historic concrete arch bridge that spans the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena. It was built in 1912, and for a short period between 1936 to 1940, was considered part of U.S. Route 66.

This beautiful bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places is noteworthy for its distinctive Beaux Arts arches, vintage street lights, and decorative railings.

It has been featured in many films and television shows. One of the earliest films in which the bridge appears is in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid”. More recently it has featured in La La Land, Yes Man, and in Lana Del Ray’s “summertime sadness” music video.

You can drive over the bridge but to truly appreciate the bridge’s beauty it’s best to get out of your car and take a short stroll across it. There is a pedestrian path on both sides of the bridge that you can walk along. The best place to park your car is on the corner of Green Street and Grand Avenue.

Route 66 Stop: Cucamonga Service Station

Cucamonga Service Station is a nationally recognized Route 66 landmark in Rancho Cucamonga. It was built in 1915 and has since been restored to its original look during the 1930s as a Richfield station.

While it is no longer a gas station, visitors can still stop by to have a peep at the small museum inside which is full of Route 66 history and artifacts. It’s also a great place for photo opportunities, especially if you’ve rented a cool car for your road trip!

Hours of operation are Thursday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm. The service station is located at 9670 Foothill Boulevard.

Route 66 Stop: Wigwam Motel in San Bernadino

Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in San Bernadino, California.

One of the best known landmarks on Route 66 in San Bernadino is the Wigwam Motel. This motel features teepee-shaped motel rooms centered around a swimming pool.

The Wigwam Motel in San Bernadino is the seventh of the original Wigwam Villages that were built along U.S. Route 66 during the 1930s. There are only three remaining today; the original which is located in Cave City, Kentucky, another Wigwam Hotel on Route 66 exists in Holbrook, Arizona, and this one.

These teepee-shaped motel rooms were a concept designed by Frank Redford. Redford came up with the idea because he owned a gift store that sold Native American artifacts, and wanted to house his collection inside architecture that was eye-catching.

He had also just got into the motel business. At the time, roadside architecture, particularly in the small but growing motel industry, did nothing to differentiate themselves from their competitors. During this time, there was a huge fascination with the southwest and Native American culture. Voila, Redford came up with the kitschy nod to Native American abodes.

A stay at a Wigwam Village is a memorable experience that harks back to Route 66’s glory days. If you’d like to stay at this iconic motel, you can see room rates at the Wigwam Motel here. Their nightly rates are very budget-friendly! If you don’t plan to stay in San Bernadino, you can just stop by for photos.

Route 66 Stop: Original McDonalds in San Bernadino

The Original McDonalds in San Bernadino in California.

Although the “original” McDonalds in San Bernadino is not actually a part of Route 66 history, nor even situated on the official stretch of highway 66, it is worth a detour to visit the site of the first ever world-famous chain restaurant.

This original McDonalds was first opened in 1948 by two brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald. They offered a limited menu, the star of which was their 15 cent burgers. The brothers began franchising their fast food system which included the now universally recognized golden arches.

One day in 1954, a businessman named Ray Kroc was visiting the McDonald brothers to sell them milkshake machines. He was fascinated by their fast food operation and jumped at the chance to become the national franchising agent. Eventually, Kroc would go on to partner with the brothers and grow McDonalds into a huge corporation. The rest is history.

The owner of the Original First McDonalds site is Albert Okura, the same man who owns Roy’s Motel & Cafe and the entire township of Amboy which are other places on U.S. Route 66 in California. It is thanks to Mr. Okura, who was an avid Route 66 enthusiast, that pieces of California’s Route 66 history still remain.

You won’t find a McDonalds restaurant here though. What you will find is a museum dedicated to the history of the famous franchise. Inside is an array of displays featuring everything from original packaging to happy meal toys throughout the years. The memoribilia is sure to evoke childhood memories and fill you with nostalgia.

Here is the address for the Original McDonalds. It is only a few blocks over from Foothill Boulevard (Route 66). The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

Route 66 Stop: California Route 66 Museum in Victorville

Route 66 Museum in Victorville, California.

California Route 66 Museum in Victorville showcases historic Route 66 memoribilia inside a massive 5,000 square foot space. There are thousands of items and photographs across three display rooms that relate to the iconic highway’s impact on culture and local economy.

Some of the really cool interactive displays include a VW bus from the hippie era, a 1917 Ford Model T car, and a 1950s diner table complete with fake milkshakes and sundaes. Visitors are welcome to take photos with all of these exhibits. They make for fun photo opportunities so don’t forget to bring your camera inside!

The museum is open Thursday to Monday. Entry is free but donations are greatly appreciated! This place is entirely run by volunteers so if you can spare a dollar or two, it will help to keep this place going.

You can find the California Route 66 Museum on D Street in downtown Victorville. Click here to see the address on Google Maps.

Route 66 Stop: Peggy Sue’s Diner

Peggy Sue’s Diner is a blast from the past! It is an original roadside diner that was built in 1954. When you step inside this establishment you will instantly be transported back to a time when fifties rock n’ roll music was all the rage, a time when home cooked meals were normal.

When you enter, you’ll step though a giant jukebox entrance into an establishment filled with life-size statues of 1950s era icons such as Betty Boop and Elvis Presley. The walls of every room inside have been plastered with posters of Hollywood celebrities and other movie memoribilia. There is so much going on in here that you won’t know where to look.

A waitress wearing a typical uniform from the Golden Age will greet you and lead you to your table where you’ll be handed a retro menu with dishes named after legends like Frankie Avalon and Buddy Holly.

Once you sit down and look around, I’m sure you’ll be just as surprised as we were at the sprawling size of this diner. It’s almost 10,000 square feet in size! Feel free to get up and go for a wander while you wait for your meal.

No doubt you’ll be shocked to see that there’s also an old-fashioned five and dime store complete with soda fountain and ice cream parlour inside too.

Whether you come to enjoy a home-cooked meal or just to take a quick peek inside this delightful, nostalgic wonderland, Peggy Sue’s is definitely worth a stop on your road trip!

Peggy Sue’s Diner is not technically on Route 66. It is ten miles northeast of Barstow. To get there, jump on Interstate-15 and take the exit for Ghost Town Road.

Route 66 Stop: Calico Ghost Town in Yermo

Calico Ghost Town in Yermo, California.

Calico is an old west mining town in the Mojave Desert. It was founded in 1881 when four prospectors discovered silver in the Calico Mountains. It was the most significant silver strike in California.

In the twelve years that Calico was in operation, the mines here produced over $20 million in silver ore becoming California’s largest silver producer!

But when silver lost its value in the mid-1890s, miners packed up their belongings and moved away. Calico quickly became a ghost town.

It wasn’t until Walter Knott, the owner of popular Knotts Berry Farm theme park in Los Angeles, purchased Calico in 1951 and brought the ghost town back to life.

Calico Ghost Town is now essentially somewhat of a theme park. Some of the old buildings were restored, but most of the original structures were removed and replaced with false façades. Lil’s Saloon and the general store are among some of the buildings that date back to Calico’s operational years.

False façades or not, Calico Ghost Town is one of the most exciting places you’ll visit on this California road trip. On your visit, don’t miss taking a tour of the Maggie Mine, the only mine at Calico that guests are allowed to walk through. See more highlights at Calico Ghost Town here.

To find Calico Ghost Town, follow Interstate-40 east from Barstow, then get on Interstate-15 and take the exit for Ghost Town Road in Yermo. Look for the large Calico sign painted on the Calico Mountains. It’s hard to miss!

Travel Tip: If you’re traveling in an RV or campervan and looking for somewhere to break up your road trip, you can actually stay overnight at Calico Ghost Town Campground!

Route 66 Stop: Roy’s Motel & Cafe in Amboy

Roy's on Route 66 in Amboy, California.

Welcome to Amboy! Home of the iconic Roy’s sign. This landmark in the starkly beautiful Mojave Desert is perhaps the most recognizable feature relating to California’s stretch of Route 66.

Roy’s Motel & Cafe stands as a living ghost in Amboy, a tiny town that has been in existence since the late 1800s. While Amboy is now considered to be a ghost town, it wasn’t always this way. In thе late 1940ѕ аnd еаrlу 1950ѕ, Amboy was a popular stop for motorists roadtripping on Route 66. In fact, Amboy was such a bustling place that Roy’s kept their cafe and garage open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

Alas, the 1972 opening of Interstate-40 in California destroyed Amboy’s tourism overnight. The owner of Roy’s himself was quoted as saying that his business “went down to zero” the day I-40 opened.

Although Amboy is now completely abandoned, Roy’s Motel & Cafe has managed to hang in there. And this is mainly due to the building’s distinctive architecture. The building and sign are both a classic example of Googie architecture, a type of futuristic style influenced by car culture, the Atomic Age, and the Space Age. This style was popular among roadside businesses like motels and gas stations from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Best Stops On Route 66 In California

Features of Googie architecture include upswept roofs, geometric shapes, vast glass surfaces, symbolic motion, and bright neon lights. All of which can be seen here at Roy’s.

Roy’s neon sign in particular, with its bold colors and dynamic red arrow design, is especially photogenic up against the desert’s big, blue skies. It’s not hard to see why people continue to go out of their way to visit and photograph this destination. In fact, Roy’s has been used as the filming location of numerous movies and music videos.

The entire town of Amboy including Roy’s is owned by Albert Okura, the same guy who owns the Original McDonalds in San Bernadino. This whole place has a very fascinating history that I won’t bore you anymore with here, but if you are interested to learn more about Amboy and Roy’s backstory you can read this article.

Anyway, this is a classic stop on California’s U.S. Route 66 solely for the purpose of photographing. There isn’t much else to do in town, however you can visit Amboy Crater which is about two miles west.

Route 66 Stop: Wagon Wheel in Needles

Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Needles, California.

Needles, situated along the western banks of the Colorado River, is the last town on Route 66 in California. The town’s funny name comes from the distinctive jagged peaks of the Mohave Mountains which were often referred to as “needles” by early settlers. And the name has stuck ever since.

Needles was founded in 1883 with the coming of the railroad. The construction of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway brought Needles into existence and it wasn’t long before a huge tent city popped up across the desert floor.

Oh yes, this town has seen it all. From boom to bust.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the town now, but Needles was once home to one of the most luxurious train depots in America. Built by the Fred Harvey Company in 1908, the El Garces was an elegant freight and passenger depot with hotel and restaurant amenities.

In the late 1880s, Fed Harvey was the owner of the Harvey House, a chain of restaurants and hotels built alongside railroads in the western United States. The Fred Harvey dining experience was exceptional; guests were like royalty and treated to real linen, fine china, and fresh flowers.

The Harvey House in Needles was was considered to be the “crown jewel” of the entire Fred Harvey hotel and restaurant chain. But with the growing popularity of automobiles and road trips, the exquisite building and business became defunct.

You can see the El Garces Hotel still standing today in downtown Needles. The landmark building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently being restored.

After visiting El Garces, head one block over to Broadway Street and take a short cruise through the downtown area. Broadway Street is U.S. Route 66 and along it are a few historic buildings, some colorful murals, and the Needles “welcome wagon”.

One place you shouldn’t miss in Needles is Wagon Wheel Restaurant. And with its bright yellow exterior paint, it really is a place that you can’t miss! Oh, there is also a massive gorilla planted above the restaurant’s entrance that you won’t miss either.

Anyway, Wagon Wheel is a classic Route 66 restaurant that has been around since the 1950s. They serve home-cooked favorites like steak and eggs, meatloaf and pot roast. Portions are LARGE. Now I wouldn’t go as far as to say the food is exceptional here, but for a Route 66 diner, the meals are most definitely above average.

And, after eating our way across California’s Route 66, and dining at several restaurants where we struggled to even finish our meals because they were that bad, this place was a nice surprise. It’s a place I would definitely go back to eat at. Actually, I really hope that we get to visit this place again. The chicken fried steak and monte christo sandwich were terrific!

Like most of the diners you’ll come across on Route 66, it’s not really the quality of the food that draws most visitors, it’s the atmosphere. And Wagon Wheel really delivers that nostalgic feeling.

Dining here is an experience; from the western-themed decor to the Route 66 paraphernalia in the gift shop and nostalgia-induced dishes, this is a fantastic place to celebrate completing your drive across U.S. Route 66 in California!

Wagon Wheel is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’re welcome to order off all three menus any time of the day. Make sure you come with an appetite!

While a few hours is more than enough time in Needles, you might want to consider staying here for an extra day or two because you can explore other destinations nearby that include Lake Havasu City, Oatman, Laughlin, and the Mojave Desert Preserve.

We stayed for a few days at the KOA Campground in Needles and had no complaints. The staff were nice and the desert views were phenomenal!

Read: Wagon Wheel Restaurant Is A Hidden Gem On Route 66 In California

KOA Campground In Needles

You’ve officially completed Route 66 in California! Arizona is just on the other side of the Colorado River where a new adventure awaits!!


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