Cruising down Route 66 with the breeze blowing against your face feels incredibly nostalgic. With a plethora of quirky roadside attractions to see along its pavement, this historic road has been a California icon ever since it was created in 1926. Traversing Southern California from the California-Nevada border all the way to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Route 66 is a road trip unlike any other.
Historic Route 66
Road trips along Route 66 have garnered so much attention over the years, it is hard to believe the state ever existed without it. But it wasn’t until November 11, 1926, that Route 66 provided a way for victims of the Dust Bowl to escape the barren landscapes and find work out west. By this time, California was already known for its fields and factories, which—along with the incredible weather—made it a highly coveted place to be.
Throughout the early 20th century, Route 66 served as the primary thoroughfare for people coming to the Golden State, especially after World War II ended. This marked a new era for the original Route 66, as visitors started to see the state as an enviable vacation destination. While California’s popularity began to rise during the 1940s, it wasn’t until the opening of Disneyland in 1955 that the route saw the peak of tourists. Not long after, automobiles became even more widespread, creating the need for better, larger roadways. By the 1970s, nearly all 270 miles of Route 66 were bypassed via these new freeways, and in 1985, the roadway was removed from the U.S. Highway System altogether.
Markers for Route 66 can still be found along the nascent freeways—offering the chance to indulge your nostalgia. And since the beloved roadway covers all types of terrain between the California-Nevada border and the Santa Monica Pier, there’s an adventure suited for everyone. So, pack your bags and set out to “get your kicks on Route 66”.
California’s Best Route 66 Attractions
The childhood home of Charles Schulz
Though his family only lived in Needles for a little over a year, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz retained many memories from his boyhood home and went on to convey them in his comic strip as an adult. While there isn’t much else to see in this solitary Mojave Desert town, it’s worth driving through it on Route 66—even if it’s only to say you’ve been.
While a 3.5-mile hike through the desert is required to truly see this famed volcanic cinder cone, it is worth it—this natural landmark is not something you see every day. If you decide to spend a few hours here, consider taking a detour south to Joshua Tree National Park or Palm Springs.
Roy’s Motel and Cafe
Location: 87520 National Trails Highway, Amboy
You might not be able to get much here, but this iconic Route 66 spot and popular movie location is well worth the stop. Take pictures of the retro sign, fill up your tank, walk around the grounds, and breathe in the Mojave Desert air before driving on. The owner hopes to refurbish the café soon, so perhaps by the time you make it out here, you’ll be able to grab a bite, too.
Route 66 Mother Road Museum
Location: 681 North First Avenue, Barstow
As part of the Barstow Harvey House, the Route 66 Mother Road Museum is the perfect place to learn about the roadway’s past. After meandering through the collection of historic photographs and artifacts, make sure to visit the Western American Railroad Museum and the rest of the Barstow Harvey House.
Fun fact: The Barstow Harvey House was originally named Casa Del Desierto (“House of the Desert”) when it opened in 1911 as a stopping point for railroad passengers. The grounds included a wooden depot for the Santa Fe Railroad, a hotel, and a restaurant so that weary passengers didn’t have to wander far to find everything they needed. (Back then, trains weren’t able to cook and feed passengers onboard, so eateries were built in conjunction with the railroad approximately every 100 miles to afford riders the chance to satiate their appetites. Because these restaurants were designed to feed everyone onboard, they had both a formal dining room and a casual counter for passengers to choose from.)
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
Location: 24266 National Trails Highway, Oro Grande
Located right outside of Victorville, Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is exactly what you might picture. For years, creator Elmer Long used recycled glass bottles and the desert landscape to make artwork that garnered worldwide attention. After his sudden passing in June 2019, his family committed to keeping the Bottle Tree Ranch open for many years to come. Stop by to admire what Long loved to do and snap a picture or two, but make sure not to touch these fragile statues.
California Route 66 Museum
Location: 16825 D Street, Victorville
The California Route 66 Museum is the quintessential stop on a truly nostalgic road trip. Nestled just off the side of the road, the interactive museum is filled with memorabilia, photo booths, and guidebooks to help you along on your journey.
Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Cafe
Location: 17143 North D Street, Victorville
Opened in 1947, Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Cafe is best recognized for its minty-green exterior. It is still in operation today, so stop in and grab a burger on your way west—and don’t leave without taking a picture or two. This quirky eatery has appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Train’s music video for “Bulletproof Picasso”, so you’ll definitely want to prove you were there.
Location: 2728 West Foothill Boulevard, San Bernardino
While sleeping in a teepee might not sound like your cup of tea, this interesting motel is definitely worth seeing. So what if it’s only because Route 66’s Wigwam Motel helped to inspire the Cozy Cone Motel in Disney’s Cars? That’s totally a valid reason to visit.
Bono’s Historic Orange
Location: 15395 East Foothill Boulevard, Fontana
A former juice kiosk, this odd attraction used to be a much more common sight, with giant oranges set throughout the city. Today, this location is the last of its kind, making it a fun place to celebrate the state’s citrus roots and stretch your legs before continuing the drive.
Santa Monica Pier
Location: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
The Santa Monica Pier represents the end of Route 66 and is the perfect place to celebrate the adventure. With pristine weather, fine white sand, and the Pacific Park amusement park, this destination is easy to love.