Route 66 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas: The ultimate guide
Ah! Route 66. Nicknamed the Mother Road, it had its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, when thousands of Americans on holiday drove it en route to the Grand Canyon or Disneyland.
I invite you to discover one of its lesser-known sections, which holds many surprises... just like the rest of this mythical road!
Here is my guide to Route 66 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
Starting point: the end.
That's right, we're starting our road trip where America's main road meets the ocean: at the Santa Monica pier.
Pick up your rental car in Los Angeles and then, before hitting the road, enjoy a walk along the Santa Monica Pier.
At the end of the pier you'll find the iconic Pacific Park, known for its classic carnival rides and funfair atmosphere!
Downtown Los Angeles
Now you have to cross the bustling city of Los Angeles. You'll pass some of the most famous sights in the City of Angels.
The first thing you'll notice is Rodeo Drive, upscale shopping district of the rich and famous of Beverly Hills. The world's greatest designers have their storefronts here.
For those who don't have the budget of a Hollywood star, the street is still a pleasant place to wander, coffee in hand.
Next, stop at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which needs no introduction.
Be sure to take a selfie with the star of your favourite celebrity or with one of the many street entertainers, who more often than not look like one of the Hollywood greats!
On leaving the concrete jungle, you'll pass through the small town of Pasadena, home to the California Institute of Technology and the famous Rose Bowl. It doesn't get much more American than that!
Make a stop in the Old Town, an eclectic mix of historic buildings and trendy restaurants.
When I said it doesn't get much more American than Pasadena, I lied a bit. San Bernardino was the birthplace of the very first McDonalds (or McDees, as the locals would say).
Fast food fans will be happy to learn that there is now a McDonalds museum on the exact spot of the original "haute cuisine’" establishment.
If you're familiar with the history of Route 66, you'll know that it boasted many roadside stands offering fresh squeezed orange juice. The last of these can be found here, in San Bernardino, in front of Bono’s Restaurant and Deli.
While no longer in use, it remains a popular photo spot for visitors in search of the last relics of a bygone time.
Finally, make a stop at the Wigwam Motel. This quirky motel has unusual architecture: it's a village of wigwams or teepees! A must-see stop for any family trip to the American West.
Detour to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs
Do you have time for a short detour? Fancy visiting a resort in the middle of the desert?
Get off the main road from San Bernardino and Victorville and treat yourself to a break in Palm Springs!
The city of Palm Springs has everything to surprise you: sophisticated and original hotels, hot springs and spas, golf courses, and unique architecture.
While Palm Springs is visually stunning, it is also well known for its local gastronomy. I highly recommend dining in the heart of downtown on Palm Canyon Drive.
Joshua Tree National Park
You're not far from Joshua Tree National Park.
If you feel like it, take a drive along the 100-km scenic road through this renowned national park.
You will see desert landscapes, an impressive field of cacti – the Cholla Cactus Garden – and the park's star attraction, the Joshua Tree, a true icon of the American Southwest.
After this refreshing detour, resume your route to Victorville.
Welcome to Victorville, a charming municipality in San Bernardino County.
All along Route 66, you will find museums telling the history of the famous road. In California, the museum is in Victorville. Pay it a visit to better understand the history behind the road!
Hungry? Perfect timing. The Emma Jean Holland Burger Cafe serves unpretentious American fare in an authentic atmosphere.
Take my word for it: you'll want to try their onion rings!
Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch
Your last stop in the area is Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. You can't miss it: it's a glass forest in the middle of the desert, surrounded by barbed wire.
I must admit, at first sight, it's not the most welcoming place. But it's one of my favourites!
The artist, Elmer Long, spend his childhood travelling up and down Route 66 with his father, collecting glass bottles and other random objects.
Today, these objects form distinct colourful universes, and the wind blowing through them creates a gentle melody.
Here we are, approaching the halfway point, with a stop in Barstow.
The main street through the city will serve as your point of reference.
Between 1st and 7th Avenue, you'll find the Main Street Murals, a series of some thirty murals, painted to revitalize the city while telling its history!
At 1611, you'll find Barstow Station, a train station converted into a colourful stop for passing road trippers!
Want to take it easy? Barstow is a popular place to spend the night. Head for the Route 66 Motel.
This motel will make you feel like you've stepped back into the 1950s with its Wild West ambiance, vintage cars, and memorabilia from the glory days of Route 66.
In the evening, treat yourself to that all-American experience, a night at the drive-in. The Skyline drive-in shows the latest films, right in the heart of the desert.
Once you leave Barstow, there are a few more stops you should make.
Peggy Sue's 50s Diner
Peggy Sue's diner is a Route 66 institution. You'll see it from afar with its jukebox-shaped door arch!
Whether it's for the gift shop selling 1950s memorabilia or for a good old cheeseburger, it's well worth a stop.
Calico Ghost Town
A little further on, Calico Ghost Town is a must. It's one of the top 5 ghost towns in the USA.
This former mining town was founded during the silver rush. Its economy boomed in the late 1800s, but the town was completely abandoned by 1907 after the price of silver dropped.
Today, you can wander among the historic buildings, which are interspersed with attractions, shops and restaurants. A must-see feature of the Mojave Desert!
Next stop: Amboy
Definitely a required stop on Route 66, Roy's Motel Cafe will allow you to fill your tank, freshen up, and above all, take a photo of its iconic sign.
While Amboy may be a tiny, almost-deserted town, Roy's continues to hold its own, much to the delight of its fans.
Another star attraction of the region is the Bagdad Cafe. Made famous by the German film of the same name, it's a must-see stop for film buffs.
But be warned, unlike its cinematographic alter ego, the cafe does not have a bar.
Your last stop is the Amboy Crater. You'll be surprised by the natural symmetry of this 6,000-year-old volcanic remnant.
Explore the trails that lead up and into the crater for stunning views of the Mojave Desert from a height of more than 460 metres.
And if you'd like to immortalize your visit to the region, make a stop at the graffiti corridor on your way out of Amboy, where hundreds of travellers have left their mark by tagging their name or hanging their shoes!
Mojave National Preserve
Now it's time to venture into the Mojave National Preserve. Start your visit with a stop at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center.
Note: the centre is only open from Thursday to Monday.
There you will find maps and a wealth of information to plan your exploration of the preserve, depending on your interests and the time you have available.
I recommend the Kelso dunes for picture-perfect desert scenery.
For hiking enthusiasts, the most popular trail is the one leading to Teutonia Peak, the highest point of the Cima Dome.
You'll be surrounded by Joshua trees, but don't let the beauty of your surroundings fool you: it's a pretty challenging hike.
So pack plenty of water, and get ready to burn the calories from all that fast food along the way!
After leaving the preserve, your next stop will be Baker.
Here, science fiction meets dried meat at Alien Fresh Jerky.
With its giant UFO-topped sign, this roadside attraction is hard to miss. The original concept was, you guessed it, the famous American beef jerky - vacuum-sealed bags of dried meat.
Nowadays, you'll find everything from snacks to space-themed souvenirs, and a few otherworldly surprises!
The site will also soon be home to a UFO-themed hotel, where guests will sleep in an intergalactic spacecraft. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to pay it a visit, or even stay there!
Last stop before the final stretch to Las Vegas: Zzyzx Road. (Pronounced ‘Zi-zix)
The name was invented by Curtis Howe Springer, a radio evangelist and self-proclaimed medicine man with an oversized ego. He wanted his creation to be the last word in the English language, hence the quirky name.
At the end of the road, you will find Springer's deserted Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. Quite popular in the 1940s and 50s, the retreat has been uninhabited since Springer was evicted in 1974.
The site is now managed by California State University and is well maintained.
You can visit what's left of the retreat and take a walk along the Boulevard of Dreams... if you dare.
Heading for the finish line: Las Vegas!
Just before the City of Sin make a special stop near Jean Dry Lake to admire the Seven Magic Mountains.
Installed in 2016 and originally scheduled to be on view for two years, these seven colourful sculptures were such a success that they will remain in place at least into 2022.
The artist, Ugo Rondinone, explained that the giant totems comprised of brightly painted, locally sourced boulders are installed symbolically mid-way between the natural (the mountains and the desert) and the artificial (the busy highway).
The work of art is clearly a creative critique of places like Las Vegas. But whether or not you agree with the artist, it is hard not to be moved by their imposing presence.
And then, there you are at last! After your epic journey across the desert, allow yourself to indulge in the opulence!
Great shows, shopping, walks along the Strip, a visit to the casino... the city that never sleeps is yours to enjoy!
If you'd like to continue your journey, see our Guide to Route 66 from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.
• Take this trip between early May and late September and between Thursday and Monday to be sure that all the attractions are open.
• This route is of course reversible: it would be easy to include it in your American West tour.
• Don't be afraid to take your time! While the route can be driven in 4 or 5 hours, stop at the many attractions to soak up the history of this iconic road!
• Plan to arrive in Las Vegas after nightfall: it's impressive to see the lights of the city in the distance, from the desert road.
Map of Route 66 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
This concludes the ultimate guide to Route 66 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
Do you know of any well-kept secrets along this stretch of road? Don't hesitate to share them in the comments!