This article is part of our state-by-state guide to driving the Historic Route 66. We’re breaking down the journey from east to west, from Chicago to California. Our previous instalment was Driving Route 66 In Arizona.
Finally, you’ve arrived at the Golden State: California, your final stop on your Route 66 road trip, and the tail end of “the mother road.” Here, Route 66 will take you through the high desert and wind you down to the very end of the route, which is also the end of the continent.
While the true and final end of Route 66 is up for debate, most people agree Route 66 finally comes to its conclusion in at the Santa Monica Pier on the Pacific coast. And that’s where you’ll find the sign announcing that your journey is over. You’ll be able to commemorate the end of your road trip on this most picturesque pier, and enjoy the spray of the ocean to boot!
Your first stop along Route 66 in California will be Needles. While there isn’t a lot going on in Needles, it is the birthplace of Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz.
From here, you can spend some time exploring the Mojave National Preserve, one of the driest places on Earth. Here you will also find the remains of volcanic cinder cones, desert tortoises, Joshua trees, and plenty of sand dunes. To learn more about the area, you can also stop in to the Kelso Depot, a restored train station that now serves as an educational welcome center. It is maintained by the National Park Service, who can absolutely point you in the right direction and give you some key desert safety tips.
As you venture west, you can stop in Barstow for free admission into the Route 66 Museum — yes, another one, though this one is really worth your trouble, meriting a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. The museum is packed full of memorabilia; if nothing else, it’s a quick stop to stretch your legs. Since Barstow is also a major railroad town, it’s conveniently located next to the Railway Museum.
Before turning west and finally winding your way toward the beach, you’ll end up a bit to the south in San Bernadino. Here, you can see the original McDonald’s First Location Museum and even stay in the Wigwam Hotel, just in case you missed a chance to stay in its Arizonian counterpart! (Oh yes, it’s a chain!)
You can spend a day or an entire week roaming around Pasadena and Los Angeles before you reach the end of the road at the Pacific Ocean. Pasadena has plenty of nooks to explore, including the Rose Bowl, which football fans will recognize. For a 50’s feel, visit the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain. Here you can enjoy a root beer float or malted milk, and rifle through some nostalgic souvenirs at the gift shop. This pharmacy is actually older than the route itself, and it is still owned by the original family.
While roaming around Los Angeles, you can take a detour to the Sunset Strip or poke around Hollywood to see the Walk of Fame, drive around Beverly Hills, or take a hike up to the Hollywood sign for a panoramic view of greater Los Angeles.
You’ve made it to the end of the route! At this point, you’ve gone from west Los Angeles and Hollywood, to finally make it to the edge of the continent and the end of Hisoric Route 66 in Santa Monica. Here, you can spend a well deserved day at the beach and enjoy the sights and sounds of Santa Monica Pier.
The marker for the end of Route 66 is actually on the pier itself, so unfortunately, you won’t be able to park your car next to it. But you will be able to get some really fun and totally beachy shots in front of the “end” sign.
Santa Monica is a great place to spend a day, whether you’re hoping to get some sunshine while parked on a beach towel or you want to take in some local shops and restaurants. Be sure you make some time to catch a beautiful California sunset while you’re there!
This concludes our series of articles on driving the Historic Route 66 through the heart of America. Happy trails!