You are leaving the City of Angels and hit the road with one destination in mind: Vegas, the City of Sins. You can cover the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 4 hours, but what about slowing down a little, and enjoy the road, because traveling is not just about the destination, but also about the things you can experience on the way, right?
Traveling from Los Angeles to Las Vegas will take you from the California sunny beaches to the arid Nevada’s Mojave Desert; and though it might not seem like that, the road is not just flat and arid landscapes. Along the drive, you’ll pass by parts of Old Route 66 and a couple of classic roadside icons: old gas stations, a farm with trees made of bottles, a ghost town, museums and strange colored mountains in the middle of the desert.
So, if you’re planning to go to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, read about 10 iconic stops you can make on your way and map your route out in advance:
1. Oro Grande – Old Route 66 Gas Station
To get out of Los Angeles, pick up Interstate 15 to Barstow and prepare yourself to soak into the arid landscape of the desert. Drive on Route 66, the USA’s most famous highway, see the Bridge over the Mojave River, and you’ll spot soon enough, on the left side, an old Gas Station. This is a typical place you expect to see on Route 66, and it’s worth the stop for a couple of photos.
2. Elmer Bottle Tree Ranch
The Bottle Tree Ranch is literally a forest made of bottle trees, and it’s the creation of the independent local artist Elmer Long, who is also living there. The Bottle Tree Ranch is not a museum, it does not have opening hours, but anyone can enter, if the gate is open, and admire the bottle trees; if you’re lucky, you might even bump into Elmer.
There are over 200 metallic trees covered with bottles, a lot of recycled objects, old signs, old furniture, bird feeders. Everything here was collected by Elmer since he and his father settled here in the middle of nowhere. You can spend some time just walking along the pathways and exploring this whimsical place; and after you saw everything, close your eyes and just hear the wind blowing through the bottle trees.
When Elmer is home, but sometimes even when he’s not.
Free, but you still can make a donation and take a piece of glass in return.
3. Oldest Del Taco
Del Taco located in downtown Barstow is the oldest operating of 400 Del Taco Mexican fast-food chains, since 1964, and it serves delicious tacos, burritos and tostadas.
Interesting facts about Del Taco:
All the cheese is hand grated, you won’t find any slices of cheese in their tacos.
If you tell the cashier “Go bold”, you will get fries and a special sauce added into every item you ordered.
Only at this Del Taco you can find the “Bun Taco”, made with a hamburger bun.
Ed Hackbarth, one of the co-founders of Del Taco (who is now over 80), still works at the counter.
Daily 06:00am – 11:00pm
4. Route 66 Museum
Who doesn’t want to know more about USA’s most famous highway? The “Mother Road” is part of the American Dream, and its magic inspired many songwriters, moviemakers, writers and artists.
Located in Barstow, in Casa del Desierto, Route 66 Museum is definitely a stop worth doing. The Museum will show you how life along the historic highway was, with a large collection of memorabilia, historic photographs, cars, old gas pumps and artifacts related to Route 66 and the Mojave Desert Communities. The entrance is free, but before going there, check the opening hours, because the museum and the gift shop have their gates open just from Friday to Sunday. Take time to chat with the volunteers who take care of the museum, they are very friendly and you will learn a lot about the history of the objects inside the museum!
Friday – Sunday, 10:00am – 04:00pm
5. Western America Railroad Museum
Located in the same building with the Route 66 Museum, the Railroad Museum displays railroad artifacts, artwork, timetables, uniforms, tools and various other types of railroad items and documents the history of railroading in the Pacific Southwest. The museum has both indoor and outdoor displays, but the indoor space is quite small and if you are not a big train enthusiast, might not be so inviting.
Friday – Sunday, 11:00am – 04:00pm
6. Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner
If you’re still hungry or just want to have a drink in a special 50’s style place, make the next stop at Peggy Sue’s Diner, a classic milestone on the road from Los Angeles to Vegas.
Peggy Sue’s is an original roadside Diner, built in 1954 with 9 counter stools and 3 booths. The actual owners reopened the place in 1987, with an attempt to restore and preserve it in its original state. It was also the perfect place to display their extensive collection of movie and TV memorabilia. Along with the restaurant, Peggy Sue has a 5 & Dime Store, Soda Fountain, Ice Cream Parlor, and Pizza Parlor and outside, a “Diner-Saur” Park!
From the menu: Buddy Holly Bacon Cheeseburger, Richard Nixon Turkey Sandwich, Fabulous 50’s Fries, I love Lucy Cream Pie, Cherry, Vanilla or Chocolate Coke. When we got there, it was very crowded, with people waiting outside to be seated, but even if you don’t want to wait, you can go to the inside store or just sit at the counter and have a cherry coke and an old-fashioned ice-cream.
7. Calico Ghost Town
Calico is one of the three ghost towns we have visited during our road trip in California. And unlike the other two, Rhyolite and Bodie, this one is more like a theme park, but still a very interesting place to spend at least 1 – 2 hours (or even more if you want to do the Silver King Mine Tour).
Calico used to be a silver mining town, with over 500 mines, and between 1881 and 1890 was at its peak. But after silver lost its value, the miners and their families moved away, the city lost its population and turned step by step into what we call today a “ghost town”. Despite the fact that many people think it’s just about a tourist trap, I think Calico has a lot to offer: the houses are well preserved, you can do a mine tour or a ride with the train (Odessa Railroad, functional since 1958) around the old mines, there are restaurants, shops, and even campgrounds.
Daily, 09:00am – 05:00pm, except Christmas Day
- Adults: $8
- Youth (4-11): $5
- Under 3: Free
8. Zzyzx Road
Wait, what is this name? It’s not a typo, but the name of the former area called Soda Springs. Zzyzx is located in Mojave National Preserve, at the end of the Zzyzx road, a 4.5-mile-long rural road. In 1944, Curtis Howe Springer, a radio evangelist and self-proclaimed doctor, founded in the middle of the desert Zzyzx Mineral Springs resort. The settlement had a hotel, mineral baths, spa, a church and a radio station. But in 1974, the land was reclaimed by the government and the Spa closed.
What can you see there? After driving the 4.5 mile road (the last part is not paved), you will reach the lake, surrounded by palm trees, and the buildings of the former settlement. When we arrived there, the place was completely empty. All I could hear were the birds along the lake and some TV sounds coming from the old buildings (the place houses now the California State’s Desert Studies Center). And about the name: well, Springer named his health empire like this thinking that it would be known as “the last word in health”. And it was for sure an unforgettable name.
9. Seven Magic Mountains
Seven towers of colorful rocks, standing more than thirty feet high, in Nevada desert: a spot that attracts a lot of people willing to take photographs and wander around. The art installation is the creation of Ugo Rondinone, a Swiss artist living in New York, and is a creative expression of the human presence in the desert.
And if you wonder what these colorful stones in the middle of nowhere represent, here’s the answer: the meeting point between natural (desert, mountains) and artificial (the highway and the flow of traffic between Los Angeles and Las Vegas). The artificial mountains are inspired by hoodoos, the pile formations in Utah and also by the meditation practice of balancing stones.
The Seven Magic Mountains are a temporary exhibit and will be on display until May 2018, so hurry up if you want to see them.
10. Pioneer Saloon
When we arrived at Pioneer Saloon, the night had already come. It was the last stop on our road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and we were tired and hungry. And what a stop! As a matter of fact, if there’s a spot on this list I would suggest you not to miss, this is it.
Pioneer Saloon is one of the oldest saloons in Nevada, dating from 1913. It has been featured in many movies and television shows and here’s the place where Clark Gable waited for three days at the bar to finally find out that his wife is dead after a disastrous plane accident. The saloon is also rumored to be haunted and from time o time, ghost hunting shows are held there.
- Sunday – Thursday 9:00am – 9:00pm
- Friday – Saturday 8:00am – 11:59pm