“All good things must come to end,” said some veracious Captain Obvious many moons ago. This morning we crossed the Arizona border to California, the eighth and final state closing out our Route 66 road trip.
California Route 66 Attractions
The arid lands of the Mojave Desert welcomes us to the Golden State.
The first town across the border, Needles, has been known to break world temperature records taking in days as high as 120 degrees (49° Celcius) in the summer. It’s deserted then, but as the cooler winter months roll in, the town is hopping with snowbirds searching for warmer temps.
Other than a quick stop at the El Garces Hotel, another Santa Fe Railroad hotel, we don’t find anything else that catches our eye in town. El Garces is in the midst of a renovation bringing her back to her glory days so we only walked around the exterior before making our way on the road again.
Since Needles, we have been seeing signs for the National Old Trails Highway as we follow along next to railroad tracks. It is an ocean-to-ocean highway that began in Baltimore and ended in Los Angeles. Route 66 aligns with it for about 40 miles in California through a few defunct towns.
In the small town of Oro Grande, we find Elmer’s Bottle Ranch. The sunlight is shining through a front yard of thousands of colorful bottles and old metal signs.
It’s an enchanting forest of glass trees beckoning any driver that passes by to pull over and explore.
I have a few other attractions on my list to see on our way but the stop-and-go traffic makes it evident we are getting close to Los Angeles. We decide to forego any other delays and try to get into the City of Angels before rush hour.
Los Angeles with all its glitz and glamour could be a money pit if we let it, so instead of signing up for a bunch of tours we decide to create our own free driving tour. We are driving after all so why not?
Los Angeles Self Driving Tour
Our first stop is the obligatory selfie with the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee which overlooks all of Hollywood. Imagine all the hopes and dreams that have hung and will hang on the idea of becoming a star and it all starts here.
Fun Facts about the Hollywood Sign:
- The sign was erected in 1923 and originally said “HOLLYWOODLAND.”
- Each letter is 45 feet high and between 31 and 39 feet wide.
- Alice Cooper (rocker) and Hugh Hefner (Playboy founder) donated a whole lot of money to preserve 138 acres behind the film capital’s most famous visual symbol in the 1970s.
- It has caught the attention of many pranksters over the years turning the sign into “HOLLYWEED” and “HOLYWOOD.”
Lake Hollywood Park (3160 Canyon Lake Drive) is the perfect spot for views of the Hollywood sign. You can park for free and either take pictures at the park or go uphill overlooking the park for your shot.
Next, we take the infamous Mulholland Drive over to the Jerome C. Daniel overlook above Hollywood Bowl. Parking here is tight with tours stopping every so often but we were able to find an open spot right away. The overlook provides beautiful views of downtown Los Angeles (all the way to the ocean on a clear day) on the west side and another glimpse of the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Park Observatory toward the east.
⇓⇓⇓ SEE BELOW FOR THE LOS ANGELES DRIVING TOUR MAP ⇓⇓⇓
After checking out the overlook, we make our way to Hollywood Boulevard. Parking can be expensive in this area so we take advantage of the best deal around, $2 validated parking at the Hollywood & Highland Center. You can park up to two hours as long as you have a validated ticket from a shop or restaurant. Grab a coffee or lunch on the 3rd floor deck overlooking the Boulevard before or after your walk.
The Dolby Theatre is located in the Hollywood & Highland Center. Sound vaguely familiar? It’s where the Academy Awards are held every year! I don’t know what I was expecting but it’s strange to find the place where the highly regarded Oscars are handed out every year in the middle of a shopping mall.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is definitely a tourist trap lined with characters, souvenir shops and people trying to sell you a tour every five minutes. Even so, I think it’s a must-see in Los Angeles for any first-timer. We stopped at the Chinese Theatre, Roosevelt Hotel, Capitol Records Building, the corner of Vine and Hollywood, and the Fonda Theatre before making our way back to the van. The two hours of parking was just enough time to see what we wanted to see.
On to the area that made “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” a saying, Beverly Hills! We made sure to take Sunset Boulevard, one of the world’s most famous streets. We kept an eye out for The Viper Room, the infamous nightclub of Hollywood’s rising stars and where River Phoenix died, on the way to the luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel.
We didn’t want to pull up by the valet so we parked on Crescent Drive right next to the hotel for free. As we walked in, a man in a slick suit was chatting on his phone about his meeting with Steve Buscemi like it was no big deal. We’ve made it to Tinseltown indeed. After a short walk around the property, we drove down Rodeo Drive, with no interest at all in getting out and shopping. I can’t even pronounce half the stores let alone afford any of them!
Smack dab in the middle of a Beverly Hills neighborhood – aka something here does not belong type situation – we find the Spadena House. The spectacularly creative storybook house was designed by a Hollywood art director and sits on the corner of Walden Drive and Carmelita Avenue.
I expected to see the witch from Snow White to be picking apples in the front yard.
Next on the agenda is the La Brea Tar Pits, an excavation site home to a number of prehistoric mega-fossils like mammoths, saber-toothed cats and mastodons. Who knew that one of the richest sources in relation to the Ice Age era is in the middle of Los Angeles?
The bubbling tar pits are outside the museum and are free to visit. We found free parking on 6th street only about a block away from the pits.
From here, we walk over to the “Urban Light” outdoor light installation near the art museum. It is an assemblage of 202 vintage street lights from the 1920s and ’30s that has become a popular Los Angeles landmark.
We wake up in the morning the next day knowing today is going to be bittersweet as we end our time on the iconic Route 66. It has been a remarkable journey through busy city streets, quiet prairie lands, deserted ghost towns, and dusty deserts. And now we come to the inevitable end of the road at Santa Monica Pier.
Standing at the edge peering out into the Pacific Ocean, I imagine what it was like for those that have traveled the Highway of Dreams over the years.
How many had life-changing experiences?
How many were turned into storytellers?
How many found what they were looking for?
How many felt as though it was the end of the road yet just the beginning?
As we walk off the pier, we say farewell to America’s Main Street. Just because we came to the end of the road on this adventure, doesn’t mean there aren’t more in our future. Make sure to subscribe below so you can come with!
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Los Angeles Self Driving Tour Map
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