California Route 66: The End of the Road

“All good things must come to an 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.

Welcome to Needles on California Route 66!

California Route 66 Attractions

The arid lands of the Mojave Desert welcome 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° Celsius) 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.

Another must-see in California is the Stunning Lake Tahoe, click here to read more about this dream destination.

El Garces Hotel 

El Garces Hotel, named after the first European to cross the Mojave desert, was in the midst of a renovation bringing her back to her glory days when we were there but it is now open for guests. 

The once-bustling train depot for passengers on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway and travelers on the National Old Trails Highway, an ocean-to-ocean highway that began in Baltimore and ended in Los Angeles, sat vacant for many years. The city of Needles purchased the building and eventually, it was placed on the National Register for Historic Places. 

Today, the hotel is a throwback to the golden age of train travel and is a nostalgic attraction on Route 66. 


El Garces Hotel is the first stop along California Route 66.
El Garces Hotel in Needles on California Route 66.

Elmer’s Bottle Ranch

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. Plan to spend about an hour walking around and taking pictures. 

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

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?

If you have extra time, here’s a list of the most Instagrammable places in LA. We’ve included a few below, but the city offers so many picture-perfect spots!

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.

Lake Hollywood Park Welcome SignNext, 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.

California Route 66
View of Downtown Los Angeles

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, $3 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.

California Route 66
So the Oscars are held in a shopping mall? at the Dolby Theatre
California Route 66 Stops
Pretending I’m on the Red Carpet about to win an Oscar at the Dolby Theatre

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.

California Route 66 Stops

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.

Who saw Troop Beverly Hills?

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!

California Route 66 Stops
Why no, we do not have a room but would like to wander around for free

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.


Spadena House

I expected to see the witch from Snow White to be picking apples in the front yard.

California Route 66 Stops

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?

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.
The world’s most famous Ice Age fossil excavation site is located in 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.

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.

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.

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.
In front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – “Urban Light”

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.

It’s been a busy day of sightseeing so we turn into our fancy – FREE- hotel at the Intercontinental Century City. If you would like to read more about how we get free hotel rooms, read HERE.

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.
View from our upgraded hotel room at the Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City

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.

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the 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?

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.
We met a friend at the end of the pier

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!

California Route 66 is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road. Join us as we travel from the Mojave desert to the raging waves near the Santa Monica Pier.
The end of Route 66 sign at Santa Monica Pier

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The best Route 66 road trip stops in California. It is the end of the 2,400 mile Mother Road at the Santa Monica pier.

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Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

14 Responses

  1. Jeni F.

    I loved following your road trip. These are my favorite types of blog posts. Thanks for sharing with us and sharing so authentically!

  2. Julien Mordret

    That’s probably a trip every traveler should do once in their life! Thanks to you I learned that there is a park to enjoy the Hollywood sign, and the view to Los Angeles is just amazing! Loved the bottle ranch too!

  3. Chris travels

    Congratulations on completing such a monumental road trip! Route 66 is probably one of the biggest adventures you’ve checked off of your growing travel bucket list….keep on keepin’ on!

  4. amit

    Looks like you had an incredible journey, route 66 is something I always dreamt of doing but am yet to accomplish. It will be done when I eventually do my grand USA trip :d I’ve saved this post for future reference, I would definitely like to see the glass trees in Oro Grande 😀

  5. Ted Jias

    You don’t remember, but way back when I first read your post I told you about a trip my wife and I took yrs ago with our 5 kids and our niece. We ended up in Cal.
    heres the funny part. You folks started out in Needles, that was the last town we were in leaving Cal.
    It was the only place we had car trouble. Had a blow out on our pop-up camper. Had to look all over Needles to find a spare.

  6. Kaylene Chadwell

    What an amazing road trip! And Santa Monica is a pretty cool place to cap it all off. I recently rode on Route 66 for the first time, such a cool experience. Elmer’s Bottle Ranch looks like a really interesting spot!

  7. Carol Colborn

    I have been to Los Angeles and Santa Monica countless times. My granddaughter is a hairstylist there. But I never visited the County Museum of Art. I will have to next time!!!

  8. Amy

    We are road trip junkies and did a drive from Canada to California years ago. We hope to do it again and this section would be so fun with our daughters as there would be so many interesting sites for them as well! That Spadena House is amazing, just like a fairytale, not what I think of when I think BH! And the visiting Santa Monica Pier is on my list of things to with them, such an iconic space.

  9. Edith & Juan

    You did so many cool things that we love in LA! Route 66 would be so awesome to drive. Definitely need to plan it one day in the future. Can’t believe we never visited the Bottle Ranch while we lived in LA though. Would have been a great stop on the way to Vegas.

  10. Bernie

    It must have been great to stand at the end of the pier. Road trips are such an incredible experience, and there are so many memories to treasure afterwards. I love what you say about the experiences of others who have traveled that route. It’s fascinating to think how many lives have been played out along that dusty route. I think the road’s calling again!

  11. Tara

    What an adventure you’ve had! I have actually never been to LA, and I haven’t even wanted to until reading your post. My son is looking at colleges there, and I’m thinking a trip may be in our future. Sigh…

    I do love Route 66 though – my dad lives near Kingman, Arizona, so we’ve explored that part of the road. I’ll have to check out the bottle forest next time we’re in the area.

  12. Rye Santiago

    I saw that view of downtown LA from National Geographic Traveler. You did have a wonderful trip – seeing Santa Monica’s gems. 🙂

  13. Janine Thomas

    This is a trip that is on our bucket list. My husband wants to do it on a motorbike! How long did the whole trip take? Spadena House looks like it should be on a movie set. It’s stunning!

    • Dang Travelers

      Hi Janine. That would be fun in the shoulder season when it’s not too hot. We saw many people on bikes at the start of our trip. We spent 50 days on the drive but we took a few side trips (Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Laughlin).

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