Learn why this historic highway inspired a chart-topping hit in 1946 and see why millions drove it in search of the California dream.
This idyllic oceanfront city, bounded by a 3.5-mi/5.6-km-long beach, feels more like a weekend getaway spot than a city just a few minutes west of downtown Los Angeles. Hang out on the city’s broad beach or lively Pacific Pier (complete with its own amusement park). Or rent cruiser bikes to follow the Marvin Braude Coastal Bike Trail, aka “The Strand.” The paved, multi-use path follows the oceanfront for roughly 22 miles/35 kilometers, from Santa Monica south to Torrance.
Santa Monica is also a place for serious shopping. Pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade is lined with big-name brands, galleries, movie theaters, and comedy shows, including open-air Santa Monica Place. Or visit one of Santa Monica’s outstanding farmers’ markets, which pop up weekly on city streets.
If you’re never one to miss the latest blockbuster, or an episode of the hottest new television series, an exploratory stop in the capital of the entertainment industry is a must. Hollywood is the place to bask in the presence of film and TV legends both past and present, whether it’s through a stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a behind-the-scenes studio tour, or a live taping of your favorite talk show. Head to iconic Hollywood Boulevard, where you'll find film- and movie-star-focused museums, theaters, and attractions, including the world-famous TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre). Built in 1927, the big-screen mecca remains a venue for star-studded premieres. Catch a flick—it's the largest IMAX auditorium in the world—then take a tour of the famed movie palace.
In the Broadway Theatre and Commercial District of downtown LA you'll find the hip Grand Central Market food hall.
This classy enclave northeast of downtown L.A. has long been a favored retreat of the well-heeled set. Drive the leafy streets, lined with elegant mansions of every shape and style, to have a spa treatment at the 1907 The Langham Huntington, an iconic hotel with ballrooms and terraced gardens. Nearby is Gamble House, one of the world’s finest examples of American Arts & Crafts architecture (docent-led tours noon to 3, Thursday through Sunday). At The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, walk through exquisite gardens and view priceless art treasures. Also visit the impressive collection of European paintings at the Norton Simon Museum. Shop and dine in handsomely restored Old Pasadena, as well as in the outdoor Paseo Colorado complex, or along South Lake Avenue. Time your visit to catch a UCLA Bruins football game at the landmark Rose Bowl (also home to one of the best flea markets in the state; usually held the second Sunday of the month)
Travelers have stopped for chocolate malts at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain since the 1920s where the original soda fountain is still in operation.
Witness some of the world’s best racecar drivers at this legendary Fontana speedway. Whether you’re into NASCAR, INDYCAR, or drag racing, Auto Club Speedway delivers all kinds of thrills for fans of high-speed action. The 2-mile, D-shaped oval draws top drivers for springtime’s Auto Club 400, one of NASCAR’s premier events. INDYCAR events include the season-ending MAVTV 500. To get the full experience and see cars (and sometimes drivers) up-close, pick up pre-race pit passes for both NASCAR and INDYCAR events. And while the races are the big draw, there are also live performances, stunt shows, and infield camping.
The speedway’s Auto Club Dragway also hosts National Hot Rod Association events, and if you want to put your mettle to the pedal, attend one of the racing schools held at the speedway throughout the year. Check the race schedule to know what’s going on when you’re on your road trip.
Two museums offer a peaceful—and interesting—interlude in this Inland Empire City. The San Bernardino County Museum offers a look at the area’s past, with exhibits of Native American crafts, and displays of mining equipment, lumber wagons, and a steam locomotive that helped build the Inland Empire. The museum also commemorates the area’s citrus heritage and celebrates its natural environment with desert gardens and The Exploration Station, a gallery with live animals.
At Cal State University San Bernardino, the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art spans the millennia. It boasts more than 500 artifacts tracing 4,000 years of Egyptian history, as well impressive collections of ancient Mediterranean ceramics and contemporary art.
This remote desert town is the place to be for some of the best remnants from the migration west. Plus, there’s some good outlet shopping too. First up is the wacky storage closet of the region’s memorabilia, the Route 66 Mother Road Museum. Period road signs, photos, and other mid-century oddities take you down memory lane of the 20th-century pioneers searching for the California dream. Just west of Barstow is the eccentric but oddly beautiful Elmer Long’s Bottle Tree Ranch, the work of a local artist, with welded metal “trees” festooned with discarded bottles, vintage toys, and other scraps. It’s a colorful example of the region’s still-strong folk art tradition.
For more ideas on what to do in the area, visit the California Welcome Center, in the Tanger Outlets complex, where you can hunt for bargains on favorite labels and name brands, including Calvin Klein, Skechers, and Michael Kors.
Protecting an astounding 1.6 million acres/647,497 hectares of pristine desert wilderness, the Mojave National Preserve lets you hear singing sand dunes, explore weirdly contorted Joshua trees, and hike up volcanic cinder cones. Take time to explore, and let the desert’s magic unfold.
Don’t miss nearby Kelso Dunes, the second largest dune system in California, covering 45 square miles/72 square kilometers and soaring to more than 600/183 meters. In spring, desert wildflowers dapple the sands with color.
Another popular hike is the 3-mile/5-km round-trip trek to the summit of 5,775-foot/1,754-meter Teutonia Peak, the highest point on Cima Dome, an almost perfectly symmetrical formation.
This is no lifeless wasteland: wait and watch (especially at dusk and dawn) to see surprising wildlife, including the rare desert tortoise. Spring rains can carpet the desert with wildflowers. And there are people here too: stop in at Kelso Depot, a restored train station housing the preserve’s visitor center, for exhibits and information (open 9 to 5, Friday through Tuesday).