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Road to Vegas

This ocean to desert trip connects two iconic cities along a road that passes through unique natural landscapes and offers a dose of kitsch too.

Start:Venice Beach
End:Mojave National Preserve
1 - 2Days,8Stops,317Miles
Venice Beach
Art Wager/Getty Images
Gjusta
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
Mormon Rocks
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Bottle Tree Ranch
Denise Taylor/Getty Images
Calico Ghost Town
Anna Gorin/Getty Images
Peggy Sue's Diner
World's Tallest Thermometer - Baker
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Mojave National Preserve
Sierralara/Getty Images
Stop 1

Venice Beach

Venice

This funky section of the Los Angeles coast attracts an eclectic crowd of beachgoers to its boardwalk lined with surf shops, street performers, tattoo parlours and juice vendors. Venice’s wide sandy beach is large enough to accommodate basketball and volleyball courts, a gym (the famous Muscle Beach) and a cycle path that continues for more than 20 miles along the coast.

Walk a few streets inland to experience LA’s walkable and irresistible shopping mecca, Abbot Kinney Boulevard. A diverse collection of cafés, boutiques and design stores make this vibrant neighbourhood one of the best places to find an only-in-LA souvenir. Listen before you buy on the turntables at record store VNYL, sample fragrance oils at Le Labo or browse the whimsical curated gifts at Burro. If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, head to Abbot Kinney to sample from a collection of LA’s best food vans and shop with live music in the background.

SPOTLIGHT

Gjusta

320 Sunset Ave, Venice

Pick up some provisions at Travis Lett’s epic eatery Gjusta. The egg sandwich is a classic and travels exceedingly well.

Stop 3

Mormon Rocks

7198 Abiel Barron Memorial Hwy, Phelan

As the elevation rises and the topography becomes more mountainous heading east into the desert you’ll start to close in on Mormon Rocks, a series of curiously beautiful sandstone formations about one mile west of Interstate 15. Starting at 3,360 feet/1,204 metres, take a walk along the one-mile Mormon Rocks Interpretive Trail, filled with small holes and caves, up to a ridge. Look out over these amoeba-shaped rocks while keeping an eye out for hawks, ravens, lizards and owls.

Plan your visit

    Stop 4

    Bottle Tree Ranch

    24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande

    Follow a narrow strip of tarmac to the strange spectacle known as Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in San Bernardino County’s Oro Grande. Thousands of multi-coloured 'branches' hang off a forest of 'trees', creating more than 200 installations along Route 66. This folk-art display is the vision and home of artist Elmer Long and has no official hours, so you can just show up and walk around (or take pics through the gates if they’re closed).

    Plan your visit

      Stop 5

      Calico Ghost Town

      36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo

      Calico, the site of California’s largest silver strike and home to 500 mines, is now a ghost town theme park with attractions that include the Calico Odessa Railroad and the Calico Mystery Shack, filled with 'amazing feats and confusing sights'. Fill a day panning for gold, riding the rails, browsing the shops and knocking back sarsaparillas at Lil’s Saloon (mosey on in through the swinging wooden doors). On Saturday nights, you might be able to make contact with Calico’s ghosts on a tour through the spooky darkness of the 1880s' Maggie Mine.

      Plan your visit

      SPOTLIGHT

      Peggy Sue's Diner

      35654 Yermo Rd, Yermo

      Stop in Yermo, where you can sample the classic chicken fried steak and curly fries at Peggy Sue’s Diner—a 1950s' establishment resurrected in the 1980s.

      Stop 7

      World's Tallest Thermometer - Baker

      72157 Baker Blvd, Baker

      Though hardly a metropolis, tiny Baker on Interstate 15 is a busy hub for Mojave Desert travellers looking for a bite to eat or a chance to stretch their legs. Baker’s most famous landmark is its giant thermometer at 134 feet/40.8 metres, it's the tallest in the world. Plenty of people also stop in Baker for the otherworldly dried meats at UFO-themed Alien Fresh Jerky, the place to stock up on tasty, ET-inspired flavours such as Abducted Cow Pineapple Teriyaki—the perfect souvenir for those at home.

      Stop 8

      Mojave National Preserve

      90942 Kelso Cima Rd, Kelso

      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 kilometres and soaring to more than 600 feet/183 metres. In spring, desert wildflowers dapple the sands with colour.

      Elsewhere, a popular walk is the 3-mile/5-km roundtrip trek to the summit of 5,775-foot/1,754-metre Teutonia Peak, the highest point on Cima Dome and 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 wild flowers. And there are people here too: call in at Kelso Depot, a restored train station housing the reserve’s visitor centre, for exhibits and information (open 9 to 5, Friday to Tuesday).

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      Road Trip Snapshot

      Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

      Stop 1Venice Beach
      Venice
      Stop 5Calico Ghost Town
      36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo
      SPOTLIGHTPeggy Sue's Diner
      35654 Yermo Rd, Yermo
        Stop 7World's Tallest Thermometer - Baker
        72157 Baker Blvd, Baker
        Stop 8Mojave National Preserve
        90942 Kelso Cima Rd, Kelso

        Car & RV Hire

        Trusted car & RV hire companies to make your trip much easier

        Avis Rent a Car
        Enterprise Rent a Car
        Hertz Rent a Car
        Budget Rent a Car
        Payless Car Rental
        Zip Car
        Alamo
        National
        Thrifty
        Dollar
        Fox Rent a Car
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        Advantage OPCP
        Silver Car
        E-Z Rent a car
        Midway Car Rental
        Mex Rent a Car
        United Auto Rental
        Auto Distributors
        Cruise America
        El Monte RV

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