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Route 66, part II:
Santa Monica to Las Vegas

Starting in Santa Monica

Old Route 66 started in Santa Monica, CA at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

You should start there, too.

It's hard to imagine the thrills gotten by early travellers from landlocked states when they looked out to the Pacific Ocean for the first time from this point.

From the adjacent park, you look down on Santa Monica Pier and Santa Monica Beach. The view is exhillerating.


Three choices for getting out of Los Angeles

Today, most travellers will want to avoid the stop and go driving of old Route 66 in Los Angeles. L.A. has gained a few million people since the Mother Road first came to town!

Besides, nowhere else did Route 66 change its route so many times. Even the end point was switched from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, a wise decision.

Therefore, you have three choices.

You can follow the last—and very slow—route Route 66 actually took to leave the Los Angeles area, or you can take one of two much faster routes.

All start out using Santa Monica Boulevard from Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

Regardless of the route you take, you'll have a chance to sample the flavour of the old Route 66 on your way to Las Vegas.

Because much of your driving to Las Vegas will be via the Mojave Desert. be sure to take extra water or engine coolant in case of overheating and ample water for yourself in case of having to wait for help because of a breakdown.

In the winter, you may encounter snow at higher elevations in the Mojave Desert, which makes for great photo opportunites. Snow in the desert!


Choice 1: The last route taken by Route 66 out of Los Angeles

Passing through Santa Monica, Brentwood, Westwood Village, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and a dreary section of Hollywood, Route 66 followed Santa Monica Boulevard toward downtown Los Angeles.

On portions of this route, you'll still see the center strip once reserved for Pacific Electric interburban trains. The Los Angeles area once had the best suburban train system in the world.

Prior to the construction of the Hollywood freeway, Route 66 travellers took Sunset Boulevard from Santa Monica Boulevard into downtown Los Angeles.

However, during its last years, Route 66 turned off Santa Monica Boulevard onto the southbound Hollywood Freeway.

Near Los Angeles City Hall and Union Station, the Hollywood Freeway reached the first freeway intersection constructed in the United States.

From there, Route 66 followed the northbound Pasadena Freeway to Pasadena. This was the first freeway built in the U.S.

The end of the Pasadena Freeway still points you toward Colorado Boulevard.

Colorado Boulevard, of course, is the Rose Parade route.

Turn right onto Colorado.

From Pasadena, 66 went along Colorado Boulevard toward San Bernardino, changing its name to Foothill Boulevard along the way.

When you reach Interstate 15 near Ontario, take the northbound I-15 ramp toward Las Vegas.

Join Choice 2's route in Cajon Pass below, while still on I-15.


Choice 2: Interstate 10 — the fastest route out of Los Angeles

Most travellers will take this route.

Its main disadvantage is that it takes you through the heart of the congested downtown Los Angeles area, which can be confusing.

Therefore, avoid weekday morning or afternoon rush hours. Also, avoid Friday afternoon or evening on any portion of the route to Las Vegas.

You need to keep in the lanes marked Santa Monica Freeway—I-10—by the overhead signs until you pass the southern end of the downtown highrises.

From there, just follow the I-10 signs through the remainder of the downtown area.

You'll end up on the eastbound San Bernardino Freeway, still on I-10.

Outside of rush hour, plan on about five and one-half hours to reach Vegas, excluding stops. This may be quicker on a weekend morning.

Try to plan an evening arrival, when the lights are on.


Choice 2: Interstate 10 — leaving Santa Monica

Start out from Santa Monica along Santa Monica Boulevard, but then turn right onto Lincoln Boulevard after seven blocks (six not counting a pedestrian mall).

At Interstate 10, take the eastbound Santa Monica Freeway entrance marked Los Angeles.


Choice 2: Interstate 10

Continue on I-10.

As you approach Interstate 405, the San Diego Freeway, avoid the right lanes.

Continue on I-10.

Hungry for some great Mexican food?

Past I-405, still in Los Angeles, exit I-10 onto northbound Western Avenue to 1121 South Western Avenue (on the left) to have lunch or Sunday bunch at El Cholo, which is Dr. Voyageur's favourite Mexican-style restaurant.

This is the oldest Mexican restaurant in California, and it looks a bit dated.

Inexpensive and excellent, El Cholo has been featured numerous times in Gourmet Magazine. Check out its cookbook.

Not into Mexican-style food? Hungry for some Chinese food?

Past downtown Los Angeles, exit I-10 southbound on Atlantic Boulevard toward Monterey Park.

Monterey Park and adjacent Alhambra have seen huge Chinese immigration since the United Kingdom announced that it would relinquish control of Hong Kong to China.

Turn left onto Garvey Avenue.

Turn left onto Garfield Avenue.

Seemingly hundreds of restaurants line Atlantic, Garvey, and Garfield.

Take the eastbound entrance to the San Bernardino Freeway, I-10.

Continue east on I-10 through El Monte and Pomona to Interstate 15.

At this intersection, you find Ontario Mills, a major outlet centre.


Choice 2: Interstate 15 and Cajon Pass

Go north on I-15 through the Cajon Pass, one of the busiest railway routes in the country. Hundreds of trains pass through here each day.

This is a geologist's heaven, as the pass was created by movement of the infamous San Andreas fault.

At times, the rock types on one side of the road do not match those on the other side. Their mates are hundreds of miles away in Mexico.

To get an impression of the awesome power on display here, look at a map that shows the Gulf of California in Mexico, which also was a creation of the forces of this fault.

Evidentually, in perhaps in 10,000 or so years, you can expect the Gulf of California to reach toward Lake Tahoe—at least as far as Bishop, CA—as energy from the San Andreas transfers further east.

Dr. Voyageur is gathering options on beachfront property now!

Once when in San Bernardino, just off your route at the foot of Cajon Pass, directly on the fault, Dr. Voyageur and his father were sitting peacefully by a swimming pool enjoying the sun.

All of sudden, a powerful tremor came.

A large wave formed on the surface of the pool and crashed—this is no joke—with some force over the side.

Dr. Voyageur had to restrain his father from returning immediately to Canada.

San Bernardino—best known as the site of the first McDonald's restaurant (long ago razed)—is largely built on alluvial soil from the adjacent mountains.

This is the type of ground that offers the least stability during a large quake, which makes San Bernardino one of the most dangerous places to live in the United States.

San Bernardino has a similar situation to the coastal areas of Japan that have been built on landfill.

Tremor incidents, like the one described above, have been too few, and thus lethal pressure continues to build within the San Andreas.

It will not be pretty.

Safely past Cajon Pass—thanking Dr. Voyageur for not routing you via San Bernardino (you just missed its northern city limits, unless those doomed city council dudes have been annexing again)—you enter the Mojave Desert.

When you reached the summit of Cajon Pass, you entered the Great Basin.

Rivers—and there are some—in this large area that extends to beyond Reno and Salt Lake City do not flow into any ocean.

The population of the desert near Cajon Pass has exploded.

Astronomical home prices in the Los Angeles area and an expanding population have forced young families to jump across the mountains to find affordable first homes. One and two hour commutes in each direction, sometimes in car pools, are common.

Once past Barstow, however, the desert becomes almost pristine, as you pass a portion of the Mojave National (nature) Preserve.

Continue on I-15 toward Victorville (prior to Barstow).

Throughout most of Cajon Pass and all the way to Victorville, I-15 was built over Route 66.

At Victorville, take the 7th Street exit toward downtown. This is the route 66 took into town.

Give the choice 3 group a chance to catch up, and then everyone will be on 7th Street with you.


Choice 3: An alternative to Interstate 10

Because some drivers won't be comfortable travelling on I-10 through the heart of Los Angeles, this alternative avoids much of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

There's still freeway driving (hard to avoid in California, but done on less confusing roads than those near the centre of Los Angeles).

Before travelling, study carefully Dr. Voyageur's safe driving lesson, especially the section on freeway driving.

From Santa Monica, take Santa Monica Boulevard away from the oceanfront. You will be travelling northeast.

From Santa Monica Boulevard, enter the San Diego Freeway, Interstate 405, northbound toward Van Nuys and Bakersfield.

Continue on the San Diego Freeway through the largely residential San Fernando Valley.

You pass over a ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The San Diego Freeway ends at Interstate 5.

Go north on I-5 toward Bakersfield.

Just past the intersection with Interstate 210, exit I-5 onto the northbound State Highway 14 Freeway. This is also called the Antelope Valley Freeway.

The intersection of I-5 and California 14 was rebuilt after part of it collasped during the last major earthquake.

Sorry! Dr. Voyageur forgot that this second itinerary is for the more timid.

Go north on Highway 14 through the San Gabriel Mountains.

After passing the little towns of Acton and Vincent, take the "Pearblossom Cutoff" eastbound.

If you miss this cutoff, exit Highway 14 onto eastbound State Highway 138.

The "Pearblossom Cutoff" runs into State Highway 138.

You are now in the Mojave Desert. At times, the San Gabriel mountains rise to nearly 11,000 feet at your back.

Go eastbound on Highway 138 to State Highway 18.

Then travel eastbound on Highway 18 toward Victorville.

As you near Victorville, Highway 18 is called Palmdale Road.

At Victorville, pass by Interstate 15. Do not follow Highway 18 onto the I-15 freeway.

At I-15, Palmdale Road veers toward the northeast and becomes 7th Street.

Stay on 7th Street.

You join the other groups directly below.


Victorville

Everyone should be on 7th Street in Victorville now.

This was the route taken by Route 66 through Victorville.

As you near downtown, the buildings become more and more historic.

Sadly, the most historic portion has become deteriorated, and is not considered safe at night.

Groups like the Old Town Victorville association work to restore these old Route 66 business districts, but this is hard when most tourist traffic bypasses you on an Interstate, and when local shoppers now prefer indoor malls.

When you reach the "T" junction adjacent to the former Santa Fe railway (now BNSF railway—where did these people learn marketing and branding?), turn left onto "D" Street.

"D" Street was also the route of 66 through town. Since the closing of nearby George Air Force Base, the bars along here have languished.

Notice the old railway station on your right.

Route 66 followed the Santa Fe from downtown Los Angeles to Albuquerque, and met it at times after that.

Just across from the station, between 5th and 6th streets, you'll find the interesting California Route 66 Museum. Check its website for days and hours.

In a few blocks, take the northbound I-15 ramp toward Barstow and Las Vegas.

Continue northbound on I-15.

When you reach Barstow, make sure that you fill your gas tank.

Just past Barstow, take the Ghost Town Road exit for the Calico Ghost Town. This is now a county park.

Calico was one of the largest silver discoveries in the United States and many of the more than 500 mines also produced borax.

It's fascinating place to visit.

Continue on I-15, which becomes more scenic as you pass by the edge of the Mojave National Preserve and go up in elevation.


Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

You'll know immediately when you've reached Nevada, as casinos line I-15 for those who can't wait to reach Las Vegas.

If it won't be dark soon, detour to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area. Otherwise, continue on I-15.

A sidetrip to colourful Red Rock Canyon adds another hour or hour and one-half or so to your trip, and is well worth it.

Take a bit more time, if it is cool enough to do a bit of hiking.

For Red Rock, branch west off I-15 onto Nevada State Highway 160, just south of Las Vegas.

Continue west on Highway 160 to State Highway 159.

Go north on Highway 159 to the Red Rock Canyon visitor's centre, which has a guide to the best places to see in this scenic, easily visited area.

From the visitor's centre, take the short loop road into the heart of the colourful rock formations.

Remember, this area is at its best in the early morning or in the late afternoon and evening around sunset, when the colours stand out the most.

From the Red Rock Canyon area, Highway 159 heads east to Las Vegas, some 20 miles away.

When you reach Las Vegas, Highway 159 turns into Charleston Boulevard.

Take Charleston Boulevard to I-15.

Take the SOUTHBOUND I-15 entrance.

Exit onto eastbound Sahara Boulevard.

At Las Vegas Boulevard (the "Strip"), you'll see the historic Sahara Hotel and Casino, where Frank Sinatra's "rat pack" hung out.

Turn right onto Las Vegas Boulevard.

You are heading toward the heart of the Strip.

Do not worry about missing anything by arriving in the evening.

You will be arriving when Las Vegas wakes up! (Actually, the casinos start filling up at around 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. and earlier on weekends and holidays, when people drift in from the pool areas and sightseeing.)

Night is the best time to experience this area.

Plan on at least two nights and one full day in Las Vegas.

To continue your Route 66 trip, go on to Part III: Las Vegas to Albuquerque.

Go to >> Route 66, part I: Introduction
Go to >> Part II: Santa Monica to Las Vegas
Go to >> Part III: Las Vegas to Albuquerque
Go to >> Part IV: Albuquerque to the Mississippi River
Go to >> Part V: Mississippi River to Virginia
Go to >> Part VI: Understanding the War Between the States
Go to >> Part VII: Virginia to Washington, D.C.
Go to >> Part VIII: Washington, D.C. to New York City
Go to >> Part IX: Planning your Route 66 trip

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