California Route 66: From Needles to Santa Monica – the End of the Road

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Sure I finished the drive over a year ago, but this blog post has just been sitting on my computer since then.

As I continued on Route 66 from Arizona into California, I realized that I really had to eliminate the majority of my final stops due to a dinner date with some old friends in Los Angles that evening. However, a few curios still managed to peak my interest.

At 8:45am I pulled into the Santa Monica Pier and hit the end of Route 66. In total, it took me 10 days and 3,657 miles to get through the whole stretch, though I missed the first 100 miles of it from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois, as I had never intended to do the entire route. I guess I’ll just have to finish it up one day. -Thursday, October 29, 2009


Roy's Cafe, Amboy, California
Roy’s Cafe, Amboy, California


Highlights included:

The Cadiz ranch on Route 66 near Chambless, California
The Cadiz ranch on Route 66 near Chambless, California

The Produce Checkpoint: No, California is not another country, but in some regards it might as well be. Upon entering the state, I was forced to stop at a produce checkpoint and swear that I had no plants, fruits or vegetables in my car.

A Night in Needles, CA: A border town with pretty much nothing to do, it was significant because it was the first time I had ever seen gas costing more than $3.50 per gallon. Now, a year later, it’s unfortunately all too common.

Abandoned Buildings and Gas Stations: All across the desert, I didn’t have to drive far to find beautiful abandonment. Tumbleweeds blew across a landscape filled with the remains of a once-bustling Route 66. From East Amboy to Ludlow, Chambless, Barstow and Daggett , every few miles, I would find myself pulling over, bracing myself in the surrounding wind storm to snap a photograph or just stand there and take it all in.

Getting my kicks on Route 66 near Essex, California
Getting my kicks on Route 66 near Essex, California

Roy’s Café – Amboy, CA: Since 1938, Roys has been selling gas and motel rooms for weary travelers. Now located in the heart of a ghost town, it is refreshing to still see it in operation and maintaining its 1950’s architectural charm.

Graffiti and Tires: On a random stretch of Route 66 near Chambless, CA, I came across a mostly-demolished old building covered in layers of graffiti. Surrounding it were abandoned tires and other sorts of broken car parts and automobile waste as well as the remains of the building. Exploring the area made me feel like I was on some sort of archeological mission into the history of that particular area.

The First McDonalds: Located in San Bernadino, CA, the location of the first McDonalds is now a museum filled with pretty much every Happy Meal toy ever made and amazing photos and stories from the early days of the most well-known franchise on earth.

The Wigwam Motel, San Bernadino, California, lets visitors sleep in a teepee with plasma screens and comfy beds
The Wigwam Motel, San Bernadino, California, lets visitors sleep in a teepee with plasma screens and comfy beds

The Wigwam Motel – San Bernadino, CA: Having stayed in the Wigwam motel in Holbrook, AZ, a few nights earlier, I was very excited to compare the differences between that and one a mere 45 miles outside of Hollywood.

Needless to say, each room had a large HDTV, air conditioning and heat, a high ceiling and modern furniture including a queen-sized bed. This was a far cry over the one in Holbrook, which felt like I was still staying in 1965.

Hollywood: After braving a typical Los Angles rush hour, I finally pulled my 1995 Dodge Avenger down Hollywood Boulevard and met up with my friends Athena and John for sushi above the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are held. Leaving by way of a walk down the red carpet, I then explored the handprints on the floor, stopping to reenact a photo taken of me in front of Jack Benny’s hands in 1987.

Santa Monica Pier – The End of the Road: I thought that I had reached the end of Route 66 back then. I had stopped to take a photo in front of a plaque commemorating it and headed north to my new home in San Francisco. Eleven months later, while back in the area, I found myself on the actual boardwalk of Santa Monica Pier. There stood a tall sign, far more publicly announcing the end of the road than the plaque, and at that moment I finally finished my trip across the country.

This and That

An old car lays rusting by a Route 66 motel in Barstow, California
An old car lays rusting by a Route 66 motel in Barstow, California

In California, Route 66 is often poorly maintained and filled with holes and bad paving patchwork.

I love when the Route 66 emblem is actually painted on the road.

There may not be much to see, but it’s possible to drive Route 66 in California for the majority of the way between Arizona and Santa Monica.

I saw a big solar energy plant on the side of the road.

The Marine Corps Logistics Base in Bartow, California, is placed smack in the middle of Route 66, leaving motorists no choice but to get back onto the interstate for an exit to bypass it.

I made it almost all the way to Los Angeles before seeing an In-and-Out Burger.

I would have seen the world’s largest McDonalds that actually stretches over the freeway it’s so big, but it was on the interstate and not Route 66, so I’ll settle for having been close to it.

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In a lot of places in California, the speed limit is both on signs and spray painted onto the road.

I made it 3,337 miles without hitting traffic, going all the way from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the 101 freeway in Los Angeles.

I’ve gotten to be quite an expert at packing my car in the morning. In the beginning it took nearly 30 minutes to find a spot for all the stuff I had taken into the hotel room the night before. By the end, it took maybe 5.

Apparantly, Meth addiction is a huge problem in the USA based on the aggressive TV and billboard campaigns against it that I have seen all across the country.

My car is completely packed and I couldn't see out the rear view window for all of the trip
My car is completely packed and I couldn’t see out the rear view window for all of the trip

All hotel rooms are non smoking yet they all have ash trays.

For a brief second I thought I would be able to see the Joshua Tree, but it required a 90 mile detour and I was short on time.

I try to never let my gas tank get below half full on this trip, since I never know when I’ll hit a long stretch without gas stations. This is the opposite of how I do things normally when my car is frequently riding on fumes.

I had breakfast at a McDonald’s in Malibu and the majority of the other patrons were Latin Americans getting ready to go to work at some rich person’s house in the hills.

Speaking of the houses in the hills of Malibu, they are absolutely gorgeous, massive and awe inspiring.

A pet store/vet in Malibu offered acupuncture services for your pet.

I stopped for a papusa, which is a traditional El Salvadorian food, in a little store about 100 miles from Los Angeles. In addition to my meal, I wound up having a 15 minute conversation with a Nicaraguan woman in Spanish about her home country. Thank goodness my Spanish came flooding back to me.

Replica old toys for sale in the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain on Route 66 in South Pasadena, California
Replica old toys for sale in the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain on Route 66 in South Pasadena, California

On the 101 North in California, I was in the left lane and noticed a woman tailgating me. After pulling over one lane, I looked over and she mouthed, “thank you.” I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before.

Highway 101 randomly ends for a few miles at a time quite often on the drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There are no lights or intersections or any clue as to why, just a sign that says, “end freeway,” shortly followed by a sign that says, “begin freeway.”

All along Route 66, brown road signs let me know that I was on the Mother Road. Now, every time I see a brown sign I get excited before remembering that it’s for something completely different and historic. The strangest ones are the brown Historic Route 99 signs in Northern California. Like, did someone just mess up and hang a 66 sign upside down?

I miss 75mph speed limits and no worries when I go 80.

It was a weird feeling driving up to San Francisco for the first time, looking at the skyline and realizing that I’m home.

At mile 4,081 I finally pulled up to the front door of my new apartment in San Francisco.

Driving to Portland This and That:

In San Francisco just long enough to unpack my car, catch a World Series game on Haight Street and catch a few zzz’s, I once again got in my car to drive the 600 miles to Portland, Oregon, to spend a week with Carrie, Lauren, James and their crew. These final This and That’s were written after the completion of that final drive, bringing my total near 4,700 miles over 13 days.


The First McDonalds Ever, San Bernadino, California
The First McDonalds Ever, San Bernadino, California

It’s so weird to be able to see out of my back window again. And so much safer too!

Even more strange is being able to see completely out of the side windows. I actually had to develop a system during my drive to ensure that I was not merging into a car in my blind spot. Now I have to remember that I don’t have to use my system and can just look over my shoulder.

I think I listened to the new Jay-Z CD about 6 times on my trip.

Oregon is like New Jersey, in that you cannot pump your own gas. I learned this when I tried to pump my own gas and the attendant came running over and slapped my hand off of the pump.

Portland has a tram, just like the one on Roosevelt Island.


  • Fabrizio Rosano

    What a beautiful site!
    Great shots and many stories to read.
    Congratulations, I will take the time to read your adventures!


  • JJ

    Great trip, great pictures!
    I am coming to California and Las Vegas this Spring – I hope I will be able to visit some of the places you’ve just shown to me!

    Greetings from Poland.

    • Greg Goodman

      Thanks for your comment, JJ. I hope you have an amazing trip to a pair of the most photogenic places in the USA.