The Pop Culturist's Guide to Route 66 in California

Those who know Los Angeles know that it’s chock-full of iconic buildings featured in movies, TV shows, books, and songs. But did you know that California’s fame extends beyond Tinseltown? In fact, Historic Route 66 winds from Needles, California, on the California/Arizona border to the End of the Route sign on the Santa Monica Pier. You can glimpse plenty of stops along the road in pop culture throughout history. Follow this guide to see and hear the Mother Road as you get your kicks all the way to the Pacific Ocean, without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.

  1. Cool Spring Station gas station in Oatman, Arizona.

    Photo By: David Kafer

    Cool Springs Station (Kingman, Arizona)

    This vintage gas station is no longer in service, but it once offered the promise of “tasty treats” and “cabins.” The station was heavily damaged in a fire in the mid-1960s and stayed that way until a movie scout found it in the ‘90s. They built a temporary gas station around the foundations for a movie scene, though it was promptly destroyed again. The station was rebuilt in its original style in the early 2000s.

  2. Old Trails Bridge, also known as Topock Bridge, crosses the Colorado River.

    Photo By: David Kafer

    Old Trails Bridge (Topock, Arizona)

    The Old Trails Bridge, also known as the Topock Bridge, was an artful and innovative piece of engineering that played a significant role helping people and supplies head West by allowing heavier vehicles to cross the Colorado River and enter the land of opportunity. Dust Bowl refugees in the 1930s came to the bridge in search of work, paving the roads around it.

  3. Landscape with mountains in distance at Goffs, California.

    Photo By: David Kafer

    Mojave National Preserve (Mojave Desert, California)

    Travelers heading westward who survive the trek to California are welcomed with a long, hot stretch across the Mojave, where things can get a little weird as the temperatures climb up to 100F. With its strange and iconic Joshua Trees and tar-black fields of dried lava, it’s no wonder that the Mojave was used as a filming location for some unusual stories.

  4. Neon sign for Roy's Motel and Cafe in California.

    Photo By: David Kafer

    Roy's Motel and Cafe (Amboy, California)

    You’ll likely recognize this stunning example of roadside Googie Midcentury Modern architecture, even if you don’t know where you might know if from. Roy’s opened as a gas station in 1938, and the owner’s son-in-law added on a cafe, auto repair shop, and motel in the 1940s. Today, it’s more of a convenience store than a cafe, but visitors still stop in from all over the world to take photos of its classic neon sign.

  5. Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe in Victorville, California.

    Photo By: Nicole Capo

    Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe (Victorville, California)

    This classic trucker stop has been serving meals to hungry travelers since 1947. Richard Gentry drove his truck on Route 66 for 31 years and ate at this restaurant (then called the Holland Burger Cafe) from the time it opened. He purchased it in 1979 for his wife, who worked in the restaurant as a waitress, and renamed it for her.

  6. VW Bus at the Route 66 Museum in Victorville, California.

    Photo By: Nicole Capo

    California Route 66 Museum (Victorville, California)

    Formerly the Red Rooster Cafe, the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, California, is now home to a massive collection of Route 66 memorabilia, all loaned by local 66 enthusiasts. The 5,000-square-foot building travels back in time with collections that include a vintage Model T and Volkswagen bus, as well as a 50s-style diner booth.

  7. Wigwam Village #7 in San Bernardino, California.

    Photo By: David Kafer

    Wigwam Motel Village #7

    If you know nothing else about the Mother Road, you’ll likely recognize the Wigwam Motels, of which only three of the original seven are currently left standing. Two of these are on Route 66 and—lucky you!—one is located in Rialto/San Bernardino, right on track to Los Angeles. True to the multilayered complexity of American culture, these tipis are both a controversial piece of cultural appropriation and an iconic piece of Route 66 kitsch.

  8. Exterior shot of Clifton's Republic in Los Angeles.

    Photo By: Nicole Capo

    Clifton's Republic (Los Angeles, California)

    Clifford Clinton built his restaurant, then Clifton’s Brookdale, around a singular idea: Everyone should be able to eat, regardless of what they looked like, who they were, or their ability to pay. Clifton’s was a safe haven for many, and it was included in every edition of the Negro Motorist Green Book. Recently renovated, Clifton’s now serves as a funky, multi-level bar and restaurant that pays homage to the original building. If any part of this building reminds you of a certain magical kingdom, you’ll be pleased to know that Walt Disney was a regular, using Clifton’s as inspiration for Disneyland.

  9. End of the Trail Sign on the Santa Monica Pier in California.

    Santa Monica Pier (Santa Monica, California)

    Though Route 66 originally ended over by Clifton’s at 7th and Broadway—and later at the intersection of Lincoln and Olympic in Santa Monica—it was decided that a route leading straight to the dramatic beauty of the Pacific Ocean would make for a better Hollywood ending, and the sign was moved to the Santa Monica Pier in 2009.

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