Anyone who’s seen Swingers or The Hangover knows that a road trip to Vegas is about so much more than just the drive. It’s potentially the lead-in to a weekend of debauchery, and a chance for group bonding before the casino blur sets in. Or maybe it’s a way to avoid the crush of the airport all together, and let the heat of the desert wash over you as vacation serenity kicks in.
Either way, this 270-mile slog from LA to Sin City isn’t necessarily picturesque or filled with nonstop attractions, but there are ways to improve on the straight shot up I-15. A lot of these recommendations are along the original Route 66, which means that while they might be remote, you’ll find plenty of quirky and unexpected stops along the way. Whether you’re using the drive as a pre-game, or want to zen out before a weekend of bright lights and late nights, here’s how to turn this road trip into a better version of itself.
1. If you’re a hiker — or just a fan of gorgeous waterfalls — stop off at the North Etiwanda Preserve and do the 3.5 loop falls trail.
If you’re leaving LA from the east side of the city, the 210 is your connector to get to I-15, and the Etiwanda Preserve is easily accessible from here. The waterfall views from this popular out-and-back hike vary based on rainfall, but this has been a rainy year, so it’ll definitely be worth the visit.
2. Whether you take the 10 or the 210, stop in Glendora at the Glendora Public Market and stock up on snacks from some of the best restaurants in all of San Gabriel Valley. Penny Coffee Roasters has your brew, matcha and chai covered, while Lumpia Mania’s Half Dynamite Lumpia makes for an epic on-the-go lunch.
3. Stop at the California Botanic Gardens to visit “the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants” and soak up some green space before hitting the strip. Claremont is a college town, and therefore has more activities than some of the other cities in San Bernardino County, these gardens being one of them.
4. Meander through the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology for a tour of life forms from the four major geologic eras: Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic. If you can’t impress your road trip crew with dinosaur bones, how else can you win them over?
5. Road trips and diners go together like gambling and cocktails, and there are plenty of diners on this stretch of highway. Get in the car hungry — this stretch is known for plenty of trucker-oriented eats. For instance, right before getting on the I-15, you can stop by the Broken Yolk Cafe in Rancho Cucamonga for breakfast, lunch, an entire “South Of The Border” section full of Mexican classics and a Bloody Mary menu to boot. As long as the driver isn’t imbibing, there’s no reason other people shouldn’t begin getting a buzz on.
6. Between Victorville and Barstow, peel off the I-15 and take historic Route 66. Adding on this stretch of Route 66 extends the drive by about 10 miles (or 20 minutes), but includes plenty of charming roadside antique shops, museums and old-school restaurants.
7. The California Route 66 Museum, aka “the Mother Road Museum,” is full of memorabilia like old street signs and kitschy photos. It’s only four rooms, so this is a quick, fun pitstop, not a history lesson.
8. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is one man’s life’s work. Though its creator, Elmer Long, passed away in 2019, the ranch has continued to gain attention, as his family has worked to preserve the site. Long created Bottle Tree Ranch with the goal of making a “thing of wonder and a destination for people all over the world.” Really, it’s just a collection of metal “trees” covered in glass bottles of all colors, shapes and sizes — but if you come on a windy day, the bottles make a strange kind of music. It gives off similar vibes to the man-made project near the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain, but with less religious overtones. This one is great for the weird factor but not a long stop by any means.
9. Another well-known greasy spoon on this stretch is Emma Jean Hollands Burgers, a diner from 1947 that’s doing well enough to make it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The self-proclaimed “oldest diner in Victorville” was featured on Guy Fieri’s show as a “must stop” for their biscuits and gravy. As you might expect, Emma Jean Hollands is cash-only. A small order of biscuits and gravy is about $6.50, a large is just over $8.
10. After Barstow, nature lovers can turn off on Highway 40 and drive through the Mojave National Preserve. This is going to add 50 miles, or about 90 minutes to the trip, but it includes sights like the Kelso Dunes and the Mojave Cross, officially known as the White Cross World War I Memorial. Both are well worth seeing if you have the time.
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11. Yet another classic roadside restaurant to add to this drive: Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner. If Emma Jean doesn’t do it for you, Peggy Sue just might. This one is a bit more retro kitsch than Emma Jean, which is very much just a trucker stop/hole in the wall. Peggy Sue’s was originally built in 1949 with just nine bar seats and three booths — now, the complex is much larger, and aside from the diner includes a five-and-dime store, ice cream shop and pizza parlor, and a “Dinersaur Park” has dinosaur sculptures, fountains and plenty of grass and trees for stretching your legs. Kitschy? Yes. Fun? Also yes.
12. Calico Ghost Town Regional Park is a great place for camping and spooky stories. See the above note before you roll your eyes: Some of the Route 66 stuff is just part of the fabric of the area, and should be visited when you’re there. Calico Ghost Town is one of those attractions, an old mining town from the early 1880s that was abandoned but has now been restored and preserved as a campground and park. Cabins and bunkhouses are available for rent, and there are traditional campsites, too. Take the Mystery Shack tour to see water run uphill — optical illusion, or ghostly occurrence?
13. Another site worth seeing if you go the Mojave National Preserve route is the Lava Tube. You can access it only with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, as the road to the tube is unpaved. Once inside the cave (aka tube), catching a beam of light streaming down through the former lava pathways is the photo-worthy moment.
14. Within the Mojave detour, Zzyzx Road, is another notable stop — or rather, a five-mile detour.
In the 1940s, a mining millionaire named Curtis Springer opened a resort here that included “a two-story castle, a dining hall, library, lecture room, pool house, goat farm and rabbit rooms.” He was also responsible for the name, renaming it from Soda Springs in an effort to be the last word in the dictionary. These days, the springs and the ruins of the old pool house are now operated by the California State University Desert Studies Center, but still open to visit.
15. Once you hit Baker, you’re over halfway there. Why not stop to check out the World’s Tallest Thermometer?
The best part of this stop is the shaved ice for sale.
16. Or stop and get a gyro and some hummus and pita at the Mad Greek Cafe. If massive thermometers aren’t your thing, maybe Greek food is? A third-generation, family-owned business, this fast-casual spot first opened in 1974 and is still going strong. There’s Mediterranean food aplenty, but also more classic diner fare — know thy audience.
17. EddieWorld is the biggest gas station in California, a superlative that pales in comparison to its real draw: an incredibly well-stocked candy store. This is the ideal place to stock up on hangover cures or road trip munchies; it also has what’s supposed to be the cheapest gas around and three restaurants on-site.
18. This one is so close to Vegas, it might work better as a first stop on the way back. Seven Magic Mountains is a colorful, large-scale sculpture by Ugo Rondinone. Great for the ‘gram, this public art installation is completely free and requires no reservations. Initially scheduled to be displayed for two years, the exhibit will likely become permanent due to its immense popularity.
19. Grab a drink on the way out of town, or right before hitting the Strip, at the Pioneer Saloon, opened since 1913. Just outside of Vegas, take a slight detour down the 161 to visit the oldest bar in southern Nevada. Designated a Nevada landmark in 2007, the working bar is, of course, rumored to be haunted. One hundred and ten years of existence will do that to a place.
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