Southern California is the epicentre of American car culture and provides some of the most spectacular and well-known driving routes in the U.S. Bring your own vehicle or rent an exotic or a Harley and take advantage of the exceptional weather. Santa Monica is the perfect place to start.
The California ribbon of Route 66 extends from the Colorado River at Topock (near Needles) to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica. Approximately 320 miles winds through California’s cities, towns, deserts, mountains and beach communities.
When the government implemented its plan for national highway construction in 1925, 66 was the number assigned to the 2,451 mile-long Chicago-to-Los Angeles route. From the outset, public road planners intended US 66 to connect the main streets of rural and urban communities along its course for economic and security purposes. During the Great Depression and Oklahoma dustbowl, thousands of families used the route to migrate west to California – the Promised Land – in search of jobs and opportunity.
In the 1950s, Route 66 became the main highway for vacationers heading to Los Angeles. This sharp increase in tourism launched all manner of curious and kitschy accommodations and roadside attractions.
As its popularity increased, so did its nicknames: The Great Diagonal Way, The Main Street of America, The Mother Road, and The Will Rogers Highway. It was memorialized by John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath), Jack Kerouac (On the Road), and Bobby Troup (Get Your Kicks on Route 66), who wrote it into the national consciousness.
But what goes up must come down. Three factors – increased traffic, more sophisticated highway engineering techniques and the signing of the Interstate Highway Act in 1956 – were key to its demise. A search for faster, more direct routes created major and minor realignments of the route, merging some sections into the new interstate highways or bypassing them altogether. But however altered from its original form, Route 66 remains a significant part of California’s spoken and oral history, a legendary showpiece of Americana.
The California Route: Santa Monica, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Victorville, Oro Grand, Barstow, Daggett, Newberry Springs, Amboy and Needles
Route 66 Resources
This 21-mile long arterial road, immortalized in David Lynch’s 2001 film of the same name, follows the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills. The magnificent views of the Los Angeles Basin, the San Fernando Valley and the Hollywood Sign are the highlight of Mulholland Drive as is the opportunity to peruse some of the world’s most famous real estate.
Mulholland Drive begins just 12.3 miles from Santa Monica via the I-405N. The route provides access, directly or indirectly, to many of the regional parks in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Mulholland Drive Resources
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy. 1) is the gold standard for California driving. It begins in Dana Point, 77 miles south of Santa Monica and terminates 656 miles later near Leggett in Mendocino County, Northern California. How much of it you drive is entirely dependent on your itinerary. However, it is possible to sample the highway in as little as an hour and a half or as long as a day trip, which allows for side trips and multiple stops.
From Santa Monica join Hwy. 1 where the I-10 ends; turn north on Hwy. 1 and the coastline will be on your left. Santa Monica to Oxnard is 49 miles.
Along this route you will pass Santa Monica State Park, Pacific Palisades, Getty Villa, Las Flores, the City of Malibu, Solstice Canyon, Malibu Cove Colony and Paradise Cove. The road briefly curves inland and returns to the coast at Zuma Beach and a string of state and county beaches. There are several options to loop back before reaching Oxnard, including Encino Canyon Road and the Mulholland Hwy. Arguably, the most scenic part of the drive is between Malibu Canyon Road and Mugu Rock, with panoramic views that are not blocked by oceanfront residences.
Curve inland toward Oxnard to join Hwy. 1 or do a u-turn and head back the way you came.
Pacific Coast Highway Resources
Angeles Crest Highway
The challenging Los Angeles Crest Highway runs through the San Gabriel mountain range all the way through the Angeles National Forest. It begins 33.2 miles from Santa Monica at La Canada Flintridge and ends at Wrightwood. It can be accessed from either side.
The highway is 66 miles long and is best described as mountain-rural, rising to altitudes of more than 7,000 feet. It is considered much more challenging than the other routes and requires some pre-planning as cellphone coverage is spotty and there are regular road closures due to weather or road conditions. The same attributes that make this route breathtakingly beautiful can also make it perilous.
Angeles Crest Highway Resources
Resources for Exotic Car and Motorcycle Rentals in L.A.
Bartels’ Route 66 Riders – Harley Davidson Rentals
Beverly Hills Rent-a-Car (Dream Car Tours)
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