Our adventurous roadtrip along the historical Route 66, from Los Angeles to Chicago, started in Santa Monica, right by the pier, which is actually the official ending point.
The US Route 66, which is also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America and the Mother Road, was established on November 11th 1926 as one of the original highways in the US Highway System. The highway originally ran from Chicago to Santa Monica in Los Angeles, through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, covering 2,448 miles.
The highway was mainly used for migration from east to west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which is why the “proper” way to drive the route is from Chicago to LA, the opposite of what we were doing. Businesses arose along the highway, and when Route 66 was removed from the US Highway System in 1985 with the establishing of the new Interstate Highway System, the business owners and those who lived and breathed the highway fought for it to stay alive.
Since then, the old highway has been extremely popular with tourists wanting to get the “real American experience” with its old mining towns, haunted motels and shops and service stations from a past era.
Not much of the original Route 66 exists anymore, and most of it is now Highway 40, but the few stretches that do have been designated a National Scenic Byway, and in recent years, the name “Historic Route 66” has been represented on maps.
It has always been a dream of mine to drive the Route 66, despite how much it has changed since 1926. I wanted to discover and experience that special atmosphere, which I was certain would still be there on some stretches. I hated the highway 40 stretches, but I loved getting back on original Route 66 stretches, exploring the motels, shops and museums, and talking to the interesting locals whom we met along the route.
Because we wanted to watch the total solar eclipse in Illinois on August 21st, we had no other choice but to drive the old highway from LA to Chicago, despite it being historically incorrect. In the end, we were extremely happy about this decision, as we disliked LA, but LOVED Chicago – and it was the perfect end destination on our journey!
One place that we did enjoy in LA though, was the Santa Monica Pier, the official ending point of Route 66.
Santa Monica Pier is a large double-jointed pier in Santa Monica, which is over 100 years old. We had to pay 12 USD to park by the pier, so we decided to spend some time there instead of just snapping a picture and then driving off. And we were really glad that we did, as the atmosphere on the pier was great. There was an amusement park, hotdog stands, musicians, pubs and casinos. It reminded me a lot of Great Yarmouth in England, which I used to visit every summer as a child. I LOVED it there, and therefore Santa Monica felt very homely to me. We also saw the sign for the end of the Route 66; it simply wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t gotten some pictures there!
From Santa Monica, we drove onwards to San Bernardino, from where you can turn off for the first bit of the original Route 66. Getting to San Bernardino took ages because of heavy traffic. With our lunch stop at Chipotle as well, it took us about two hours more than we had anticipated.
But it didn’t really matter, as we weren’t driving too far that day. Our end destination was Barstow, located 70 miles from San Bernardino. Also, it was enjoyable to drive in the US. The roads are great and most Americans are good drivers, so I didn’t feel stressed about driving there!
We found the right turn off for Route 66 towards Victorville, but unfortunately, there was so much traffic on the road, creating a long queue, that we had to turn back and get on the highway again. We drove along the highway to Victorville, and then our cheating stopped, as we turned on to the original Route 66 once again, this time minus the traffic jam.
The next 37 miles were the best part of the day. The stretch from Victorville to Barstow was absolutely beautiful, and we met almost no one on the road. Our Route 66 adventure had finally begun on this neat stretch!
At 7 PM, we arrived in Barstow and drove to Idle Spurs Steakhouse, where Amanda had read that we could stay in the parking lot for free. We had planned to sleep in our rental car for the entire trip, apart from Oklahoma City, where I have a good friend who let us stay with her and her family. But sleeping in the car wasn’t going to happen that night!
As soon as I got out of the car, the extreme heat hit me. It was warmer than I’d ever experienced before, like a thick stuffy 40+ degrees heat. I couldn’t imagine how Death Valley could be any warmer.
We walked into the steakhouse and were overwhelmed with how cozy and atmospheric the place was, and how friendly the staff was. The place looked dead from the outside, but it was full of life on the inside! Definitely a local gem in Barstow.
We quickly got talking to a lovely American couple and their son, who thought we were crazy for travelling all the way from LA to Chicago, and for wanting to sleep in the car! So they invited us into their beautiful home, located just a few minutes from the steakhouse, where they had a guestroom. They told us to treat it like our own home. They were so extremely hospitable, and I’m forever in debt to Beatrice and Meredith!
Our first day of driving Route 66 had been fantastic. We had seen some beautiful scenery in the Californian countryside and already experienced the American hospitality! We were more excited than ever for our continuing journey!