Which road trip lover hasn’t dreamed of driving the world-renowned Route 66?
This historic route winds its way through the US from Chicago in the east to California in the west.
The Californian part of Route 66 has a length of 315 miles and passes by numerous exciting locations.
Think cool museums, nature reserves, and abandoned Western towns you only see in movies.
While California is considered the last leg of the road trip, many families can start their journeys from Santa Monica.
But if you want to stick to the conventional path, we’ve listed attractions from east to west.
Here are the best stops along the Californian part of Route 66, perfect for a family road trip.
1. Pirate Cove Resort, Needles
We’re kicking off the road trip with some good old fun next to the Colorado River.
On the border with Arizona, the Pirate Cove Resort in Needles is an excellent place to spend some family time together.
Besides guest rooms and a restaurant, the Pirate Cove Resort hosts a wide range of activities.
On hot days, cool yourself down in the waterpark, cruise over the river with the water taxi, or rent a jet ski for a thrilling ride.
One of the coolest features of this retreat is the off-road buggies, which you can ride over designated trails in the beautiful landscapes.
Upgrade your stay in this resort with a luxury yacht charter, or look for Route 66 memorabilia in the on-site shop.
- Opening Hours: 8am-8pm
- Address: 100 Park Moabi Rd, Needles, CA 92363, United States
2. Roys Cafe Amboy
From afar, this tourist attraction seems nothing more than a dot amidst the desolated landscapes of the Mojave Desert.
The town of Amboy was developed in the 19th century as a stop for travelers on Route 66, and now it’s one of the area’s favorite tourist spots.
Roys Cafe Amboy is literally an oasis in the desert, as you can get food and drinks at the historical cafe that’s been here since 1938.
During festivals, small airplanes are parked next to the cafe for display, which is great if you’re traveling with kids.
If you’ve driven a lot this day and looking for a place to rest, Amboy is a fantastic stopping point.
Are you into photography? Don’t forget to walk around town to capture the charm of Amboy and the decayed buildings.
Amboy was built in the Googie architectural style, which is influenced by car culture and space travel.
- Opening Hours: Daily 8am-7:30pm
- Address: 87520 National Trails Hwy, Amboy, CA 92304, United States
3. Amboy Crater
The next stop along this journey is just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Roys Cafe.
From the tiny town Amboy, it’s a 2,5-mile drive to reach this magnificent natural phenomenon.
The Amboy Crater is an extinct cinder cone volcano, which erupted for the last time around 10,000 years ago.
Nowadays, a trail allows visitors to enter the crater rim and admire the vast size and beauty of this mountain.
The volcanic rocks, the seemingly endless desert, and the wildflowers make for an incredible spectacle.
At the start of the trail, you’ll find facilities like public toilets and parking space, making it a perfect spot to pass by during your family adventure.
- Opening Hours: Walking trail 24/7
- Address: Amboy, CA 92304, United States
4. Calico Ghost Town
After you exit the highway at Daggett, you’ll bump into a mysterious settlement called Calico.
This former mining town is now a California Historical Landmark and a ghost town at the foot of the Calico Mountains.
Soak up the views of the majestic mountains, the abandoned mining houses, and former factories of this once-thriving community.
The Maggie Mine is open to the public, and a breathtaking location to learn more about the history of mining and the minerals that were dug up here.
Otherwise, ride the Calico Odessa Railroad train, which takes you for a journey across the town.
In the Calico Mystery Shack, the kids will be amazed at physics experiments, while the Calico Mining Company building lets you experience what mining gold was like.
This ghost town is amusing for all ages, thanks to both its fun attractions and historical value.
- Opening Hours: Daily 9am-5pm
- Address: 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398, United States
5. Route 66 Mother Road Museum
Since you’re already driving on the iconic Route 66, it would be a shame to skip the Route 66 Mother Road Museum.
This comprehensive museum in the town of Barstow houses collectibles and old vehicles that symbolize the legend of Route 66.
In the indoor section, you’ll find cars, motorbikes, old petrol pumps, road signs, and other remarkable items that contributed to the myth of the road.
Outside, you can wander around to check train locomotives and carriages that served on the railroads in this area.
If you’re a history geek or merely interested to know more about Route 66, this museum is a must visit.
The Route 66 Mother Road Museum is only open during the weekends, so plan your journey ahead if you want to stop by.
- Opening Hours: Friday & Saturday 10am-4pm; Sunday 11am-4pm
- Address: 681 N 1st Ave, Barstow, CA 92311, United States
6. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
Drive 30 minutes to the southwest for an odd encounter with the Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch.
The terrain at the ranch is covered with ‘trees’, made from a steel frame and bottles that serve as branches.
This idea started as a recycling initiative, as the father of the founder left a glass bottle collection with thousands of pieces.
In the meantime, the collection at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch consists of more than 200 ‘trees’.
Besides seeing the magical glass trees, you’ll be treated to a free concert, as the wind blows through the bottles and creates tunes.
You’ll also find vintage items like typewriters, rusty trucks, and other quirky collectibles on this ranch.
- Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday 7am-6pm; Friday & Saturday 6:30am-6pm
- Address: 24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande, CA 92368, United States
7. California Route 66 Museum, Victorville
The scenic town of Victorville is home to the California Route 66 Museum, an institute that hosts historical and contemporary exhibitions.
Behind a crumbly facade in the heart of Victorville, you’ll find 4500 square feet full of Route 66 relics.
Jump aboard some of the magnificent vehicles here, such as a VW Love Camper or a 1917 Model T Ford.
The most fun part for kids is posing with the awesome sports cars at this museum.
The exhibitions show the development of Route 66 from an essential car and railroad network to the legendary route it is nowadays through photographs and antiquities.
In addition, the California Route 66 Museum has a gift shop with books, DVDs, and more merchandise related to Route 66.
- Opening Hours: Friday & Saturday 10am-4pm; Sunday 11am-3pm
- Address: 16825 D St, Victorville, CA 92395, United States
8. First Original McDonald’s Museum
Although McDonald’s has spread all over the globe now, it once started only as a modest fast food venue here in San Bernardino.
The First Original McDonald’s is not part of Route 66 historically, but its strategic location makes it a worthy stop on your family road trip.
It was opened in 1940 as the first of many McDonald’s restaurants by the brothers Dick and Mac McDonald.
Later on, a local turned the site into a museum.
Inside this museum, visitors can check out original menus, age-old Happy Meal toys, and statues of mascots representing McDonald’s over the decades.
Make sure you walk around the museum’s exterior, where you’ll find stunning murals decorated on the walls.
These wall paintings are dedicated to Route 66, the early days of the McDonald’s chain, and the striking landscapes of California.
- Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 9am-5pm; 10am-5pm
- Address: 1398 N E St, San Bernardino, CA 92405, United States
9. Wigwam Motel, California
The Wigwam Hotel chain has motels across the US, and the Californian branch is located in San Bernardino.
After you’ve visited the First Original McDonald’s Museum, this is a unique accommodation to rest your head.
The guest rooms at this 1940s motel are situated in wigwams, tents where Native American tribes originally lived in.
While the exterior of the wigwams looks traditional, on the inside, you’ll find all the modern facilities you could wish for.
Benefit from free WiFi, a private bathroom with a hot shower, air-conditioning, and a small fridge.
Guests can use an outdoor pool with reclining chairs and umbrellas, an attractive hangout spot on a sunny Californian day.
All in all, this motel along the historic Route 66 is worth stopping by for a unique stay.
- Star Rating: 2 stars
- Address: 2728 Foothill Blvd, San Bernardino, CA 92410, United States
10. The Huntington Library
You could easily spend a full day on the premises of the Huntington Library, which was founded in 1919.
Besides a collection of rare books, the complex consists of an art museum and a botanical garden.
Start in the vast library, where a collection from the 11th to the 21st century now consists of millions of items – some of which are incredibly rare, like original Shakespeare copies.
The art section of the Huntington Library focuses on American and European work.
You’ll find pieces ranging from modern-day sculptures to medieval paintings and remarkable vases.
Reserve some time to explore the gardens, as they measure no less than 120 acres.
There are 16 themed gardens, and a total of 15,000 flowers and plant species grow here.
In the Conservatory greenhouse, an imitation of a tropical rainforest is home to the titan arum corpse plant and several types of carnivorous plants.
- Opening Hours: 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108, United States
- Address: Wednesday to Monday 10am-5pm; Tuesday closed
11. Rodeo Drive
At Rodeo Drive, you’ll be catapulted into the glamorous territory of coastal California.
Rodeo Drive is a 2-mile street where posh cars are parked bumper to bumper, and the branded stores sell only high-class items.
Walk along this ritzy street in Beverly Hills, a city loved by Hollywood’s rich and famous, and do some proper shopping – or window shopping.
One of the eye-catchers along Rodeo Drive is the Rodeo Collection.
This is a mall with 45 notable retailers, beauty salons, and upscale restaurants and cafes.
Altogether, Rodeo Drive houses over 100 stores from world-famous brands, including Gucci, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, and Louis Vuitton.
Every year on Father’s Day, the Rodeo Drive is the decor for the Concours d’Elegance, an exhibit and parade with expensive cars.
- Opening Hours: Daily 24/7
- Address: Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
12. Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica is the final destination and the finish line of the fabled Route 66.
This coastal town has a bunch of attractions, but the pier is by far the most notable and favored amongst locals and visitors alike.
The Santa Monica Pier is home to the Pacific Park, a family amusement park that makes for a perfect conclusion of your road trip.
Within the Pacific Park, you can ride roller coasters, a carousel, and the enchanting Ferris wheel that overlooks the ocean.
On the pier, you’ll also see street performers showcasing their dance skills or vocals.
At the Bait & Tackle shop, you can buy fishing gear so you can try your luck catching dinner with the family.
It’s recommended to visit the pier in the evening when you can watch the sunset as an enchanting ending to a memorable journey.
- Opening Hours: Daily 24/7
- Address: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States
Coming from the east, the historical Route 66 starts at the town of Needles, along the border with Arizona.
Although Route 66 officially ends in downtown Los Angeles, the End of the Trail sign can be found in Santa Monica, where California meets the Pacific Ocean.
Since 2006, the Santa Monica Pier is the unofficial finish line of this route.
The total length of the Californian section of Route 66 is 315 miles (507 kilometers).
If you drive straight from Needles to Santa Monica, it would take about 5 hours and 30 minutes to complete the trip.
Considering you can find some wonderful spots to spend the night and cool attractions, we recommend completing the journey in about 3 days.
Although a significant part of Route 66 in California traverses the desert, you won’t need a 4WD to get around.
The roads are in excellent condition.
If you want to keep some money in your pocket, we recommend a hatchback.
Just make sure that the car is equipped with airconditioning, as the temperatures can rise rapidly in the arid landscapes of East California.
For other road trips in California, read the following guides:
- 12 Best Stops on Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
- 15 Best Stops from LA to San Francisco Road Trip [in 3 Days]
- 15 Places to See Driving from LA to Las Vegas