Most visitors come to Carlsbad for Legoland and head right back out, and that’s too bad because they’ve missed the charming, intimate Carlsbad Village with shopping, dining and beaching nearby. It’s bordered by I-5 and Carlsbad Blvd, which run north–south and are connected by Carlsbad Village Dr running east–west. Carlsbad came into being with the railroad in the 1880s.
Completed in 1926, iconic Route 66 connected Chicago and Los Angeles across the heartland of America. What novelist John Steinbeck called the ‘Mother Road’ came into its own during the Depression, when thousands of migrants escaped the Dust Bowl by slogging westward in beat-up old jalopies painted with ‘California or Bust’ signs, Grapes of Wrath–style.
Lake Tahoe’s densely forested western shore, between Emerald Bay and Tahoe City, is idyllic. Hwy 89 sinuously wends past gorgeous state parks with swimming beaches, hiking trails, pine-shaded campgrounds and historic mansions. Several trailheads also access the rugged splendor of the Desolation Wilderness.
Founded as a tranquil Methodist summer retreat in 1875, PG maintained its quaint, holier-than-thou attitude well into the 20th century. The selling of liquor was illegal up until 1969, making it California’s last ‘dry’ town. Today, leafy streets are lined by stately Victorian homes and a charming, compact downtown orbits Lighthouse Ave.
Backed by a wooden pier that stretches toward the setting sun, Pismo Beach is where James Dean once trysted with Pier Angeli. Fronted by an invitingly wide, sandy beach, this 1950s-retro town feels like somewhere straight out of Rebel Without a Cause or American Graffiti. If you’re looking for a sand-and-surf respite from coastal road tripping, break your journey here.
Upper Mojave Desert
The Mojave Desert covers a vast region, from urban areas on the northern edge of LA County to the remote, sparsely populated country of the Mojave National Preserve. The upper Mojave is a harsh land, with sporadic mining settlements and vast areas set aside for weapons and aerospace testing. But there are a few things out here worth stopping for, too.
Los Angeles to Barstow
Route 66 kicks off in Santa Monica, at the intersection of Ocean Ave and Santa Monica Blvd. Follow the latter through Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, turn right on Sunset Blvd and pick up the 110 Fwy north to Pasadena. Take exit 31B and drive south on Fair Oaks Ave for an egg cream at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy, a nostalgic soda fountain from 1915.
June Lake Loop
Under the shadow of massive Carson Peak (10,909ft), the stunning 14-mile June Lake Loop (Hwy 158) meanders through a picture-perfect horseshoe canyon, past the relaxed resort town of June Lake and four sparkling, fish-rich lakes: Grant, Silver, Gull and June. It’s especially scenic in fall when the basin is ablaze with golden aspens.
The Antelope Valley is dead flat. It’s difficult to see a valley, much less an antelope. But in spring, bright-orange fields of California poppies create a spectacular carpet, like a vision out of The Wizard of Oz. West of Lancaster the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve offers hillside walks among the wildflowers.
Lake Tahoe Eastern Shore
Lake Tahoe’s eastern shore lies entirely within Nevada. Much of it is relatively undeveloped thanks to George Whittell Jr, an eccentric San Franciscan playboy who once owned a lot of this land, including 27 miles of shoreline. Upon his death in 1969, it was sold off to a private investor, who later wheeled and dealed most of it to the US Forest Service and Nevada State Parks.
One of Lake Tahoe’s ritziest communities, Incline Village is the gateway to Diamond Peak and Mt Rose ski resorts. The latter is a 12-mile drive northeast via Hwy 431 (Mt Rose Hwy). During summer, the nearby Mt Rose Wilderness offers miles of unspoiled terrain, including a strenuous 10-mile round-trip to the summit of majestic Mt Rose (10,776ft).