The route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas may be a heavily traveled highway, but it’s still a long strip of road through the desert of the American Southwest. As such, it offers plenty of the weird and wacky roadside stops that characterize this part of the world. Whether you’re going to Las Vegas for fun or to Los Angeles for business, be sure to make the most of this drive. If you keep both your eyes and your itinerary open, you can make memories and get awesome photos before you ever arrive at your destination. Here are a few of my favorite stops between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Breakfast and Archery
The first thing you should do as you head out of Los Angeles is to eat breakfast at Riley’s Farm. This stop is a small detour from the main route, especially if you are leaving from northern LA. If you have time to spare, this working u-pick farm that offers guests a Colonial-era experience is definitely worth it. The fact that it is on the West Coast makes it a delightfully unexpected excursion. When I visited, I enjoyed the world’s best omelets at the Hog’s Head Tavern, tried some archery, and made my own hand-dipped candle.
Unless you plan to hike in Angeles National Forest, your next interesting stop will be Barstow. This is one of those little towns that appears bland at first glance, but actually offers fun and unique experiences. On my trip, I didn’t make it two of Barstow’s well-known sites, the original Del Taco restaurant or the Route 66 Museum, which is only open on weekends, but I did eat at the train station McDonald’s. Even if you hate McDonald’s on principle, you should at least grab a salad here. You order inside a historic train station and enjoy your meal in a refurbished train car.
A Giant Ice Cream Sundae
After staring at Joshua trees and barren hills for a while, you can stop for gas at Eddie World. You will know you’ve found Eddie World when you see a gigantic ice cream sundae on the side of the road. Although you can’t go inside the sundae, you can go inside the massive convenience store and check out the ice cream, coffee, and mounds of brightly-colored candy. I spent way too much time here.
If you have kids, be sure to take a break at Calico Ghost Town. History buffs will have fun at this 1880s silver mining town. I was disappointed to find out that they charge admission to walk through the old community, but it was cool to see the rickety buildings and abandoned mine shaft.
Don’t miss the chance to explore Zzyzx Road. This bizarre stop was my favorite part of the Los Angeles to Las Vegas road trip. I first heard about Zzyzx Road in Michael Connelly’s murder mystery The Narrows. In the novel, Zzyzx Road led to the place where Connelly’s villain killed and buried his victims. My curiosity was piqued when I drove past the infamous road. Perhaps it was a bit morbid to take the exit and see where it led, but I wasn’t disappointed. At the end of Zzyzx Road, I found Soda Springs, a ghostly 1940s health spa that was built by a quack doctor who claimed to have found the Fountain of Youth. The whole sordid story is quite fascinating… almost as fascinating as the lonely buildings that overlook a moon-like lakebed devoid of vegetation.
Once you’re back on the highway, you’ll see a lot of small communities trying to grab your attention (and your business.) Every little town seems to have a “World’s Biggest” claim, but the World’s Tallest Thermometer in Baker, CA is worth a stop. This is especially true if you visit in summer, and you can get a selfie with the temperature to wow your friends with the heat you’re currently enduring. Stop by the attached gift shop to visit Buzz the Vulture and buy a postcard. If you want to send the card from the store, they’ll mail it for free. Tag Buzz Therm in your social media posts, and maybe you’ll get your shots featured on their Instagram or Facebook page.
Take a short break from the highway to drive along the dusty frontage road to Seven Magic Mountains. Rumor has it that this roadside art installation is disappearing soon, so hurry if you want to see the seven, three-story towers, made of brightly painted boulders. This stop offers the perfect opportunity to get artsy travel photos or trendy selfies.
Internet and Roller Coasters
Once you cross the California-Nevada border, you’ll find yourself in Primm. While this is not the place to take a break for dinner or get gas if you’re on a budget, this charmingly garish town was put on the map thanks to bootlegger Whiskey Pete, and now offers gambling, entertainment, and free internet to travelers. The castles and music might not be as impressive as the Strip’s shimmering neon, but does the Strip have a gigantic roller coaster? I don’t think so.
Just outside of Las Vegas, you can get in touch with nature at Red Rock Canyon National Park. If you get to Vegas before Freemont Street’s canopy lights up for the night, Red Rock offers the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and catch the last rays of sunshine before your night out (or your night snuggled up in bed, if you’re like me.) You can hike deep into the wilderness, or just enjoy a stroll in the shadow of the breathtaking amber hills. Here’s a tip: if you’re planning to hit Lake Mead, Mojave National Park, Death Valley, or the Grand Canyon, it is probably worth it to purchase a National Parks Pass before your trip. This can save you a lot of money if you’ll be visiting more than a couple of national parks in the next 12 months. Just be sure to order early, because they take a while to arrive.
Whew! You’ve finally made it! If you stopped at all these places, you probably turned a four-hour drive into an all-day road trip. But it was more than worth it for the adventure. Now it’s time to unwind and enjoy the glitz and glamour of Sin City.