This Road Trip In The West Takes You To 2 Lively Cities With Unique Pitstops On The Way

Hit the road in Los Angeles, and you can be in Las Vegas in about five hours without traffic. In terms of driving directions, it's an easy road trip to make since you're making a beeline up I-15 for 270 miles. Movies like "Swingers" have depicted the drive, with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau's characters leaving L.A. spur-of-the-moment after dark, hoping to be in Vegas before midnight. The enthusiasm of their driving mantra, "Vegas baby, Vegas," soon wears off as the monotony of the interstate sets in.

If you have extra time, you can take the scenic route to Vegas instead. It will add another 105 miles (around 2.5 hours more driving time) to your trip. However, it will also incorporate the historic Route 66. Along the way, you can get your proverbial kicks with some roadside kitsch and other interesting sights that you wouldn't see by sticking to I-15 alone. If nothing else, turning on your GPS and venturing off the interstate could uncover some hidden gems and show you a different side of the Western U.S. since your trip will already be bookended with time in two cities full of famous tourist spots.

In L.A., you'll find plenty of movie-related spots, and you can save money on popular attractions with a Go City pass. It includes options for tours of the Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Sign, the Warner Bros. studio, and more. You can even do a day at Universal Studios Hollywood with the three-day pass.

Bear-dog footprints, Route 66, and bottle trees

If you take I-210 out of L.A., you can make your first pitstop in about 35 miles at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. In addition to seeing dinosaur skeletons on display, you'll see the first footprints ever found from the Amphicyon, a carnivorous "bear-dog" that tracked through the Mojave Desert 15 million years ago. Later, you'll pass through the Mojave National Preserve on this trip, so imagine you're following the bear-dog's prehistoric footprints along Route 66.

In Victorville and Barstow, California, two free museums are dedicated to Route 66, sometimes known as "The Main Street of America." Victorville's California Route 66 Museum has photo ops with vintage cars, including a Ford Model T and a hippie-style Volkswagen van. Barstow's Route 66 Mother Road Museum takes its name from the phrase John Steinbeck used to describe the road in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Grapes of Wrath." One corner recreates a "Last Chance Gas" station with an old Chevron pump. The museum's website offers downloadable driving pamphlets with information on more notable spots between Victorville and Barstow, like the Iron Hog Saloon building on National Trails Highway (featured in the Julia Roberts movie "Erin Brockovich.")

Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch is also located between the two Route 66 museums. This unique roadside attraction (pictured above) came together when the late Elmer Long had the idea to mount his father's bottle collection on posts, eventually creating a small pseudo-forest of bottle trees.

Diners and desert novelties

No drive along Route 66 would be complete without visiting an old-fashioned diner or truck stop. One such place, Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe, is three minutes down the road from the California Route 66 Museum. It's been operating since 1947, and it appeared in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 2." Guy Fieri's Food Network show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," later highlighted its biscuits and sausage gravy.

If that's not enough "diner" for you, check out Peggy Sue's '50s Diner after you leave Barstow. It looks like a giant jukebox outside and serves themed menu items such as the Marlon Brando Mushroom Cheeseburger. With its neon sign relit in 2019, Roy's Motel and Cafe, meanwhile, bills itself as part of a "living ghost town" in Amboy, California. The long-vacant motel is undergoing restoration work, but the gas station is open, and the cafe has appeared in movies and music videos since 1986, when it hosted a tense scene in the thriller "The Hitcher."

You can do a sand hike through the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve. On the other side of the preserve, in the appropriately named Baker, look 134 feet up to check the temperature on the World's Tallest Thermometer. Once you cross the state line into Primm, Nevada, it's only about 45 miles until you hit the desert's unlikeliest family vacation spot, Las Vegas. Pull over along the way to see the painted boulders of the desert art installation, "Seven Magic Mountains."