The Road Ends at the Pacific Ocean

October 18, 2012  — Thursday

I decided to go backwards to finish Route 66.

I wanted to backtrack further east where Route 66 enters the LA metro area  — picking up where I left off Monday when I veered west on the interstate to Granada Hills.  Route 66 is like a dotted line across Los Angeles County, more or less parallel to I-10  It’s a challenge to stay on the route as it changes names in a myriad of suburbs, or disappears and reappears a few blocks or miles later.

Deep breath.  Expect traffic, getting lost, lots of jockeying while driving.

First stop: San Bernardino for the McDonald’s/Route 66 Museum, housed in the first McDonald’s built in the USA in 1948.  I remember my first Mc-Burger for 15 cents in the late 1950’s in little Saybrook, Ohio.  That burger and the golden arches seemed exotic back then.  The San Bernadino museum is crazy packed with McDonald memorabilia, plus plenty of 66 stuff.  As I snapped a photo of the building, I met a fellow 66er, a Michigan guy in a leather jacket and a classic car, who said the best time to visit is the Route 66 Rendezvous, the third weekend of September, when a half million car buffs celebrate the Mother Road and classic cars.  Leaving town, I cruised by the California Theater, a 1928 Spanish Colonial showpiece and an early “soundie” movie theater where Will Rogers made his last public performance.

Next up:  Wigwam Village in Rialto built in 1958, similar to the one I’d stayed at in Holbrook, Arizona.  This one was restored with love in 2004, including a pool, playground, and plenty of grass and flowers.  A tiny Oriental lady showed one wigwam to me, and this one looked marginally larger and more modern than the one in Arizona.

Time for a big zigzag.  I wanted to see the fabled Mission Inn in Riverside, off Route 66 an hour south.  Friends tell me it’s flabbergastingly gorgeous at Christmas.  It’s also pretty flabbergasting on an ordinary October day.  The Mission Inn is the star of Riverside’s downtown Historic Square Mile, boasting 25 Spanish Renaissance historic buildings.  The Mission Inn, built between 1902 and 1931, occupies a whole city block.  She’s a true grande dame with a long, long lobby, domed ceilings, wrought iron balconies, tile floors, stained glass, gardens tucked here and there, cobbled paths, and a luxurious spa.  The last guided tour had already started, so I wandered in wonder.  Off the lobby sits an elegant wood-paneled bar lined with photos of past presidents, offering  the Taft Appletini, Hoover Lemon Drop, JFK Cosmopolitan, and the Presidential Martini Selection honoring Teddy Roosevelt, Nixon, Reagan and George W.  Everywhere you look at the Mission Inn, something beautiful appears…nooks and crannies tastefully filled with antiques, art, massive flower arrangements, welcoming benches, gilt, curlicues, and other architectural goodies. Its outdoor restaurant built around a splashing fountain feels like Rome.  At its St. Francis Chapel, a wedding awaited, but the staff allowed me a peek to see its massive gold-leaf Mexican altar and seven Tiffany mosaic stained glass windows.   Hotel staff are friendly and helpful.  All is charm and history in capitals.  Definitely a special place to stay in the future.

Back to 66, I slowly crept west.   Fontana first, where the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was founded and home to the Art Deco-styled Center Stage Theater…Rancho Cucamonga, such fun to say, with its old wine barrel because it once boasted the oldest vineyard in California, the Sycamore Inn which was a former stagecoach stop before cars, and the Magic Lamp Inn with its neon sign that spouts a gas flame…Upland and Claremont…Laverne’s covered wagon and Lordsburgls Old Town district…San Dimas, the setting for the cult film “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and its Walker House, the last standing California railroad hotel, now a restaurant…Glendora’s two Route 66 corridors, the older one with classic California bungalows…Azusa and Duarte…Monrovia’s Mayan-style Aztec Hotel built just in time for the inauguration of California 66…Arcadia’s famous Santa Anita Park racetrack mixing Art Deco, Spanish Revival, American Colonial and New Orleans styles into one glorious architectural success…and finally to Pasadena, with its Rose Parade, classic homes, art, palm-lined streets, and green lawns rolling up to homes built in a fascinating variety of styles.  Next time, I want to see the Bunny Museum, the private home of a couple who invite visitors to see their 20,000 plus collection of bunny items and meet their real bunny pets.

Pasadena also marks where you need extreme patience to follow the route, especially late afternoon as rush hour sets in and you want to get to the ocean by sunset.  Slowly and patiently, I inched through Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and its world-famous sign, then tony Beverly Hills synonymous with movie stars, the rich, the famous.

And at last, Santa Monica.  Route 66 actually ended at Olympic near Ocean Avenue, opposite what is now Palisades Park.  In the park is a small monument dedicated to Will Rogers, that reads: “Highway 66 was the first road he traveled in a career that led him straight to the hearts of his countrymen.”

Today, the popular and symbolic finish of Route 66 is technically blocks away, ending at the 1908 Santa Monica Pier.  Talk about a photo op!  A long wooden pier walks you past a 9-story ferris wheel, a 5-story roller coaster, a midway, countless souvenir shops and food stalls.  You see people everywhere and hear accents from all over the world: couples walking hand in hand (including guy couples and lady couples), families with strollers and excited kids, performers with their hat or music case waiting for donations, folks with dogs or the occasional monkey or parrot, and people fishing either side of the pier.  It’s a moving circus of life seaside.

The air is balmy.  The sun begins to set.  I am tired, hungry and thirsty but this end-of-the-road scene works its magic and I’m re-energized.  I ask two Brazilian guys holding hands to take my photo in front of the final Route 66 marker.  I had planned to toast the sunset finish with champagne, but I settled happily for an ice cream cone.  An Australian couple snapped a final photo, me leaning against the pier railing, a glowing gold sun sinking halfway into the Pacific behind me.  Finished.  I am beyond happy.

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