Diehard old-road fans will be pleasantly surprised to know that Route 66 across Los Angeles still exists, almost completely intact. West from Pasadena into downtown LA, you have your choice of Route 66 routings. You can hop onto the Arroyo Seco Parkway (Hwy-110) for a trip back to freeways past: Opened in 1939, this was California’s first freeway and featured such novel (and never repeated) concepts as 15-mph exit ramps and stop signs at the entrances. Or, you can follow Figueroa, which in LA lingo is known as a “surface street,” running parallel to the freeway past some fascinating pieces of Los Angeles new and old, including the concrete-lined Los Angeles River, hilltop Dodger Stadium, and the excellent Autry National Center (323/667-2000, Tues.-Sun., $14) at Griffith Park, a phenomenally wide-ranging collection featuring Native American art and artifacts from all over western North America, as well as Wild West ephemera and pop culture icons. (The center is the result of a merger between the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, established by Hollywood’s “Singing Cowboy,” Gene Autry, a media magnate who is the only person with five different stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)
Now marked by prominent beige road signs reading “Historic Route 66 1935-1964,” old Route 66 follows Sunset Boulevard from the historic core of the city, starting at Olvera Street and the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park before winding west to Hollywood. In Hollywood itself, Route 66 turns onto Santa Monica Boulevard, then runs past the cemetery-cum-theme park Hollywood Forever (323/469-1181, daily, free), where such luminaries as Rudolph Valentino and Mel Blanc are entombed, overlooked by the water tower of legendary Paramount Studios. It’s a unique experience by day, and even more so on summer nights when the cemetery is host to outdoor screenings of its residents’ works.
Continuing west to the Pacific, old Route 66 follows Santa Monica Boulevard through the heart of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where “Mr. Route 66” himself, the Oklahoma-born comedian Will Rogers, once was honorary mayor.