Route 66

If you’re looking for great displays of neon signs, mom-and-pop motels in the middle of nowhere, or kitschy Americana, do as the song says and “get your kicks on Route 66.”

Santa Monica

Old Route 66 had its western terminus at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, on a palm-lined bluff a few blocks north of the city’s landmark pier. The pier holds a small amusement park and a lovely old Looff carousel (as seen in the movie The Sting). A beachfront walkway heads south of the pier to Venice Beach, heart of bohemian L.A. Near where Santa Monica Boulevard dead-ends at Ocean Avenue, a brass plaque marks the official end of Route 66, the Main Street of America,” also remembered as the Will Rogers Highway, one of many names the old road earned in its half century of existence. The plaque remembers Rogers as a “Humorist, World Traveler, Good Neighbor”—not bad for an Okie from the middle of nowhere.

Two blocks east of the ocean, stretch your legs at Santa Monica Place and the adjacent Third Street Promenade, an indoor/outdoor shopping area and icon of contemporary Southern California (sub)urban culture. The surrounding streets are among the liveliest in Southern California; people actually walk, enjoying street performers, trendy cafés, bookshops, and movie theaters.

Enjoyable in its own right, Santa Monica also makes a very good base for seeing the rest of the L.A. area. For the full retro-luxury experience, check in to the art deco Georgian Hotel (1415 Ocean Ave., 800/538-8147, $250 and up). Or you can save your money for food and fun by staying at the very popular HI-Santa Monica Hostel (1436 2nd St., 310/393-9913, around $38 per person).

Georgian Hotel (1415 Ocean Ave.)
Santa Monica Place
Third Street Promenade
HI-Santa Monica Hostel (1436 2nd St.)