If you’re the type of Southern Californian that doesn’t like to stay in one place – but rather prefers to see what else the region has to offer – you’re in luck.
Because the journey can be just as intriguing and memorable as your destination – no matter where you’re doing. And at some point, you’re going to have to stop to rest along the way anyway.
But you don’t have to settle for anything mundane or utilitarian – when there are unique and eccentric delights that await you.
All you have to do is just flip your blinker on, turn your wheel, and open your mind (and mouth).
Whether you just need a charming bathroom break, an extended leg stretch, or fuel for your gas tank and belly, here are the five best pit stops along routes commonly traveled over long distances in SoCal.
1. Roy’s Motel and Café, Amboy
Originally established because of its proximity to the chloride mine on Bristol Dry Lake in 1858, the entire town of Amboy in the Mojave Desert has been owned by Albert Okura – founder of the Juan Pollo fast food chain and the unofficial McDonald's museum in San Bernardino – since 2005. And while the town has had its ups and downs under his stewardship – including being closed, for a time, for pretty much anything but filming and fashion shoots – its landmark Roy's (named after its founder, Roy Crowl, circa 1938) is once again pumping gas and selling souvenirs and snacks. Its landmark neon sign was just relit, too. Hopefully one day soon, the Mid-Century Modern motel lobby (circa late 1940s) – now devastatingly locked away behind picture windows, under the deeply pitched roof – will reopen, too. Maybe one day, we'll be able to stay in one of the cabins, instead of just passing through Amboy along the old alignment of Route 66 (still designated as National Trails Highway).
But in the meantime, gas and snacks are a great excuse to make a pit stop in Amboy – where everything is kept so incredibly stark white, the whole town is sure to stand out against the blue-hued sky above and earthen-brown landscape underfoot. This desert ghost town found itself on death row in 1972, when the 40 Freeway bypassed it. Traveling east from Barstow, no one wanted to take the slow road where Route 66 splits off the 40 at Ludlow. Amboy would be a 28-mile detour from there. And it's another 45 miles east of Amboy until National Trails Highway meets back up with the 40 (a.k.a. Needles Freeway) in Fenner, south of Goffs.
Now, east of Amboy, you’re under the watchful eyes of a pair of Chinese garden lions, also known as "foo dogs" (or "fu dogs"). They'd normally be found guarding the entrance to a temple or, say, an imperial palace – but in the Mojave, they seem to be guarding both nothing and everything. There's one female and one male each, made of marble – traveling east, the male appears first (as is the correct order in feng shui) and then the female about 1/4 mile down the way, off the road in the middle of a deserted, open space. It's not clear whether they're protecting the desert or visitors to the desert. Either way, they'll scare away any evil spirits lingering around the ghost town.
2. Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner, Yermo
Everybody stops at Baker, CA on their way to Vegas for some Alien Fresh Jerky, gas and Greek food. But next time you’re making good time on your way towards the Nevada state line, see what the town of Yermo has to offer instead. For starters, Peggy Sue's 50's Diner – a classic and original 50's diner from the actual 1950s (1954, to be exact) – was built out of railroad ties and mortar from the nearby Union Pacific rail yard. Appropriately enough for its Calico-adjacent location, it was revitalized by a former Knott's Berry Farm employee Champ Gabler and his wife Peggy Sue in 1987.
Even just its dinosaur park is a roadside attraction that’s worth the detour – though it gets overlooked way too frequently, now that the 15 Freeway allows travelers to just keep going, whether to L.A. or Vegas, at 70 mph. Better yet, head inside for a sit-down meal and admire the owners’ extensive collection of movie and TV memorabilia while you wait for your meal – perhaps one of the “jukebox specialties,” made from old family recipes. The music is always blasting and the A/C is always cranked, out there in the middle of the desert.
And while you’re in the town of Yermo, gas up (or charge your electric vehicle up) at the rest stop known as Eddie World – where you can also stock up on snacks to go and browse one of the largest collections of stuffed animals for sale you’ll find anywhere in SoCal. Just look for the larger-than-life milkshake for the turn-off.
3. Tom’s Farms, Corona
If you’ve got lots of time on your hands while driving along the 15 Freeway north of Temecula – especially if you’ve got antsy kids in tow – make a beeline for Tom’s Farms outside of Corona in the Temescal Valley. More than just a tourist attraction since 1971, Tom Barnes’s produce stand has evolved into a bona fide amusement park on weekends – with a miniature train ride on a reproduction of an 1800s steam-propelled engine through 10 scenic acres, a carousel ride with carved wooden horses and “Old West” attractions like a shooting gallery and mining adventure.
This is no ordinary carnival, however – because every day of the week, you can shop the 1971-era farmer’s market for fresh produce, snacks and a large variety of house-pickled goods. Eat at one of several sit-down restaurants and food stands, or grab a hot slice of pizza at The Cheese & Wine Shoppe, at Tom’s Farms since 1984 and located in an original 1971 building. With over 40 acres (including a picnic area) and more than a dozen buildings (some original), you can make your visit as quick or as long as you like. Just be sure to grab a bag of flavored popcorn or kettle corn, some roadside fudge and some roasted corn before you leave.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of parking – and a gas station next door. Check the calendar for special events, including magic shows and live music at “The Pond,” but otherwise you can find areas of it open as early as 7:00 a.m. and as late as 8:00 p.m.
4. Charlie Brown Farms, Littlerock
Southeast of the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, you might find yourself hard up for a spot to rest (or get a cell phone signal). No matter if you’re on a day trip to hike Devil’s Punchbowl or cutting over to the 15 Freeway along the Pearblossom Highway to Vegas, Charlie Brown Farms offers everything you could ask for on a long car ride – not the least of which includes roadside dinosaurs, a gnome village and BBQ worth standing in line for.
Founded in 1929 by Alfred and Marian Sweet (hence its original name, “Sweet’s”), this former fruit stand in the tiny community of Littlerock grew to three buildings (including a residence for the owners) on six acres. Alfred had moved to the Llano del Rio commune with his family, later becoming foreman at the Valyermo Ranch and later planted the first peach trees in the region and also sold cherries, pears, apples, vegetables, dry goods, local honey and pressed apple cider.
When current owner Jackie Hallgren (and her husband Charles) took it over in 1975, more offerings were added – including, as the outside signage touts, “exotic meats on a stick.” There are also 60 varieties of jerky (including “king slab” size), date shakes, deep-fried Oreos, over 1,000 kinds of candy (some from the turn of the last century) and enough soda flavors to give Galco’s a run for its money. The shelves are chock full of non-food merchandise, too – like tchotchkes and other vintage-inspired wares they sell (from Elvis to Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop and inspirationally-inscribed bric-a-brac). Order your food first, and while the kitchen makes it fresh, wander the aisles until your meal is ready and your name is called over the loudspeaker.
5. Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Café, Victorville
Ever since the Summit Inn burned down in the Blue Cut Fire of 2016, travelers along the 15 freeway, north of where it crests over the Cajon Pass, have been sorely missing a roadside stop for a hot meal, some Route 66 kitsch and a conversation with locals. Fortunately, just about 16 miles north – and a short detour off the 15 onto the National Trails Highway – there’s Emma Jean’s Holland Burger, a Route 66 fixture since 1947.
Formerly known as the Holland Burger Café, established by Bob and Kate Holland, it’s the oldest standing restaurant in the Victorville area. It’s now named after its second owner, Emma Jean Gentry, whose husband bought the cinder-block eatery for her in 1979. Both Gentrys have now passed away, but the café has remained in the family – now run by their son Brian (namesake of the “Brian Burger” and “Briancakes”).
Join truckers and road-trippers alike for some home cookin’ at the counter, in the dining room or out in back for breakfast or lunch Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays). It opens at the crack of dawn and closes early – 2:45 p.m. during the week and 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. There’s a gas station at the turnoff from the 15 Freeway – and if you’ve got a little extra time to spare, the town of Oro Grande just down the road has plenty of antique shops and history for exploring.
Note: This article has been updated June 29, 2021 to reflect the latest available information.