Los Angeles and Las Vegas: The City of Angels and Sin City. Both are known for their bright lights and lively nightlife. Both are major American cities that have a lot to offer visitors from all over the world. If you’re already exploring the American west, why not take the time to see each one?
Here’s the best way to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas via Route 66, from the best routes to the can’t-miss natural landscapes and roadside attraction sites.
The value of a road trip detour
Let’s get this out of the way first: Historic Route 66 does not actually go through Las Vegas. Instead, the so-called “neon capital of the world,” lies a couple of hours to the North, making it the ideal destination for anything from a day trip to a longer detour.
As every intrepid traveller knows, the purpose of a road trip isn’t really to get from point A to point B. It’s to experience and be inspired by as much of the area you’re traveling through as you can on your timeline. Sometimes, a diversion from a planned itinerary is the best choice.
As a mere two-hour detour (four hours round trip), a trip to Las Vegas is one of several well-known detours from Route 66. A Grand Canyon road trip, for example, is a common itinerary item for Route 66 travellers. It is, however, a little over an hour from multiple points on the road. Other top destinations that will require a side-trip off the original route include Joshua Tree National Park and Monument Valley, famed for its use as a film set in many classic Hollywood westerns.
Planning the perfect drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
The ideal way to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas while incorporating the historic Route 66 is to start on the Mother Road and then cut north near either Mojave National Preserve or, for maximum time on the route, to go directly from the Arizona Nevada and California borders, near Needles, California. The former gives drivers an opportunity to explore Mojave National Preserve in all its glory — including sights like the historic Kelso Depot and the largest Joshua Tree forest in the country (surprisingly it’s not actually in Joshua Tree National Park). Continuing further west on Route 66, however, offers its own advantages. History buffs can relish a historic ghost town or two, while hikers can take in views of the Amboy crater, notable for its symmetrical volcanic cinder cone.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle on the journey to Vegas is actually at the very beginning of the trip — the notorious Los Angeles traffic. While purists may want to stick to the original route as they wind their way through the City Angels, others may want to opt for whatever route gets them to the attractions they’re interested in with the fewest delays.
Important sights to see
Ready for your (slightly altered) Route 66 journey through both Los Angeles and Las Vegas? While the two cities each have a lot to love, including some of our favourite spots below, the route in between also features many wonderful Route 66 attractions to take in.
Highlights from this leg of the journey include:
Santa Monica Pier
Whether you’re ending your trip or just getting started, the Santa Monica pier is a great place to spend a peaceful afternoon. Take a dip in the Pacific Ocean, eat at a local restaurant and snap a picture at the official “End of the Trail” sign (whichever direction you’re driving).
For those who love culture, classic cinema or fun with a touch of the morbid, Hollywood Forever is a destination like no other. This famous Los Angeles cemetery is not only the final resting place for movie stars like Burt Renolds and Judy Garland but also serves as a cultural center that hosts concerts and film screenings.
The First Original McDonald’s Museum
Before McDonald’s became a world-conquering institution, it was just a single restaurant in San Bernardino, California. Today, that site is owned by a local restaurateur and serves as a museum as well.
Death Valley National Park
The famed Death Valley is another natural wonder that’s not actually on Route 66 but can be added on the way to Las Vegas depending on when you decide to start your detour. This National Park is famed for its sand desert environment that’s largely unique in the United States, as well as several salt flats and historic ghost towns.
One thing to remember as you plan your visit: Death Valley can get hot. The constant heat and the accompanying lack of rainfall are responsible for the valley’s unique landscape. Even if you’ll be enjoying your Death Valley experience largely from the confines of an air-conditioned car, be sure to bring extra water in case of car trouble.
The Las Vegas strip
There’s nothing in the world quite like the Vegas strip. This bustling area of Las Vegas Boulevard is home to multiple themed hotels, casinos, restaurants and concert spaces. Highlights include the Caesar’s Paris Hotel and Eiffel Tower Experience, The Bellagio Resort and the New York-New York Hotel, featuring a replica of the Empire State Building.
Whatever you want your Las Vegas experience to be, chances are you can find it on the strip.
A little more “old-school” than its counterpart the Las Vegas Strip, the Fremont Street area still has plenty of charm and excitement to go around. A pedestrian-only section includes an area covered in neon lights, as well as a variety of neon-lit hotels, clubs and shops. After a long trip through the desert, this part of Las Vegas is a true experience for the senses.
The Route 66 Tours Vegas experience
While not on Route 66 itself, we at Route 66 Tours love Las Vegas and make it a key part of many of our tour itineraries. Our Route 66 Express Tour actually begins in Sin City, before connecting to the historic route with a two-hour drive south through the Mojave Desert. While it doesn’t cover much of the Mother Road, our Sturgis Tour also starts and finishes in Vegas — with stops in between at natural attractions like the Rocky Mountains and South Dakota Black Hills, plus, of course, a trip to the famous motorcycle rally that gives this tour its name.
Many of our other Route 66 tours start in Chicago and end your journey with a trip to Las Vegas. To celebrate your experience, each seasonal tour ends with a two-and-a-half-hour stretch limo tour of the city for you and all of the friends you’ve made in your touring group.
Those looking for a completist approach to the Route 66 experience can add on from Las Vegas on their own, completing the road trip of a lifetime at the Santa Monica pier.
Whatever trip you choose, you can look forward to an incredible 20 nights trip from Chicago to Las Vegas, exploring the best antique cars, roadside attractions, historic places and natural features that America has to offer.
For more information on our next planned adventure, please go to www.route66tours.com.au.