The drive between Las Vegas and Los Angeles isn't long, but at best it's boring. And when there's traffic, it's grueling. Why not break up the trip by stopping to explore some of the truly interesting sites just off the Interstate 15? We picked the 4 most enticing reasons to depart from that 300+ mile straight line (whether you're on your way to Sin City or on your way to reality in LA).
Death Valley National Park, a short jaunt from Las Vegas, regularly breaks heat records. But there's more: history, mystery, and beautiful desert scenery. The park is full of ghost towns, abandoned mines, and brilliantly colored panoramas. Get your bearings at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center; then check out Badwater Basin, the surreal-looking lowest and hottest point in the Western Hemisphere with a view of the snowcapped Sierra Mountains in the background. Nearby you can see remnants of the Harmony Borax Works, in the late 1800s a source of the cleanser and birthplace of the original Twenty Mule Teams. A short loop drive reveals a colorful rock scape at Artist's Palette best seen in late afternoon. The Devils Golf Course holds more than 18 holes worth of crusty eroded salt rock that would defeat the likes of Tiger Woods. Book an overnight stay at the historic and luxurious Furnace Creek Inn.
Note: Death Valley National Park is currently closed, as of this writing, due to the government shutdown. But when it reopens, it will make an awesome stop on this here road trip. So we stuck with it.
Big Bear offers a cool green respite from a hot desert drive, whether you're traveling east to Vegas or west to LA. You'll find a shimmering lake surrounded by acres of pine forest. In winter the slopes here lure skiers from all of Southern California. But in summer and fall you can ride the same lifts to the top of Mount San Gorgonio, where an expansive view of the Palm Springs desert and mountains beyond await you. Bring a picnic lunch or get some ribs at the View Haus Barbecue at the top. If the weather is warm, take a cool ride on the Time Bandit Pirate Ship around the lake and gawk at celebrity-owned mansions that line the shore. You can also sign up for a canoe ride at the Discovery Center in Fawnskin. Big Bear City holds a charming village, where you can find a lot of locally made decorative items and interesting places to dine. A local favorite is the Himalayan Restaurant, a casual storefront that offers tastes of Nepal and India. Book a stay at the Gold Mountain Manor, a historic B&B that hosted movies stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in the 1930s. Or, the Windy Point Inn on the north side of the lake is a mid-century design B&B just steps from the beach.
Tour, dine, or sleep at a venerable landmark in downtown Riverside. The Mission Inn and Spa rivals Hearst Castle for grandeur. Owner-builder Frank Miller started the hotel in 1876 and spent the next 60 years designing, building, and collecting furnishings and art from the far corners of the world. The result is a five-story structure with castle towers and minarets, rotundas and expansive patios, domes, indoor garden patios, two chapels, and a guestbook full of celebrity names including 10 presidents dating back to Benjamin Harrison. Richard and Pat Nixon were married in a chapel here, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned here. A National Landmark and the largest Mission Revival Style Building in the US, the inn recently completed a mega-million dollar renovation that brought it into the 21th century in function but retained all its charm, up-to-date luxurious accommodations, restaurants, and gardens holding one of the first orange trees ever planted in California, and excellent service.
It's great fun to visit the Temecula Wine Region, home to about 35 wineries that range from rustic to grand. You'll find luscious Rhone-style reds and whites at most wineries. Many have on-site restaurants, celebrity chefs, lovely lodging, gorgeous gardens, and afternoon and evening entertainment. You can taste all day in the many wineries that line Rancho California Road. Hart Family Winery displays the most awards for their powerful red wines. Thornton specializes in sparkling wines that you can sip outdoors in a shaded garden. Mount Palomar has a Spanish flare and offers Italian style reds and whites; it's a hot spot weekend evenings. Leoness Cellars on De Portola Road offers splendid mountain views while you tasting or dining. You'll find vineyard view lodging at Ponte, South Coast, and Europa wineries.
Photo credits: Death Valley, Big Bear, Temecula wine region all via Dreamstime.com; Mission Inn and Spa courtesy of Mission Inn and Spa
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