The Best Roadside Attractions Between Las Vegas and Los Angeles
Magic mountains, ghost towns, and more must-see roadside kitsch.
Everybody loves a good road trip – especially when driving to somewhere cool from Las Vegas. Head to Boulder City to see the Hoover Dam, Lake Havasu to zip around on Jet Skis, or St. George to hike around scenic state parks. Then again, feel free to enjoy the silence in Tecopa and go skinny dipping in the hot springs. Those destinations are just a short car ride from Sin City, but when somebody mentions "Vegas" and "road trip," nine times out of ten, they're talking about Los Angeles. There's really only one way to drive between the two cities – by channeling your inner Hunter S. Thompson and hitting the highway through the desert on Interstate 15. The journey is at least three hours and more than 200 miles, but whether you're coming or going, it's far from boring. Check out all the cool, strange, and sometimes confusing things you'll see along the way.
Near Jean, Nevada
There's something odd on the desert horizon about 15 miles south of Vegas. No, it's not a hallucination. It's Seven Magic Mountains, a rainbow-colored assortment of rocks stacked in columns more than 30 feet high. The art installation was created by Ugo Rondinone and commissioned by the Nevada Museum of Art (in Reno, actually). Is it beautiful? Depends on your perspective. But it's definitely a photo spot and conversation piece. The exhibit isn't super convenient either, which is probably by design. Seven Magic Mountains is between two interstate exits and at least a five-mile drive from either of them. In other words, you have to care enough to go out of your way to see it. Visitors are encouraged to check out Seven Magic Mountains between sunrise and sunset because there aren't any lights around it at night. The installation, unveiled in 2016, was originally only meant to be in place for a couple of years but has settled in as a long-term piece of the desert scenery. It's estimated more than 300,000 people visit Seven Magic Mountains each year.
Make a pit stop off Exit 12 at Terrible's Road House—the "World's Largest Chevron Station" with nearly 100 gas pumps and 60 restrooms. Whether you're here to fill up or take a leak, there's almost zero chance of a wait. There's also 50,000 square feet of retail space with a White Castle, Candy Village, phone-charging lounge, and a small aircraft that hangs from the ceiling. Don't leave without taking a photo with the 13-foot-tall Sasquatch statue. There's even an in-house Autozone in case you need a spare part or two to keep your trip moving along without issue. Don't get confused. The big Chevron is on the east side of the Interstate. A considerably smaller one is to the west.
There are all sorts of things to love about the Pioneer Saloon. The oldest bar in Southern Nevada has great steaks, stiff drinks, and tons of history. Originally ordered from a Sears catalog (you could get anything from a department store back then), the saloon opened in 1913 and continues to thrive more than a century later. Clark Gable hung around the bar in 1942 while awaiting news on the fate of his wife, Carole Lombard, who was killed in a TWA plane crash on nearby Potosi Mountain. According to legend, you can still see the marks in the bar counter where he stamped out his cigarettes in frustration. You'll also see bullet holes in the wall, supposedly related to a dispute over a poker game. The Pioneer Saloon remains a symbol of the Old West spirit that defined the gold and silver era of Nevada's early growth but has expanded over the years to include a dining room and BBQ courtyard.
Don't get too excited when you see the Desperado roller coaster, which twists and turns through the skies of Primm and passes through Buffalo Bill's resort and casino. It's been closed since at least the onset of the pandemic. No rides are allowed (although the roller coaster goes through a test run once a month to remain operational). The Desperado was the tallest roller coaster (excuse me, hypercoaster) in the world when it was first unveiled in 1994. It's still an imposing sight, with its track wrapping around the resort. Buffalo Bill's itself finally reopened in late 2022 after closing in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown. The on-site Star of the Desert arena is back open, too, with semi-regular concerts.
Bonnie & Clyde Death Car – and yes, that's exactly how it's billed – used to sit in the middle of the casino floor at Whiskey Pete's. Now it's across the highway at Buffalo Bill's, which operates under the same ownership. The Ford V8 Deluxe was the getaway car of choice for the gangster couple's notorious Midwest crime spree and is riddled with bullets from the shootout that brought everything to an end in 1934. The car is on display behind a glass case (which unfortunately, adds a glare to most photos) and flanked by Bonnie and Clyde-themed slot machines. The "death car" toured state fairs and found itself in and out of different museums for decades before settling in at Whiskey Pete's more than a decade ago.
Just south of the Nevada-California state line, you'll catch a glimpse of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the second-largest solar thermal power station in the world. The installation looks like something straight out of Star Wars with a sea of mirrors in circular patterns reflecting the power of the sun toward three towers. Feel free to pull over at the Yates Well Road exit to get a closer look. In a two-for-one deal, the plant is next to the Primm Valley Golf Club, a 36-hole golf course that's truly an oasis in the desert with trees and a spring-fed pond. It first welcomed customers in 1997 and is still active – almost surprisingly so. The quality of the grounds may depend on the time of year, but the course was beautifully designed by Tom Fazio, a name that means something to true golfers. The food at the Bar and Grill is an overachieving combination of burgers, sandwiches, and salads with views overlooking the course.
It's easy to spot the small town of Baker – a collection of gas stations and fast food restaurants – by its pride and joy: the World's Tallest Thermometer. It not only stands at 134 feet tall, but also reads temperatures up to 134 degrees, which happens to be the record heat recorded in nearby Death Valley back in 1913. The goofy roadside attraction was erected in the early '90s as a companion piece to the Bun Boy burger joint. The restaurant didn't last, but the thermometer is still there, although an early version was blown over by heavy winds. Its sturdier replacement was built with nearly 77,000 pounds of concrete. The thermometer was sold a couple times and the digital display went dark for a few years. Don't even ask about the electric bill on this thing. It was eventually renovated by YESCO (the company responsible for many classic Vegas neon marquees) and has been fully operational as of 2014. A gift shop near the base of the structure helps cover operating costs, so make a point to stop by. Do you really want to pass through Baker without buying a "World's Tallest Thermometer" t-shirt?
Okay, time to eat. The Mad Greek is a rare opportunity to fill up on real food while bypassing all those roadside fast food chains. The family-owned restaurant has been around for more than three decades, serving Greek favorites like fresh-sliced gyros, babaganoush, and saganaki (fried cheese) 24 hours a day. In recent years, the menu has expanded to include Mexican cuisine, sandwiches, and burgers. The variety is a bit odd, but seems to fit the diner format with Greek statues on display to keep the image from straying too far out of bounds. Skip the soda and try a fresh watermelon juice instead. Just save room for an apple pie sundae or baklava milkshake. The wait can get a little long at times, but you probably needed to stretch those legs anyway.
The exit sign for Zzyzx Road is responsible for drivers saying "What the hell is that?" for decades. The name is so odd, it even inspired a song by Stone Sour and movie starring Katherine Heigl. So what's the story here? The road is less than five miles long, passing by little of note as it winds into the Mojave National Preserve. At the end, you'll reach a small lake and an abandoned resort and spa that's now repurposed as a desert research facility by California State University. The guy who built the old getaway in the '40s was basically squatting on the land under a mining claim in what was then known as Soda Springs. He renamed the town Zzyzx, hoping to have the last word in the English dictionary. Today, you're welcome to park and explore. Just don't interfere with anyone busy doing work. The site is a bit creepy with an old swing set and empty swimming pools gathering dust, although you might spot a few bighorn sheep. Cars used to pull over on the Interstate to place stickers on the Zzyzx exit sign, but those were cleaned up a while back.
Lake Dolores Waterpark
Newberry Springs, California
Speaking of which… is there anything more creepy than an abandoned amusement park? Well, maybe a few things. Lake Dolores opened in 1962 as an entertainment complex in the middle of nowhere with rides, attractions, and a campground. Over the years, it developed into a full-fledged waterpark, thanks to a lagoon fed by underground springs. The property changed ownership a few times and tried to reinvent itself under the names Rock-a-Hoola and Discovery Waterpark before closing for good in 2004. Today, its ruins remain in clear view of drivers on Interstate 15. Urban explorers have a field day with the site, often entering through a dip in the fence that runs alongside Hacienda Road. The post-apocalyptic vibes are strong. Whatever is left of waterslides, pools, a lazy river, and gift shops is now covered in graffiti and long stripped of anything that might be valuable. We don't recommend hanging out here at night (and for the record, we don't recommend entering the property at all). It's hard to believe now, but the park was actually used for an early version of the Electric Daisy Carnival before the dance music event would become popular enough to fill stadiums.
You may not realize it, but a piece of fast-food history is hiding in plain sight. Take a detour off the Interstate to Yermo and head to Tita's Burger Den, the site of the original Del Taco, which opened in 1964 with 19-cent tacos and tostadas. Today, the roadside burger stand is a bit of a dive, but has a certain charm with its own take on tacos as well as burgers, wings, and sandwiches. A couple things to know: Tita's Burger Den only accepts cash and is strictly open weekdays. If you're tight on time, go with the drive-thru window.
The idea behind Eddie World is simple: make a gas station feel like an attraction, starting with the 65-foot-tall ice cream sundae that sits out front. Head inside for rows of self-serve candy and fresh-made food, including hand-rolled sushi and pizza cooked on the spot in artisanal ovens under the supervision of an "executive chef." The bathrooms are probably the largest and nicest on the interstate and gentlemen can even control video games with urine flow. Fun, huh? The biggest surprise, however, is the in-house museum dedicated to the L.A. Lakers with jerseys, photos, and a chunk of hardwood from the Great Western Forum where the team won four NBA championships. Eddie World also promises the lowest gas prices between Yermo and Las Vegas and even hands out disposable gloves by the pumps, 'cause who wants to eat that sushi with dirty hands? Whoever you are Eddie, we thank you.
After filling up on gas at Eddie World, you'll catch sight of the Liberty Sculpture Park, which is a political statement as much as a roadside attraction. The outdoor art installation features the work of Weiming Chen, a Chinese dissident whose large-format sculptures are critical of the oppression caused by the communist dictatorship back home. A lifesize student stands tall in the face of tanks, recreating a famous standoff during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre while a 30-foot-tall bust of Chinese President Xi Jinping is depicted as a partial skull with COVID protein spikes for hair. An original version of the latter was actually burned down by arsonists in 2021 and later replaced by a stronger version, underscoring the gravity of the message and the courage that often comes with protesting through art. A bust of Chief Crazy Horse symbolizes a different struggle against oppression closer to home. The park is visible from the Interstate, but offers plenty of photo opportunities for those who pull over during daytime.
Calico is an old mountainside mining town that was abandoned when the 19th-century Silver Rush dried up. Its buildings were preserved and restored by the same family behind Knott's Berry Farm, who reopened it to the public as Calico Ghost Town. Drive in, pay a small fee at the gate, and explore what it was like to live in the late 1800s – give or take. In between the wooden signs and wagon wheels, you'll explore an old schoolhouse, barbershop, and other businesses from back in the day. A few attractions cost a little extra, like the self-guided mine tour and the Mystery Shack, an optical illusion of space and perspective where water runs uphill. Take everything in on the Calico Odessa Railroad, a train that circles the park in about eight minutes. Calico Ghost Town is open daily 9 am-5 pm, with three different ghost tours rotating on Saturday nights. If you want to stick around longer, a campground has space for tents and RVs.
You'll see so many signs for Peggy Sue's 50s Diner on the I-15 it's hard not to feel pressured into stopping by for a bite. The restaurant first opened in 1954 as a routine truck stop but was later bought and expanded in the '80s by a couple who reinvented it as a dining destination heavy on nostalgia. The place is quite large, with a variety of themed dining rooms. One features a collection of TV and movie memorabilia. Another is modeled after a vintage Five and Dime store. The menu is heavy on burgers, fries, and other comfort food favorites, including throwbacks like malts, shakes, and chocolate Coke (which, yes, is a thing and way better than it sounds). The pizza parlor in the back is a nice touch, especially if you want to grab a pie to go. (The ability to eat and steer simultaneously is required for any daytripper.) The oddest thing about Peggy Sue's is the collection of dinosaur sculptures in the backyard park. Just roll with it. They're pretty cool.
Jenny Rose Sign
The Jenny Rose Restaurant closed more than a decade ago but still sits on, appropriately enough, Ghost Town Road in Yermo. The heart-shaped sign that stands overhead has become an iconic photo op, even if it no longer lights up the sky in neon red. The sign was featured on the back cover of Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club, which sold seven million copies, exposing music buyers to an unsuspecting piece of California road trip history.
This roadside attraction is basically a food court and flea market rolled up into one. It's also a bus station and liquor store. Barstow Station opened alongside the train tracks in 1975, built with old train cars, three of which are used to full effect in the McDonald's dining room. At last check, there was also a Subway, Panda Express, and the first-ever Dunkin' Donuts in California (if you don't count one for the troops at Camp Pendleton). To quote David Lee Roth, if you need "a bottle of anything and a glazed doughnut to go," this is probably your place. Throw in a few more bucks for a burger, lotto ticket, and phone charger, and you'll be in great shape for at least the next 100 miles. Barstow Station isn't pretty, but it's more interesting than the Starbucks across the street.
If you're on a road trip, it only makes sense to pull over and visit a museum about road trips. The California Route 66 Museum chronicles the famous "Mother Road" between Chicago and Los Angeles, ushering in a new wave of westward migration during the Dust Bowl and road trip vacations during the '50s, leading to a boom of motels and roadside attractions. The museum, open Friday–Sunday, is a glorified gift shop with lots of photo opportunities, including a hippie-worthy VW "love bus," 1917 Model T Ford, a classic American diner setup, and if you want something really fun, an outhouse as your backdrop. Admission is free, with donations welcome.
Don't bother with fast food when you can pull over for a glass of wine and cheese plate. D'Vine Wine Bar has been around for more than 15 years and is owned by Brian Wilson. No, not the Beach Boy. He's a second-level sommelier who loved the bar so much, he and his wife bought it. Wilson studied in Chile, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic, with an affection for Malbecs and even the occasional Petit Bordeaux reflected in the wine list. Despite making a point not to carry anything commonly sold in grocery stores, D'Vine Wine Bar isn't snobby or pretentious. The atmosphere is loose and social. There isn't a TV in sight, but you may catch some live entertainment here and there.
The Mormon Rocks are a series of jagged, photogenic sandstone peaks a mile west of the I-15 on Highway 138. Park at Mormon Rocks Fire Station (yes, it's totally fine—just stay out of the way of the station itself) and hike a one-mile loop with views of Cajon Pass. Watch out for steep drops off the main path and occasional rattlesnakes. You may spot a coyote too. There's little in the way of shade, and the noise of traffic never goes away, but the Mormon Rocks are a nice distraction, even if the "lost in nature" feel isn't quite there. The sandstone is filled with crevices and caves that once provided shelter to Mormon settlers and Native American tribes.