Barstow. Barstow is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of a California vacation. Barstow is known for being the junction of multiple major highways. Barstow is known for its large rail yard. Barstow is known for its military base. Barstow is known for being a city you pass through on the way to somewhere else. Barstow isn’t really known for being a highly sought-after travel destination. But in the past, Barstow was an important stop on Route 66, so much so that it was one of the 12 Route 66 cities mentioned in the song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 written by Bobby Troup and made popular by Nat King Cole in 1946. Therefore, when we took a short Route 66 road trip at the beginning of the year to celebrate Route 66’s 90th anniversary, we made Barstow our first overnight stop so we could see Barstow’s Route 66 remnants and the memorials to this bygone era.
Main Street Murals
Barstow was first founded in the 1830s as part of the Mormon Corridor. Barstow developed further with the discovery of gold and silver and the subsequent gold rush to nearby mines like Calico. Then the railroads came through. After the railroads came Route 66. Today, Barstow’s Main Street is one of the last remaining Route 66 Main Streets. Barstow’s long and varied history is illustrated chronologically in Barstow’s Main Street murals, which were painted starting in 1998. The murals were created to help revitalize Barstow’s historic district by providing a short walking gallery along Main Street. Print a map of Barstow’s Main Street murals and wander through this gallery of 15 murals.
El Rancho Motel
While exploring Barstow’s historic main street, stop for a look at El Rancho Motel, a Route 66 hotel since the 1940s. It is said that El Rancho used to be a popular place to stay for celebrities like Marilyn Monroe.
Harvey House Casa del Desierto
I first learned about Harvey Houses when I saw the movie Harvey Girls with Judy Garland. What I didn’t realize at the time was that a few of the old Harvey Houses still exist. One of these is in Barstow. Fred Harvey ran a chain of restaurants along the Santa Fe Railway. The restaurants were known for their good food served on fine china and exceptional service provided by prim and proper waitresses known as Harvey Girls. The restaurants catered to train passengers. After train travel waned, the Harvey Houses continued to serve travelers, but of the road tripping kind. The Barstow Harvey House, called Casa del Desierto, was built in 1911 and operated for 60 years until it closed in 1971, which means it was also around to cater to Route 66 road trippers. Barstow’s Harvey House is one of the last and finest remaining examples of the famous Harvey Houses and is registered as a California Registered Historical Landmark.
Route 66 Mother Road Museum
Housed in the old Harvey House and Barstow train station is the Route 66 Mother Road Museum. The museum displays historic photographs and artifacts related to Route 66.
Western America Railroad Museum
The Barstow Harvey House also houses the Western America Railroad Museum which displays railroad history and technological development. Indoors is a display of artifacts, uniforms, tools, and other railroad related items. Outside are locomotives and railroad operating equipment.
Drive-in movie theaters were popular during the Route 66 era. However, only a few hundred are left in all of the United States. One of those is the Skyline Drive-In of Barstow, a two-screen drive-in with desert surroundings.
Barstow Station is a popular stop for casual dining. It started as a lone McDonald’s, but was transformed by owner Fred Rosenberg into an eatery made with 16 train cars strung together in the 1960s. A building was constructed next to them and Barstow Station had its grand opening on July 10, 1975. Inside Barstow Station, you’ll find gift shops, an ice cream parlor, and some casual restaurants like Route 66 Hot Dogs, Jed’s Jerky, Subway, Panda Express, and Dunkin’ Donuts. The McDonald’s at Barstow Station is made of three side-by-side railroad cars, an homage to the importance of Barstow’s railroad.
We stayed at the California Inn Barstow as it is one of Barstow’s pet-friendly hotels and because of its convenient location near Barstow’s historic Main Street. There are a number of hotels in Barstow from which to choose.
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