Route 66: Pasadena, California
More than 2300 miles from Route 66's origin in Chicago sits the city of Pasadena. After days on the road, westbound travelers would have found Pasadena to be something of a last hurrah, and the city would serve as a gateway to the highway's final stretch into Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.
Want to recreate travelers' final leg of a Route 66 road trip?
Here's how to spend a day along The Mother Road in Pasadena:
Breakfast at Russell's
In operation since 1930, Russell's was a part of the Route 66 tradition for all but the highway's first four years.
Loved for their omelettes, their large portions, and their quirky mix of American and French -in both menu and décor-, Russell's is a perfect start to a day of touring Pasadena's Route 66 sites.
Russell's dining room is small, so arrive early and be prepared for a wait. Fortunately, Pasadena's 286 annual days of sunshine almost guarantee a pleasant wait on the chairs that line the sidewalk outside Russell's.
Tip: we love the food, but advise caution on the $1 upgrade for the "gourmet muffin." They suspiciously resemble muffins sold at (non-gourmet!) warehouse club stores.
Location: 30 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena 91103
Alternate Breakfast Option: Shakers
Although Shakers only appeared along Route 66 fourteen years before the highway was decommissioned, thus has a shorter history with the road, TV and movie fans will be glad they chose this option for breakfast. Travelers will find themselves sitting in booths graced by Mitch (Luke Wilson) in Old School, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) & Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in an episode of X-Files, and Tom Larsen (Brian Letscher) & Wayne Turner (Braden Lynch) in an episode of Scandal, among others. Plus, the food is true diner-good!
Location: 601 Fair Oaks Ave. South, South Pasadena 91030
Lunch at Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain
On the scene since 1915, Fair Oaks Pharmacy was just a pharmacy (then called South Pasadena Pharmacy) when Route 66 got to town. Shortly after The Mother Road came through, the pharmacy expanded to include a soda fountain serving ice cream, shakes, and a lunch menu, making it a popular stop along The Route. Renovations in the 1990s have returned the spot to its former glory, with a strong degree of authenticity.
Hard to know what's tops here: the history, the photo opps, or the food!
Location: 1526 Mission St., South Pasadena 91030
Dinner at Gus's BBQ
A classic Route 66 story, Gus's was started by a trio (Gus, Jack, and Mike) who left their family-owned bar in Cleveland in 1946, and headed west on Route 66. Arriving in South Pasadena, Gus et al. bought a diner (then called Hamburger Mac’s) right along The Route, and helped popularize barbecue on the West Coast.
Note to families: If you find Gus's be a tad pricier than your pre-determined Route 66 budget, consider nearby Shakers (from the breakfast suggestions, above) as an alternative.
Location: 808 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena 91030
Sleep at The Saga Motor Hotel
As postwar travel and tourism boomed, more and more motels popped up along Route 66, including the mid-century modern Saga Motor Hotel, built in 1946. Although the motel interior could use a refresh (decorative wallpaper borders hint at a possible remodel in the 1980s), the rooms are clean, the price is reasonable, and the location is pure Route 66.
Perhaps most importantly, the exterior -from palm trees to parking lot pool, concrete blocks to neon sign- is in perfect alignment with stereotyped Route 66 expectations.
Location: 1633 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91106
Historic things to see along Pasadena's stretch of Route 66
Just half a block off Route 66, the Pasadena Playhouse was the largest and most technically advanced theater west of the Mississippi River upon its construction in 1924 (just two years prior to the commissioning of Route 66).
In its first few decades, the Playhouse drew talent from across the country, and premiered plays by Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and others. Other major contributions included training the Air Force to use television and radio equipment, and supplying Southern California’s early TV stations with the first technicians trained in the business.
After some rocky years through the 70s when the theater barely escaped demolition, the late 80s saw a rebound. Today, Pasadena Playhouse again launches new works, as well as landmark revivals of American theater.
The playhouse's architecture, too, is an impressive site. Its Spanish colonial revival style -with roughly textured white stucco, painted tiles, and ornamental ironwork- is a reminder of an era when colonialism was regarded as a golden era.
Location: 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena 91101
Colorado Street Bridge
Route 66 ran across Pasadena's Colorado Street Bridge from 1926 through 1940, serving as a gateway to Los Angeles and the final stretch of Route 66.
At the time of its opening in 1913, Colorado Street Bridge was thought to be the highest concrete bridge in the world. The bridge's rare 50 degree curve -a solution to the difficult topography and terrain- plus its 150-ft height, soaring arches, and ornate cast-iron lampposts make the Colorado Street Bridge what locals consider one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.
Sadly, today Colorado Street Bridge is famous not for its engineering feats, but for the 100+ suicides from its rails, and the many subsequent ghost sightings both under and along the bridge.
Location: 504 - 532 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91105
Have you driven along Route 66 in Pasadena?
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Note: cover photo by Thad Zadjowicz. All other photos our own.
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