As travelers watch gas prices soar higher than ever, some are left with few vacation options. But, don’t let that ominous cha-ching! keep you from traveling. Just get out there, and embark on an adventure in your very own backyard.
Part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, America’s Scenic Byways promotes, preserves and enhances specific stretches of road—be it urban- or natural-scapes.
These scenic byways provide travelers unique road trip opportunities, with fun stops along the way. And, best of all, 44 states have a byway, so travelers can find their own close-to-home adventure.
For more information on America’s byways, check out www.byways.org.
PeterGreenberg.com’s Athena and Monique hit the road with in a BMW 3 Series convertible and made a full day trip of nine stops in nine miles along an American Byway. This short, fuel-friendly drive along the Arroyo Seco Parkway, part of the historic Route 66, uncovered some true L.A. gems.
1. Philippe The Original Restaurant
Located in Chinatown, Philippe Restaurant claims to be one of L.A.’s oldest restaurants. It was founded in 1908, and prices for some menu items have hovered near their original prices: The once $.05 coffee now costs a hefty $.09 … talk about inflation! You can even savor custard, tapioca, and—cue drum roll—pickled eggs. We stuffed down hearty breakfast, complete with a $.40 doughnut. Breakfast for three wound up totaling about $15.
Philippe is also open for lunch and dinner, even offering a surprisingly extensive wine selection. This low-key, cafeteria-style eatery with sprinkled wood shavings on the floors entices a hodge-podge of clientele, from high-wheeling, downtown bankers to local regulars.
1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, 213-628-3781, www.philippes.com
2. Walt Disney Concert Hall
As the most recent—and successful—effort to revive the oft overlooked downtown Los Angeles, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall lays anchor to the city of angels. From a distance, its enormous, billowing sails of stainless steel looks like ribbons of futuristic sheet music.
The Concert Hall, which was completed in October 2003 to the tune of $274 million, is the venue of choice for myriad performances, including jazz, holiday festivities and choral concerts. Upon entering the Hall, visitors stroll among a forest of gracefully off-kilter beams that spring out of the floor and disappear through the ceiling. Without an apparent straight line in the whole place, it’s one of the most acoustically advanced buildings in the country and, appropriately enough, the permanent home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-972-7211, www.LAPhil.com
Folded neatly between the seams of this ultra-modern edifice are a gift shop and café, but perhaps the best bit of the whole experience is outside the margins, atop a winged, lush terrace dedicated to Mrs. Disney herself. Photo credit: Robert Landau
3. Arroyo Seco Parkway
Once you finishing exploring the iconic architectural marvels of downtown, hop on the Arroyo Seco Parkway, also referred to as State Route 110 or the Pasadena Freeway. Part of historic Route 66, this nine-mile road connects downtown L.A. and South Pasadena. It opened in 1940 and was America’s first “freeway” west of the Mississippi. One of only three urban byways (the others are the Las Vegas Strip and Detroit’s Woodward Avenue), Arroyo Seco runs parallel to the trickling, concrete-lined Los Angeles River.
Much of the original infrastructure has stayed intact: Watch out for those 5 MPH freeway exits, unless you’re driving a Model T. Several exits along the way offer travelers an opportunity to appreciate the rich history L.A. has to offer, besides the glitz and glam of Hollywood. Take exit Avenue 43, for example, and you’ll be ushered into a quaint neighborhood with Victorian homes.
4. Audubon Center at Debs Park
As the first-ever building in the nation to receive a platinum rating for sustainable construction, the Audubon Center at Debs Park is completely off the grid. The Center provides for 100 percent of its energy needs entirely on-site, relying on solar power and recycling its own rain and wastewater. The building is made from, among other materials, mulched sunflowers, wheatboard (recycled wheat chaff) and recycled gunmetal.
The educational center, Children’s Woodland, and hiking trails are set within 300 acres of hilly land, offering 40,000 urban kids the chance to experience the great outdoors—all surrounded by one of the densest urban areas in the country. Debs Park also is home to the second largest population of bird species in California, second only to San Diego, so you’re bound to catch glimpses of kites, swallows and red tailed hawks. On low-smog days, there are unbeatable views of the San Gabriel Mountains and the L.A. skyline.
4599 Griffin Ave., Los Angeles, 323-221-2255, ca.audubon.org/debs_park
5. Chicken Boy and Antigua Bread
Ultramodern Los Angeles still boasts some classic Americana along the historic Route 66 corridor … you just have to know where to find it. Head to Highland Park’s Figueroa Street; tucked between original Craftsman houses is the “Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles,” better known as “Chicken Boy.”
Rescued from a closing fried chicken stand by Amy Inouye, owner of the local art gallery beneath the figure, the 22-foot tall fiberglass man-bird is now the reigning symbol of the offbeat artists’ culture that once defined L.A.
Inside the gallery, you’ll find Inouye’s personal collection of lamps—some carpeted, some with stuffed animals dangling from the shades—eccentric chairs, knick-knacks and postcards. An exhibit of “found art” created by Los Angeles-artists features pieces such as “Coat of Arms,” made of steel bits, rodent skeletons and petrified reptiles, as well as “Distribution of the Sensible,” spray-painted with stencils of barn swallows on cardboard.
Enjoy Chicken Boy for a while, and when you’re famished, head to the recently established, family-owned Antigua Bread for Guatemalan coffee and cuisine at rock-bottom prices (a sandwich with chips and drink costs $5.95), free Wi-Fi and pastries.
Chicken Boy Roadside Attraction: 5500 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park, 323-254-4565, www.chickenboy.com
Antigua Bread, Café and Bakery: 5703 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park,
6. Galco’s Soda Pop Stop
If you want to meet one of the top—if not the top—soda pop sommelier in the world, visit Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, where owner John Nese astounds guests with his immense knowledge of all things soda pop. He hand selects rare and unusual sodas from every corner of the globe. But, don’t stop here if you’re looking for Coca-Cola or Pepsi because, as John states, his one-of-a-kind store offers “freedom of choice.”
At Galco’s, you’ll find Sweet Blossom, a soda made with real pressed rose petals, and Mr. Q Cumber, a surprisingly tasty bubbly drink, flavored with real cucumber. If you like champagne, try Mint Juleps: Carbonation is added to this soda using a pin-point carbonator, causing the bubbles to be finer and more delicate than traditional soda pop.
Mr. Nese doesn’t just carry sodas. His store also shelves nearly 470 varieties of beer, including one from the world’s oldest brewery, called Weihenstephaner, established in 1040. He also carries a variety of unusual sake, wine and champagne.
And, for those of you who miss those childhood days of chomping on Abba Zabba, Wax Lips, Target Candy Cigarettes and more, Galco’s is your safe, sweet haven.
5702 York Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-255-7155, www.sodapopstop.com
7. La Grande Orange Café
When driving through Old Pasadena, you’ll notice that it’s not so much old as it is a revamping of the classic into a chic, new hybrid. At the northern end of the Scenic Byway on Colorado Street, Pasadena has been diligently restoring buildings, while erecting new apartment complexes, high-end retail spots and swanky restaurants, all of which enhance the old-school driving experience of Route 66.
In a seemingly unlikely spot for a restaurant, the restored Santa Fe train depot is home to La Grande Orange Café, one of the most recent additions to the transportation hub in Pasadena. Complementing the scene and adjacent to the café is a Metro Gold Line passenger light-rail train station, a tribute to the original line that chugged through California in the old days.
260 Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-4444
8. The Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa
The Langham, Huntington Hotel and Spa is a grandiose, historic 1907 landmark tucked away from downtown Pasadena on a secluded knoll at the base of San Gabriel Mountains.
For art buffs, stroll along the Picture Bridge built by Frank Moore in 1932, a replica of the Lucerne Bridge in Switzerland. The bridge features 40 painted murals of California scenery, such as The Carmel Mission.
The hotel bar offers live music on Friday and Saturday evenings, and guests can enjoy a spot of afternoon tea in the lobby lounge. But, save your appetites … The Langham perhaps is most well-known for its decadent champagne brunch on Sundays. As you enter the Terrace dining room, you’ll find seemingly endless platters of treats and various made-to-order stations.
And, don’t forget dessert. The entire entrance of The Terrace is filled with French pastries, freshly baked breakfast breads, tortes and cakes, and even a chocolate fountain—no fingers, please!
1401 South Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena, 626-568-3900, www.langhamhotels.com
9. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
Sprawling across 120 acres, the world-famous Huntington Gardens really does seem to have something for everyone. However, one of the standouts is the Desert Garden. One of the first collection gardens in the country, it has more than 4,000 species of dramatically pointy succulents and over 100 types of palm trees.
Get your art, literature and nature fix in one fell swoop at California’s first classical Chinese Garden, a freshly opened walk-through experience at the Huntington Gardens with bridges, traditional Chinese abodes and artful rock collections. On your way to the American Art Gallery, stop and smell the roses in the shady Shakespeare Garden, and re-fuel with a classy buffet and tea at the Huntington Library.
Keep in mind that April and May are the busiest months to visit Huntington Gardens, with weekends and summers marking the height of visitation times. Go on a weekday if you want the place more or less to yourself. Huntington insider and docent Lisa Blackburn says that the palm collection is one of the less-traveled areas of the gardens. Also, check online for a monthly day pass that you can print ahead of time and gain free admission.
1151 Oxford St., San Marino, 626-405-2225, www.huntington.org
Creating Your Own American Byway Getaway
Each stop offered a new, less traditional peek into the inner workings of L.A.’s sprawling metropolis. You, too, can embark on a byway road trip that’s a very affordable option in these times of high gas prices.
For those who appreciate history, New Mexico’s Billy the Kid Trail takes you through the million-acre Lincoln National Forest and traces the steps of Billy the Kid and lawman Pat Garrett.
If you have a hankering for adventure, explore Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, highlighting tall forests, lakes, and the tower thought to be built by Paul himself.
If you love the environment, visit Oregon’s Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway and examine ancient natural forces that created mountain lakes, wavy lava flows, and lava tube caves.
No matter which byway you choose, you may well leave with a new appreciation of what the U.S. has to offer.
By Athena Arnot-Copenhaver and Monique-Marie DeJong for PeterGreenberg.com.
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