Get your kicks on interactive Route 66 map

The Automobile Club of Southern California is out with a sweet interactive map of old U.S. 66 and the western portion of the National Old Trails Road.

The map has virtual stops along the way and is superimposed over a National Old Trails Road map that predates the November, 1926, creation of U.S. 66.

When you visit the link, it first asks for your zip code to locate where you are in the AAA world. Enter and just click right through… there’s no charge.

Some history… there weren’t U.S. Highway designations before November 11, 1926. That’s well into the automobile era, as cars were relatively reliable and certainly affordable by the mid-1920s, so lots of folks were venturing out on the road.

There was no federal system of highways, so individuals put up signs directing drivers along (usually lousy) roads that usually included a detour to a gas station or other attraction. Business folks came up with the National Auto Trails that were not much better. The National Old Trails road, which ran from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, competed with other roads, such as the Bankhead Highway, which ran from D.C. to San Diego.

There were no standards for the roads, or signs. An interesting tidbit is that the Automobile Club of Southern California, which put up a majority of directional signs up to World War II, also signed the National Old Trails Road outside of its home base of Southern California, 4,000 miles east all the way to Kansas City.

Anyhow, U.S. 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and became famous in the song and TV show. It’s a fun trip, although if you’re visiting San Diego, I’d suggest checking out old U.S. 80.

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Kia Soul and me visit Joshua Tree National Park

Remember that big storm in early January? Not the one with the wind that we just had, but the one that flooded out everything?

Well, I was testing a Kia Soul ! (yes, the model is called !) that week for my next Union-Tribune Weekend Driver column, scheduled to run (UPDATE) Feb. 14.

It’s all good… the Soul is a really pretty good in the rain, as I found out going up and coming back. In the middle was a beautiful sunny trip through the wonderful Joshua Tree National Park. It’s just north of the Coachella Valley and south of Twentynine Palms (think north and west of Palm Springs).

Beautiful skies, puffy clouds. An extended San Diego day trip.

Read all about it in a few weeks.

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Mid-City Ramble: Euclid and Adams Avenues Drive Through City’s Spine

Euclid Avenue is one of the city’s oldest and longest thoroughfares, running from National City to the rim of Mission Valley. It twists and dips through some still open canyons and unique neighborhoods.
Those neighborhoods contain some great history, revitalized business districts and unique places to eat.

Our San Diego day trip takes Euclid from Imperial Avenue, in the Valencia Park neighborhood, to near its end in Talmadge. Then we’ll twist around to Kensington and head over Adams Avenue, another of San Diego’s great boulevards, to University Heights.

A big city is made up of many small villages, and this drive will take you through some called Valencia Park, Webster, City Heights, Talmadge, Kensington, Normal Heights and University Heights. The sites aren’t always pretty, but it does provide a great slice of our big city.

And, if you’re looking for diversity, here’s where to find it, with neighborhoods full of African Americans, Latinos, Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese and just about every other ethnic group you can imagine.

Market Creek Plaza amphitheater
Amphitheater at Market Creek Plaza.

Our drives usually include a stop at a restaurant and on my trip, it was my first destination… the legendary Huffman’s Barbecue at 5039 Imperial Avenue. Sadly, the restaurant closed in 2012, but here’s a little bit on the restaurant that I wrote when this story was published in 2005.

Family owned and operated since 1967, the menu includes barbecue favorites as well as soul food, including gumbo, gizzards and chitterlings. It’s open for lunch and dinner.

There are many other restaurants in this area serving soul food, as well as Mexican and Asian specialties, so be sure to bring your appetite. Mine was filled by Huffman’s hot link sandwich and a side of red beans and rice.

Imperial Avenue meets Euclid at the top of a hill, which gives drivers a great view north to mountains and south to the San Diego Bay on clear days.

This is the heart of San Diego’s African American community. The annual Heritage Day Parade runs along this portion of Euclid; it’s held annually.

There’s a lot happening around the intersection of Market Street and Euclid Avenue, the next big cross street on our route. As drivers head north on Euclid, they see the bustling Market Creek Plaza on the left. The $23.5 million development brought a Food4Less market, specialty shops and restaurants to an abandoned factory site.

A real treat is to visit the amphitheater and bridge over Chollas Creek, which provides a pastoral oasis in the middle of the city. A couple of the restaurants in the center offer creek-side dining.

After passing the tracks of the San Diego Trolley and Market Street, look east to the Malcolm X. Library and Performing Arts Center (5148 Market St., 619-527-3405). This architecturally unique facility opened in 1996 and has helped revitalize the area.

Heading up the hill to the interchange with state Route 94, drivers see the haphazard development pattern of this area, which was one of San Diego’s first suburbs. Tract homes, many built in the 1940s and 50s, sit on the hilltops, but there are still many open areas.

And while new urban developments talk about mixed use being small shops and cafes clustered with condos, this area still mixes in auto repair shops and other non-compatible businesses, as it was done in the “good old days.”

Another busy intersection is at Federal Boulevard and Euclid Avenue. It’s hard to imagine today, but before SR-94 opened in the late 1950s, this was the main highway from downtown to Lemon Grove and El Cajon.

When I was a kid, we’d shop in this area, which had a Fedco department store, as well as several markets, including a Safeway and DeFalco’s (there’s a name that only old-time San Diegans will remember). This area has also been revitalized, with much local effort through the Diamond Business Improvement District, local residents and the city of San Diego.

From here, stay on Euclid Avenue as as 54th Street veers to the right. Euclid then curves down into the Chollas Creek canyon. The city has planned hiking trails for this area and hopes to restore the watershed, which runs to San Diego Bay. If you’d like to take a look, detour at Chollas Drive to Quince Street, where there is creek access.

And, to give you an idea of how rural this area once was, until the early 1960s, a dairy was located just south of where Euclid crosses the creek.

Euclid dips and twists as it crosses the creek, heading past Ridge View Drive and Altadena Avenue before dropping down again and meeting up with Home Avenue. At the turn, look for City Farmers Nursery, 4832 Home Avenue, (619-284-6358).

Euclid next goes up the hill to the City Heights neighborhood and some urban archaeology where it meets University Avenue. Don’t miss the Egyptian Garage (Big City Liquor, since 1957) on the southeast corner. It was built in the 1920s, around the time that the opening of King Tut’s tomb started a craze for all-things Egyptian.

Just a bit east on University at Reno Drive is The Tower, a one-time soda fountain topped by a 110-foot art deco-style tower (www.thetowerbar.com). San Diego’s original streetcar line ended here.

Historic Normal Heights street sign.
Historic sign marks Normal Heights. Sign was originally installed by streetcar company.

The Tower was built in 1932, a 110-foot monument marking the east end of the University Avenue streetcar line. By 1999, the tower was as tipsy as some of its patrons and was lobotomized. A decade later, the City of San Diego found some money and replaced the hat, restoring the landmark to its original glory, although a bit more colorful this time.

On the northeast corner is the old Silverado Ballroom, where East San Diegans used to dance to big band tunes.

The buildings show a fascinating mix of cultures, with signs in English, Spanish and a variety of Asian languages and alphabets. Both University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard have many unique shops and places to eat; if you have time, take a detour.

North of El Cajon Boulevard is the Talmadge neighborhood, one of two developments dating to the 1920s on our route. Named for the Talmadge sisters, who were big in the silent movie days, this area and Kensington, just to the west, were built in the early days of the automobile.

We’ll dip down to Aldene Drive, through the canyon and under Fairmount Avenue, then up the hill to Van Dyke Street and the western portion of Adams Avenue.

Egyptian Garage
Egyptian Garage has been Big City Liquor for decades. This photo is from 2005; note the tower-less Tower bar across the street. The spire has since been replaced.

Kensington is one of San Diego’s favorite neighborhoods, with its old overhead sign (the original was built by the streetcar company), coffee houses, cafes and the Ken Theater. Cross Interstate 15 and you’re in Normal Heights; west of I-805 is University Heights.

There are spectacular views of Mission Valley and unique homes to check out on the streets north of Adams Avenue, so make a right turn at your convenience.

Don’t miss Trolley Barn Park in University Heights. On the site of the old San Diego Electric Railway streetcar facility, the park offers a great vista of Mission Valley from its north edge. Trolley-themed playground equipment, checkerboard tables and sidewalks in a grid pattern, replicating the area’s streets, compliment the expansive lawn.

Where Adams and Park Boulevard meet was once Mission Cliff Gardens, which is commemorated by all the ostrich symbols in the area. The gardens, according to the San Diego Historical Society, were developed by the streetcar company and operated from 1891 to 1942. They’re long gone except for the street name, Mission Cliff Drive, and the decorative posts at the north end of Park Boulevard.

Another revitalized neighborhood is University Heights, where at Mission Avenue and Park Boulevard are a charming collection of restaurants, coffee houses and even a massage-supply store. Stop under the big sign if you have time.

Where El Cajon Boulevard, Normal Street and Park Boulevard meet are some historic buildings and a hidden, private auto museum. At the east end of the intersection is the 1910-vintage Teacher Training Annex, a remnant from when this was the location of the San Diego State Normal School, predecessor to San Diego State University. The university moved to Montezuma Mesa in 1931.

The building is now part of the San Diego Unified School District’s headquarters complex. Its main building, just south, is one of the best examples in San Diego of mid-century modern architecture, largely untouched since it opened in 1952.

Across two streets, at 4233 Park Blvd., is the J.A. Cooley Auto Museum. It’s the private collection of Jim Cooley, who will probably be there, who says he has one of the largest collections of one-cylinder cars in the world. I’m not going to dispute him, as the cars are wonderful pieces of century-old history. There are about 18 cars on display, plus assorted photos of the neighborhood dating back decades, Army and Navy recruiting posters, antique toys and more. It’s well worth a visit.

From here, take Park Boulevard to Balboa Park, or cut over Normal Street and Washington Street to SR-163. Or head back up El Cajon Boulevard or University Avenue to explore more of San Diego’s Mid-City. You won’t believe what’s here. ⚙

Route and Info

Distance

  • About 13 miles.

Difficulty

  • Easy for those used to city traffic.

Directions

  • Interstate 805 to Imperial Avenue exit.
  • East on Imperial Avenue.
  • Left at Euclid Avenue. Follow Euclid north at 54th Street and Home Avenue.
  • Left at Monroe Avenue. Continue onto Aldene Drive and Van Dyke Avenue.
  • Right at Adams Avenue.
  • Left at Park Boulevard.
  • Right at Normal Street.
  • Right at Washington Street to SR-163.
  • From January 2005; updated July 2012
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Weekend Driver’s in UTSanDiego Today … and online

The latest Weekend Driver column is in print today and online. Weekend Driver: Train stop to history is in your favorite formats. It’s a trip to the Dos Cabeza train station out in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Pick up a copy at a newsstand or enjoy online. The online version includes the directions and a link to a Google map with the location.

And be sure to check back in a couple of weeks; we’ll have an extended version here at weekenddriver.com.

Mount Laguna’s Sunrise Highway Gives Seasonal Color in Southern California

Many of the great driving roads in San Diego county are in areas where October’s fires raged, but many others were untouched.

While the old mountain town of Julian was threatened in October’s fires, it once again made it through without damage. So, too, did one of the prettiest and most enjoyable routes to the enclave: Sunrise Highway, over Mount Laguna.

And even this late in the year, there’s a bit of fall color left up at 5,000 feet, contrasting with the evergreen pines. Just enough twists in the road will test a driver’s skill and give the suspension in your car, SUV or bike just enough exercise. It’s the cure for urban cabin fever.

Mount Laguna is always one of my favorite San Diego day trips — so much that even though we went there just a couple of months back, it’s worth a return trip. Mountain high yet closer than Palomar to my central-county home, there’s nothing like a day in the trees, as we found out in October, when we took a Jeep up to find a good picnic spot in the woods. This month, we’re driving a Saturn Vue Redline SUV, and while it does have all-wheel-drive, it seemed more suited to the street than trail.

Using Sunrise Highway to Julian isn’t the most direct route, but the detour won’t add more than a half-hour to your trip from Interstate 8. Head east from the city to the Sunrise Highway exit, just past Pine Valley, then north up the mountain.

Gentle twists and chaparral dominate, with spectacular views west to Pine Valley, until the road passes the timber line at around 5,000 feet. Then the oaks, pines and evergreens take over to give the area the look of a traditional mountain forest.

When snow comes to the high country this winter, Mount Laguna, as always, will be a good spot to head for the white stuff, with roadside parking available to play. Since this is part of the Cleveland National Forest, you will need a National Forest Adventurepass if you want to park anywhere except at restaurants, lodges or store at the small community of Mount Laguna. Passes are available at stores in Pine Valley or at the Mount Laguna store.

There wasn’t any snow during my visit, just a few golden leafs in the trees and occasionally drifting across the highway. Not exactly New Hampshire, but this is an easy drive from downtown San Diego.

Sunrise Highway is one of the best roads in the county for everyone from novice mountain drivers to hard-core enthusiasts wanting just a pleasant route. There are more than a few good twists, but they’re usually short and generally wide. They’re far less severe than our return route, over Cuyamaca Highway (state Route 79).

A couple of stops are usually on the agenda. The mountain visitor center is located adjacent to the Mount Laguna Lodge and Store; check in here for an Adventurepass, maps, supplies and just a stretch. Watch for the meadow overlook south of the store and the desert overlook to the north.
Mostly, Sunrise Highway is pleasant driving, surrounded by trees or open meadows, certainly unique and worthy of its designation as a National Forest Scenic Byway.

After passing through the beautiful Rattlesnake Valley and by the Fages Monument, make the right at Cuyamaca Highway (SR-79) and head toward Julian. Just before heading into town, look for Desert View Park, with a great vista east to the Banner Grade and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
On a beautiful, pre-Thanksgiving, post-fire weekend, I found Julian to be a busy place. Shops were open, there were lines for pie and lunch, traffic on Main Street. Some of the locals told me “everybody just showed up.” Yes, Julian is open for business and continues to be a great destination for a day in the country.

It costs a few bucks, but rather than driving around looking for a spot, I usually head to the big parking lot at 4th and B streets. Quicker parking means more time to wander. Everything looked open, including Miner’s Diner, the Menghini Winery out on Wynola Road, the handsome cabs.

Coming back, I chose to take SR-79 south, through Cuyamaca. It’s here you’ll see scars from fires, but they’re mostly from the 2003 Cedar fire. Vegetation is coming back but many of the trees are gone for good.

Cuyamaca Highway is much more challenging than Sunrise Highway. There’s usually more traffic and there are always more twists in the road. If you’re a bit uncomfortable with hairpin turns, retrace your route along Sunrise Highway.
The visitor center has relocated to near its old site at the Dyar House. Although the house was burned in the 2003 fire, the stone walls remain, braced to prevent further damage.

The visitor center is in a temporary structure near the entry to the school camp, where I got a taste of mountain life back when I was in sixth grade (just a few years ago).
From the end of Cuyamaca Highway, it’s over a short stretch of old Highway 80 through Descanso Junction to Interstate 8 and home.

Fires, floods, storms… and the mountains still issue a call for a great day trip. The car needs exercise and you need a break from the city. Take the drive.

Wide open cruise on the north end of Sunrise Highway.
View of desert from near Mt. Laguna.

Route and Info

  • From December 2007. This story was published shortly after the October 2007 brush fires; I’ve left the references intact.

Distance

  • 56 miles. Sunrise Highway is about 50 miles east of central San Diego.

Difficulty

  • Moderate to challenging.

Directions

  • Interstate 8 east to Sunrise Highway. Go north (left) onto Sunrise Highway.
  • Right at SR-79 (Cuyamaca Highway) to Julian.
Return
  • SR-79 south.
  • Right at Old Highway 80 to Interstate 8.

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