Adventure

Road Tripping California’s Wild West: 12 Things You Have To See Along Highway 395

You’ve heard of Route 66. You know about Highway 1. But what about Highway 395? Hugged by Death Valley, Kings Canyon and the epic Alabama Hills, 395 is the ultimate under-the-radar California road trip: home to thousands of moments of Western-inspired film, from John Wayne to Django, Iron Man and more. Today, we’re chronicling all the must-see, must-stop moments along this epic and fascinating stretch, from iconic Lone Pine, to the spectacular Mammoth Lakes.

Lone Pine

 

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Wedged between the rousing peaks of Death Valley National Park and the spectacular Alabama Hills, Lone Pine is one of the most visually remarkable small towns in California, if not the country. It’s also the undisputed HQ of the Californian western: over 400 films and countless TV episodes have been filmed around these parts.

Museum of Western Film History

 

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While you’re in town, don’t miss the Lone Pine Western Film History Museum, a thoroughly curated, comprehensive homage to the Hollywood greats and western stars that came through here to end up on the silver screen. There’s enough Tarantino, John Wayne, Iron Man, Gladiator and old school western memorabilia here to sink a fairly decent sized ship.

Alabama Hills and Mobius Arch

After checking out the museum, head to the heart of the action itself: the foot of the towering Alabama Hills where so many movie and TV scenes were shot. A short trek away along a dirt path also gets you to the Mobius Arch Stone, a natural doughnut rock formation that you can sit and pose in for a shot, with spectacular Mt Whitney perfectly framed behind you.

Frosty Chalet

 

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It’s super scorching out in the desert, and all that location scouting is bound to get you hankering for nourishment. Thankfully, Lone Pine is well serviced by Frosty Chalet, an ultra-cute 1950s-style fast food nook on the main drag, featuring a classic all-American diner menu. Double cheeseburgers, onion rings, crinkle cut fries and coffee shakes for the win.

Bodie Ghost Town

 

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During the American Gold Rush, the remote township of Bodie was a thriving 10,000-strong community. Known for its two churches to 60-odd saloons, it’s fair to say that a decent run of lawlessness went down in these parts. A good chunk of the town still exists here in arrested decay, and you can take a sweet tour of the remains, including the old mining buildings. Eerie, and super cool.

Mammoth Lakes

 

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For a dazzling rural experience just a hop from California’s big city hubs, Mammoth Lakes is an unexpected Californian gem just waiting to be uncovered. Testament to Cali’s accessible diversity, Mammoth Lakes is nestled amidst a spectacular stretch of the Sierra Mountains, and flanked by majestic natural wonders. Expect jaw-dropping scenes, and adventure to the max. Who knew how varied and stunning this state could get?

June Lake Loop

Proximate to the general Mammoth area, a road trip further down the 395 gets you onto June Lake Loop, an eye-opening alpine stretch that takes in an array of sparkling glacial lakes and dramatic snaggletooth peaks. If you have time, check out Blacks Pond, where Tom Cruise built his cabin in Oblivion.

Mono Lake

 

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Just when you thought you couldn’t handle another epic, mind-blowing natural wonder, Mono Lake enters stage right. One of the most unusual geographical anomalies in the region, Mono Lake is a vast water deposit surrounded by willow trees, cottonwood and flower-filled meadows, and skeleton limestone ‘tufa’ formations that yield an eerie sight for scorched eyes. Swim here at your peril – the salty alkalinity is so fierce that an extended freestyle in Mono Lake’s briny waters can leave you with second-degree burns.

Epic Cafe

It’s lunchtime, folks. After an epic day by the desert and lakes, head for Lee Vining, the cute tourist town on the 395, home of Epic Café: a perfect little nosh spot with ample outdoor lawn seating. Fix yourself a rice bowl, grilled cheese and salad, and a tipple of the local brew from local honchos, Mammoth Lakes Brewery.

Mammoth Lakes Brewery

 

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Why not head to the local brew HQ itself? Mammoth Lakes Brewery is the region’s beer-slinging pride and joy, offering a cosy pub dining experience and an extensive range of seasonal and all-season craft beer on tap. The ‘Damn Good Burger’ here ain’t lying – it’s damn good. Wash it down with a pint or two of the house pale ale for good measure.

Gomez Taquileria

 

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For excellent Mexican in colossal portions, Gomez Taquileria offers another superb local dining choice. Gomez really puts the ‘mammoth’ in the margaritas here, with an array of different flavours, all of which come served in a fishbowl larger than your head. Dessert tip: try the flan.

Tamarack Lodge

 

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Log cabin living rarely gets as plush and scenic as the accommodation setup at Mammoth Lakes’s Tamarack Lodge. Home to a family of rustic log cabins, and a cosy lobby with well-stocked whisky bar and fireplace, Tamarack sits right on the sparkling waters of Twin Lakes: a sight to behold from sunrise to sunset.

(Lead image: Radoslaw Lecyk / Shutterstock)

Our writer was a guest of Visit California.