Lincoln and Olympic the True End of Route 66 Santa Monica CA

Wouldn’t it be great and easy to say that Route 66 goes from Pier to Pier, Navy Pier Chicago Illinois, to Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica California, but that would be a misconception.   Both the east and west terminus of Route 66 are located on streets about a mile before both piers begin.  How can this be, what were the forefathers thinking?  Didn’t they realize that travelers would want to dip their toes in the ocean and claim victory of a 2450-mile trek west across our country and take a selfie! 

Route 66 was not the E ticket of Americana back when it was first incorporated in 1926.  It was not the tourist attraction it is today; it was virtually and substantially a working road that was used for travel yes, but also commercial and agricultural transportation needs.  The federal laws of the land stated that a public highway had to end where another began.  In California this meant that Route 66 had to end where Highway 1 started.  That intersection in California is Olympic and Lincoln and that site is a mile from the beautiful ocean called the Pacific.  Highway 1 takes you to the ocean, not Route 66.

The Santa Monica pier is filled with food, amusement rides, an actual pier that you can walk a distance out across the ocean, Bubba Gump Shrimp and oh so much more.  Route 66 saw an upswing in tourism after the movie Cars came out in theaters (2006).  The pier called to the millions of tourists that came across to the west each year on Route 66 and they wanted to have a location to take a picture at the end.  Lincoln and Olympic did not have any signs to state it was the end of the route.  Much to Jerry McClanahan’s Ez66 Guide credit he lists the intersection as the end of the Route, but if no sign, no fun place to go, how does one chronicle this achievement of your travels?

What to do, what to do, in 2009 Dan Rice recreated and erected the End of the Trail sign on the pier.  It was dedicated as the “spiritual end of Route 66 in California.” 
Dan Rice was the first Route 66 enthusiast I ever had the pleasure of meeting.  In 2013 beginning my trip east on Route 66, I met Dan at his 66 to Cali stand and he said to me  “you are going to have the time of your life”,  “you will not have time for everything you want to see”  and “you will want to do the trip again and again”  he nailed it on all three statements.   I started my journey east on the Pier for a photo op, not at Olympic and Lincoln.

Even before the End of the Trail sign was up on the pier in Santa Monica, people thought the ocean was the end of the Route.  How did this happen in California?  It is the End of the Trail sign itself that propagated the myth that Route 66 ended at the ocean.  You see the sign that is in place today  is a replica of a Movie Prop originally and it was on the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean placed there in 1935.  It lasted till about 1960.  Movies replacing reality.  People assumed since the sign was on the bluff that is where the Route officially ended.  Another plaque the Will Rogers plaque placed at Ocean and Santa Monica intersection in 1950’s helped keep the myth alive well in to the 21st century.   A sign becomes an icon and an icon becomes the end symbol of the iconic Route.
Since the time the End of the Trail sign on the pier was erected in 2009, the city of Santa Monica has installed official end and start signage of Route 66 at Olympic and Lincoln.  Mel’s Diner opened at the corner in 2018 about the same time as the signs went up and so the official end of the Route can be photographed and there is a fun place to go when you do.
As far as Chicago, they have had signs up for years at East Jackson (end) and East Adams (start).  And although the Navy pier is just a few blocks from the end of the Chicago terminus, there is not the myth that Route 66 ended at the Lake.  Part of that could be that Navy Pier, really wasn’t the tourist attraction it is today till 1995.  Part of that could be the Pier is on a Lake and not an ocean.  If Chicago had a movie prop who knows what might have happened there too. 

The official end of Route 66 in California is at Olympic and Lincoln in Santa Monica.  Mel’s Diner has wonderful food and milkshakes, and you can do your pictures with the official end or beginning of the Route signs.  Either way you want to start or end your journey on Route 66 works for me, Pier to Pier or Sign to Sign as long as you take the journey, have fun, run out of time when you do so and want to do it again very soon.    Welcome Route 66 Travelers