Ready to take the “distance” part of “social distancing” to the next level? Check out our Best American Summer Road Trip Ideas for a look at the wildest and weirdest pit stops across the country. When it comes to road trips, there’s really only one way to travel between Las Vegas and Los Angeles — by channeling your inner-Hunter S. Thompson and taking a drive through the desert on Interstate 15. The journey is at least three hours and more than 200 miles, but it’s far from boring. Check out all the cool, strange, and downright confusing things you’ll see along the way, from roadside attractions to restaurants and every quirky landmark in between.
Jean, Nevada Interstate 15 Exit 25 (driving south), Exit 12 (driving north) About 15 miles south of Las Vegas, you may spot something odd in the distance from the highway. No, it’s not a hallucination. It’s Seven Magic Mountains — a rainbow-colored assortment of rocks stacked in columns more than 30 feet high. The art installation was created by Ugo Rondinone and commissioned by the Nevada Museum of Art. The exhibit isn’t super convenient, which is probably by design. Seven Magic Mountains is between two interstate exits — and at least a 5-mile drive from either of them. In other words, it’s not by an off-ramp gas station. You have to care enough to go out of your way to see it. Visitors are encouraged to check it out between sunrise and sunset, since there aren’t any lights to illuminate it at night. It’s estimated more than 321,000 people visited Seven Magic Mountains last year. Unveiled in 2016, the exhibit originally only supposed to be in place for a couple years, but agreements were made to keep it around through at least 2021.
Jean, Nevada Interstate 15 Exit 12 Terrible’s Hotel & Casino — known for decades as the Gold Strike before it was sold and renamed in 2018 — is the only resort in the mostly empty town of Jean. It’s worth a stop to check out the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame that dominates the casino floor. The free exhibit is a collection of vintage and contemporary off-road vehicles, including buggies, motorcycles, and trophy trucks. To make things even more fun, famous cars from film and television are rotated in and out, including a few familiar hot rods from the Fast and the Furious franchise, but a Batmobile from the ’60s Batman series is the mainstay. Play up the movie-going experience to full effect with free bags of fresh-made popcorn. Bonus: Before you get back on the interstate, make a pit stop at Terrible’s Road House — the “World’s Largest Chevron Station” — with 96 gas pumps, 60 restrooms, and 50,000 square feet of retail space. That includes a White Castle, Candy Village, and a Red Bull phone-charging lounge underneath small aircraft hanging from the ceiling. Don’t leave without taking a photo with the 13-foot-tall Sasquatch statue.
Goodsprings, Nevada Interstate 15 Exit 12 There’s all sorts of things to love about the Pioneer Saloon. The oldest bar in Southern Nevada has great steaks, stiff drinks, and a buy-your-own-whiskey-barrel program. It’s also loaded with history. Originally ordered from a Sears catalog (you could get anything from a department store back in those days), the saloon opened in 1913 and continues to thrive more than a century later. Clark Gable hung around the bar in 1942 while awaiting news on the fate of his wife Carole Lombard, who was killed in a TWA plane crash on nearby Potosi Mountain. (According to legend, you can still see the marks in the bar counter where he stamped out his cigarettes in frustration.) You can also see bullet holes in the wall, supposedly related to a dispute over a poker game. The Pioneer Saloon remains a symbol of the Old West spirit that defined the gold and silver era of Nevada’s early growth, but has expanded over the years to now include a dining room and BBQ courtyard.
Primm, Nevada Interstate 15 Exit 1 After closing for a while — no official reason given — the Desperado roller coaster is up and running once again at Buffalo Bill’s resort. The ride lasts just under three minutes with a 225-foot drop, four G-force, and speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. The cool part? It actually passes through the casino. The Desperado was the tallest roller coaster in the world when it was first unveiled in 1994. It’s still an imposing sight from the interstate, with its track wrapping around the resort. Don’t fight the urge to pull over and try it out. A ride is just $15.
Primm, Nevada Interstate 15 Exit 1 Just north of the state line between Nevada and California, you can pull over at Whiskey Pete’s to fill up on gas, grab a coffee at Starbucks, and check out the Bonnie & Clyde Death Car — and yes, that’s exactly how it’s billed. Sitting in the middle of the casino floor like any old slot machine is the same Ford V8 Deluxe the gangster couple used for their notorious Midwest crime spree. Even better — it’s riddled with bullets from the shootout that brought everything to an end in 1934. On display behind a glass case and flanked by two Bonnie and Clyde mannequins, the “death car” toured state fairs and found itself in and out of different museums for decades before settling in at Whiskey Pete’s for more than 10 years now. Plans are in the works to expand the display into a larger full-blown Bonnie & Clyde museum. Enjoy it now while it’s still free.
Baker, California Interstate 15 Exit 246 It’s easy to spot the small town of Baker — basically an oasis of gas stations and restaurants — by its pride and joy: the World’s Tallest Thermometer. It not only stands at 134 feet tall, but also reads temperatures up to 134 degrees, which happens to be the record heat in nearby Death Valley back in 1913. The goofy roadside attraction was erected in the early ’90s as a companion piece to the Bun Boy burger joint. The restaurant didn’t last, but the thermometer is still there — although an early version was blown over by heavy winds. Its sturdier replacement was made with nearly 77,000 pounds of concrete. The thermometer was sold a few times and the digital display went dark for a few years. It was eventually renovated by YESCO (the company responsible for many classic Vegas neon marquees) and has been fully operational as of 2014. A gift shop near the base helps cover operating costs, so make a point to stop by. Do you really want to pass through Baker without buying a “World’s Tallest Thermometer” keychain?
Baker, California Interstate 15 Exit 246 Okay, time to eat. The Mad Greek is a rare chance to get fed with real food while bypassing all those fast food chains. The restaurant is open 24 hours and always busy. The family-owned business has been around for nearly three decades, serving Greek favorites like fresh-sliced gyros, babaganoush, and saganaki (fried cheese). In recent years, the menu has expanded to include Mexican cuisine and a deep lineup of sandwiches and burgers. The variety is a bit odd, but seems to fit the diner format of the restaurant — and the Greek statues on display keep the image in check. Skip the soda and try a fresh watermelon juice instead. Just save room for an apple pie sundae or baklava milkshake. The wait can get a little long at times, but you need to stretch those legs anyway.
Baker, California Interstate 15 Exit 246 (driving south), Exit 245 (driving north) It’s an unusual sight, but one that could be on every corner in the not-so-distant future. The Tesla Supercharger is one of the largest electric car charging stations currently in operation in the western United States. Just park your Tesla at one of 40 bays — underneath the shade of solar panels — and grab a bite to eat at the Jersey Mike’s or Dairy Queen next door. It takes about 30 minutes for a full charge, but you’ll probably need just a fraction of that time — depending on where you’re going and how much juice you already have. (Don’t worry, your car’s super “brain” will figure all that out for you, based on anticipated traffic, topography, etc.) The charging ports only work on Tesla vehicles and are free for all new Model S and X vehicles. Otherwise, it’s 28-cents per kilowatt hour. If you miss the exit, don’t freak out. Tesla has smaller charging stations in Primm, Yermo, and Barstow.
Zzyzx, California Interstate 15 Exit 239 The exit sign for Zzyzx Road is responsible for drivers saying “What the fuck is that?” for decades. The name is so odd, it even inspired a song by Stone Sour and a movie starring Katherine Heigl. So what’s the story here? The road is less than five miles long, passing by little of note as it winds into the Mojave National Preserve. At the end, you’ll reach a small lake and an abandoned resort and spa that’s now repurposed as a desert research facility by California State University. The guy who built the resort in the ’40s was basically squatting on the land under a mining claim in what was then known as Soda Springs. He renamed the town Zzyzx, hoping to have the last word in the English dictionary. Today, you’re welcome to park and explore. Just don’t interfere with anyone busy doing work. The site is a bit creepy with an old swing set and empty swimming pools gathering dust, although you might spot a few bighorn sheep. Cars used to pull over on the interstate to place stickers on the road sign, but those were cleaned up long ago.
Lake Dolores Waterpark
Newberry Springs, California Interstate 15 Exit 206 (driving south), Exit 198 (driving north) Is there anything more creepy than an abandoned amusement park? Lake Dolores opened in 1962 as an entertainment oasis in the middle of the desert with rides, attractions, and a campground. Over the years, it developed into more of a waterpark, thanks to a lagoon fed by underground springs. The property changed ownership a few times and tried to reinvent itself under the names Rock-a-Hoola and Discovery Waterpark before closing for good in 2004. Today, its ruins remain in clear view of drivers on Interstate 15. Urban explorers can have a field day with the place, typically entering through a dip in the fence that runs alongside Hacienda Road. The post-apocalyptic vibes are strong. Whatever is left of waterslides, pools, a lazy river, and gift shops are now covered in graffiti and long stripped of anything valuable. We don’t recommend hanging out here at night. It’s hard to believe now, but the park was actually used for an early version of the Electric Daisy Carnival before the dance music event would become popular enough to fill stadiums.
Yermo, California Interstate 15 Exit 196 The idea behind Eddie World is simple — make a gas station feel like an attraction. The biggest clue is the 65-foot ice cream sundae that sits out front. Head inside and you’ll find rows of self-serve candy and surprisingly good food, including hand-rolled sushi and pizza cooked on the spot in artisanal ovens — all under the supervision of an “executive chef.” The bathrooms are probably the largest and nicest on the interstate and gentlemen can even control video games with urine flow. (Can’t make this stuff up.) The biggest surprise, though, is the in-house museum dedicated to the LA Lakers, which includes jerseys, photos, and a chunk of hardwood from the Great Western Forum where the team won four NBA championships. Eddie World also promises the lowest gas prices between Yermo and Las Vegas — and even hands out disposable gloves by the pumps. Whoever you are Eddie, we thank you.
Yermo, California Interstate 15 Exit 194 (driving south), Exit 191 (driving north) Calico is an old mountainside mining town that was abandoned when the 19th-century silver rush dried up. Its buildings were preserved and restored by the same family behind Knott’s Berry Farm, who reopened it to the public as Calico Ghost Town. Drive in, pay a small fee at the gate, and explore what it was like to live in the late 1800s — give or take. In between the wooden signs and wagon wheels, you can explore the old schoolhouse, barber shop, and other businesses from back in the day. A few attractions cost a little extra, like the self-guided mine tour and the Mystery Shack, an optical illusion of space and perspective where water runs uphill. The best way to soak everything in is on the Calico Odessa Railroad, a train that circles the park in about eight minutes. Open daily 9am-5pm with ghost tours after dark on Saturdays, the attraction also features a campground and has spaces for tents and RVs.
Yermo, California Interstate 15 Exit 191 You’ll see so many signs for Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner on the I-15, it’s hard to not feel pressured into stopping by for a bite. First opened in 1954 as a routine truck stop, the restaurant was later bought and expanded in the ’80s by a couple who reinvented it as a dining destination heavy on nostalgia. The place is surprisingly large with a number of themed dining rooms. One features a collection of TV and movie memorabilia. Another is modeled after a vintage five-and-dime store. The menu is heavy on burgers, fries, and other comfort food, including throwbacks like malts, shakes, and chocolate Coke. (Yes, it’s a thing — and way better than it sounds.) The pizza parlor in the back is a nice touch, especially if you want to grab a pie to go. The oddest thing about Peggy Sue’s is the collection of dinosaur sculptures in the backyard park. Just roll with it.
Barstow, California Interstate 15 Exit 184 Think of this place as a food court and flea market rolled into one. It’s also a bus station and liquor store — how’s that for variety? Opened alongside the train tracks in 1975, Barstow Station is actually built out of old train cars, three of which are used to full effect in the McDonald’s dining room. At last check, there was also a Subway, Panda Express, and the first-ever Dunkin’ Donuts in California (if you don’t count one for the troops at Camp Pendleton). To quote David Lee Roth, if you need “a bottle of anything and a glazed donut to go,” this is probably your destination. Throw in a few more bucks for a burger, lotto ticket, and phone charger — and you’ll be in great shape for at least the next 100 miles. Barstow Station isn’t pretty, but it’s more interesting than the Starbucks across the street.
Oak Hills, California Interstate 15 Exit 138 Make no mistake: Southern California is wildfire country. An ominous reminder is the large sign for the Summit Inn — all that remains of a historic roadside diner that opened in 1952. The restaurant was destroyed in the deadly Blue Cut Fire in 2016 — a wildfire so bad, its flames spread to cars stuck in traffic on Interstate 15 in the high elevation of Cajon Pass. The Summit Inn was your typical ’50s-style diner, but built a reputation for mixing game like buffalo and ostrich into its dishes. After the fire, there was talk about rebuilding the restaurant, but years later, the sign continues to be the only thing in place. Pay tribute as you drive by.
Victorville, California Interstate 15 Exit 147 Why bother with fast food when you can pull over for a glass of wine and cheese plate? D’Vine Wine Bar has been around for about a dozen years and is currently owned by Brian Wilson. No, not the Beach Boy. He’s a second-level sommelier who loved the bar so much, he and his wife bought it. Wilson studied in Chile, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic, and his affection for Malbecs and even the occasional Petit Bordeaux is reflected in the wine list. Despite making a point to not carry anything commonly sold in grocery stores, D’Vine Wine Bar isn’t snobby or pretentious, more like loose and social. Expect occasional live entertainment instead of TV screens. The small lounge is an unexpected treat in Victorville, a working-class hodgepodge of shopping plazas before the San Bernardino sprawl emerges while heading into LA. Sign up here for our daily Vegas email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than five years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Modern Luxury, Leafly, and Luxury Estates International’s seasonal publication. He can drive to LA and back in the same day. No biggie. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.
You can’t be all things to all people. Yet a new Italian restaurant strikes an intriguing balance between authenticity and inventive touches while helping to shape the identity of a new community in the booming Southwest Valley of Las Vegas.
Basilico Ristorante Italiano is now open at Evora, a master-planned apartment development still under construction that won’t be finished for at least five years. The 160-seat restaurant follows the vision of chef Francesco Di Caudo, a Sicily native who draws on his heritage and experience throughout Italy to build a compelling menu based on traditional techniques and modern ingenuity.
“I come from a country where farm-to-table is nothing new,” says Di Caudio, while emphasizing the importance of ingredient sourcing and simple, straightforward flavor combinations.
Just look at the appetizers. Americans are used to eggplant parmesan that’s breaded and fried without restraint. Di Caudo sticks to a traditional Sicilian recipe with the vegetable sliced thin, sizzled in a pan, and layered with tomato and basil. No mozzarella. On the other hand, the Smoked Cigar is destined to be a signature showstopper. Duck, foie gras, and porcini mushrooms are packed inside a thin, cracker-like shell, presented in a box, and dipped into a glass ashtray. The “ash” in the centre is a black sesame and truffle mix. Don’t be shy about double dipping.
The risotto is bound to be another conversation piece. The recipe uses Carnaroli rice, a starchy grain from North Italy that produces a creamy texture, balancing the saltiness of a parmesan broth with a sweet splash of chestnut honey. The real surprise is the inclusion of Lavazza espresso, manipulated to crackle in your mouth like Pop Rocks candy.
All pastas are made in-house, from a parsnip cavatelli to a lamb and thyme tortellini in a broth filtered from braised prosciutto. Some dishes have a subtle Asian influence, including a hamachi crudo with pomelo (similar to yuzu), Hokkaido scallops with oxtail, and a planned octopus braised in dashi. The flavours come to life inside a sharp, contemporary dining room with deep red chairs and stone, wood, and marble touches. The wine collection is dominated by Italian labels, with a few California and Oregon picks thrown in to round out the list. Bottles are on display near the front entrance and inside illuminated square shelves. “It looks like a fancy restaurant, but when you sit down, I want you to have fun,” adds Di Caudio.
The bar is the heart of the restaurant, ready to serve up to 16 people inside and dozens more via accordion-style windows that open wide to a covered patio. The outdoor space, temperature-controlled with overhead fans and heaters, effectively extends Evora’s open-air plaza with dramatic water and fire features. It’s a natural spot for tastings and special events with a covered stage for live music. Evora is rolling out in four phases, with the first 342 apartments ready by fall. There could be as many as 1,400 when it’s all said and done. Rent begins at around $1,800 for studios and one-bedroom units and goes up to $4,000 for two-story top-floor residences with a loft and Strip views. The community will include swimming pools, pickleball courts, a putting green, a dog park, firepits, EV charging stations, and pavilions equipped with audio and video features.
“Basilico matches the demographic for our apartments,” says Danny Sorge of Digital Desert Development, the company behind the community. “The term ‘youthful sophistication’ has been thrown around about the restaurant and Evora as a whole. It brings something new to the area.”
The development follows a deliberate strategy to have the commercial tenants in place before the first residents move in, occupying a stand-alone building that strikes a commanding presence on the corner of Patrick Lane and Buffalo Drive. Lemon Tree Cafe & Market is already open as a European-style grocery store with plenty of room to sit down with a sandwich and glass of wine. Keep your eyes peeled for Taps & Barrels (a self-service beer hall), Tachi Ramen, and EVOQ hair salon in the months ahead, with more businesses to come. The timing couldn’t be better. The Southwest Valley is on fire right now, with the Durango hotel and casino and UnCommons mixed-use development taking shape as new attractions in 2023. The Bend, a long-promised shopping and dining district, has been in a holding pattern for years but holds promise in an area where everything is getting bigger and better.
Meanwhile, the team behind Evora is staking a claim with Di Caudio running the kitchen at Basilico. The chef’s recent collaboration with Chef Oscar Amador helped Anima by EDO score a recent James Beard Award nomination and reputation as one of the best new restaurants in Las Vegas. Di Caudio first came to Las Vegas to work at Zeffirino at the Grand Canal Shoppes-a gig he expected to last about six months before returning home. Instead, he stuck around and continued to build his reputation at culinary destinations like Sinatra at the Wynn and Ferraro’s off the Strip.
Ultimately, Basilico will be a restaurant to keep an eye on as it develops under Di Caudio’s guidance. The menu will shift and evolve based on the chef’s preferences and the availability of seasonal ingredients. Di Caudio is also planning a smaller menu and social hour for the bar area and a reasonably priced tasting menu with around 10 dishes served family style.
Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than nine years. In addition, his work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Leafly, Supercall, Modern Luxury, and Luxury Estates International’s seasonal publication. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.