Route 66 was known as the Main Street of America. It connected Chicago to Los Angeles when interstate travel was still in its infancy. Out of necessity, the first buildings to spring up along the legendary route were gas stations for trucks and travelers to refuel during long trips to and from the coast.
In Southern California, where the road seems to impossibly cut through the mountainous landscape, one former Texaco station still stands proudly, representing a last piece of Americana that has changed remarkably in the last 80 years. Since it was built in 1926, US 66 has been re-routed, re-paved and re-created as a new interstate system in much of California and the rest of the United States.
Although these changes have undoubtably taken away some of the character of the famous interstate by forcing roadside accommodations into dissolution, the Texaco station on the Cajon Pass has been turned into an all-American diner called the Summit Inn. The Summit, in existence since 1952, has since become a landmark and major attraction, especially for those on their way to Las Vegas from California.
The Summit straddles a fine border between kitsch and history. From the road, the most apparent feature of the restaurant is its brightly glowing neon sign. In the barren landscape, it almost looks desperate, begging visitors to come in and order some real “American,” food on America’s most historic road.
Of course “American,” seems highly subjective in the case of the Summit. Although the menu features some typical and cheap diner fare, the burgers and fries share menu space with locally-farmed ostrich eggs and buffalo. Despite a few bizarre surprises on the menu, the Summit stays true to its roots, focusing on Americana, and its Texaco history. The gift shop attached to the diner sells Texaco and Route 66 memorabilia, allowing visitors hopping off the road to jump back into the mindset of a mid-20th century traveler.
Although the diner is not on Route 66, pieces of the original road are accessible by foot to the south of the Cajon Pass. The Summit Inn is located at the Oak Hills exit via either north- or southbound I-15 at the Cajon Summit.
Update: The Summit Inn was destroyed by the Blue Cut Fire on August 16, 2016. As of May 2017, all that remains is the restaurant’s original signage.