Reconnect California State Routes 2 and 39 | Memo To President Trump and Gov. Brown
While testing the 2018 Honda CBR650F, my colleagues and I stopped at a turnout on Angeles Crest Highway—California’s legendary State Route 2. It’s a picturesque spot between the Angeles Crest tunnels and Islip Saddle, where California State Route 39 used to have its northern terminus.
State Routes 2 and 39 encapsulate the best of Southern California. At its east end, SR2 begins at the 108-year-old Santa Monica Pier and runs through the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
A great urban ride, it takes you through bustling Santa Monica, the financial hubs of West Los Angeles and Century City, and then into affluent Beverly Hills. Next up is vibrant West Hollywood, which has undergone an amazing transformation from a seedy strip in the 1970s, and then Hollywood proper—also much better than it used to be.
From there, you take a short ride on the Hollywood Freeway, where the 2 commingles with US Route 101. Hopping off at Alvarado Street, it’s a bit gritty and narrow through Echo Park until you get to the ultra-wide Glendale Boulevard. You’ll quickly find yourself on the Glendale Freeway, and another adventure begins.
As you head north, the San Gabriel Mountains are ahead, and both a foreboding and enticing sight. The terrain is as rugged as the Alps, yet there is a way in. A quick jog on the Foothill Freeway, and you’re at the exit you’ve been waiting for—Angeles Crest Highway.
You’ll find yourself headed straight at the mountains before a fast right-hander launches you on your journey into 60 miles of twisties. Make sure you have a full tank, as there are no gas stops between La Cañada Flintridge and Wrightwood!
Along the way you’ll have a chance to enjoy side trips on Angeles National Forest Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road—they connect and are highly recommended. You’ll also want to take the extremely tight road to Mt. Wilson, where the view of the entire Los Angeles Basin and the Pacific Ocean is quite literally breathtaking.
Around the halfway point, a stop at Newcomb’s Ranch at Mile Marker LA 50.93 is a must—they’re open Thursday through Sunday until 4pm. That marker tells you that you’re just short of 51 miles from your starting point at the pier.
While Angeles Crest Highway is fast and sweeping from La Cañada Flintridge to Newcomb’s, things get tighter (and rockier) for the ride to Big Pines. Don’t skip this section, as it offers the most impressive vistas of the San Gabriel Valley to the south and High Desert to the north.
If you didn’t eat at Newcomb’s, Wrightwood offers a variety of dining options—all of them good, though I have a soft spot for the friendly Evergreen Cafe on Park Drive in downtown.
It’s not a long ride to the eastern terminus of State Route 2, where it unceremoniously Ts into State Route 138 in Phelan. However, the Mountain Top Cafe is there if you need more food or drink, as it has been since 1940.
That brings me to another important California State Route—39. Its southern end is at Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA. State Route 39 heads up north as Beach Blvd., immortalized by the eponymous 1979 local punk rock compilation on the legendary Posh Boy Records.
The alignment has gotten sketchy over the years, though the historic routing takes you east on Whittier Blvd.—California State Route 72—for a block. Whittier Blvd, of course, is famous for its low rider scene that was born in the 1940s, as well as the hit instrumental by Thee Midniters.
Take Hacienda Blvd through the Puente Hills to Colima Road. Head east a short distance to Azusa Avenue and State Route 39 returns to life. Azusa Avenue takes you Bert’s Mega Mall, a motorcycle superstore in Covina that dates back to 1963, and now resides inside the shell of a former department store.
From there, it’s a short run north to historic downtown Azusa, and then San Gabriel Canyon Road—gateway to the San Gabriel Mountains.
San Gabriel Canyon Road is epic. It takes you past several reservoirs and San Gabriel Canyon OHV Area, which has been a favorite of the 4WD crowd for over 50 years. Sadly, USFS stranglehold management of the area has made it far less appealing of a stop than it used to be.
San Gabriel Canyon Road just keeps getting better as you head into the mountains, with the last stretch before Crystal Lake Road getting extremely tight. Fortunately, the pavement there is relatively new and smooth, so it’s a fun ride regardless of your speed.
Take a side trip up Crystal Lake Road to Crystal Lake Cafe. It’s a great destination for food, and you will likely see motorcycles in the parking lot, even on a weekday. Keep in mind that they are closed on Tuesdays.
While I would like to tell you to head back and take State Route 39 north to State Route 2, I can’t. Back in 1977, storms damaged SR39 and a 4.4-mile stretch was closed to the motoring public. Shamefully, this historic road that ties together two epic motorcycle routes has remained off-limits to us for 40 years.
A look at the satellite view on Google Maps shows that most of the road is there, and an adventure bike could easily make the trip. The fact that the United States Forest Service (USFS) happily uses the road while keeping an arterial route like this closed to the public is simply inexcusable.
There was talk of rehabbing 39 with construction starting in 2011, but the money was diverted to Highway 1. More recently, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments is trying to get the 39 repaired as part of the management plan of the recently created San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
Whenever I pass by the 39 on the 2, or hit that dead end by Crystal Lake, I’m reminded that the government is not always “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
After 40 years, I’m tired of excuses. President Trump and Governor Brown, open this road!
Photography by Adam Booth and Don Williams
Story from the October issue of our digital magazine; check it out for free at the Ultimate Motorcycling digital app.