The brightest stars of Hollywood, like icons John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart, still roam the Alabama Hills in the Sierra Nevada. The site of more than 400 films and television shows from "The Lone Ranger" to as recent as Robert Downey, Jr., in "Iron Man," the Alabama Hills are famous for hosting big-name artists and showing off otherworldly landscapes.
Natural arches welcome hikers and photographers, rock climbers, mountain bikers and Wild West dreamers. Views of snow-capped Mt. Whitney, reaching more than 14,500 feet into the clouds, top this one-of-a-kind experience.
The routes for this mountain road trip are among the most scenic anywhere, with the preferred route in summer taking you east from San Francisco through Yosemite National Park, and south past hot springs and Sequoia National Park.
To pass through Yosemite Valley, take Hwy 120 east to connect with U.S. Hwy. 395, then drive south to Alabama Hills and the nearby town of Lone Pine. (6 hrs 20 mins).
When the season is right, another beautiful drive is over the Sonora Pass, along Highway 108 (6 hrs 8 mins), or using Highway 89 over Monitor Pass.
When winter comes and the snow settles in, you can loop northeast through Sacramento on Highway 50 to catch Highway 395 south (~8 hrs).
Want a southerly, year-round route? Bakersfield is your bet. Take Interstate 5 south to Highway 58 east. Then take Highway 14 north until it turns into Highway 395. (~7 hrs)
**Make sure to check highway closures in the fall, winter and spring months, due to snow.
The Dow Villa Motel in nearby Lone Pine is steeped in Hollywood lore, with the likes of John Wayne and Errol Flynn creating history here. Guests tell of hearing cowboys' spurs jangling up and down the hallways at night. The Dow Villa is highly reviewed for its views, location and service.
The Comfort Inn in Lone Pine is pet-friendly and includes free breakfast for guests, and a heated swimming pool (seasonal). Located only two miles from Alabama Hills and 14 miles from Mt. Whitney, the Comfort Inn provides stellar views and location.
The Winnedumah Hotel in nearby Independence (20 minutes north of Lone Pine) is full of historic charm. This nearly century-old hotel is yet another with Hollywood secrets and stories. Favorite names that come up at Winnedumah include Bing Crosby and Clark Gable. The personality of the hotel and owners, Frank and Celia, are raved about by guests who love the personal touches and history of this getaway.
The Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery gets stellar reviews for its food and friendly service. It offers good ol' American fare, and includes vegetarian and vegan options. Plan to get at least one meal here, whether you're looking for a quick lunch to-go on your way to see the arches at Alabama Hills, or if you're looking for the best breakfast in town.
If you're looking for Chinese and American food in a fun and quirky environment, Margie's Merry Go Round is your place. The food is great, and the lively personality of the owners keep you entertained. It's located next door to the Dow Villa Motel.
The Totem Cafe is especially known for its omelets and great pancakes and breakfast burritos. It's also a steak and rib joint, when a hearty dinner calls ... The Totem has it all, including friendly service and, in summer, outdoor seating to take in the amazing views of the Alabama Hills.
The Museum of Western Film History stands in a town full of Hollywood history. Pay the five bucks to get the biggest bang for you buck, soaking up as much of the history and as many of the stories as you can all in one fascinating spot.
History is full of tremendous ups and downs, and lessons not to be forgotten. The Manzanar National Historic Site marks the history of the World War Two internment camps, where Japanese Americans -- men, women and children -- were uprooted from their homes and placed during the war. The Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of 10 such camps in the U.S. during the 1940s.
Alabama Hills is a natural paradise, with its rock formations and natural arches. Mobius Arch is one of the Alabama Hills National Recreation Area's highlights, and incredibly easy to access on a .25-mile loop trail off of Movie Road.
If the Hollywood history and big-name stars who have steeped the Alabama Hills in big- and small-screen fame is your focus, head out on Movie Road and take in the scenes. (A stop at the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine first will serve you well.)