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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

10 things to see and do in Needles California

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

On the scenic Colorado River, just across the border from Arizona is the Route 66 town of Needles. With just over 5,000 residents year round, this town booms with Route 66 motorists and snowbirds in winter. (Snowbirds is the affectionate name given to people from colder climates who come to this desert area in winter. They escape the snow and enjoy the winter warmth of California).

1. Route 66 in Needles California

Historic Route 66 passed through Needles and was once a major stopping point for gas, supplies and accommodation. When I-40 bypassed the town, like so many others on the Mother Road, motorists sailed right past on the new quicker highway and stopped supporting the smaller town businesses. Today, the increase in people travelling this nostalgic route has brought new life to the mostly abandoned towns.

a large sign stating Needles rises above a white painted brick base with the route 66 shield painted on all 4 sides. The needles sign is red with white writing, andhas a yellow sun near the top. To the right of the sign is a single palm tree, taller than the sign

2. The El Garces Harvey House and Amtrack Depot

The El Garces was completed in 1908. Named after missionary and explorer, Father Francisco Garces. Tours can be arranged by calling into the Needles Museum.

This neoclassical structure was the home of a Fred Harvey restaurant and hotel. Santa Fe railway travelers were fed in this fine establishment. The dining room had linen and silver, china and fresh flowers on the tables.

the outside of the El Garces Harvey House that is now an Amtrak depot. Two story white neoclassical building iwth colums around the verandahs, and old fashioned lampposts in the foreground. Palm trees stand in a line near the fence of the property.

For those eating in the lunchroom, they sat at 3 horseshoe counters and were served by the Harvey Girls. There are many families in the Needles area that are descended from the Harvey Girls. The second floor was home to the Harvey Girls and had guest rooms that hosted many guests, including Gen, George Patton and Charlie Chaplin.

The Harvey House here closed in 1949. In 2007 restoration began. The exterior was completed in 2014, but the interior is a blank slate. There are still events held here as some of the large rooms are available to hire. Weddings, banquets and proms are just a few of the many celebrations that have been held here.

Friends of the El Garces have been raising money to put towards repairs and renovations. There have been some negotiations recently that may lead to the building becoming a hotel again. This would be amazing, especially if it is done with the same care and attention to detail that went into the renovation of the La Posada Harvey House in Winslow Arizona.

in the courtyard of the Amtrak Harvey house is a marble fountain, rising on a single post from a curved four sided base. At the top is a bowl from which water would casade down into the blue and white tiled pond beneath. The two story building surrounding the courtyard has tall neoclassical columns around the wide verandahs

3. Snoopy's brother Spike and Needles Regional Museum

Many people know of Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip, but his brother Spike is less well known. Spike lives at Needles in both the comic and real life. A full-sized statue of him lives at the Needles Museum and he is always available for a photo. Charles Schultz, the creator of the comic strip, lived in Needles from 1928 - 1930.

standing around 5 feet tall is a statue of Spike, Snoopys brother. He has a wide grin and a few hairs of a moustache hanging down. He wears a rangers brown hat and a Christmas vest. he has one paw stretched out in greeting. Spike stands in the Needles museum surrounded by historical memorablilia
a strip from a Snoopy's cartoon sits on a bench, alongside a photo of Charles Schultz, the comic strip creator, in front of the Borax Wagon. The Wagon has Needles California printed on it.

4. Needles Regional Museum Mural

The mural near the museum is a must for all selfie and photo fans. Pop into the small museum for a look at some Harvey house memorabilia, more information about Spike, and stories about the railway and town. Tours of El Garces can be arranged in the museum. There is also a great thrift store in the same building.

a colorful and bright mural is painted on a brick wall. the needles route 66 emblem on the top left is imposed over a flag of the USA. Am santa fe train stretches across the middle of the painting, with a bridge and the arizona desert landscape behind it. a tortoise crosses the road near Spike, holding a sign saying Needles Museum. An old blue car, its hood raised and engine steaming smoke is near a cactus on the right.

5. Wagon Wheel restaurant

If you want American home style cooking, with friendly service and lots of Route 66 memorabilia, this is the place that you want to eat at when in Needles. Open since 1978, the favorite dish on the menu is also one of my favourites when in America - the chicken fried steak. A small giftshop is located near the entrance, which you pass through as you turn right into the restaurant. It isn't fancy, but it doesn't need to be, the food and the friendly greetings are heartwarming.

an external shot of the Wagon Wheel restaurant. The bottom floor of the building is painted a bright yellow.. seven newspaper despensers stand against the wall. a route 66 shield is painted on the concrete outside. It has needles written at the top of the shield. and the 66 is painted over a red and white striped base.
a dinner plate with chicken fried steak covered in white gravy, mashed potatos, corn, beans and sour cream. a cup of white coffee is nearby.

6. Finding Route 66 souvenirs

I admit, you don't have to look hard to find a Route 66 souvenir in towns along the Mother Road. In Needles, there are a few interesting spots to take pictures of and maybe buy a memento of your trip. Route 66 soda is available in a range of flavors, and a collection license plates from every state make an interesting backdrop.

a fridge of sodas, flavours include grape, lime, orange, rezzberry, root beer. All bottles have the Routel 66 shield on them, black printing on a white background. It states Route 66 sodas. above the shield is printed Read Cane sugar and the flavour of the drink is printed on the glass bottle beneath the shield
a wall of license plates from every state in USA have been collected and on display covering a wall in the Wagon Wheel restaurant. All plates are used.

Be careful when taking photos of the Route 66 shields on the roads, there is still some traffic that passes through town!

7. The Needles Borax Wagon

Borax was mined in the area in the 1880s and wagons like this carried them from the mines to the railway. This huge wagon was pulled by eighteen mules and two horses. For a while it was parked in front of a hotel in town as advertising. The wagon was donated to the town in the 1960s.

a large wooden train wagon sits on a pile of rocks. the two back wheels are larger than the two front ones. The wooden wagon has the following worlds on it is bright yellow - Needles California.

8. Abandoned businesses and homes

There are many abandoned businesses and homes in Needles. Cheaper tax rates across the border in Arizona has seen businesses and people leave. Wandering around town, you may be forgiven for thinking this town is dying a slow death. However, each census shows a population increase for the town. There are some tourists who specialize in taking photos of abandoned buildings, and Needles is definitely a place they would enjoy. Many larger businesses have located in Bullhead City, only 20 minutes away in Arizona, where the taxes are much lower. In fact, driving a few miles over the border to Arizona can see your gas around $1.00 per gallon cheaper than in Needles.

an abandoned old gas station, its pumps gone, only the cover still stands. a closed building says Old Trails Inn bed and breakfast. Its writing is long faded and everything is boarded up.

There are many cute homes that have been renovated in town, as the low purchase price attracts buyers looking for bargains.

a single storey newly painted wooden house. Its shutters, verandah posts and front door are painted white. the slate roof is grey, which matched the brick posts of the fence. there are black metal railings between the posts. colourful flowers are in pots on the verandah rails, and icicle lights hang from around the verandah roof

9. Weed - Marijuana

The town in sometimes colloquially known as Weedles, due to the growing number of businesses that sell Marijuana and THC products, perfectly legally. There is even talk of opening a restaurant in town specializing in THC enhanced food. This is definitely a growth area in Needles (pun intended).

above a securely locked and bolted door is a sign. #1 Cannabis Store is painted in a top to bottom graduated colour scheme, green to yellow to red. under that in white it says "in needles". The sign has a black background

10. Other recreational activities

With the Colorado River and the desert at their doorstep, there are lots of outdoor activities for both residents and visitors to enjoy. There is an 18-hole golf course, fishing and boating, hiking, camping and off-road activities. Enjoying the natural landscape is a great way to spend the warm winters that Needles has to offer.

Happy Travels!

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