10 things to see and do in Needles California
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are many cute homes that have been renovated in town, as the low purchase price attracts buyers looking for bargains.
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).
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.