When traveling the Eastern Sierra area of California, there are many sights and places to see. There’s a small town that packs a big punch for travelers: Lone Pine, CA. It is the gateway for those seeking ultimate outdoor adventure in hiking and climbing Mt. Whitney. Many may not know how rich it is in Hollywood television and movie history.
The road trip along U.S. 395 between Southern California and Northern Nevada is one I take frequently and one of my favorites. Finding new towns to explore is not hard, and Lone Pine left a strong impression on me. Here’s how to explore Lone Pine and the surrounding region, even on a short stay.
Museum of Western Film History
For any movie lover, particularly the Western genre, this is a great place to start the exploration. This museum contains artifacts, memorabilia, and displays representing the American western film genre. Among the items to view include Quentin Tarantino’s director’s chair from Django Unchained (along with a call sheet) and an antique camera car and truck used in the filming of westerns. There’s also an original clapboard used in filming The Lone Ranger television series.
The collection is one of the largest in the United States and also features a publishing arm supporting the Museum’s mission with complementary works sold in their expansive gift shop. The museum’s staff is knowledgeable and can provide maps for filming locations in nearby Alabama Hills. Additionally, the museum and the town host an annual Film Festival every October, which includes guided tours of the area.
Alabama Hills National Scenic Area
For an ultimate movie and American West experience, making the short trek outside town to explore these natural wonders should not be missed. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which takes great care in keeping the area pristine for all visitors. The Alabama Hills are a formation of rounded rocks and eroded hills set at the base of the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Both geologic features were shaped by the same uplifting occurring 100 million years ago.
The main road through the Alabama Hills is appropriately named Movie Road. A short hike from a parking area off Movie Road will take you to the Mobius Arch, a popular spot to grab a great photo. The inside of the arch perfectly frames Mt. Whitney, and I couldn’t help taking multiple shots of this beauty. While front-wheel drive and low-clearance vehicles can make the journey to Mobius Arch, more extensive exploration would require the usage of a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Gateway to Mount Whitney
In addition to its movie history, Lone Pine serves as the gateway to hiking and climbing on Mt Whitney, which, at over 14,000 feet, is the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states. Permits are required to climb, and demand for them is high. The 22-mile trek has over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and should only be attempted by experienced climbers. For nonclimbers, there are ways to enjoy by hiking the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail through a wooded canyon along Lone Pine Creek.
The Eastern Sierra Visitor Center on the south side of town is the go-to source for permits and information about climbing Mt. Whitney. Additionally, they can provide maps and other useful and informative information about the greater Lone Pine region.
Places To Eat in Lone Pine
For a one-stoplight town with just over 2,000 people, Lone Pine doesn’t disappoint regarding diversity in eating choices. On two stopovers there, I was able to enjoy multiple eateries. Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery is probably the most iconic, and because of that, there can be a wait for a table, but it’s worth it for the excellent food and great service. Be sure to catch it for breakfast or lunch, as it’s not open for dinner.
Other options in town include The Grill, with indoor and outdoor seating and serving various sandwiches and entrees, including vegetarian and vegan options. Pizza Factory is a local favorite with an all-you-can-eat salad bar and pizza. The Lone Pine Bistro is great for breakfast, lunch, and a cool ice cream treat. To power up before a big day of hiking and exploring, Vibra’s Juice Cafe features lots of healthy options.
Where To Stay in Lone Pine
Lone Pine boasts a variety of places to stay, including motels, a hostel, and a variety of camping and glamping choices. The Dow Villa Motel was the original motel in town, built in 1923, and has hosted many a Hollywood celebrity in its time. There are also brand name chains of Best Western and Quality Inn and other locally owned motels. The Whitney Portal Hostel and Hotel features hotel rooms and group dormitory rooms.
For those looking for outdoor adventure, camping is a popular way to go in Lone Pine. I’ve stayed twice at the Boulder Creek RV Resort located a few miles south of the main town, where any size RV, van, and tents are welcome. The resort features a store, laundry, pool, hot tub, and clubhouse with kitchen facilities. For the ultimate experience, dispersed primitive camping is free and available throughout the Alabama Hills. There’s also a county-run campground at Diaz Lake on the south end of town.
Manzanar National Historic Site
I took a side trip to the nearby Manzanar National Historic Site, a former relocation center that housed 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Start at the Visitor Center for a 22-minute film, then visit the Block 14 building exhibits either on foot or as part of the 3.2-mile self-guided driving tour of the property. The Visitor Center will give a map featuring the stops on the driving tour.
Manzanar holds its own piece in pop culture history as one of the prominent references in the first Karate Kid movie. Daniel LaRusso visits an inebriated and crying Mr. Miyagi while he is grieving the memory of his deceased wife and daughter, who died at Manzanar while he was serving in World War II. Actor Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi, lived in internment camps when he was a child with this family. The reality of this fictional story is that 145 people died while interred there.
In striving to see and stop somewhere different on this road trip, I stumbled upon a piece of Western and movie history when I chose Lone Pine. Almost immediately, while on my shorter trek through Lone Pine, I planned to return for a longer trip. Visiting Lone Pine will satisfy the need for adventure while giving visitors a tour through entertainment and Western history. It’s easy to fall in love with the charm of Lone Pine and make repeat visits. I will certainly continue including Lone Pine in my treks along the Eastern Sierra.
Kelley Dukat is a freelance writer, event planner, and photographer based in the United States. She’s been traveling the United States as a nomad house and pet sitter for the last two years. For Wealth of Geeks, she writes about travel, news, and side hustles. She has extensively traveled the United States, aiming for visits to all 50 states within the next three years. Her nomadic life and event planning work aid in making her travel possible, and she finds travel stories wherever she goes. Her first foray into financial topics came from her experience as an Editor for Mortgage Originator magazine. She also previously wrote about dog-friendly travel for Evaminer.com after years of traveling with her dog. As an over 20-year resident of San Diego, she happily writes about America’s Finest City and where to explore and eat within the city.
She has a Journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She’s also working on a memoir and a series of personal essays.