Summer Road Trips: On the trail of James Dean

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In this edition of our KCRW Road Trip series, we mix classic California scenery and Hollywood history. More than 50 years ago, actor James Dean, who loved racing and fast cars, grabbed the keys to his Porsche 550 Spyder and was on his way to a race in Salinas.

The exact site of the car’s final resting spot (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The route took a speeding Dean through beautiful rural areas of California. It was Dean’s last drive. At about 5:45 p.m. on September 30, 1955, a nearly head on collision left him dead.

Pop-culture historian and writer Chris Epting, a connoisseur of unusual and off-beat road trips, retraces James Dean’s route for us.


How to get there?

From Los Angeles, head north on the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine.

Where the 5 and 99 split, take the 99 north.

Keep your eye out. Just two miles down once you get on the 99, you’ll pass a telephone pole with tiny silver letters that mark this spot as the one where James Dean got a speeding ticket just hours before his death.

Head north to the 46 West toward Paso Robles, through the town of Wasco.

Keep an eye out for Blackwell’s Market where James Dean had his last smoke.

Get back on the road and head due west. The junction of the 46 and 41 is where James Dean’s accident took place.

Just ahead, about 100 yards, is Jack Ranch Cafe with a memorial statue out front.

Let us know how you fare!

Meanwhile, if you’re new to the series: KCRW is assembling an eclectic group of people who shared their favorite Southern California road trips with us. Each person will give us directions, tell us what we’ll find along the route, and, most importantly, share what makes them love it so. Find them all of Summer page!