Palm Desert To San Juan CapistranoI could've called this story "California State Route 74," but who'd want to read that? It's bland and a tad libelous, since this road is anything but boring. Along its paved track you'll find some of the most scenic riding in Southern California, twisting through two mountain ranges. In fact, if you're into car magazines, chances are you've seen it at some point, since auto books love to shoot features here.
The Ortega Highway is actually a small part of Route 74, the southwestern end of the trip. The road starts up in Palm Desert in Riverside County near the Bighorn Country Club, where it winds 20 miles to the top of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Here it's known as the Palms to Pines Highway, for obvious reasons. You'll find some of the best scenery as it straightens out through Garner Valley. This is where Elvis drove his Model T in Kid Galahad on his way to Idyllwild.
After that, you hit 30 more miles of mountains as Route 74 makes its way to Hemet, where it morphs into Florida Avenue. It continues west through Lake Elsinore, where you'll find campgrounds if that's your poison.
The highway merges with I-215 east of Perris, then splits again, heading west. Shortly after that, it turns into the Ortega Highway, as it scales the Santa Ana Mountains, providing beautiful views of Temecula Valley and Lake Elsinore. The good news is, there are no guard rails obscuring the scenery. The bad news: There are no guard rails obscuring the scenery.
This stretch runs 30 to 40 miles and is home to a pretty cool rider-friendly roadhouse named Hell's Kitchen. The joint's corralled by a low wall covered in metal flames and skulls, so it must be cool, right? It gets cooler inside, though. That coffin along the wall is also the condiment bar for the burgers and other grilled yummies on the menu.
After lunch, you keep going west until the Ortega terminates in San Juan Capistrano. If you plan on hitting this wonderful road, don't try during commuter hours, as it's extremely busy.
State Route 111 In Palm Desert
GPS: Lat 3344'43"N, Long 11622'41"W
Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano
GPS: Lat 3330'10"N, Long 11739'46"W