Small towns can be interesting places to explore on a weekend getaway. They are generally quaint, unpretentious and consist of mostly mom-and-pop businesses. People in small towns are usually hospitable and kind, making visitors feel welcomed.
My weekend companion a 2018 Volkswagen Beetle 2.0 Turbo Coast waited patiently outside my apartment for me to put its wheels in motion. Being an adventurous person I planned our rendezvous in this charming Southern California town. The Lookout Roadhouse restaurant, a famous biker hangout right off State Route 74—aka Ortega Highway—would be our first stop for breakfast.
Fitted with the Coast trim and 17-inch Heritage alloy wheels, the metallic blue Beetle’s style was on-point for the trip. The cabin is roomy and connecting a phone to the sound system is seamless. I found the upper dashboard stowage compartment to be a safe place to keep a smartphone out of the driver’s hands. Impressed by the surfboard appearance of the dashboard, I stored a few items in the glovebox as well. The Pepita cloth seats looked very fashionable, too, but they proved rigid and uncomfortable.
Saturday morning is one of the rare windows when Interstate 405 isn’t snarled by traffic. With no flood of brake lights in sight, I was able to enjoy the sunrise through the Beetle’s enormous windshield as I glided smoothly down the infamous freeway on my way from Los Angeles to SR74’s western terminus in the Orange County city of San Juan Capistrano.
Though not the most obvious choice for a thrill-seeking drive on a twisty, scenic road the Beetle and its 174-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo-four handled Ortega like a pro as I made my way across the Santa Ana Mountains. The Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires offered plenty of grip and didn’t complain too much about the abrupt twisty turns. Overall road noise was moderate and easily eliminated by increasing the volume that put out a decent amount of bass.
Upon my arrival, The Lookout Roadhouse was bustling with motorcyclists. I drove the Beetle slowly through the crowded dirt lot and parked near the restaurant’s entrance. Surrounded by motorcycles the new kid on the block looked timid and out of place. With its magnificent views of Lake Elsinore, it proved a perfect location for indulging in a hearty breakfast before I continued down into town.
My first destination was a home known as “Aimee’s Castle,” which was built in 1929 for Aimee Semple McPherson, an early 20 th century evangelical preacher. Sister Aimee built the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles’ Echo Park, founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and attained celebrity status during the 20s and 30s.
Using a detailed blog post about the castle and an old real estate listing instead of Waze, I drove up a narrow two-way road embedded in the hills. As I began to make my way up Sunnyslope Avenue, front visibility of the road was reduced at a steep section and I slowed to a crawl. Mere seconds later, the famous white villa came into view on my right, perched up on a hill overlooking the lake. The Moorish Revival-styled home has six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a gym, and a pool with a stunning panoramic view of Lake Elsinore, but the coolest part about the castle is the hidden tunnel that is accessible from the two-car garage. I wasn’t able to get a selfie with the castle, but the Beetle snuck in for a close-up just before cocktail hour.
While digging into the history of Lake Elsinore, I learned about its connection to Steve McQueen. During the 60s and 70s, McQueen liked to ride his motorcycle to “The Wreck,” a bar near the city’s historic downtown, making it an obvious choice for my next destination. (McQueen participated in just two Lake Elsinore Grand Prix motorcycle races, but the event was still featured in “On Any Sunday.”)
Today, The Wreck features a giant mural of the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix. With only two patrons and the bartender inside, the ambience was very low-key. Sunlight provided most of the illumination for the old-fashioned, cash-only bar, which features nostalgic decor on the walls, pool tables in the back, and a huge dance floor.
The Bloody Mary came highly recommended and came in handy as I arrived just in time for Karaoke Sunday. After mostly failing at “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman and concluding that loving a song doesn’t automatically grant you the ability to sing it, I proceeded to my final stop, Jack’s BBQ Shack, a popular destination for homestyle barbecue and breakfast. Seating inside is limited, but there are plenty of options outside. I had a small order of ribs, fries, and of course, some mac and cheese.
Jack’s sits next to the lake and the view prompted me to reflect back on the day as the now-dusty metallic blue Beetle sat peacefully by the water. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about the sights I saw and the two-door Volkswagen’s admirable performance as my day-trip companion.