Virtual Tour of US 99

Historical Tour of US 99
The Golden State Highway


US 99 was one of major highways in the US highway system. The highway ran from Canada at Blaine, Washington to Mexico at Calexico, California, in the Imperial Valley. From Sacramento to Los Angeles, it was known as the Golden State Highway. US 99 first became a signed route in 1928 following the creation of the US Highway System in 1926. As a US route, the highway lasted until about 1972, when it was fully decommissioned. In California, this designation lasted until 1968. This tour will focus on the alignment before being replaced by I-5 and SR-99. Some of these sections were abandoned and are no longer traversable by car.

The southern end of US 99 at the Mexican border. The former Customs House is to the right.
The southern end of US 99 at the Mexican border. The former Customs House is to the right.

 Tour Index

Start Tour of US 99

Tour is open from Figueroa St in Los Angeles to the Kern River in Bakersfield

Routing of the highway through California


US 99 ran through the heart of California. It entered the state from Oregon near Siskyou Summit and left the state (and country) at Calexico. In between, it ran on the following course :

Yreka, Weed, Mt. Shasta City, Dunsmuir, Redding, Red Bluff

At Red Bluff, US 99 split into US 99E and US 99W.

  • US 99E’s route (Following current SR-99, SR-65):
    • Los Molinos, Chico, Yuba City, Marysville, Lincoln, Roseville, Sacramento
  • US 99W’s route (Following current I-5, SR-113, I-80):
    • Corning, Maxwell, Arbuckle, Woodland, Davis, Sacramento

The routes rejoined in downtown Sacramento. From there, US 99 followed this routing:

Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Delano, Bakersfield, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, Former US 99 leaves I-5, joins I-10 (Former US 60 and US 70), and goes through:

El Monte, Pomona (US 60 leaves), Colton, Redlands, Beaumont (US 60 rejoins), Indio

In Indio, former US 99 leaves I-10 (former US 60/US 70) to follow SR-86:

Valerie Jean, Oasis, Salton City, Kane Springs, Brawley, Heber, Calexico.

At Calexico, US 99 left SR-86 to follow SR-111:

Heading south on current SR-111, US 99 ended at the border in Calexico.

Thus is the routing of US 99 through the State of California.

Signs along US 99

99sign milepost
This sign can be found along old alignments of US 99 in the Los Angeles city limits. These signs state when the alignment was in use. Similar signs can be found along alignments of US 66. This milepost was found near Whitaker Summit on old US 99. US 99 was gone legislatively in 1964 so Route 5 took over the numbering here. That is why it shows the mileage for I-5.

This sign to the left was found at Calexico, CA just one block from the Mexico border. The US highway shield is a modern style and was used from the late 1950’s on US 99.


Southbound US 99 Freeway in Tulare.
Southbound US 99 Freeway in Tulare.

History of the highway from Los Angeles to Bakersfield

Originally commissioned in 1926, it wouldn’t be signed in California until 1928. The first highway along the routing of what was to become US 99 was the Ridge Route. It was completed from Newhall Pass to Castaic in 1910 and over Tejon Pass in 1915. This twisty, narrow two lane road only lasted 18 years before being bypassed by US 99 in 1933.

Map of the Proposed Newhall Alternate in 1928.
Map of the Proposed Newhall Alternate in 1928.

In 1930, a three lane highway, the Newhall Alternate, was built through Weldon and Gavin Canyons bypassing Newhall and Saugus entirely. This new route was shorter and less steep. It also avoided the Newhall Tunnel. Early in 1931, construction began on a three lane highway over the Liebre Mountains which lie just north of Castaic. This was to bypass the treacherous curves and grades over the Ridge Route. Finally on October 29, 1933, US 99 was opened over the Liebre Mountains with three lanes. It was known as the Ridge Route Alternate. By 1936, all of the Ridge Route had been replaced over the mountains.

Traffic increased so much over the highway that in 1940 plans were made to widen the highway to four lanes. These plans were delayed until 1947 because of WWII. Below there is a list of most of the changes made to the highway from Newhall Pass to Tejon Pass. List runs from south to north. Most of this widening work was completed by 1953.

Section: Length: Cost: Date Completed:
Pico Road to Saugus Road 3.3 miles $450,000 4-8-1949
Santa Clara River to Castaic Creek 2.6 miles $489,000 5-13-1949
Palominos Creek to Violin Summit (Five Mile Grade) 2.6 miles $795,000 6-9-1948
Violin Summit to Whitaker Summit 4.4 miles $1,392,000 2-24-1949
Whitaker Summit to Piru Creek (Three Mile Grade) 3.8 miles $1,420,000 10-8-1948
Los Alamos Creek to 2.3 miles S of SR-138 (at the Gorman Post Road / I-5 junction) 6.7 miles $967,000 12-8-1949


In 1954, the first portion of US 99 north of Los Angeles became a freeway. It ran from the CA 7, US 6, and US 99 interchange (now I-5 / I-210) to just beyond the US 6 / US 99 junction (now CA 14 / I-5). A three level interchange was built at the US 6 / US 99 interchange. This routing is now used by the truck routes of I-5.

Slowly, section by section US 99 was being replaced by I-5. In remained a signed US route until 1968. By 1970, almost all of old US 99 had been replaced by I-5 and I-10 in California.

Why is it called “The Grapevine”?

I-5 is commonly referred to as “The Grapevine” by locals and traffic reporters. Most assume the name derives from the twisty nature of the original roadway – the Ridge Route. That road was indeed very twisty, much like a grapevine. However, that is still not the reason. The name Grapevine actually comes from Grapevine Canyon, where old US 99 and I-5 come down from the mountains and into the San Joaquin Valley. The canyon is called such as wild grapes grow along the canyon walls. It was formerly known as Canada De Las Uvas which is Spanish for Canyon of the Grapes. The name Tejon Pass is also a “new” addition to the area. The current Tejon Pass was known as Grapevine Pass or Badger Pass until the 1850’s. Old Tejon Pass, much farther to the east, was a very treacherous route. That pass was eventually abandoned in favor of the current Tejon Pass. The name was just shifted to the new route.

After the 1933 bypass of the original road to as late as the 1970’s, the roadway over the mountains was still referred to as “The Ridge Route”. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the name “The Grapevine” was extended to the entire roadway. So, if you want to call it proper – call it Tejon Pass. While you’re passing through Grapevine Canyon, be sure to spot the wild grapevines that still grow in the canyon.

Pine and the Palm

The Pine and the Palm
The Pine and the Palm

Just north of Fresno, 1 3/4 miles south of Ave 12, and 2 1/10 miles north of Ave 9, there lies a pine tree and a palm tree in the median of Highway 99. It has been there for many years and marks the former halfway point along US 99 in California. The Palm Tree represents Southern California and the Pine Tree represents Northern California. A few years ago, the pine tree fell down but was replaced by Caltrans as this is a somewhat historic marker.

US 99 Museums and Books

I have been working on a book on US 99, which covers the history of the highway and the cities it passes through, for the Los Angeles to Bakersfield section. This book, while still a work in progress, is now available for download. Click here for the PDF file.

Bruce Clark’s Auto / Truck Stop and US 99 Museum in Indio, California. Definitely worth a visit.

Links to other US 99 sites:

 Additional Links

Copyright 1995-2014 by Michael Ballard

Your Resource For Highways, Geology, And More Throughout Southern California Since 1995

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