Everybody in L.A. knows and goes to Newcomb’s Ranch, high above the city on Highway 2, the “Angeles Crest.” But few go up Highway 39, which also climbs into the San Gabriel range that surrounds Los Angeles. California Highway 39’s western terminus is Huntington Beach, which is why it’s also called Beach Boulevard. But the other end is Azusa, not far from the Crest’s source in La Canada, and from there, Hwy 39 climbs to 6000 feet along the San Gabriel River. Unlike many of the rivers in SoCal, this one usually actually has flowing water in it, which the locals like to dip their digits into on hot summer days. We’re always in too big a hurry to get into the twisty bits further up the mountain, followed by a tasty lunch at the Crystal Lake Cafe.
Once upon a time, Highway 39 connected to Highway 2, and so carried a bit of traffic. After a slide decades ago that was never cleared, 39 now goes almost nowhere. Which makes it one of MO’s favorite “testing” roads. No one’s ever remembered to write down how many miles it is to Crystal Lake Cafe on top, but I think it takes us about half an hour or 45 minutes to get there – and that 30 or 45 minutes consists of some of the cleanest, curviest, smoothest and most deserted pavement in the area. It’s also entirely within the Angeles National Forest, which means there are precious few careening starlets in Range Rovers to dodge.
I thought the cheeseburger was unusually good, and that’s because our host and proprietor, Adam Samrah, says he trained as a chef in Europe before moving to Crystal Lake 18 years ago. There’s also a very nice tuna salad sandwich, excellent chili and the crowd-pleasing Frito pie – all of course standards of French cuisine. There’s also a pride of striped cats at the outdoor tables, and three or four bears we’re told pose no threat, but do like to break into the restaurant after hours.
Just like the road, we usually have the Cafe to ourselves, but that’s mostly because we’re up there during the week; Adam says he does get a decent crowd of Harleys on weekends. He also rents cabins, which sleep four, for $110 a night. Or, rent a campsite from the state for $12. The restaurant’s also a store and has all your camping needs covered. Crystal Lake itself is smallish, too weedy to swim in and not super-impressive, but they say it’s full of trout and other species.
For us, the real beauty of the place is the road that takes us there, since the whole spread-out MO crew can get to Azusa within 45 minutes. Aside from that, I don’t know where else you can take your kids to see a bear in the wild an hour away from L.A., and If you were passing through on a moto-trip, this would be an excellent place to spend a night.
Sunday: 7AM – 6PM
Monday: 7AM – 6PM
Wednesday thru Friday: 7AM – 6PM
Saturday: 7AM – 8PM
(Hours may be subject to change)