One of Santa Clarita’s biggest claims to fame is its Western history…and rightly so. The city, long before it was known for record breaking roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain, had a rich Hollywood Western culture. Many of its relics still exist today, so take a tour of the city and go back in time to the early days of the American West.
Start your day at the Halfway House Café, a Santa Clarita restaurant favorite since 1931. The café resembles a diner that you would likely see in the days of William S. Hart and Gene Autry. Get your fill of the classics like eggs and bacon or indulge in Halfway House specialties like Eggs Florentine. As you enjoy your meal, look around and you’ll notice that the café has been featured in Gene Autry’s Westerns from the past to modern productions such as the iconic Cindy Crawford Pepsi commercial and the TV show, “Heroes.”
Consider visiting the William S. Hart Park and Museum after you have had your fill of a hearty breakfast. William Hart, a silent film star and Western film producer, lived in Santa Clarita and donated his sprawling ranch to Los Angeles County. The 256-acre ranch is now William S. Hart Park and Museum, a member of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and is open to the public at no charge. Hart’s former home, now the William S. Hart Museum, exhibits an impressive collection of Western artwork, personal furnishings, and additional Hollywood mementos. Guided tours of the Museum’s mansion are offered year-round, and the Ranch House is open for unguided tours. End the tour with a one-of-a-kind souvenir from the Western-themed gift shop. After visiting both of those it is time to explore the park, where you will find plenty of space to hike and visit the barn yard animals and natural surroundings. Pack a lunch and enjoy it on one of the numerous picnic tables and chairs.
Located at the base of Pico Canyon and just a few minutes away from Hart Park, you can explore Mentryville. Historical 19th Century Western structures give visitors an authentic look into the past of California’s “black gold” boom town era and Santa Clarita history. Mentryville was home to over 100 families until the early 1930’s. This pioneer boomtown was the site of the first commercially successful oil well in the western United States. Pico No. 4 went on to become the longest continually operating oil well in the world, closing in 1990. Historic buildings still standing in the pioneer oil town include Charles Mentry’s grand thirteen-room mansion, which was built in 1898 and featured in the HBO hit show “Big Love”, a one-room school house, and a period barn. Mentryville and Pico No. 4 are registered as California State Historical Landmarks.
Continue on your journey through Santa Clarita history at Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio and Museum. The Studio houses one of the world’s largest collections of one-of-a-kind movie memorabilia from the last nine decades. The Museum, located on the 22 acre studio lot, offers Western and Hollywood fans alike an opportunity to experience movie sets in the old west, military camps, 1930s gangster settings, never-before-seen photos from movie and television shoots, vintage cars, military tanks and original props. It’s a one-of-a-kind Southern California attraction. Make sure to schedule a private tour for a behind-the-scenes look at some of Hollywood’s most beloved movies.
At the end of your day, you’ll have a hankerin’ for a big supper just like the cowboys had. The no-nonsense, high-quality steaks served at The Backwoods Inn are just what you need. The Santa Clarita restaurant “where the locals eat” serves up steak cooked over mesquite charcoal. Our favorite…the twice baked potatoes.
Get some Santa Clarita history with your breakfast at the longest operating restaurant in Los Angeles County, Saugus Café. Opened in 1886, this well-known café offers home-style cooking at great prices. Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne were served in their spacious booths during the 1930’s. While most commonly known for its film history and service to film stars, the Saugus Café has also dished up meals for historical legends such as President Theodore Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin, and modern-day stars such as Whoopi Goldberg and Drew Barrymore. This café is truly one of a kind as far as Southern California attractions; here can you eat inside a living legend while getting that hometown diner experience.
After breakfast, head to Main Street, adjacent to the Old Town Newhall Library, and check out the Walk of Western Stars. Stars are emblazoned on the ground throughout Old Town Newhall memorializing the stars of the Westerns that have filmed in Santa Clarita for centuries. You’ll see stars for Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Jack Palance, Sam Elliott, John Ford and William S. Hart, among many others. This is a definitely a must-do during your Southern California vacation.
Old Town Newhall is Santa Clarita’s most distinctive and diverse neighborhood. Explore this pioneer town’s many historic sites, iconic film locations and unique tribute to the legends of Western cinema. It’s all at your fingertips with the Newhall Walking Tour app! Download the free app now on iTunes, Google Play or Amazon. The Newhall Walking Tour app guides visitors through the area’s most notable and recognizable sites. Tour historic spots like the Saugus Train Station, where Theodore Roosevelt stopped in 1903. Get a behind-the-scenes look at film locations like the Way Station Coffee Shop, featured in countless film productions, including “Justified,” “Franklin & Bash” and “Sons of Anarchy.”
While on Main Street, be sure to check out the Out West retail store. The store has all your Western apparel and jewelry needs, and even has an art gallery that features Native American and Cowboy art. The store often holds special events like live music and fashion shows, so you may just stumble upon a rich Western cultural event while visiting or can call in advance and inquire within.
Head on over to Harry Carey Ranch after your leisurely stroll through Old Town Newhall. Harry Carey was an early western film actor whose prolific career includes more than 233 movies. Notable film stars that visited the ranch during the time of Carey’s ownership include John Wayne, William S. Hart, and Gary Cooper. Western artist Charles Russell was also a frequent guest at the ranch. The historic adobe park is now managed by Los Angeles County, with an emphasis on providing a glimpse of past motion picture history. The home is preserved with pieces of Western art painted right on the adobe walls, allowing you to step back in time and experience a day in the life of Harry and his family. It’s a great addition to your Southern California travel itinerary.
Ready for some action? Release your inner gun-slinger with some time at Oak Tree Gun Club! The full-service gun range offers Trap, Skeet, Sporting Clays, Rifle and Pistol shooting, all for reasonable prices. Oak Tree Gun Club also features two of the finest pro shops in Southern California, offering gun sales, ammunition, shooting sport accessories, and clothing.
If you’re not a big fan of guns but still want to get into the Western spirit, how much more authentic can you get then with a horseback ride? Santa Clarita is home to many equestrian stables featuring Western-style riding including Jump for Joy and Don-E Brook Farm; and English-style riding including Silver Gate Farms. Each stable offers riding lessons with championship horses and expert trainers, so if you’re up for the challenge, make an appointment and saddle up!
You’re not a lover of all things Western if you don’t love great BBQ! Our hometown favorite, Rattler’s BBQ, is an authentic rib joint that you and your family will be sure to enjoy. Rattler’s has been a part of the city for more than 25 years. This Santa Clarita restaurant serves up classic BBQ favorites like rib tips and pulled pork sandwiches but also has healthy-minded offerings and gluten-free options. Be sure to order the Rattler’s Famous Shredded Onions – thinly sliced, lightly seasoned and piled high!