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Kitsch in the Desert at Peggy Sue’s Diner
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California: Kitsch in the Desert at Peggy Sue’s Diner

The 1950’s-themed “Peggy Sue’s Restaurant” in California’s Bay Area didn’t prepare me for meeting the prototype Peggy Sue’s Diner in the Mojave Desert. The San Jose 1950’s theme hamburger-and-malt shops are somewhat of a sanitized soda fountain restaurant offering a little nostalgia. So when I first met Peggy Sue’s Diner in the Mojave Desert, I was blown away! This icon of the drive between Barstow and Nevada on I15, located in the whistle-stop of Yermo, just keeps getting bigger and weirder, and I mean that in a good way. Everyone loves a roadside attraction, especially in the long drive through the desert.

The first time I pulled into the place, it looked a fairly nondescript diner with a big dirt parking lot full of trucks. (A good sign when you’re on the road, as truckers always know the good places to eat.) So I pulled in, and my friend and I walked into a 1950’s-style diner with some odd touches, as we noticed. There was a counter with stools and booths, and the place was decorated in Hollywood memorabilia. I had a great burger and vanilla malt (yes, they have vanilla malts, as well as chocolate!), and found the women’s restroom was decorated with a funky home-painted mural of Hollywood attractions.  It was a fun place, so I found out a little more about it.

Apparently, Peggy Sue’s is the real deal, actually named after a real Peggy Sue. The diner was originally built in 1954, using railroad ties for construction material, rather than being a prefab structure like the “real” diners. However, it had nine stools and three booths, and it served the local area. In 1987, it was purchased by the current owners (Peggy Sue and her husband Champ), who restored the diner to its original ambiance. And since their background was with Knott’s Berry Farm and Hollywood, they decided to use that for a theme. Thus, a desert attraction was born.

If you like menus with a sense of humor and playfulness, their bill of fare definitely qualifies. Besides the iconic “50’s Style Hamburger,” they offer playfully-named sandwiches like the “Patti Page Patty Melt,” “Sheriff John Traditional Grilled Cheese” (based off a sandwich that was the icon of this 1950’s kid’s show), “Tweety Bird Grilled Chicken Breast,” and the “Mickey Mouse Club Sandwich.” And yes, they have malts, and they are huge.

It’s funny, but I always like stopping here after being in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is full of huge, impersonal,  prepackaged experiences that overwhelm you. Peggy Sue’s, though, is funky and personal and–for lack of better term–more real. It’s like a pick-me-up after the sensory overload of Vegas.

Every time I come through on the road, I find something new has been added. First it was a huge new gift shop featuring (what else?) nostalgic 1950’s themed merchandise. Then I didn’t pass through the area for a couple years, and suddenly, it had grown a new wing, full of posters and photos and fiberglass figures of kitschy Hollywood icons, including Elvis (of course!).  Lately, I hear they’ve added a dinosaur park. Dinosaur Park? Time to drive to Las Vegas and stop at Peggy Sue’s to see what else is new!

Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner
Daggett, CA 92327
(760) 254-3370

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Jane Beckman is a reformed workaholic who has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Her passions are food, wine, cooking, travel, and history, in no particular order. In fact, they tend to feed into each other. She might be found cooking over a fire at a historic adobe one weekend, eating crabcakes at a 19th century hotel in downtown Gettysburg on another, or getting lost on a back road, only to find an amazing park or hidden gem of a winery. Her family's love of exploring back roads has always influenced her, as did her father's love of exotic foods. Living in Hawaii at the age of 5, she acquired a taste for poke, pickled octopus, and poi. Japan hooked her on mochi and udon noodles, as well as Japanese kimono. When she was growing up on the Central Coast of California, her parents taught her how to be a "resident tourist" and find things even the locals didn't know about. She continues in that tradition, keeping an eye out for the unique and unexpected.

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