I packed up my sewing machine and I’m off on another road trip. This time I’m taking 4 – 5 weeks and going cross-country from California to Georgia. The first leg of the trip is Yuba City, California to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
One of the things I love about a road trip is that you can venture off the freeway on an unexpected side trip. We saw a sign that read “Lake Havasu/London Bridge 19 miles. ” On a whim my daughter-in-law, Jody, and I decided to take a little detour.
How London Bridge Came to the Arizona Desert
London Bridge is Arizona second largest attraction after the Grand Canyon. Purchased by Robert McCullogh, the Bridge was dismantled, each brick was numbered, shipped via the Panama Canal to the US, and then was reassembled in the Arizona Desert. It attracts 2.5 million visitors per year. Lake Havasu/London Bridge wasn’t exactly on my bucket list but I will admit to a certain fascination with it since I first heard the London Bridge was moving to Lake Havasu in 1968.
The Guinness Book of World Records calls the bridge the world’s largest antique. I was impressed with the historical significance of the Bridge but I also see it as a monument to American ingenuity and marketing savvy. London Bridge is one of those successful “If you build it, they will come” stories!
In 1967, it became clear to the Common Council of the City of London that the bridge was sinking into the Thames. It was not built to withstand the rigors of modern day traffic. They began looking for potential buyers for the London Bridge and Lake Havasu City founder and entrepreneur, Robert P. McCulloch placed the winning bid of $2,460,000 on April 18, 1968. McCulloch was building a master planned retirement community in Lake Havasu, AZ. He purchased the bridge to serve as a tourist attraction to Lake Havasu, which at that time was far from the tourist track. The London Bridge was packed up and shipped over to the U.S. and rebuilt brick by brick in Lake Havasu City. McCulloch’s idea was successful, bringing interested tourists and retirement home buyers to the area. Lake Havasu City now has over 1,000 businesses, two newspapers and a college. It is also a popular tourist destination.
The bridge spans about 930 feet across a man-made canal of the Colorado River and carries McCulloch Avenue over the canal. McCulloch Avenue is a major highway in Lake Havasu City. Traveling on top of the bridge, you’d never knew you drove over London Bridge (although the British and US flags and the English street lamps add to the ambiance.) The bridge originally completed in 1831 was not designed to withstand 20th century automotive traffic. The original granite brick facade covers a modern concrete flat bridge. It looks like a normal road from the top. I wish we had time to take a boat tour which would have passed under the bridge. (Maybe next time)
The sidewalks along the London Bridge lead to popular businesses that include Safeway, Mc Donalds, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Starbucks, and In ‘N Out Burger.
Surrounding the London Bridge is a themed English village called the London Bridge Shoppes Village. The Lake Havasu City Visitor Center is located in there and conducts a 90-minute walking tour of the London Bridge (there is a fee for the tour.) The tour covers the history of the bridge including it relocation as well as info on Lake Havasu City and its environs. (You can see the strafing scars from WWII that mar the bridge’s granite surface and stroll over sparkling Bridgewater Channel.) It seems the bridge is also a popular hangout for the Arizona boating crowd. We saw all kinds of boats anchored in the shadow of the bridge. There is a spot in the parking lot of the “London Bridge Shoppes” where you can park and walk up a concrete staircase to walk on the top of the bridge. The English village theme is carried along both shores of the canal. The village does not charge for admission, it doesn’t even charge for parking and there is plenty of parking near the bridge.
There are crosswalks if you want to look from both sides of the bridge. You can go in to the London Bridge Shoppes and walk under the bridge. You will find benches where you can sit and read, feed the birds, have lunch, or just breathe in the atmosphere.
Lake Havasu City is a cute little town. I could easily see making a day of it just walking around and visiting the little shops many of them located in located in Tudor-style buildings.
Lake Havasu is called “Arizona’s Playground.” It is easy to see why! Looking through the brochures at the Visitor’s Center it looked like Lake Havasu is the off-roading, ultralight-flying, speed boating, jet-skiing, rock climbing capitol of the Southwest! You can frolic on a sandy, Arizona beach without dangerous currents or sea critters, visit museums, take a hike past towering Saguaro cactus, or visit Route 66 for a glimpse of the past. It’s also a great place to kick back with friends and family, relax and watch the world pass by.
Despite the fact the London Bridge is a shameless tourist attraction in the middle-of-nowhere, I really enjoyed our little side trip.
My Dining Tip
Javelina Cantina is a great destination for authentic Sonora-style Mexican food. From the outside patio you can enjoy the amazing scenic view of the London Bridge.
This post was originally published in Sept 2015. However I’m off on another long, cross-country roadtrip soon and I might like to make this little detour again.