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Auto Culture & Tourism

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Early Auto Tourists =>

California’s tourism industry boomed as use of the automobile spread. Vacationers increasingly used their cars and the improved highway system to reach destinations across the state. Along the way, these travelers could purchase mementos such as postcards, maps, books, and other souvenirs.

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Tahoe-Pacific Highway 20 Association Map, 1941

Monterey Bay Region Map, 194T

Where will we go?

Local chambers of commerce and highway associations often produced colorful carton-style pictorial maps to advertise fun locations and activities in the region. These maps could appear on restaurant menus, business or local government letterhead, pamphlets, or souvenir art prints. The popularity of pictorial maps increased between the 1920s and the 1950s, as a result of the growth of the auto tourist industry. The maps focused on whimsical renditions of local attractions and major landmarks.

Tahoe-Pacific Highway 20 Association Map, 1941, and Monterey Bay Region Map, 1942

Ephemera Collection, California State Archives.

California’s Scenic State Highway No. 1

Chevron Supreme Gasoline and RPM Supreme Motor Oil

Curry’s Yosemite Automobile Guide Map

How do we get there?

Maps not only provided directions for travelers, but also gave an advertising opportunity to gas and oil companies, auto clubs, touring businesses, cities, counties, highway associations, and others.


  1. California’s Scenic State Highway No. 1, the Ocean Route (California State Highway No. 1 Association, Cayucos, California, circa 1950)
  2. Chevron Supreme Gasoline and RPM Supreme Motor Oil, Los Angeles (H.M. Gousha Company, 1958)
  3. Curry’s Yosemite Automobile Guide (Parker Map Company, 1921)

Ephemera Collection, California State Archives.

Denton’s Mountain Inn Brochure Cover

Denton’s Mountain Inn Brochure

Denton’s Mountain Inn Rates

Denton’s Mountain Inn Letter

Where will we stay?

As the number of auto tourists increased, so did businesses that catered to these travelers.  Motorists who did not want to leave their treasured vehicles in livery stables began instead to set up temporary roadside camps where they could sleep and eat near their cars.  In the 1920s, landowners across the state developed more formal “auto camps” that included parking areas as well as a variety of accommodations ranging from water and flush toilets to laundry facilities.   These camps gradually gave way to roadside motels that could offer more amenities.  Destination resorts such as Denton’s Mountain Inn also became popular, advertising “De Lux” accommodations, recreational facilities, good food, and friendly service.

Ephemera Collection, California State Archives

Sans Souci, Menu Cover

Sans Souci, Menu 2

Sans Souci, Menu 3

Sonora Inn Coffee Shop Cover

Sonora Inn, Menu

Good Eats

Roadside diners, cafés, and restaurants flourished as automobile use increased in California. These businesses catered to motorists on the go, providing welcome rest stops as well as filling food. Travelers could order from the menus shown here in 1956.

Ephemera, Records of the Department of Finance, California State Archives.

A California Hightway Postcard.

Sequoia National Forest Postcard.

U.S. Hwy 66 Postcard.

Golden Gate International Expo Postcard.

Greetings from San Francisco Postcard.

Seals on the Rocks Postcard.

Alcatraz Island Postcard.

Japanese Tea House Postcard.

California Building Postcard.

"The Isthmus" Amusement Street Postcard.

Wish you were here!

Colorful postcards remained popular souvenir items throughout the twentieth century. This group contains postcards dating from approximately 1914 to the 1940s.

Ephemera Collection, California State Archives.

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