California : Safety by City
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Many a weary traveler has coasted into Barstow, California, on fumes after a long drive west in the desert from Las Vegas.
There’s so much more than a quick stop at a gas station in this small desert town.
Three major highways and interstates meet in Barstow, and it’s rich with railroad history too.
Main Street in Barstow is along the famed Route 66.
Murals on the buildings paint pictures of the town’s history through mining and the railroad.
In places you can’t see around Barstow, the communications or the world and space are housed in NASA facilities.
For a quick detour, you can see the ghost town of Calico, preserved by a local museum.
The empty former mining town holds plenty of ghost stories along the street.
With several popular dining options, from name-brand restaurants to a meal in a train car, you won’t leave Barstow hungry.
The lines get pretty long.
I once waited an hour for a Subway sandwich here, but I was just that hungry.
Warnings & Dangers in Barstow
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk in a town with so many people coming in and out quickly. Crowds can get large at popular restaurants and lines can form at gas stations during peak travel periods, like a Sunday afternoon coming back from Las Vegas.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
The Victor Valley Transit Authority (VVTA) provides bus service around Barstow and some surrounding cities, and you can also use a taxi or rideshare, but to be honest, having a car in Barstow is critical. Unless you want to be stuck in Barstow, you'll need a ride of your own. There's low risk with public transportation, but you're not going to have as much of an enjoyable trip without a car.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There were just three pickpocket reports, so that's a low risk. I do want to focus on your car getting pickpocketed. Half of the thefts reported in 2020 were from vehicles or auto accessories. Don't leave your car unlocked and windows rolled down, not even just for a few minutes to run in to grab a drink.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Barstow's government has an extraordinarily detailed plan for just about every disaster imaginable. From plane crashes to wildfires to utility failures, they are ready for a worst-case scenario. There's a medium risk due to the extreme heat, earthquake potential, and wildfire concerns.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
Barstow is ranked as one of the ten most dangerous cities in California and the robbery rate is one reason why. It's 17 times higher than the national average. That is not a typo. However, when you do crime math to figure out percentages, a small town like Barstow with just 25,000 residents can easily see numbers skewed by the small sample amounts. There were 347 robberies in 2020. You also have to consider the sheer number of people who stop in this city every year. Based on the potential for mugging, this is medium risk.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
Considering how close Barstow is to some top government and military installations, we're going with medium risk. Barstow itself wouldn't be the target but would be impacted by an attack on Fort Irwin.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There are reports of scams in Barstow, but none directly targeting tourists. I know I've been approached at gas stations in Barstow by people asking for "just $20 in gas to get home to LA" followed by a unique reason why they don't have money of their own. There's low risk when you look at recent scam reports, but always be on your guard in this transient town.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
I don't like to give women any kind of different risk if there isn't crime activity to back it up. However, Barstow could be a bit of a risk for a woman traveling alone IF she doesn't give proper attention to personal safety. There's a medium risk just because the town can get filled with impatient people wanting to get back on the road and it's that possible thieves are looking for a crime of opportunity.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
A decade ago this answer would have been different, but now there's a low risk in tap water and it meets or exceeds all standards. If you read about contamination issues in the water, check the date on the article. They will probably be from 2011 or 2012. There was once a ban on drinking tap water since it was so contaminated, but those issues have been fixed.
Safest Places to Visit in Barstow
All places in Barstow are best to visit during daylight hours.
You can scour for deals at the Outlets of Barstow.
Get a new outfit for a trip to Vegas or pick up some essentials at rock bottom prices.
There are also many museums in Barstow to enjoy.
A must-see is the Route 66 museum, showcasing the early days of road trips across the country.
Then visit the Western American Railroad Museum to learn about the early days of the railroad industry and how Barstow played a key part in getting across the country by train.
You can see the second largest space rock ever at the Desert Discovery Center.
It’s called the Old Woman Springs Meteorite and she weighs more than 6,000 pounds.
There is also a desert trail and several exhibits showcasing the magic of the desert community.
Calico Ghost Town is 11 miles north of Barstow.
The city was bustling in the 1880s as miners dug for silver.
In less than a decade, the town was vacated when silver stopped being a hot commodity.
The buildings have been restored to their original form and it’s a great place to take some incredible photos for social media.
You’ll find some shops and restaurants here too.
Places to Avoid in Barstow
Try to stay east of where I-15 meets Barstow Road.
Going west on Main Street gets more into high crime areas.
Barstow has little to no nightlife.
It’s one of the biggest complaints of residents.
You don’t want to be out and about in Barstow at night unless you are coming and going from a restaurant.
Don’t drive around, don’t stop, and ask someone for directions or guidance.
Avoid leaving your car running or unlocked when you go into a business, even if it’s just to use the restroom.
Normally this is where I’d tell you to put all valuables in the trunk, but if you are traveling you might not be able to hide all the personal items since your car is filled up with stuff.
Cover what you can with a blanket, and use an anti-theft device on the steering wheel if you have one.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Barstow
- You won’t notice it, but the Barstow police will have a picture of your car and license plate when you visit. This is used as a crime technique should a car be stolen or a suspect is reported in a certain car. You don’t need to do anything, but just know you’re being photographed.
- Check the crime mapping tool on the police department website to see more recent crimes. The crime data I can provide is from the 2020 FBI report accumulated from individual city reports. It can be outdated if crime trends have changed in a certain area.
- If you visit Calico Ghost Town, do not get near or go in any of the mines. They’ll be marked as DO NOT ENTER, but take it seriously. Those mines are old and dangerous and if you fall in, you might never be heard or found.
- If you see graffiti, take a picture and send it to the city so they can get it removed promptly. Graffiti is generally done by gang members as a way to claim their territory.
- Wear sunscreen when exploring this area and bring twice the amount of water you think you’ll need. Especially in June through September, the highs are going to be in the 90s and into the triple digits. It’s a dry heat that is more like an oven when you are in the blazing sun.
- On I-15 between Barstow and Las Vegas, it’s nothing but barren desert. People drive over 100 mph at times and road rage can quickly build if someone is driving slow. Don’t get frustrated and just take your time. An accident on the side of this road is going to lead to a long wait in the middle of nowhere. Major accidents happen on this interstate blocking off the main artery from Las Vegas to LA.
- There are homeless people and hitchhikers throughout Barstow. Don’t make eye contact and if someone blocks your way a firm “No” should suffice.
- If you are traveling alone and need to leave your car at a gas station or restaurant, take anything of high value with you inside. Keep an eye on your car as much as you can. Use a sunshade over the windshield so you don’t get tempted to leave the windows cracked in the heat of the day.
- Sign up for emergency alert notifications through the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. Search Ready San Bernardino County app will give you quick alerts about natural disasters and civil emergencies during your travel through the county.
- Use the CalTrans website or app to keep up with road conditions as you travel throughout Southern California. You can even see live cameras of current road conditions on your next leg of the journey.
So... How Safe Is Barstow Really?
This is a town where people generally stop and go on their way to somewhere else.
Even if they spend the night, it’s just to get a meal and some sleep after a long day of driving.
There is not really much to Barstow for a road tripper, aside from a few museums and hot spot restaurants.
Barstow isn’t a place you want to stay long-term for its versatile position in the desert.
Victorville or Palmdale might be a better option for that.
The violent crime rate here is nearly 3 times the California average.
Property crimes soar 30% higher than the state average.
There are gangs here and a drug problem.
You don’t want to haphazardly walk around this town.
Stay in your car with the doors locked until you arrive at your destination.
Always park in well-lit areas and stay inside at night.
It’s not a town many people can avoid due to its prime location on several major routes, but have your head on a swivel and be cognizant of your surroundings at all times.
How Does Barstow Compare?
- Visas - You're all set with the Visa you got approved at the airport or port of entry. You don't need any other ID to be in Barstow.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted here. Stick with credit card purchases as they provide the best protection from identity theft and fraudulent charges. Never throw away a receipt without shredding it first.
- Weather - While Barstow is known for its oppressive summer heat, the winters can be quite nice. Highs are in the 60s and that clear desert sky provides lows in the 30s. You'll definitely need layers in fall, winter, and spring. Even summer nights can get into the 60s. Bring plenty of sunscreens and this area is very dusty so wear comfortable clothes that you don't mind getting dirty in windy, dusty conditions.
- Airports - Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas is about two hours east along a barren desert road. Los Angeles International Airport is going to be about three hours, but plan more time for traffic. San Bernardino's airport is the closest option and it is about an hour and a half away.
- Travel Insurance - You'll want travel insurance for your trip to Barstow since weather, wildfires, and congestion can cause many delays or cancellations.
Barstow Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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