I can't remember the first time I saw Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (it came out the year I was born, 1985), but I do remember being a huge fan of Pee-Wee's Playhouse as a kid. It wasn't until a rewatch of the movie recently that I realized just how much of an influence Pee-Wee Herman must have had on my general aesthetic. In the opening sequence he has a skull hanging over his bed, he brushes his teeth with a novelty toothbrush, he has oversized utensils, his breakfast has a face and his yard is full of fiberglass statues. His house is literally my dream house.
Second only to the Wigwam Motel, the top destination for my California trip with my friend Jim was the Cabazon Dinosaurs. I love dinosaur parks (I've been to Dinosaur World in KY and Dinosaur Land in VA) and the added Pee-Wee pedigree made the Cabazon Dinosaurs a must-see. Pee-Wee is dropped off by Large Marge in front of the dinosaurs and he and the waitress from a nearby diner share their dreams inside of Mr. Rex's mouth (the mouth in the movie was most definitely a set—it's much smaller in real life).
Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex are located west of Palm Springs, about two-and-a-half hours from Los Angeles. Claude Bell started constructing the dinosaurs in 1964, hoping to drive traffic to his nearby diner, The Wheel Inn. Dinny, the 150-foot-tall brontosaurus was completed first, in 1975 and Mr. Rex, a 65-foot-tall T-Rex was completed in 1985. Bell died in 1988 at age 91, and the property remained with his family until the mid '90s.
Inside of Dinny is a gift shop (the souvenirs were disappointing) and it's also where you purchase tickets to Mr. Rex’s Dinosaur Adventure, an add-on attraction featuring more than 50 dinosaur figures, a fossil dig and access to Mr. Rex. You can see the outside of both dinosaurs without paying admission, but it's definitely worth the $12 to survey the site from behind Mr. Rex's huge teeth (there is also a squished penny machine in a second gift shop located within the Dinosaur Adventure attraction).
Despite having seen photos of these dinosaurs for years on Instagram, seeing them in person was still so much better than I even expected it to be. We went early in the morning so it wasn't overrun with children, and later in our hotel room we watched Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and I had such a new appreciation for the Cabazon scenes. The one major disappointment, however is that The Wheel Inn closed in 2013. It sat abandoned for a few years before being recently demolished. When we went all that remained of the landmark diner was a pile of rubble and I'm sad that I'll never be able to walk in and say "Large Marge sent me."