The 5.5-magnitude temblor struck just outside Ludlow on Interstate 40 in San Bernardino County, about 120 miles east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
There were no immediate reports of damage.
"The ground was rolling underneath but it was very light. Nothing," said Jeremy Chestnut, 20, who works at a Dairy Queen in Ludlow. "I was standing in front of an ice cream machine and it makes the ground shake, too."
USGS geophysicist Rafael Abreu said the closest fault is the Lavic Lake Fault, in the Calico-Hidalgo fault zone, which is part of the San Andreas Fault region.
He said the movement is related to the gradual movement of the Pacific plate against the North American plate along a strike slip fault that crosses California.
Kelly Ghiloni, a spokeswoman with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in Joshua Tree, said she felt shaking for about 15 seconds but saw no major damage.
"There was some shaking, a little bit of rattling," Ghiloni said. "It was enough to wake you up and know there was an earthquake."
KCDZ-FM news director Gary Daigneault said he felt the shake in Twentynine Palms, about 70 miles south of Ludlow.
"It was a rolling motion," he said. "It was a pretty good ride."
The quake was just a few miles away from where the 7.1 magnitude Hector Mine quake hit in 1999.