If the open road is calling you, no route is more famed for a classic road trip than Route 66. This iconic roadway is a slice of Americana, complete with neon, kitsch, quirky attractions and gorgeous scenery. Historic Route 66 is not indicated on maps nowadays, so make sure to get a detailed map and guide book before hitting the road.
Here are a few of the sights you’ll encounter when you get your kicks on Historic Route 66, compliments of Homeaway.com.
Chicago, Illinois is where Route 66 begins. One of America’s greatest cities, with countless things to do, the Windy City is a great vacation destination. Grant Park is the official starting point of Route 66. Great attractions you don’t want to miss in Chicago include Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower, the John Hancock Observatory, the Navy Pier, the Brookfield Zoo, the Adler Planetarium, and, of course, Lake Michigan. Feeling hungry? Stop to eat at the iconic Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant on Route 66 for authentic diner food.
Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri
History comes alive in southern Illinois, home to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Civil War reenactments and classic car shows highlight the Route 66 Mother Road Festival, in September. For American kitsch, you can’t beat the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois or the huge Muffler Man in Bloomington. The Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of the most unique bridges in America. Its mile long span takes a 30 degree turn in the middle of the Mississippi River on its way from Illinois to Missouri.
Downtown St. Louis, Missouri offers visitors a great first impression of the city with the signature Gateway Arch, Union Station and Busch Stadium. Visit the old French neighborhood, Soulard, for great jazz and blues clubs. Take time out to walk the Delmar Loop, visit the St. Louis Zoo, or sample some suds at the St. Louis breweries.
Fun fact: The Hill, settled by Italian immigrants in the 1800s, has fireplugs in the colors of the Italian flag.
St Louis to Tulsa, Oklahoma
Beginning in the 1950s, old Route 66 was bypassed section by section by high-speed interstate highways. The older sections are designated Historic Route 66. Meramec Caverns on Route 66 introduced the bumper sticker touting the Historic Route 66 and billboards and giant statues on the route point to a fascinating array of roadside attractions.
Route 66 enters the Ozark Mountains at Rolla, Missouri. Visit Meramec Caverns, said to be one of the hiding places for Jesse James and his gang. Landmarks include Stone Courthouse in Carthage which was built from local limestone known as “Carthage marble,” Missouri National Cemetery in Springfield, Oklahoma, and the intriguingly named Devil’s Elbow, Missouri. Branson, Missouri, famous for family oriented entertainment makes a great side trip south of Springfield. MO.
Tulsa, Oklahoma has its own unique sights and special contributions to the history of Route 66. But only in Oklahoma do the roadside attractions, people, and history come together in such abundance. Travel back in time and journey on the actual pavement that the Oakies and Arkies took during the Dust Bowl years. In Oklahoma, Route 66 winds its way through rolling hills, climbing in and out of river valleys. River Park, the Oklahoma Arts Council, the Philbrook Museum of Art, and the Tulsa Air & Space Museum offer more urban attractions.
Trying to follow Route 66 with a standard road map won’t work. There are a lot of Historic Route 66 markers, but many are missing, thanks to misguided collectors, and the Oklahoma winds. Come experience the wonder of Oklahoma’s Route 66 yourself.
Tulsa to Albuquerque, New Mexico
The longest driveable stretch of Route 66 runs through Oklahoma past charming towns and quirky attractions. Mohawk Indian Store in Clinton, the Roger Miller Museum in Erick, and the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, and the ultimate Route 66 Museum in Clinton are just a few of the sights you can only find in Oklahoma. Want something even odder? How about a 90-foot concrete totem pole in Foyi, Oklahoma.
The true Southwest awaits you in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Immerse yourself in a rich culture and heritage that’s rotted in centuries of history.
Route 66 was officially decommissioned in 1985, but 20 years later its still charming travelers. Let the Golden Age of the Open Road whisper to you through brightly colored neon signs and friendly small towns. The advent of the new Interstate highway system made it possible for people to travel across the country – and not see anything. Perhaps, its this desire to “see something” that keeps Route 66 alive.
New Mexico points of interest include Trinity, the site of first atom bomb, the Sandia Peak Tramway, Albuquerque Old Town, and the Indian Pueblo Center.
Don’t miss the world famous art installation Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. And Adrian, Texas is considered the official Midpoint of Route 66, halfway between Chicago and Los Angeles, the original terminus of the route.
Albuquerque to Flagstaff, Arizona
Check out the Banderas Volcano and the 66 Diner in Grants, New Mexico and El Rancho Hotel in Holbrook, Arizona. An interesting side trip is to the Barringer Meteor Crater in Two Guns, Arizona. After Two Guns, the elevation will rise and soon the desert will be replaced by pine forests.
Flagstaff, Arizona is Northern Arizona’s most attractive town. With a dramatic view of the San Francisco Peaks, it sits halfway between New Mexico and California. To visit the Grand Canyon, head north on AZ 64, then north on US 180. Its grandeur and size are truly humbling.
Check out the ghost town of Hackberry, whose general store has been converted into a crazy little giftshop.
West of Ash Fork, Arizona, is one of the longest unbroken stretches of historic Route 66. Be aware that there are no working gas stations on this stretch, so fill up before you head out.
Flagstaff to Santa Monica, California
The Mohave Desert in Southern California was always the most dreaded part of Route 66.
Visit quirky attractions like the Wigwam Hotel, Trash in the Desert, and the ghost town of the Essex, where travelers used to be able to get free water and other goodies from the now-abandoned Essex Market.
Santa Monica, California is the western terminus of Route 66. It ends at the sands of the Pacific Ocean, on a palm-lined bluff a few blocks north of the city’s landmark pier. The original end of Route 66 was in downtown Los Angeles, but it was later revised to end in Santa Monica.
There is a brass plaque at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard making the official end of the “Main Street of America.” If you’re look for a great display of neon signs or kitschy Americana, do as the song says and “get your kicks on Route 66.”