There are long stretches of road that are nearly impossible to drive over, and plenty of spots that require careful motorists. However, there are still a lot of pieces of Americana that are there for viewing if your engines are already rumbling and your gas tank is full.
Make Sure You Start the Right Way
If you're going to take this historic and scenic drive, you have to start at the proper place. Head to Chicago, grab a hot dog, and then find Adams Street. Look west toward Wabash Avenue to spot the “Historic 66 Begin” sign. Many travelers begin the journey at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, Chicago's oldest park.
After that, you'll have to make your way out of the city and speed up until you're on your way to Missouri. You can't say you've gone the whole way back and forth unless you start and finish in Chicago.
Getting Into the Hall
As Route 66 became more and more popular among regular motorists and nostalgia-chasers, the roads got more and more dangerous. It gained the perhaps unfair moniker “bloody 66” by those in charge of patrolling it, such as the highway patrol, who got to witness firsthand the danger that comes from the route.
One patrol lieutenant, Chester Henry, has actually made it into the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame for his years of service on the “Mother Road.” Henry is notable for referring to one particular segment north of Pontiac, Illinois as “Dead Man's Alley.” We can probably guess why.
Enjoy Some Artwork During the Drive
Illinois has plenty of history to it, but the Route 66 part of the history is known as Mural City. There are twenty-three murals in Pontiac, including the Route 66 shield on the back of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum.
You can grab a guide at the museum and drive around, or step out of your vehicle and follow the red footprints on the sidewalks that will take you on a walking tour. You're going to be doing a lot of driving, so make sure to stretch your legs.
Straight From the Gilded Age
Bedecked with art deco elements and covered in bright lights and gold filigree, the Rialto Square Theatre in Illinois opened as a place to take in a Vaudeville show in 1926. A Neo-Baroque style underpins the art deco for a touch of long-lasting class. There are huge glass chandeliers, intricate murals, and marble pillars that are flecked with gold.
If you love the nightlife and want to see a place that has always shown the best, be sure to visit this stop for a concert, a musical, a play, or some other event before getting back on the road. There's nothing wrong with a little bit of culture.
Does Muffler Man Get a Cape?
Springfield Illinois is home to a big man. The Lauterbach Giant towers over the parking lot of Lauterbach Auto Service in Springfield, Illinois, and is affectionately referred to as the “muffler man.” He's been standing watch over motorists since 1978, and the giant fiberglass structure is certainly starting to look his age.
He's weather-beaten, has a classic kitschy appearance, and seems like the kind of thing that will be around far longer than any of us. He's timeless, in a word. There have been some changes to this big guy: he's swapped a tire for an American flag. In 2006, his head had to be replaced after a particularly ornery tornado swept through.
Navigate a Difficult River Without a Problem
The seventeen-mile series of rocky rapids called the Chain of Rocks makes the Mississippi River difficult to navigate, but it was quite important since it linked the town of Madison, Illinois with St. Louis. The Chain of Rocks Bridge, sixty feet over the river, is a mile-long structure dripping with history.
It's still popular with cyclists and motorists today and even has huge versions of the classic Route 66 sign bent into the shape of benches where weary travelers can relax for a moment. At $2.5 million, the bridge took twice as much money as the original estimate
Think of the Hamburger
If you're a fan of tomato and vinegar, there's one place on Route 66 that you should absolutely stop at. It's the World's Largest Catsup Bottle, and it stands proudly above the town of Collinsville, Illinois. In truth, the structure is actually a water tower, but it pulls double-duty as a tourist attraction.
It was completed in 1949 for the Brooks Foods plant, which is no longer open. From base to spout, the bottle itself is a hundred and seventy feet high, which would hold around 640,000 bottles of catsup (or ketchup, which is what it's called nowadays). Time to get out the grill.
Lou Mitchell's Diner in Chicago, Illinois is regarded as the “First Stop on the Mother Road,” since it's right there in Chicago where the route begins. Established in 1923, this restaurant sells delicious all-American fare like pancakes, burgers, and shakes. You can stop in for breakfast before getting on the road, break for lunch if you've already been traveling for a while, or dart in to pick up some of their homemade bakery treats.
The sign even says they serve the world's FINEST coffee! Where else in Chicago could you find a place that says such a thing?
More Than One Kind of Rabbit
If you're a fan of any kind of rabbit, you'll have to schedule a stop at Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois. If you want the complete tour you'll have to set up an appointment, which might make it difficult if you're taking on the traffic and other scenic sights of the historic route.
There are plenty of fuzzy friends that you can hang out with, but you'll also have the chance to see some classic VW Rabbits, which are...buried in the ground for some reason. The engine first, their back ends sticking up like divers frozen in ice.
Good for the Soul
If you're interested in getting your day started the right way, grab some breakfast at The Old Log Cabin restaurant in Pontiac, Illinois. Opening in 1926, this quaint eatery began as a roadside lunchroom and gas station. The current owners have the place open from five in the morning to eight o'clock at night every day except Sunday.
The locals still rave about the cheeseburgers, the homemade coconut cream, and rhubarb pie. For early diners, the restaurant serves fresh eggs and hashbrowns that will give you the protein and energy needed for a long day of motoring.
Giants From Space
The Muffler Man became such a famous part of Route 66 that, naturally, a number of imitators popped up. One such copy is the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois, who looks almost exactly like the classic fiberglass statue, except he's wearing a fifties space helmet and carrying a little rocket ship.
This towering example of star-struck decoration is situated in a quaint town next to the Launchpad Diner and is themed after the Gemini space program. Gemini was NASA's second human spaceflight program, beginning in 1961 and concluding in 1966. Ten Gemini crews and sixteen different astronauts flew in low Earth orbit during the program.
Early American Culture
Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, right over the border from St. Louis, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you could drive past without even wondering about its significance. This ancient, pre-Columbian site is a pre-eminent example of the cultural, religious, and economic centers of the Mississippian culture, which ran from 800 A.D. to about 1350 A.D.
This culture extended through the Mississippi Valley and the south-eastern United States. It looks like the Mounds have been built up with a purpose in mind. You can see most of the Mounds in about an hour or two, or you can give yourself more time to explore.
An Old-Time Rocker
Once you're in Missouri, there are plenty of scenic stops to make, including the forty-two-foot steel rocking chair in the city of Cuba. The entire reason for the construction in 2008 was to break the Guinness World Record for the largest rocking chair, which it did with aplomb since it can actually rock back and forth.
It no longer holds the title – the town of Casey, Illinois now contains a 56.5-foot chair – it's still an interesting site that is worth a pic or two. The chair is now secured in place, and you can't exactly take a seat, but it's neat nonetheless.
Simple, Yet Elegant
Missouri is one of the first stops a motorist might make. There are lots of options for activities in this bustling city, but if you're pressed for time and want to get back on the road, the Gateway Arch is your best bet.
The 630-foot monument was created as a dedication to western expansion and the American people. It's not only the world's tallest arch but also Missouri's tallest accessible building. It might not look like it, but you can ride it all the way to the top, where you can overlook downtown Missouri and the beautiful Mississippi River.
It's a Devil of an Elbow
The name “Devil's Elbow” actually refers to the segment of river that would cause frequent logjams using actual logs as lumberjacks floated their bounty down the water. However, there are plenty of people who remember this area of Missouri to be dangerous anyway. More than one person has reminisced about their father white-knuckling the steering wheel as they got close.
It was all because of a curve that had no barrier whatsoever between the road and the steep drop. This lasted for some time before first a wooden fence, then a post and cable fence, and finally a low stone wall was built.
Relic of a Bygone Era
Drive-in movie theaters used to be where you would go to catch a flick with your friends, your husband, or your special gal. There aren't many left, though there are some that are still going strong. The 66 Drive-In Theatre (yes, with the British spelling) in Carthage, Missouri is one of only 325 drive-ins remaining in the United States, and it's still working just as it always has.
It's open from early April through mid-September (weather permitting) each year, so if you happen to be in the area, why not relax with a movie? You won't be seeing the latest films, but any movie is fun with friends.
You Won't Only Be Traveling by Car
If you're getting sick of your vehicle and need to stretch your legs, Eureka, Missouri has the opportunity. The Route 66 State Park is located at the former Bridgehead Inn, which was built in 1935 and has lots of information about America's most famous highway.
There are nature trails where you can get away from the constant sound of the road, and picnic sites where you can lay out in the sun while eating outside of your vehicle. There's no need to speed – you can take your time while you're driving along the Mother Highway of the United States.
Maybe There's Still Stuff Down There
If you want a dose of Wild West history and a great spot of exploration, there's nothing like Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri. Stop in for a guided tour of the caverns, which feature a multi-level, natural underground wonder that has been attracting tourists since 1933.
A lot of the history of the site comes from the fact that it's thought Jesse James and his crew used the caverns as a hideout since there was plenty of space for men, houses, and their ill-gotten gains. The tour takes about an hour and a half and goes a little more than a mile.
Sleep the Sleep of the Happy Driver
The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri has been around since 1935, making it the oldest continuously running motel on the entire route. The original flashing neon signs from the forties are still beckoning in weary drivers, but the motel itself has been updated with modern doors, windows, floors, and more.
It seems like the kind of place that would have leaky faucets and flickering light bulbs, but by all accounts, it's quite the relaxing place. Classic stonework and gravel roads create an unforgettable mood as you pull up to your rented room for a night of rest and relaxation.
Great for Kids and Adults
Route 66 only steps into Kansas for about thirteen miles, but there are still a couple of stops you can make that are worth your time. One of them is in Galena, Kansas, called “Cars on the Route.” It's an old Kan-O-Tex service station that has been renovated with a “Cars” theme – as in the Pixar movie, complete with a couple of vehicles that even small fans of the series will recognize, like Tow Mater.
This stop was originally called “Four Women on the Route,” since it had been restored by Betty Courtney, Melba Rigg, Renee Charles, and Judy Courtney.
The Inspiration for Radiator Springs
Galena, Kansas doesn't have a lot of things going for it, but it is thought to be the inspiration for the main setting of the movie “Cars,” Radiator Springs. The Galena Mining & Historical Museum, inside the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas train depot, has plenty of information to dish out to people who are driving through the area.
It should come as no surprise that the small fictional town in the movie is based on a sleepy little Kansas village since Lightning McQueen finds himself all alone in the dark after traveling on Route 66 at the beginning of the movie.
It's Like a Title of a Prog Song
Until the interstate system went up in the sixties, there were a lot of rivers that Route 66 had to cross. One of them was Brush Creek in Cherokee County, Kansas. Thanks to the historic Iowan bridge designer James Barney Marsh, we now have the Brush Creek Bridge, which runs 130 feet since it was built in 1923.
Marsh actually patented the construction elements of the bridge more than a decade earlier, meaning it was simple to mass-produce this structure. The bridge is also now known as the Rainbow Bridge, which sounds like the kind of thing you'd hear from your favorite Yes album.
The History of Commerce
At almost a hundred years old, the Williams' Store in Riverton, Kansas opened under the care of Leo Williams and his wife. It began as a small community store and deli that was in prime position to take advantage of the motorists on Route 66. About fifty years after it opened, the Eisler family purchased it, keeping the market running in almost the exact same way.
Now you can pick up groceries, sandwiches, and plenty of souvenirs from your time on Route 66. The place still looks nice, and there are lots of choices for discerning buyers.
A Place of Somber History
Found in Cherokee County, Kansas, Baxter Springs City Cemetery Soldiers' Lot is the resting place of soldiers who fought in the 1863 Battle of Baxter Springs. This includes a memorial to the soldiers and the battle itself, which features the names of the Union soldiers who died during a confederate attack on a Union fort.
There are also four 24-pound cannons, dating to 1853, which are set upright on granite bases. It's uncommon to come across a Civil War-era cemetery this far west, so if you're interested in that era of American history, you owe it to yourself to stop and take a look.
Gas Up the Baxter Way
With only three towns to pass through while in Kansas, there aren't a lot of options for getting fuel while you're taking Route 66. Sadly, you can no longer fill your tank at Baxter Springs Independent Oil and Gas Service Station in Baxter, Kansas, but you can still enjoy the old-time look. Oddly, the gas station seems to look like a home instead of a business – a design choice that many businesses took after the great depression to help customers feel at home.
The National Park Service listed the station in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, and the Baxter Springs Heritage Society acquired it in the same year.
Good for Super-Big Bones
Goodbye Kansas, say hello to Oklahoma. This building is pretty hard to miss. It's a mere 350 square feet, but it has a giant milk bottle standing on top of it. With the classy name of Milk Bottle Grocery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, it's become a popular landmark for tourists to stop and take pictures after the cross out of Kansas.
Since the creation of the bottle, lots of dairy companies have paid to advertise their names across the side of the sculpture. It's no longer a dairy store, though. Instead, it's been a cleaners, a realty office, a Vietnamese sandwich shop, and a landscape architect.
It Looks Exactly Like It Sounds
Located in Catoosa, Oklahoma, the Blue Whale really shouldn't surprise you. Zoologist Hugh S. Davis originally built the replica of a sea mammal to be a place where his grandchildren could play and swim. It took two years to create and was finished in 1972.
The structure is still in the family – Davis's daughter owns it – but swimming is no longer allowed. There are, however, some picnic tables near for motorists to take a break after a day of driving through Oklahoma. It can still be explored and climbed, but no swimming.
All Out of Gas
Lucille Hamons ran Lucille's Service Station and Roadhouse for more than fifty years, and it's been restored to its original condition for people who want to see what it was like before the big gas companies. Located in Hydro, Oklahoma, you won't be able to get any gas from it, but you can read about how the station began.
There's information about the station itself, as well as its namesake. Just down the road in Weatherford is a fifties diner with plenty of stylish Route 66 memorabilia called Lucille's Roadhouse where you can enjoy a meal and take in the scenery.
Are You Sure It's Safe?
Built out of the side of the building, Allen's Conoco Fillin' Station in Commerce, Oklahoma doesn't look like the kind of place a lot of people would stop to fill up. However, this old structure – it was built in 1930 – provided plenty of fuel in its day.
It's also known as Hole in the Wall Conoco Station for obvious reasons. It started selling Conoco gas but switched to Phillips 66 in 1938. It's thought that the historic highway robbers Bonnie and Clyde may have gassed up there. The structure is now a souvenir shop.
If you're a fan of Native American imagery – and who isn't – then you'll want to come to a stop in Foyil, Oklahoma, home of the Totem Pole Park. Created by artist Ed Galloway about three and a half miles off Route 66, and used stone and concrete to create numerous examples of totem poles.
The pieces often depict birds and Native American images, and the largest climbs to sixty feet high. The park originally ran from 1937 to 1961, closed for some time, and then was restored between 1988 and 1998. Now you can stop by to stretch your legs and take in some art.
Every Queen Needs a King
If you need a sweet, cold treat while driving through Oklahoma, why not stop off at Dairy King in Commerce? Yes, you read that right – this is a Dairy King, not a queen. Originally opened in 1927, it used to also serve gas, but they decided to focus on ice cream.
You can also get some burgers, and we hear there are famous Route 66 shield cookies. There's plenty of history and good food to be had here, but make sure you bring your wallet – this establishment is cash only. As long as you have the paper, you can have whatever you want.
To Fill up the World's Tallest Low Rider
If you find yourself bored of the road in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, you can stop in at the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum. In fact, you'll probably stop in anyway, since it's almost impossible to miss – it's home to something called the World's Tallest Gas Pump, at a symbolic sixty-six feet.
It was originally designed to have an interior staircase and observation deck, but it ended up being too complicated. The adjacent museum has lots of vintage vehicles on loan from owners. The collection spans more than 10,000 square feet, and it's a delight to classic car fans of any make or model.
It Even Serves Spaetzle
If you're after the authentic Route 66 experience, you have to stop at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma. You might wonder why a sandstone-exterior cafe is a real deal on this historic route, but you have to trust us. Not only is this cafe listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and not only doesn't it have some delightful dishes that appeared on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” but it also inspired part of the Pixar movie “Cars.”
The owner, Dawn Welch, inspired the character of Sally Carrera in the film, and the cafe now has signed memorabilia from John Lasseter. Hard to beat that if you're looking for the real Route 66 experience.
Yup. It's Round.
While the Arcadia Round Barn of Arcadia, Oklahoma might not have a whole lot going for it as a tourist attraction, it's still pretty interesting. Built in 1898 by a local farmer, it's one of the older stops on the route, and the distinctive round shape is quite unique. When it comes to barns, anyway.
This was done by soaking bur oak boards and bending them into a circular shape. The idea was that the cylindrical shape would protect it from tornadoes, but there's no evidence to suggest that theory will hold up. Still, the barn exists to this day. You can stop in and pick up some souvenirs for both Route 66 and the round barn itself.
Futuristic, Yet Retro
While in Arcadia, Oklahoma, you might find that you need to gas up or pick up some snacks for the next leg of your trip. You can do all of that and more at Pops, a restaurant, convenience store, and gas station that was built in 2007. While this was long after the time of Route 66, it still embodies the spirit of the era, despite the colorful and new-agey design of the building.
The sixty-six-foot soda bottle sculpture is covered in LED lights to catch the eye and draw in visitors. If you're planning on visiting, take a look at the menu first. They mostly serve classic American food, but there are over seven hundred soda varieties to try out.
You've Reached Halfway
The middle of Route 66 is known to be Adrian, Texas. You have 1,139 miles behind you, and the same number ahead of you. There's even a big white line on the road, and a sign noting the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles. If you happen to be hungry when you hit this auspicious percentage, you can stop off at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian.
You'll have some classic American fare to choose from, but you may also notice that the cafe is familiar – Flo's V8 Cafe from the animated movie “Cars” is based on the design of this restaurant.
Everything the Busy Motorist Needs
With a retail store, a Conoco station, and a cafe, the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe were once the one-stop for everything you need to get back on the road quickly. This historic stop in Shamrock, Texas has a noticeable tower (hence the name) that has a bright aquamarine color sticking up into the sky.
The rest of the building has a classic age-old look since it was constructed in 1936. The structure now houses a visitor center, a chamber of commerce office, and a community center. The U-Drop Inn got its name from a clever local boy who won a naming contest.
It's Not Going to Fall, Really
Truckstop owner Ralph Britten was quite the savvy businessman. In order to drum up business, he erected the Leaning Tower of Texas. While it appears to be a regular water tower, the structure slants at a ten-degree angle, making it look like it's one stiff wind away from crashing to the ground.
Drivers who were unaware stopped at the truck stop to warn Britten, who would quell their fears and show off the specials. While this tower outside of Groom, Texas is still “standing,” Britten's truck stop has long since burned down. Still, if you can't get to Italy, this might make up for it.
It's Impossible to Leave Hungry
Make sure to pack your appetite when you stop at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. This famous restaurant opened in 1960, and it's the home of the 72-ounce steak, which equals about four and a half pounds. If you manage to finish the entire thing you get your meal for free, but you have to do it in an hour, and that includes sides.
It's the kind of place you should go once, but not on a regular basis. Once you're full – whether or not you won – you can sleep off your big meal at the nearby Big Texan Motel.
It's the Pretty Good Canyon
While it might not be as mind-blowing as the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of good things to say about the Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Amarillo, Texas. It's the second-largest canyon in the United States, and it boasts wonderful vistas of color and intricate rock formations. There are trails that Native Americans and early Spanish explorers used, which can be followed on foot, on a bike, or on a horseback.
If you're after a place for a memorable picnic during your cross-country drive, this is the perfect place to do it. There's nothing like getting to eat a meal with a view.
Check Out Old Road Warriors
Those who want to take a trip down Route 66 are, at their core, historians. If you have memories of this route from your childhood, you might remember the inside of the family's recreational vehicle. If so, make a stop at the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum in Amarillo, Texas.
Jack and his son Trent have been collecting and restoring vintage recreational vehicles for more than twenty-five years, and you can see the fruits of their labor here. There are some famous examples, including favorites like the 1948 Flxible Clipper bus from the Robin Williams film “RV.”
A Look Into the Past
Like a lot of places on Route 66, the Glenrio Historic District fell on hard times when Interstate 40 bypassed it in 1975, meaning that most of the traffic dried up, as did commerce. Situated on both sides of the border between Texas and New Mexico, this town is abandoned and eerie, but it's still worth a visit.
It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007 since it's one of the best-preserved ghost towns of its kind. There isn't a lot going on, which means it's largely unchanged, and it allows people a way to see the past as it once was.
Tales From the Tow Trucks
Any tower from Route 66 that functioned during the route's heyday is going to have lots of stories, and plenty of them will make you never want to get behind the wheel again. When World War II ended, many drivers discovered that more people on the roads meant a lot more danger.
The eighteen-foot bridges that crossed streams and small rivers were too narrow for two cars to pass at high speeds, often leading one or both of the cars to experience a terrible accident. Wooden guard rails might have prevented cars from sinking into the water, but they ended up delivering a lot of damage to cars and passengers.
Ever Wanted to See Where Cadillacs Grow?
There are lots and lots of things to do in Texas, and even though Route 66 goes through this gigantic state for a comparatively small distance, there are still plenty of options. In 1974, a group of San Francisco artists thought it would be a good idea to bury ten Cadillacs nose-first in a field near Amarillo, Texas.
Millionaire Stanley Marsh III funded the art installation. Why? Well, for art, we guess. You can visit the cars off Exit 66 of Interstate 40, and graffiti is encouraged, so you can leave your own mark on this modern Stonehenge before getting back onto the road.
Thankfully, These Bugs Won't Get in Your Car
Whether it was the same group as the Amarillo Cadillac Ranch or a group that wanted to put their own spin on the idea, there are also a bunch of VW Slug Bugs buried in the ground near Conway, Texas. This similar ranch also allows – nay, encourages! – graffiti, so you can stretch your artistic muscles while taking a break from your long drive.
The ranch is right near the Conway Inn & Restaurant, so you can stop in for a bite of hearty food before examining the VW Bugs that are sticking out of the ground at an angle.
Dead Man's Curve
Keep an eye on the road while you're enjoying the scenic beauty of New Mexico during your nostalgia-laden drive. Between Albuquerque and Tijeras in New Mexico, State Road 333 – which used to be part of Route 66 before the whole thing was decommissioned – the blacktop makes a sudden curve near the I-40 overpass.
This stretch of highway has gained the unflattering moniker “Dead Man's Curve” due to the rocky cliffs on the south side of the highway, which catch unaware motorists. There are also frequent deer jaywalkers that surprise motorists since they can't see the animals on the road ahead.
You're Probably Going to Get Dizzy
An early alignment of Route 66 south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, contained about two dozen switchbacks as it climbed something called La Bajada Hill, which might as well be called a mountain. Both sides of this frightful section of road included an ominous warning sign to drivers, and there were also people that would put themselves up for hire to help others get through this area with their vehicles and sanity intact.
While there were lots of interesting things to see along the way, such as Native American pueblos and other cultural sites, this hill was always a tense moment.
Witness a Part of History
Built in 1939, the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico is the oldest motel still operating on New Mexico's section of Route 66. It looks like it's dropped right out of the forties (because it kind of has) and you're going to start looking for classic roadsters as soon as you get close.
Neon lights beckon to weary drivers and passengers, and the vintage rooms have been restored to their original quality, so you can enjoy the classic comforts of a roadside inn that has stood the test of time. There are even some that have detached garages – a rarity.
A Gift That Will Stick Around
Before you leave Tucumcari, New Mexico, make sure to stop off at the Tee Pee Curios. Originally built as a gas station in the 1940s, it's now become a souvenir and gift shop. There are lots of classic Native American items you can grab for yourself or a loved one, such as jewelry, pottery, and plenty of Route 66 souvenirs.
Enter through a solid concrete wigwam built around the front door, and then start looking at all the fun options that will solidify the memories of your trip. It's impossible to miss – there's a big Route 66 shield painted on the side.
Serving Since the Thirties
Clines Corners Retail Center, in Clines Corners, New Mexico, was built in 1934 and it's still going strong. Millions of Route 66 travelers have stopped in for something to eat, and you can still do so to this day. There are burgers and burritos, or you could spring for a breakfast plate.
There are plenty of spots for traditional cars as well as RVs if you're taking your home on the road all the way to Santa Monica. The attached gift shop is thought to be the largest one in all of New Mexico, and we aren't about to say it isn't.
Does It Get Any More Classic?
It's hard to find a more authentic fifties dining experience along Route 66 than the 66 Diner in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tourists love the look of the diner, which used to be a gas station, but converted to hamburgers and milkshakes in 1987.
While guests are dining, grateful to be out of their cars for a while, they can take in one of the largest PEZ Dispenser collections in America. Surrounded by pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, this stop promises more than just a meal. Lots of people take the opportunity for fun pics all over the place.
Take a Nap in a Movie Star Favorite
If you were a Hollywood bigwig during the thirties and forties, that meant filming Westerns. If you were filming a Western in New Mexico, that meant you were staying at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico. It was a favorite of names such as John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart, who all put up their feet in rooms after a long day of shooting and riding in front of the cameras.
Nowadays, Route 66 travelers can book a room named after one of these famous silver-screen figures for a touch of history before getting back on the road.
Time to Explore the Water
Route 66 has a lot of things to offer, but until you get to Santa Monica you aren't getting much in the way of water. Sure, there's the odd river or lake, but once you reach Santa Rosa, New Mexico, things are pretty dry. It began as a natural sinkhole, full of sapphire-colored water, and was used as a fish hatchery in the thirties. In the seventies, it became a recreation area, and now it's a popular spot for swimmers and scuba divers.
Scuba divers, you say? Yes, the Blue Hole has a maximum depth of eighty-one feet, and the water is a refreshing-if-chilly sixty degrees most of the time. A network of springs connected to the Pecos River feeds this spot.
Hopefully, You Aren't Afraid of Heights
Located on the eastern edge of Albuquerque in the Sandia Foothills, the Sandia Park Aerial Tramway is designed to carry people across almost three miles of canyons and terrain, and you'll love the amazing views that you can get from this stop. At the summit, you'll then get to see a stunning vista from an observation deck over the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment – which is another name for the state of New Mexico.
You can then hike in the surrounding forest, but be sure to lift your eyes to the sky as the sun sets, so you don't miss the desert sky putting on a show to remember.
Don't Lie, You've Always Wanted to Visit
If the view of dusty roads and long stretches of nothing are getting you down, be sure to stop in at Sante Fe, New Mexico. Founded in 1610 as a Spanish colony, New Mexico's capital flourishes with Pueblo-style architecture and beautiful views of the Sangre de Cristo Rocky Mountains.
From flea markets to margaritas, there are plenty of places you can visit to make the most of your short time in this city. There's a museum of New Mexico, an opera house, and even skiing. Yeah, skiing. We recommend the beautiful Loretto Chapel, a Gothic Revival-style chapel.
We Hope You Like Rugs
Trading has been a part of Gallup, New Mexico since 1913 thanks to the Richardson Trading Post, which has been passing out merchandise of all kinds even after it moved to Gallup's main street in the thirties. What kind of things will you be able to find at this classic store?
Well, there's lots of jewelry and pottery. There are dolls, there are firearms, there's an attached pawn shop, and there is even something called a rug room. Just try and figure out what you can find there. Reportedly, there are thousands of original Navajo rugs to browse and select.
The Most Dangerous Month in Arizona
A nice, long stretch of Route 66 passes through Arizona, which did wonders for the state before the advent of the interstate system, but it leaves us with plenty of torn-up sections of road to try and navigate. For some reason, in one month in 1959 – during which the route as a whole was already in decline – eleven people tragically ended their lives in traffic collisions, as detailed in the book “Route 66 in Arizona.”
The reasons for this sudden uptick in fatal crashes are unknown, and may simply come down to random grouping – it was going to happen somewhere.
It Even Has Its Own Song
The El Trovatore Motel, in Kingman, Arizona, began life in 1937 as a gas station, but it joined the list of accommodations on Route 66 by adding something called a tourist court in 1939. Big neon signs and the close-by Hualapai Mountains make this place a classic place of American beauty and history.
While these big names might or might not have actually visited, there are rooms based on Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Elvis Presley. And, yes, the motel has its own song.
Arizona's Deadliest Stretch of Highway
Arizona might not be the most populated state in the union, but there are still millions of people and thousands of miles of road if you laid them end-to-end. Following World War II Arizona experienced something of a boom and one in seven traffic accidents happened on Route 66.
One particular stretch, west of Flagstaff, was Ash Fork Hill which had to have special work done to straighten out the notable dangerous curve. Sure, plenty of people were driving on the route during the time, but one in seven is like saying one in ten accidents in the country happened in Minnesota.
Drivers for Hire
With winding, hairpin turns, intense climbs and declines, and a broken, uneven driving surface, Oatman Highway in Arizona was a dangerous place. Once part of Route 66, the dozens of curves and steep climbs so scared out-of-towners that many locals started offering their services as drivers, just to get through the dangerous area.
Sitgreaves Pass, in particular, was one of the more hair-raising places of the stretch of road and was also the entire route's highest point. Nevertheless, the scenic looks the area offered had plenty of people driving through on their way to the town of Oatman, or just heading through to other places.
There's Always a Chance for More Souvenirs
The Hackberry General Store in Hackberry, Arizona (natch) is easy to miss, but if you love the old-time look, make sure to hunt it down. The general store has been around since about the forties, and while the vintage gas pumps outside no longer work, there's still plenty to see.
The owners have decorated the place with old license plates, patches, signs, and money from all over the world, which gives the place a unique look. Inside is a recreated fifties diner where travelers can grab a bite, and then you can find some souvenirs to remember your visit.
Time to Take It Easy
Hey, you've been driving for a long time. Want to relax a little bit? Check out Winslow Corner in Winslow, Arizona. In this city, Old Highway 66 runs into North Kinsley Avenue. If you're a fan of the Eagle's song “Take It Easy” from 1972, you should know that it inspired an installation called 'Standin on the Corner' Park, which has a statue of a man with a guitar on the corner near a red flatbed truck.
The city might not have installed the piece of art until decades after the song was written, but it's still worth a look for the curious.
He's Been There the Whole Time
Angel Delgadillo has been around since the twenties, and he's done so much for Route 66 that has gained the moniker of “Guardian of Route 66.” He owns Angel and Vilma's Original Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, Arizona – though the place started as a barbershop.
Nowadays you can find stickers, pins, shot glasses, and much bigger items such as books, belt buckles, bags, and more. There are shirts and other apparel you can add to your collection. There are rumors that Angel still brings out his scissors every once in a while, but it's only for special occasions.
Ice Cream in the Desert
After you've taken the time in Angel and Vilma's Original Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, Arizona, you can walk over to Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In nearby. The walls and ceilings of this shop are covered in patches, money, and other items that have been donated from all around the world.
Juan Delgadillo opened the business in 1953, and his son is still running the stand, passing out ice cream to people who aren't used to the intense heat of Arizona. This building was originally built with scrap lumber, and it's said it's held together by puns, so be sure to bring your sense of humor.
An Entire Town
It isn't often you come across an entire town that is a tourist spot all on its own, but then you've never been to the town of Oatman, Arizona. It used to be a mining town, and now the place is jam-packed with bighorn sheep or burros – small donkeys – that roam the city streets like they own the place. They might actually own the place.
This place was once a hip and happening spot – Clark Gable and Carole Lombard got married in nearby Kingman, and it's thought they honeymooned in the Oatman Hotel. That building is still open as a museum and a restaurant.
The Heaviest Tents Ever
After a long day of driving, stop at the Wigwam Village Motel #6 in Holbrook, Arizona. It's a historic example of classic, kitschy motor homes that you can find in the American Southwest (there are, of course, five other versions elsewhere). It's all thanks to Chester E. Lewis, who was charmed by wigwam villages in Kentucky.
The village opened in 1950, and the Lewis family still runs the place. There are classic cars arrayed outside for you to marvel at, but the interior of the wigwams has been renovated for modern times with air conditioning and cable TV. Fancy!
You Knew This One Was Going to Show Up
Here's the deal with the Grand Canyon: it's pretty grand. If you've never been able to take a look at it, then you owe it to yourself to catch a glance. The Grand Canyon National Park might not be right off Route 66, but it isn't too far, and need we remind you that it's one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World? There's nothing else like this anywhere on the globe.
If you want to reach this spectacular view, head north sixty miles from Williams, Arizona, and you'll start to wonder why this wasn't the whole point of the trip. It's just that amazing.
A Visitor From Space
Millennia past – experts say it was either five thousand or fifty thousand years ago – a meteorite crashed into the ground of northern Arizona, forming a massive crater that has since become a big tourist attraction. The area around it, Meteor City, Arizona, is mere minutes from both Route 66 and Interstate 40.
The size of the crater is mind-boggling – it has a diameter of three-fourths of a mile and sinks more than five hundred feet into the ground. If you're wilting in the sun, you can take in the sight from the air-conditioned visitor's center.
There's No Paintbrush Big Enough
If you're a fan of natural beauty, you can't miss The Painted Desert, in Indian Wells, Arizona. This vast landscape is lined with colors in the rock, the sun, and the flora, giving it a well-deserved name. It's a region of rocky badlands in northern Arizona that will show you rocks that are bright pink, smooth orange, and even deep gray.
If you're okay with a short detour from your route, try to find a place to watch either the sunrise or the sunset to get a sight that you might never forget. The southwestern states of the US can be a bit boring sometimes, so make sure you seek out a place that has true beauty.
It Watched Too Many Scary Movies
On your way through the wild west, take a pit stop at the Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona to see something rather otherworldly. It's the home of the world's largest collection of petrified wood, as you might have been able to guess.
There are pieces of petrified wood that began life hundreds of millions of years ago that you can still look at and touch – though they aren't really wood anymore. You can also see vivid landscapes, badlands wildlife, and remnants of Native American culture such as ruins or petroglyphs that make sure everybody gets something out of the visit.
California Is Weird About Recycling
We have arrived in the last state route 66 goes through. The huge state of California has a lot to see, even if you're only in a small segment, but the first stop on your way toward Santa Monica on Route 66 is Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande. If you're after a photoshoot for your social media pages, this one is going to take the cake.
Elmer Long started collecting bottles when he was a kid, and after he retired from the workforce, he decided to do something with all that glass. He started hanging the bottles onto metal pipes that scatter rainbows when the sun shines through them, and now there are hundreds of these metal trees that all create stunning arrays of color.
It Even Made a Movie Cameo
While you're driving Route 66, you're going to be on the road for a long time, and people need to eat. That's why we have so many restaurants and diners on this list. Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe is another entry, and you know that it can sling some good food – it's been serving Route 66 travelers for more than seventy years.
There are eggs and pancakes for breakfast, or burgers and ice cream sundaes for lunch. If you've seen “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” then you've caught sight of this California institution.
It's Like Living Through History
There's nothing like a few historical facts to cement the things you've just experienced. Take a trip to Victorville, California to stop at the Rt. 66 Museum to take photos of some classic cars, or learn more about this unforgettable driving experience. A fifties diner, a VW Love Bus, and an old Model T set the stage before you even walk inside.
There's also a library and a gift shop where you can pick up something to remember your visit before you get back on the road. Even better, it has free admission for fact-hungry drivers.
The First of Many
The heyday of Route 66 was most likely the forties and fifties, and a lot of changes happened at that time. For one, hamburgers (or as they were originally called hamburger sandwiches) grew into popularity. The very first McDonald's restaurant rests in San Bernardino, California, and opened all the way back in 1948.
They might not cost fifteen cents anymore, but if you're a fast-food aficionado, you can still stop in to see where it all began. Here, Ray Kroc met the McDonald brothers while selling them milkshake mixing machines. Everything that came next is burger history.
Echoes of History
If you're driving through Amboy, California, you aren't going to see a whole lot. Some people have called it a ghost town, but there are still a few people sticking around. The biggest thing here is Roy's Motel & Cafe, which opened in 1938. The sign is a classic piece of decoration from the era, and it's still a popular spot for a quick pic.
There are hopes to restore the cafe back to its fullness in the future, but for now, visitors have the option to stop by, look through some old newspapers, pick up some souvenirs, and grab some snacks for the road.
You Expect to See Settlers
With the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas in your rear-view mirror, you're about to run smack-dab into the Mojave National Preserve in Baker, California. You'll find vast deserts, deep canyons, and rugged mountains that deliver a powerful sense of untamed wilderness. Highlights for visitors to this reserve include taking in a sunrise or sunset at the Kelso sand dunes, California's second-largest dune system.
You can also make the trek to Cima Dome, which contains the world's largest concentration of Joshua Trees. Finally, there is the Mitchell Caverns, a spectacular limestone cave system that offers tours to tourists.
Symmetrical and Beautiful
If you're getting sick of man-made attractions while you're on Route 66, crossing into California has another option for you. The Amboy crater, near Amboy, California, is 250 feet high and about fifteen hundred feet in diameter. If you're interested in stretching your legs, you can climb all the way to the top and take a look at the eerily symmetrical crater formed of ash and cinders.
It was made a National Natural Landmark in 1973, and we can see why. Be careful while clambering up to the top, however, as the trails can get pretty steep and even a little dangerous.
The End of the Trail
You've finally reached Santa Monica Pier in California, which means you've reached the end of Route 66. The original end to the route – in 1926 – was Seventh and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It wasn't a very scenic location for such an important road, so in 2009, the Route 66 Alliance and the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation erected an “End of the Trail” sign on the pier.
You'll have to find the pier and then walk out about two hundred feet. The sign is just past the Bubba Gump shrimp franchise, and just before the Playland arcade.