Affectionately known as the “Mother Road,” historic Route 66 consists of approximately 2,500 miles of open road, earning its reputation as the ultimate path for cross-country road trips. From Chicago through small towns and big attractions, this famous route officially ends at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, California. On the way, you’ll hit renowned oddball roadside attractions, pass through the Texas Panhandle and through the Southwest, and stop at classic retro towns like Tucumcari and Kingman. There are also loads of natural wonders to see along the way like the Grand Canyon and the colorful Petrified Forest National Park. When you plan your trip, you can stay overnight in the big cities along the route. However, staying at a cozy vacation rental on the main street of a small rural town makes for a true American experience. Now let’s “get your kicks on Route 66” with this handy guide.
We hope you’re into quirky roadside attractions because the Illinois stretch of Route 66 is full of some of the best. The Gemini Giant in Wilmington and Bunyon With a Hotdog in Atlanta, are two of the best for photo-ops of this iconic vestige of Americana. While you’re in Atlanta, don’t forget to stop by the Route 66 Arcade Museum which features tons of vintage arcade machines you can play. For the ultimate in unique stops, you’ll love Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, where you’ll find a whole bunch of VW Rabbits all cut in half and sticking out of the ground, like some weird Stonehenge homage.
A lot of Route 66 that passes through Missouri has been replaced by bigger highways, but there’s still a lot to see in The Show-Me State. Starting in St. Louis, there’s Laumeier Sculpture Park & Museum and Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Walking the bridge is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and snap some pics. Another great museum to visit is the Jesse James Museum in Sullivan. It’s an interactive walking museum that takes you through the life of the famous outlaw, Jesse James. Other great stops in Missouri are the Murals of Cuba in Cuba, the Ha Ha Tonka State Park, the Route 66 Museum in Lebanon and the Hubble Telescope Replica Statue in Marshfield. Before you head out of Missouri, stop by the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, North America’s only completely ride-through cave tour.
Route 66 only passes for 14 miles through Kansas, but it’s still worth passing through. Your first stop should be Cars on the Route in Galena, a restored Kan-O-Tex service station. Here, you can grab a bite to eat as well as some cool antiques and Route 66 memorabilia. Next up is Galena Mining and Historical Museum to learn all about the region’s rich mining heritage and Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum, where you can explore 20,000 square feet of various exhibits paying homage to the area’s unique role in American history.
In comparison to the short drive through Kansas, Route 66 passes for over 400 miles through Oklahoma. It’s the longest stretch of the Mother Road in America. Don’t get overwhelmed by all of the charming towns, historic attractions and quirky roadside wonders here. Some of the best places to stop are the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum and National Route 66 & Transportation Museum as well as the Blue Whale of Catoosa, built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s. There are also a slew of retro Route 66 hotels known for their nostalgic neon signs like the Desert Hills Motel in Tulsa, the Skyliner Motel in Stroud, and the Lincoln Motel in Chandler. Of course, a vacation rental will provide the most comfort and flexibility.
Welcome to The Lone Star State. Head to Shamrock, home to the Conoco Tower and their very own Blarney Stone. You can also stop at the Phillips 66 on the Route, a vintage 1928 gas service station in McLean that resembles a little country cottage. Another fantastic stop is Palo Duro Canyon State Park, America’s second largest canyon, where the grasslands suddently drop 800 feet. You also can’t miss Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo where ten Cadillacs stand along Old Route 66, buried in the dirt at the same angles as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Plus, you can spray paint them!
6. New Mexico
The New Mexico stretch of Route 66 is full of some notable cities like Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Gallup. Blue Hole of Santa Rosa might be the most popular stop in New Mexico. It’s one of America’s favorite deep blue diving destinations as well as a local swimming hot spot. The historic Blue Swallow Motel is a great place to stay overnight in Tucumcari and take in the big sunsets. If you have a little extra time, take the detour via Highway 53 from Grants to El Morro National Monument. Here, you can see Native American petroglyphs of bighorn sheep, birds, and lizards that date back seven centuries.
You’ll find the best scenery over the 400 miles of Route 66 in Arizona. At the Petrified Forest National Park, you can explore 93,000 acres of rocky badlands. Follow the “Painted Desert” all the way to the Grand Canyon National Park. One of the best kept secrets of the Mother Road is the Grand Canyon Caverns, located between Seligman and Kingman. Here, you’ll find the largest dry caverns in the country with thousands of acres of unspoiled prairie and caverns you can explore by elevator. In this 85-mile stretch of Route 66, you’ll also come across the Hackberry General Store, a makeshift Americana museum. Arizona also gives you the opportunity to visit some famous ghost towns like Oatman, an old gold-mining town. Buy some carrots to feet the local abandoned burros, and then grab a bite to eat yourself at the 1902 Oatman Hotel while you wait for one of the daily staged gunfights.
Sadly, our Route 66 journey is coming to an end, but it definitely goes out with a bang. One of the best roadside stops along Route 66 is the Route 66 Roy’s Motel Cafe & Gas Station in Amboy. If you missed the ghost towns in Arizona, you can stop at Calico Ghost Town which even has a campground. Before you hit Los Angeles, stay one more night at one of the three remaining “wigwam” motels in Rialto. The Santa Monica Pier is the perfect way to end your road trip. Watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, wiggle your toes in the sand, and celebrate your 2,000-mile drive.
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