The Main Street of America. Will Rodgers Highway. The Mother Road. No matter which name you know it by, Route 66 is the American Highway.
A drive along the route’s more than 2,400 miles is the ultimate American road trip. First established in the mid-1920s, this historic roadway stretches across the America heartland – from Chicago, Illinois to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California – and attracts thousands of tourists every year, all eager to experience true Americana.
Route 66 was the major thoroughfare for Americans traveling west in the 20th century, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the post-war boom of the 1950s. Many small towns developed along the highway and their businesses relied on tourist traffic. As the U.S. Interstate Highway System improved, fewer travelers used the road, and it fell into disrepair. Route 66 was decommissioned from the federal highway system in 1985, and today much of the original roadway is abandoned. Several states have made efforts revitalize the original route, and incorporated parts of it into their state highways, or as a Scenic Historic Byways.
The famed highway still has plenty of Americana to offer the willing explorer. For a complete list, check out the National Park Service’s Route 66 site list.
Take a look at these Ten Unique Sights not to be missed on Route 66:
1. Grant Park & Lou Mitchell’s – Start your Route 66 adventure on a full stomach with a stop at this classic diner, dubbed “The First Stop on the Mother Road,” in Chicago’s Loop District. After breakfast, take a walk through nearby Grant Park.
2. Belvidere Café, Motel and Gas Station – Begun as a tiny gas station in 1929, this complex grew into a one-stop-shop with a motel, full-service station, and café. Today it is one of the route’s best-preserved examples of a family-run roadside enterprise. For around $30 a night, you can stay in the motel in Litchfield, Illinois.
3. 66 Drive-In Theatre – Nothing says 1950s America like a drive-in movie theater. This gem in Carthage, Missouri is one of the few drive-ins still operating with its original façade and ticket booth intact. The theater shows movies every weekend between April and October.
4. The Blue Whale – Cool off in Catoosa, Oklahoma with a stop at the Blue Whale. This 80-foot long, 20-foot tall roadside attraction opened in 1972 and quickly became a popular swimming spot.
5. Cadillac Ranch – You can’t miss this quirky art installation on the outskirts of Amarillo, Texas. Ten Cadillacs are buried nose-deep in the Texas desert, and visitors are encouraged to graffiti the cars. The exhibit began in 1974, a project of the avant-garde art group Ant Farm, and has been attracting tourists ever since.
6. KiMo Theatre – Built to show both stage productions and movies, this 1927 theater was the first built in the Pueblo Deco style, a fusion of American Indian and Art Deco Design. The interior includes unique features such as chandeliers shaped like war drums and funeral canoes, garlanded buffalo skulls, and murals depicting traditional Navajo scenes. You’ll find the KiMo in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
7. La Posada Historic District – This complex includes a train station, hotel, trading post and restaurant; built in the Mission Revival style with adobe walls and terracotta roofs. Built in 1929, La Posada was an established stop on the Santa Fe Railroad. The hotel began operating again in the late 1990s, and today offers a great place to stay in Winslow, Arizona.
8. Wigwam Village Motel #6 – 15 concrete tepees make up this iconic motel in Holbrook, Arizona, completed in 1950. Each “room” is 21 feet wide at the base and 28 feet tall and comes with hickory furniture and a small bathroom. Vintage cars are parked between the tepees, including a Studebaker that belonged to the original owner. The main office is also a museum, housing a collection of Indian artifacts, Civil War memorabilia, Route 66 collectibles, and a petrified wood collection.
9. Harvey House Railroad Depot – One of the Fred Harvey Company hotels, this particular stop was known as the “Casa del Desierto” (House of the Desert), and was originally built in 1885. The complex features classic Santa Fe architecture: a hybrid of 16th century Spanish, Moorish, and Southwest American styles. Located in Barstow, California, today the building houses the Route 66 Mother Road Museum.
10. Santa Monica Pier – Your adventure ends on the famed boardwalk of Santa Monica Beach, California. You can walk right off the route and onto California’s famed theme park pier.
Ready to hit the road? Let us do the driving!