John Steinbeck was the first person to designate Route 66 as the “Mother Road,” but he was far from the last to recognize the route’s cultural significance. In his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck describes the east-west highway as a “long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map … 66 is the mother road.”
Decades after Steinbeck’s words were published—and the 1940 film adaptation they inspired—countless other books, movies, TV shows, and songs have featured the landmark route. While The Grapes of Wrath and Easy Rider might appear to share little more than Arizona’s Old Trails Bridge, both movies embody the sense of possibility and freedom that still spurs travelers in search of kicks to motor west.
Here are eight of the most iconic Route 66 destinations featured in pop culture.
1. The Outsiders House Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma
The 1983 movie adaptation of The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the classic novel by S.E. Hinton, was shot on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After decades of disrepair and narrowly escaping demolition, the Curtis brothers’ house was purchased in 2016 by musician and Outsiders fan Danny Boy O’Connor.
The restored house opened to the public in 2019 as a museum, featuring photographs, artifacts from the film—including Dallas Winston’s leather jacket—and surprise drop-ins by cast members and Hinton herself (a Tulsa native).
2. Central Avenue, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque’s Central Avenue was once a designated stretch of Route 66; today the road is still lined with motels, diners, and photogenic neon signs, many of which can be glimpsed in AMC’s still-popular TV show Breaking Bad (2008-2013).
A ‘Breaking Bad’ tour of Albuquerque
The Dog House, an Albuquerque staple serving up chili-topped footlongs for more than 70 years—and its tail-wagging, sausage-eating neon dachshund—makes a few appearances in early seasons, as does the Crossroads Motel.
3. El Rancho Hotel and Motel, Gallup, New Mexico
Built by film director D. W. Griffith in 1936 as a base for numerous Western movie productions, Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel and Motel has hosted hundreds of movie stars over the years, including Errol Flynn, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne, and Ronald Reagan.
Nearly a century later, El Rancho still offers today’s guests the “charm of yesterday” (but maybe not so much the “convenience of tomorrow”); look for billboards along I-40 touting the hotel’s celebrity credentials—even if most of the people featured haven’t stayed at El Rancho (or any other place) for quite some time.
4. Standin’ on the Corner Park, Winslow, Arizona
Released in 1972, the Eagles song “Take It Easy” (written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey) includes the lyrics “Well, I’m a-standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.” The trajectory of Winslow follows that of many similar communities located along Route 66: The once-thriving railroad town declined as traffic was pulled away by the interstate in the ‘70s.
In the late ‘90s, the Standin’ on the Corner Foundation was formed to attract tourists back to Winslow; with the help of donors, a public park opened—on a corner—in 1999, featuring a hand-painted mural, a flatbed Ford, and a bronze sculpture of Frey, who died in 2016.
5. Twin Arrows Trading Post, Flagstaff, Arizona
The Canyon Padre Trading Post was built in the 1940s along Route 66, but renamed Twin Arrows after the construction of two 25-foot wooden arrows on the property. Business picked up after the arrows began directing motorists to the gas station, diner, and gift shop—but like so many other businesses, Twin Arrows suffered after the construction of I-40, and closed for good in the early ‘90s.
It’s a shame Forrest Gump didn’t want to stop running long enough to explore the ruins of the trading post, located in Flagstaff between Winslow and Williams, but the arrows can be seen in the background of the 1994 movie as he wipes his muddy face on a yellow t-shirt (unwittingly creating the ubiquitous “Have a Nice Day” smiley face merchandise).
6. Old Trails Bridge, Topock, Arizona
The steel arch Old Trails Bridge carried travelers over the Colorado River from Arizona into California from 1916 until 1948. When it opened, the bridge was part of the National Old Trails Road, an early transcontinental route that connected St. Louis to Los Angeles, predating Route 66 by more than a decade.
In 1948, the deck was reconfigured to carry a natural gas pipeline, and in 1988 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The photogenic bridge is used by Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in The Grapes of Wrath and can be seen in the opening of 1969’s Easy Rider behind motorcyclists Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper).
7. Roy’s Motel and Cafe, Amboy, California
Opened in 1938 in Amboy, California, by Roy Crowl, Roy’s was one of the many gas and service stations along Route 66. Eventually expanding to include a cafe and tourist cabins, Roy’s iconic neon sign was installed in 1959 (dark since the ‘80s, the sign was restored and re-lit in 2019).
Although the motel remains closed to overnight guests, a coffee shop and gas station reopened in 2008. The recognizable site has been a filming location for several productions, including the 1993 film Kalifornia starring Brad Pitt and Enrіԛuе Iglesias’s 2001 music video for his song “Hero.”
8. Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs, California
Located east of Barstow and west of Amboy in the Mojave Desert, Bagdad, California, was a thriving Route 66 town until it was bypassed by I-40 in the early 1970s; any remaining buildings were razed by the ‘90s. Although the town was the setting of a novel and 1988 movie, Bagdad Cafe, scenes in the eponymous restaurant were actually shot at the Sidewinder Cafe in Newberry Springs, California.
Built in the ‘50s and renamed the Bagdad Cafe in 1995, the spot is still a popular destination for international fans of the film or anyone else looking for a burger and a good cup of coffee.