Ultimate Guide to Route 66

Ultimate Guide to Route 66

From flashy neon to roadside kitsch, we’ll show you all the spots not to miss along the iconic Mother Road.

The quintessential American road trip

Route 66, and its 2,500 miles, is known affectionately as “The Mother Road.” It’s the quintessential cross-country road trip experience. From Chicago through the beating heart of America and all the way to Los Angeles, the route officially ends at the Santa Monica Pier. The road reached peak popularity in the late ’40s and early ’50s before being officially removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985. After a few years, travelers from America and beyond started feeling tinges of nostalgia, and by the end of the 1980s, it was fast becoming one of the most popular road trip routes once more.

Route 66 through Oklahoma

Oklahoma takes pride in, and embraces, most of its nearly 400 miles of Route 66. There are more driveable portions of the old Mother Road in Oklahoma than in any other state and plenty of reasons to stop the car along the way. From Quapaw to Texola, this stretch is home to the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Art Deco gems of Tulsa, and two excellent museums filled with Route 66 history. Don’t forget to stop into the Sandhills Curiosity Shoppe in Erick and say hi to Harley Russell—if you’re lucky, he might just serenade you with a round of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” 

Route 66 through Texas

Texas may be home to the second-shortest stretch of Route 66 after Kansas, but what it lacks in mileage it makes up for in attractions. Small towns such as Shamrock and Vega are big on charm, but it doesn’t get any bigger than the 72-oz. steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo (free to those brave—or crazy—enough to devour it, and a smattering of sides, in less than an hour). Although not technically on Route 66, Cadillac Ranch is a must-see (don’t forget a can of spray paint) and if you passed on the steak, the Midpoint Cafe, located exactly halfway between Chicago and Santa Monica in Adrian, makes a mean B.L.T.

Route 66 through New Mexico

Traveling Route 66 in New Mexico is a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure drive since the state is home to two different alignments of the Mother Road. The Santa Fe loop was bypassed in 1937 for a more direct path from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque, which includes a long stretch of I-40. New Mexico hooks travelers early with Tucumcari, home to the Blue Swallow Motel, TeePee Curios, and so many beautiful neon signs it’s almost overwhelming. Albuquerque’s Central Avenue is busier than most stretches of the route, but it’s worth waiting for a booth at the Dog House, home to the best chili dog around. Go out with a bang by staying overnight at the El Rancho in Gallup, home base of the 1930s and ‘40s movie stars who filmed westerns in the area.

Route 66 through Arizona

A teepee gift shop set against the dramatic Painted Cliffs welcomes you to Arizona, a good spoiler alert for what you can expect. If you love themed trading posts—both abandoned and thriving—Arizona has you covered. The Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park to have once included a stretch of the Mother Road, and nearby Holbrook is home to one of only three remaining Wigwam Villages. The Jackrabbit trading post (home to the iconic Here It Is sign) is a good place to stock up on souvenirs, and Fort Courage, Meteor City, Two Guns, and Twin Arrows all still retain their charm despite having long since been abandoned.

Miles and miles of neon

When Route 66 was at its peak, it was lined with diners, motels, and curio shops, and each was vying to get your car in its parking lot. Giant dinosaurs and spacemen, like the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, IL, worked well in the daytime, but nothing caught the attention of nighttime travelers better than a big, beautiful neon sign. Here are some of our favorites from east to west along the Mother Road.

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Roadside attractions

One of the best parts of traveling across the U.S. is the vast amount of kitschy roadside attractions you’ll find, and Route 66 is no exception. As the popularity of road trips skyrocketed, starting in the 1940s, so did the opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to catch the attention of people criss-crossing the United States. As more and more businesses were popping up along highways, the competition to lure travelers to a specific business became fierce, with all sorts of kitschy roadside icons being constructed.

Extraordinary Places along Route 66

Extraordinary Places are some of the most interesting and epic places around the world, handpicked by the Roadtrippers team. Route 66 features more than 20 Extraordinary Places. Here are four of our favorites.

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch

Eccentric roadside attraction originally placed by the art collective Ant Farm on Route 66, but now relocated south of I-40. Ten old Cadillacs have been upended and half-buried in a cow pasture.

Blue Whale of Catoosa

Blue Whale of Catoosa

The Blue Whale of Catoosa is a waterfront structure, located just east of the town of Catoosa, Oklahoma, and it has become one of the most recognizable attractions on old Route 66. Hugh Davis built the Blue Whale in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift to his wife Zelta, who collected whale figurines. The Blue Whale and its pond became a favored swimming hole for both locals and travelers along Route 66.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

It’s the official end of Route 66. The Santa Monica Pier is open 365 days a year and admission is free. The world-famous pier offers a variety of entertainment, dining, and shopping experiences, including the thrill rides of Pacific Park, a historic 1922 carousel, an old-fashioned soda fountain, and an interactive aquarium.

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch is a 630-foot (192 m) monument in St. Louis, Missouri. Clad in stainless steel and built in the form of a weighted catenary arch, it is the world’s tallest arch, the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere, and Missouri’s tallest accessible building. Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, the arch is the centerpiece of the Gateway Arch National Park and has become an internationally recognized symbol of St. Louis, as well as a popular tourist destination.

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