A Roadtrippin Guide to Route 66
Also known as the “Mother Road”, Route 66 was one of the original highways built within the US Highway System. Running between Chicago and Los Angeles, the old road takes you through the heart of America, treating you to some of the country’s most famous sites and scenes.
The 2,448-mile road was established in 1926, stretching through eight states and three different time zones. Families who had to leave their homes during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl escaped westward on Route 66 looking for a better life, and it became known as the “road of dreams”, giving families hope for a better future. As one of the only highways in the US to be built diagonally, many saw it as a shortcut to a life of freedom.
Being the quintessential American road trip, Route 66 has inspired a huge number of songs, TV shows, and films, including the Nat King Cole song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”, the Pixar movie “Cars”, and the book “The Grapes of Wrath”. Route 66 is a journey of adventure, discovery, and freedom to explore the open road ahead.
Before you get your kicks on Route 66, check out our guide below:
Diner: Cozy Dog Drive In
Back in 1946, Ed Waldmire invented the famous hot dog on a stick, known as the Cozy Dog. The diner then became famous for its signature offering, which it makes daily, and has been operating on Route 66 since 1949. Cozy Dog moved to its current location in 1996, where customers can order inside, take their food away or get it from the drive through window. There’s a selection of other tasty treats too, lots of Route 66 memorabilia, and a guest book full of messages from tourists around the world.
Attraction: Chain of Rocks Bridge
Linking the states of Missouri and Illinois, the mile-long Chain of Rocks Bridge is pretty unique and even has a 30 degree turn half way across it. Standing more than 60 ft. above the Mississippi river, the bridge has been a must-see landmark for anyone driving along Route 66 for decades. The bridge’s name comes from the multiple rocky ledges that lie just under this stretch of the river, beginning just north of St. Louis.
The oldest hotel on Route 66 is the Eagle Hotel in Wilmington, Illinois.
‘Route 66’ – The Rolling Stones
Diner: Missouri Hick BBQ
If you’re looking for some melt in the mouth meat, then this is the place to go. Missouri Hick seasons its meat with a selection of house blend spices and smokes it for a good 12 hours before serving. You can choose from a range of delicious BBQ style meats, including turkey, chicken, beef, and bison, and pair your choice with a giant stuffed baked potato. While the food is a real winner here, the décor adds to its charm, with handmade tables, beautiful woodwork, and bucket lights to top it all off.
Attraction: Meramec Caverns
The charming Meramec Caverns are a set of limestone caves that were initially developed during the Civil War, when saltpetre was used to manufacture gunpowder. After the war, the caves became popular as a place for local farmers to host dances, and the largest cave is still used for craft shows and Easter services. A room in the caverns has featured in multiple films and TV shows, including ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and an episode of ‘Lassie’.
Route 66 crosses the Mississippi River, linking Missouri and Illinois.
‘Missouri’ – Low
Diner: Eye Scream Labs
This relatively new addition to Route 66 is perfect for a refreshing ice cream stop, but this isn’t a normal ice cream store. Eye Scream Labs uses liquid nitrogen to make its smooth and tasty ice cream, and while this phenomenon is nothing new and is becoming more popular across the country, Eye Scream Labs is the only one of its kind for hundreds of miles. This is a must-try for all ages and has a huge range of delicious and experimental flavours for the whole family to enjoy.
Attraction: Marsh Arch Bridge
The last of its kind on Route 66, The Bush Creek Marsh Arch Rainbow Bridge is one of three originally built in 1923 on what would later become Route 66. Visitors can walk and drive over the bridge, but in a westbound direction only, and there is a bypass over Bush Creek for normal traffic. The bridge is now on the National Register of Historic Places, which keeps it safe from demolition or condemnation.
Kansas has the shortest section of Route 66, with only 13 miles altogether.
‘Wichita Lineman’ – Glenn Campbell
Situated in Arcadia, POPS is a must stop destination. Featuring a 66 ft. high soda pop bottle made of multi-coloured LED lighting at the front of the building, POPS is hard to miss. With a record-breaking selection of ice-cold sodas and drinks, the restaurant has 600 different varieties to choose from. Lunch and dinner are served daily, and there’s a delicious breakfast selection at the weekend. POPS also has a gas station, so visitors can fill up their tanks before getting back on the road.
Attraction: Totem Pole Park
Home to the largest concrete totem pole (60 ft. tall and 30 ft. in circumference), Ed Galloway’s 14-acre Totem Pole Park is a slight detour off Route 66, but definitely worth a visit. There are 11 sculptures in total built by Galloway, but none as big as the colourful totem pole that rests on the back of a turtle and depicts spirit lizards, owls, and Native American portraits. The park also features Galloway’s “Fiddle House”, which used to house his hand-carved fiddles and is supported by 25 totem poles inside and out.
You can still drive down Ribbon Road in Oklahoma, a 9 ft. wide stretch of the route that was built in the 1920s.
‘Oklahoma Hills’ – Woody Guthrie
Diner: Midpoint Café
The name says it all. The Midpoint Café is a restaurant, souvenir, and antique shop in Adrian, Texas – the geographical midpoint of Route 66, between Los Angeles and Chicago. Famous for its “ugly” pies, the Midpoint Café has a selection of tasty food and is a great place to stop off for a bite to eat and to get your picture taken with the Route 66 midpoint sign across the road.
Attraction: Cadillac Ranch
The famous Cadillac Ranch is in fact not a ranch at all, but a famous art sculpture in Amarillo, Texas. Created in 1974, by art group Ant Farm, it is made up of 10 junk Cadillacs that are half buried, nose down, in the ground. They all face west in a straight line, and represent a number of models from 1949 – 1963. They are apparently all buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Adrian, Texas, calls itself the geographic “Midpoint of Route 66”
‘Headin for the Texas Border’ – Flamin Groovies
Diner: Owl Café
A famous landmark in Albuquerque, the Owl Café has been popular with visitors since 1986 and stands out thanks to its giant owl shape. With a 1950’s diner theme, the Owl Café transports you back in time with its horseshoe shaped counter, jukebox, and pie case full of desserts. Keeping with the New Mexico theme, the Owl Café is also famous for its Green Chili Burger and has award winning shakes – there’s something on the menu for everyone.
Attraction: The Blue Hole
Located in Santa Rosa, this geographical sensation is a beautiful 80 ft. deep hole full of fresh, clear blue water. Santa Rosa is nicknamed the “City of Natural Lakes” due to the number of different places tourists can swim. Scuba diving is also allowed and makes a lovely change after a day of driving. This rare oasis is a must-visit for those travelling along Route 66.
The highest point on Route 66 is at Continental Drive in New Mexico
‘New Mexico’ – Johnny Cash
Diner: Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In
This historic roadside attraction was built in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo, mainly using scrap lumber from the local Santa Fe Railroad yard. The restaurant is famous for the decorated Chevy outside, that is brightly painted and adorned with horns, emblems, and even an artificial Christmas tree in the back. The founder’s sense of humour and playful manner is seen throughout the restaurant and in all the friendly staff.
Attraction: Petrified Forest National Park
The only National Park system that contains a part of Route 66, the Petrified Forest is named as such due to the amount of petrified wood that can be seen. This wood came about after the forest was buried in volcanic ash around 225 million years ago. The wood was then covered with silica and given a stone-like appearance and consistency.
Arizona has the longest stretch of the historic Route 66 that is still in use today.
‘Arizona’ – Kings of Leon
Diner: Big Dean’s Oceanfront Café
This sports bar has a beautiful beach view and is the perfect place to have your final Route 66 meal. Open from 11am to 11pm, you can sit on the patio with a cold draft beer and reminisce about your road trip across the county. Serving up burgers, wings, and a whole host of other American classics, you can be sure to end your journey in style.
Attraction: Wigwam Motel
Just off Route 66, and only a 13 minute drive away from the San Bernadino International Airport, this fun accommodation dates back to 1949 and is made up of nineteen 30 ft. tall concrete teepees. Each teepee has a 25-inch TV, a bathroom, mini-fridge, and WiFi, and is likely to be the most unique place you stay at on Route 66.
A slight detour will take you to the site of the very first McDonald’s restaurant in Bernadino, California.
‘California Girls’ – The Beach Boys
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