Best of Route 66: The Mother Road’s Top Attractions

Route 66, often called the Mother Road, is more than just a highway—it’s an icon of American culture and history. Stretching from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, this historic route spans approximately 2,448 miles, featuring iconic landmarks, natural wonders, and slices of American history. 

Illinois: The Beginning of the Journey

Lou Mitchells Restaurant in Chicago, IL
Photo Credit: [@StockPhotoAstur/DepositPhoto]

Start in Chicago: The journey begins in Chicago, where the official start sign of Route 66 is at Grant Park. Stop by Lou Mitchell’s, a legendary eatery serving travelers since the Mother Road’s heyday.

Cozy Dog Drive-In, Springfield: As you head south, a stop at the Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield is a must. Known for inventing the “Cozy Dog,” this eatery is a piece of Route 66 folklore.

Pontiac: Pontiac, Illinois, is home to a series of murals depicting the history of Route 66 and the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, packed with memorabilia and artifacts.

Missouri: The Gateway to the West

Route 66 Drive-In in Carthage, Missouri
Photo Credit: [@mkopka/DepositPhotos]

St. Louis: Missouri greets Route 66 travelers with the majestic Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The city also offers a rich blues music scene and mouth-watering barbecue joints.

Meramec Caverns: Further down the road, the Meramec Caverns in Stanton offer guided tours of the limestone caves, which served as a hideout for Jesse James.

Route 66 Drive-In, Carthage: For a taste of nostalgia, the Route 66 Drive-In in Carthage is perfect for enjoying a movie under the stars, just like in the old days.

Kansas: A Brief but Memorable Stretch

Cars on the Route in Galena, Kansas
Photo Credit: [@StockPhotoAstur/DepositPhotos]

Galena: The short Kansas stretch of Route 66 takes you through Galena, where the restored Kan-O-Tex Service Station, now Cars on the Route, offers a quirky photo op with vintage cars.

Baxter Springs: In Baxter Springs, the Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum provides a glimpse into the local history, especially the mining industry that once thrived here.

Oklahoma: The Heart of Route 66

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, OK
Photo Credit: [@PTHamilton/DepositPhotos]

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Clinton: The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton is an immersive experience, taking you through the history of the route.

Blue Whale of Catoosa: The Blue Whale of Catoosa is a beloved roadside attraction, perfect for a fun photo opportunity.

Tulsa: In Tulsa, the Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza pays tribute to the man known as the “Father of Route 66,” and the city’s Art Deco architecture is a must-see.

Texas: Big Skies and Quirky Sights

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
Photo Credit: [@igorot/DepositPhotos]

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo: The Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo is an iconic public art installation featuring ten Cadillac cars half-buried nose-first in the ground.

Midpoint Café, Adrian: The Midpoint Café in Adrian marks the geographical midpoint of Route 66 and is famous for its delicious pies and retro charm.

New Mexico: Land of Enchantment

Historic Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico
Photo Credit: [@miroslav_1/DepositPhotos]

Santa Fe: The original 1926 alignment of Route 66 passed through Santa Fe, offering a look into Native American and Hispanic cultures.

Albuquerque: Albuquerque’s Central Avenue is a well-preserved stretch of the old road, lined with neon signs and vintage diners.

Tucumcari: Tucumcari, known for its retro motels and neon lights, epitomizes the classic Route 66 town and is home to the Tucumcari Historical Museum.

Arizona: Desert Landscapes and Historic Towns

Blue Mesa at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
Photo Credit: [@igorot/DepositPhotos]

Petrified Forest National Park: This park is known for its vast deposits of petrified wood and the colorful badlands of the Painted Desert.

Williams: The town of Williams offers the Grand Canyon Railway, an exciting way to visit the nearby Grand Canyon.

Oatman: Oatman is a former mining town famous for its wild burros and staged gunfights, offering a glimpse into the Old West.

California: The Golden State Finale

End of Route 66 in Santa Monica, CA
Photo Credit: [@PantherMediaSeller/DepositPhotos]

Bagdad Café, Newberry Springs: The Bagdad Café, immortalized in the 1987 movie, is a popular stop for its quirky atmosphere and connection to Route 66 culture.

Santa Monica Pier: The end of Route 66 is marked by the Santa Monica Pier, where travelers can enjoy breathtaking ocean views and a sense of accomplishment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandrea Sumuel - Groves is a nationally syndicated travel writer and founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog. Her work has appeared on MSN, YAHOO!, Euronews, and FOX, ABC, and NBC affiliates across the United States. 

Alex travels to experience, eat, explore, and occasionally escape! She collaborates with destinations, vacation property management companies, and hospitality technology firms to provide her readers with exclusive insights and information.