Route 66 – affectionately known as “The Mother Road” – defines the road trip of a lifetime. Over the years, US 66 has been renamed in various stretches.
But this cross-country route, from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, can still be followed with just as many attractions to see along the way as picture perfect western landscapes.
Classic restaurants, gift shops, lodging options, and neon signs dot the way for 2,448 miles total. We narrowed down the options to 18 places in particular you should definitely experience the next time you drive this route. So grab your keys and your camera, and hit the road soon!
1. Lou Mitchell’s, Chicago
Since 1923, this nationally-recognized diner has served up hearty breakfasts to travelers, celebrities, and even presidents at the very beginning of Route 66. Perhaps one of the most unique things about them is their focus on the eager, hungry customers waiting in line. They generously hand out donut holes to all, and Milk Duds to the ladies and children.
Save room, though – their omelettes are huge, pancakes are thick and fluffy, and they serve the “World’s Finest Coffee” with real, fresh cream. The OJ comes freshly squeezed, and their hefty slices of Greek toast are homemade and cooked to a perfect golden brown.
They’re located in Chicago at 565 W. Jackson Boulevard. About ten minutes north, pizza lovers can also pick up a slice at the RV-inspired Happy Camper – where there are trailers inside that you can dine in, and tire swings at the bar.
2. Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum, McLean
Fun for all ages, this museum in the small town of McLean is filled with old school games from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Almost all of them are still working in great condition – and just like the good old days – they only cost 25 to 50 cents a play (quarter machines are available).
They have a great line-up of classic games, like: pinball, Pacman, Galaga, Super Mario Bros Mushroom World, Street Fighter 2, Mortal Medieval Madness and Burger Time.
It’s locally owned by John Yates, who has been collecting the vintage machines since high school. He generously keeps his wide collection open to the public on the weekends, Friday-Sunday.
3. 66 Drive-In Theater, Carthage
Established in 1949, this drive-in provides the perfect place to stop, stretch your legs, and spend a couple of hours enjoying classic entertainment from the comfort of your own car.
It was closed at one point in 1985, but was later reopened in 1998. They now show two movies every weekend on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Fun fact: This drive-in venue in particular was an inspiration for the Pixar film, “Cars”. In the animated movie, a drive-in that strongly resembled it was featured with almost identical pole-mounted speakers and neon signage on the marquee.
Of course, you’ll want to hold on to your ticket. It’s a perfect keepsake!
4. Cars On The Route, Galena
Set in the old Kan-O-Tex Service Station, Cars on the Route is a fun stop for the whole family. It used to be known as 4 Women On The Route, but since the place has changed ownership over the years, they now focus more on the site’s connection to the Disney movie “Cars”.
For years, they’ve provided travelers a place to pick up sandwiches, snacks, antiques, and handmade Route 66-inspired items, many of which are made by local artists.
Out front sit old, rusty cars that inspired characters in the movie, “Cars” – including a 1951 boom truck known as “Tow Tater”. The director had seen and loved it when he was traveling the route, and later created the film’s “Tow-Mater”.
5. Blue Whale, Catoosa
Drive by this massive whale in Catoosa and you’ll definitely want to stop for some photos. Situated next to a pond, the landmark was built by Hugh Davis in the ’70s as a surprise anniversary gift for his wife, who collected whale figurines – and he installed slides for their kids.
But it wasn’t long before it became a popular swimming hole for both locals and travelers on Route 66. So they brought in tons of sand and some picnic tables and opened it for everyone to enjoy.
Your little ones will especially love climbing through the whale, and the photo opportunities are just about endless. They also have a concessions and souvenirs stand open on the weekends, with various items like vintage postcards and bottled water.
6. Pops, Arcadia
As you can probably tell by the 66-foot-tall soda bottle out front (which lights up at night) – this place has all you can dream of when it comes to the fizzy beverages.
They sell a rather interesting variety of flavors you wouldn’t expect, like: bacon soda, peanut butter and jelly soda, lemon meringue pie soda, buffalo wing soda, and classics like Crush, Jones Soda, Sun Drop and more.
The stop also serves as a diner and gas station. On the shelves inside, dozens of soda pop bottles are arranged by color and can be purchased as-is, or you can get a cold one from the fridge. Make a six-pack to take for the road, or just pick out one flavor that sounds appealing. Either way, you won’t be leaving this place thirsty.
7. Jack Sisemore RV Museum, Amarillo
Free to get in, this museum will take you back in time through the history of RVs, motorcycles and other auto memorabilia. They house the very first Itasca ever built, all-original campers that date back as early as the 1930s, vintage motorcycles, old gas station relics, and even the famous bus from the movie “RV” with Robin Williams:
Other things you’ll see here include a Volkswagen hippie van that was at Woodstock in 1969, a tiny 1962 Airstream Bambi, a Harley Davidson from 1918, old cigarette machines, drive-thru menus and more. For a closer look at this place, check out our recent post on it here!
8. Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
Contrary to the name, this roadside stop about 10-15 minutes west of the RV museum isn’t really an actual ranch. It’s rather a sweet 1974 art installation made of junk Cadillacs that are all half buried nose-first into the ground, at an angle very similar to the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
The line of ten cars was made to represent the evolution of the vehicle from 1949 to 1963. Each one represents a different version of the tail fin – which was a defining feature of mid-twentieth-century Cadillacs.
9. Teepee Curios, Tucumcari
Hard to miss, Tee Pee Curios draws in travelers with their quirky tee-pee-shaped entrance and bright neon sign. They sell an eclectic variety of gift items and souvenirs, including handmade earrings, shirts, signs, stickers, and other Route 66 goodies, all at reasonably low prices.
10. Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari
Just across the street, Blue Swallow has provided travelers a cozy place to call it a night since 1939. They have comfy rooms at a low nightly rate, and truck and RV parking is also available.
It’s a lot more memorable than staying at any old hotel chain. All of their rooms have been restored to represent a room at a motor court, like in the 1940s and ’50s, along with vintage furnishings and decor.
The rooms feature antique furniture, original bath fixtures, artwork, and a 1940s rotary dial telephone that’s still in great working condition. To make reservations, head on over to their website here.
11. Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa
Car enthusiasts, stop and take a look around this privately-owned collection less than an hour down the road. Over 30 vintage, chromed out hot rod cars are showcased here, along with old gas station pumps and other Route 66 memorabilia. It will rev your engine unlike any other automobile collection you’ve seen before – and some of them are even up for sale.
It’s well worth the $5 admission to see everything from the hot rods to the muscle cars. Depending on how much time you take getting photos, it’s easy to spend anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour walking around this impressive collection.
12. Wigwam Motels, Holbrook
Unlike your average hotel, this place offers a much more unique type of lodging, with rooms individually designed as teepees. And to add onto the vintage charm, they all have a classic car parked out front for plenty of photo ops.
Inside, the teepees are all complete with a full bathroom with showers, cable TV, heat, and A/C. Prices vary whether you’d like two double beds, or just one queen-sized bed. Check out more details on reserving your own for the night online here.
13. Barringer Meteor Crater, Winslow
Just off the highway, make a side trip to see this mind-blowing meteorite impact site. The crater measures about a mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and is 550 feet deep.
It was thought to have formed some 50,000 years ago when an asteroid hit Earth traveling 26,000 miles per hour. But experts believe that the rim crest has slowly lost height over time because of natural erosion.
On the north rim, their visitor center includes interactive exhibits about space, meteorites, asteroids, comets, and the entire solar system – as well as a movie theater and gift shop.
You can’t totally walk in the crater, but they do have observation areas along the rim where you can get larger-than-life views, and guided tours are offered everyday. For more info, take a look at their website here.
If you’re looking to stay for awhile, pull on into Meteor Crater RV Park. After dark, falling stars can often be seen here in the northern Arizona desert night sky. They have 71 spacious RV sites, 26 of which have full hook-ups. WiFi, coin-op laundry services, pristine hot showers, a convenience store and a dump station are all available to guests as well.
14. Bearizona Wildlife Park, Williams
Just off the highway, Bearizona provides drive-through tours to see wildlife like wolves, bears, bison and even mountain goats from the safety of your own vehicle. It’s really fascinating to watch the creatures up-close just casually walking around their spacious, natural setting, napping, climbing trees, or playing around with one another.
If you’d like to get out, stretch your legs, and get even closer to the wild animals, you can also stroll around their walking area. And near the end, they have a little zoo where you can see the most adorable baby animals as well a bird show.
They welcome almost all types of transportation, including cars, RVs, and even motorcycles. For more details, check them out online here.
15. Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, Seligman
Stopping for a burger and a shake is a must when you’re passing by Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In. The classic restaurant is owned by Juan Delgadillo, who’s known for his unique sense of humor – which you can immediately tell by the sign on the door out front that reads, “Sorry, We’re Open”.
And then there’s the menu – with unusually named items like, “Hamburgers Without Ham”, “Cheeseburgers with Cheese”, and the ever delicious – “Dead Chicken”.
The burgers all come neatly wrapped, along with a charming smiley face fried potato:
It’s delicious, but the food isn’t the only thing you’ll remember about The Snow Cap. Their setting is just as fun: with eclectic Route 66 and Americana decor, like a roofless 1936 Chevy on display in front that’s decked out with paint, horns, emblems, and even a Christmas tree in the back.
It’s one of the wackiest drive-in burger joints around – and places like Burger King don’t even compare. Grab a chocolate malt for the road – you’ll be glad you did.
16. Roy’s, Amboy
Back in the day, Roy’s was one of the most popular stops on Route 66. A motel, gas station, cafe and auto repair shop – this place in the now-ghost-town of Amboy offered it all, and at one point they were actually the only gas station and lodging in the area.
Sadly, the motel has been shut down for years, but the cafe and gas station have both been refurbished and are now reopened as of 2008. They also sell a wide assortment of items like postcards, shirts, maps, water, soda, chips and candy.
The property is now owned by Albert Okura – founder of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain – and he’s been dedicated to restoring and preserving the stop for years.
Okura happens to own the location of the very first McDonalds as well, and has kept the site preserved as a museum – which brings us to the next stop.
17. The Original McDonalds Museum, San Bernardino
McDonald’s restaurants can now be found all over the globe, but there’s something especially awesome about stopping by the location where the very first one used to be.
Also owned and preserved by Albert Okura – this now-museum is home to a unique collection of items from the chain restaurant’s early beginnings and features history from decades past.
You can still see original items like this menu above, Happy Meal toys throughout the years, significant photos and other memorabilia. By the time you leave, it’s almost impossible not to be craving a Big Mac and fries.
18. The Last Stop Shop, Santa Monica Pier
A sign that reads “End of The Trail” marks the very end of your trip at the Santa Monica pier. Before you take off to go home, gander around the oceanfront shops and score one final souvenir at the Last Stop Shop.
Their merchandise includes Route 66-everything. It ranges from coffee mugs to magnets, metal and wood signs, license plates, shot glasses, hats and all kinds of other collectibles.
Check out their website here to see all of their current offerings.
Have you driven Route 66 before? Where else would you recommend stopping along the way?