Established in 1926, Route 66 was one of the original highways of the U.S. Highway System. It ran from Chicago, Illinois through the Midwest. The road continued into the sprawling American west and ended in Santa Monica, California. Those migrating west or simply catching the sights of the west drove along the route. Known also as Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America, and Mother Road, travelers flocked to communities along Route 66. With this movement of people came iconic restaurants, lodging, attractions, and more. Plenty of these still exist today and have become famous and unique attractions to visit.
Since its inception, road trippers have delighted in all that Route 66 has to offer. The route was officially decommissioned in 1985. It was replaced by the Interstate Highway System. Even so, Route 66 and its sights still have broad appeal to just about anyone. Route 66 has earned world fame as one of the most popular road trips on earth.
It doesn’t matter if find yourself driving the entire length of Route 66 westward or simply enjoying a portion of the Mother Road. There are many sights you just shouldn’t bypass when you visit. Plan your trip around enjoying these important Route 66 landmarks. Make sure to select all of the historic restaurants, lodging, attractions, and even state and national parks you want to visit along the way.
Route 66 Historic Lodging
If you’re taking a long road trip, chances are you’ll need a place to stay. Stop off at these historic Route 66 hotels and motels to enjoy the nostalgia and history while you rest. From iconic tepees to classic neon signs, these spots offer a good night’s rest in true Route 66 style.
Tucumcari, New Mexico, was one of the main stops along Route 66. Today the city is still a well-preserved example of the charm of the Mother Road. Since 1939 the Blue Swallow motel has served guests on the road with hospitality. Easily recognized by its neon road display, the Blue Swallow Motel boasts 100% refrigerated air, TV, and inspection of the historic property. The rooms have been fully restored. Original architectural features remain. You’ll find a pink stucco façade and distinctive attached garages. Across the street is the Tee Pee Curios. It’s a quirky gift shop you may want to buy a souvenir from.
Wigwam Village Motels were a chain of seven motels established in the 1930s. Nearly all of the hotels properties were located along Route 66. Only a few remain today. One of the best surviving Wigwam Village Motels is in Holbrook, Arizona. Each room is shaped like a tepee. The rooms feature two doubles or one queen bed. The accommodations include a full bathroom, cable TV, heat, and air conditioning.
William Village Motel also boasts a classic car display in the parking lot located outside of the units. The wigwams are a popular stop along Route 66. Where else can you sleep in a tepee? The motel recommends reserving your wigwam two weeks in advance.
Things to See and Do on Route 66
Route 66’s attractions are a significant part of the road’s undying appeal. There are eclectic sights on Route 66 that you won’t see anywhere else in America. The world can’t even compete with some of what you see here. Vintage Cadillacs half-buried in the ground and covered in spray paint, ghost towns, and unusual statues are among the delights awaiting travelers on Route 66.
Since 1974, 10 Cadillacs in Amarillo, TX, have been half-buried nose-first in the ground at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The art installation was commissioned by eccentric Millionaire Stanley Marsh 3. Cadillac Ranch is visible from I-40. To truly appreciate the sight we recommend getting out of your car and seeing them up close. Visitors are encouraged to enter the installation through the unlocked gate and take a turn at spray painting the Cadillacs. We don’t support littering, but this location is marked by empty cans of spray paint can often be found on the ground. If you’re determined to make your mark, bring your own can of paint. Just don’t be upset when your mark is inevitably replaced. Don’t leave your can on the ground. The environment and desert animals thank you.
Part of the beauty of Route 66 is that you can go anywhere and do anything in your car. The 66 Drive-In in Carthage, Missouri, is a fully functioning old-fashioned driven-in movie that still exists and runs daily. The 66 Drive-In is a great spot to watch a film and rest along your journey. The theater opened in 1949 and continues to show films from spring until fall. There’s even a playground for kids. They have a fantastic matinee deal if you’re a movie buff. Get two movies for the price of one matinee at an indoor theater!
THE BLUE WHALE OF CATOOSA: CATOOSA, OKLAHOMA
The Blue Whale of Catoosa is built on a pond on Davis family property. It is a swimming hole that operated from 1972 to 1988. It was famous for its iconic blue whale installation and slide. Over time it became known as a popular spot for picnicking and fishing. Visitors continue to flock to the whale as an attraction. The Davis family keeps the grounds maintained and the gates open.
If you’ve never seen a forest of trees made out of bottles, here’s your chance. In the California desert right along Route 66 is Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Elmer Long used his deceased father’s collection of bottles and two hundred scrap metal trees to create these beautiful bottle tree sculptures. Visitors can hear the bottles and wind chimes in this relaxing, artistic spot. It’s much larger than you may be imagining. You may even be the only one there. Elmer himself sometimes comes out to share stories and history of the site.
When Route 66 was active, Glenrio was a popular stopping place as a midpoint between Amarillo, Texas, and Tucumcari, New Mexico. The location is 10 miles from the Chicago-LA midpoint on Route 66. When Interstate 40 was built the community was bypassed. Tourism suffered in the area as a result. Businesses were moved to nearby communities in Texas and New Mexico, and only two residents remained in 1985. The town has long since been abandoned. Today, travelers enjoy visiting Glenrio’s ghost town sights. These include the still intact main street, Little Juarez Café, old motel, post office, and gas station.
Originally built as a Route 66 visitor center, you could say Henry’s Rabbit Ranch Home has a little bit of everything. The attraction now boasts an ever-growing collection of real rabbits, historic vehicles, road memorabilia, signs, and more. The visitor’s center resembles an old classic filling station. The location sells Route 66 souvenirs. There’s even a homage to another Route 66 attraction: Cadillac Ranch. Volkswagen Rabbits are buried in the ground.
TOWER STATION AND U-DROP INN CAFE: SHAMROCK, TEXAS
What’s a road trip without a gas station and a restaurant? The Tower Station and U-Drop Inn and Tower Café was built in 1936 in Shamrock, Texas, on Route 66. It is one of the most remarkable pieces of architecture remaining on the iconic trip. It has an Art Deco style with two towers. These were inspired by the image of a nail stuck in soil. The site has a gas station on one side and a café on the other.
The business fell into disrepair after Route 66 was decommissioned and was closed in the late 1990s. Later the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and renovated. It’s been adapted into Shamrock’s chamber of commerce, museum, gift shop, and visitor’s center. Though no gas is available at the Tower Station, a Tesla high power electric vehicle charging station has been on the site since 2014.
In northern Arizona is the world’s best preserved meteorite impact site. It is located just off Interstate 40 near Winslow, Arizona. About 50,000 years ago, an asteroid collided with Earth at approximately 26,000 miles per hour. A crater is left to show for it that is more than one mile across and more than 550 feet deep.
A popular Route 66 attraction, the Meteor Crater continues to be an international tourist attraction. Travelers visit to enjoy observation trails, an interactive discovery center, gift shop, and more. Many also stop by nearby Winslow, Arizona. There they take photos at Standin’ on the Corner Park inspired by the Eagles song “Take it Easy.”
The Blue Hole is a desert oasis. It is one of seven sister lakes connected underground. Part of the Santa Rosa Sink, The Blue Hole always has water in an area that sees little rain. It is very deep, surrounded by rock, and has exceptionally clear and pure water. Unbelievably it renews and refills itself every six hours. The water is always a steady 62 degrees.
In the 1970s, The Blue Hole was a popular recreation area. It has now expanded into a diving and conference center. The Blue Hole is particularly popular among divers for its depth and beauty.
A landmark statue along Route 66 in Wilmington, Illinois, the Gemini Giant greets visitors as they enter the city. He stands just outside the Launching Pad Drive In restaurant. This statue is one of many Muffler Man advertising statues erected in the sixties. The Gemini Giant holds a rocket ship and wears an astronaut helmet. It looks like a welding mask. He is named after the Gemini space program.
Famous Route 66 Restaurants
You’ll have to stop and eat somewhere along the way on your road trip. These famous Route 66 is known for its food, sights, and service. Some of these food spots come acclaimed for their nearly impossible eating challenges. Enjoy your food with a side of Route 66 history at these iconic stops.
Yes, everything is bigger in Texas. Texas food is no exception. Home of the 72 ounce steak challenge, The Big Texan offers a free steak dinner to anyone who can eat the entire 72 ounce steak meal with sides in one hour or less. Fail, and challengers pay $72.
Thousands have accomplished this feat. Far more have failed than achieved success. You can’t miss it this Route 66 restaurant. There are signs for miles, the building is painted bright yellow, and there are statues including a large bull and cowboy. Since its inception in 1960 the ranch has changed a lot. It’s grown to include a large gift shop, brewery, Texas shaped swimming book, and even a motel and RV park. It’s for humans and horses alike.
POPS SODA RANCH: ARCADIA, OKLAHOMA
Located in Arcadia, OK along Route 66, the original POPS Soda Ranch can’t be missed. You really can’t miss it and will see it from afar. Its signature 66 foot high soda bottle along the road isn’t hard to spot. The soda ranch has more than 600 unique soda flavors to try. Peanut butter and jelly, buffalo wing, and sweet corn are just a few of their unique options. Glass soda bottles line the restaurant’s walls and provide a one of a kind setting for visitors. If you’re hungry they also have shakes, burgers, and entrees available.
If you’re looking for Route 66 kitsch, you’ll find it at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive In. This historic eatery was built in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo on an extremely limited budget. It was primarily built from scrap lumber sourced from the nearby Santa Fe Railroad yard. Though Delgadillo died in 2004, the eatery is still in operation and known for showmanship and humor. Art cars, hand painted signs, humor, and kitsch abound.
Route 66 Road Features
Sometimes, the road’s appeal is not what’s at the end of the road or even along the way, but the road itself. These Route 66 road features offer a more interesting way to travel than your average interstate.
The Chain of Rocks Bridge spans the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri to Madison, Illinois. It was once used on the original Route 66 with a 22 degree bend in the middle.
The bridge spans a stretch of the Mississippi River that is particularly dangerous to navigate due to its chain of rocks below. The rocks are typically not visible today except in low water conditions due to a dam built in the 1960s. Today, the Chain of Rocks Bridge no longer carries vehicle traffic and is used for pedestrians and bikers across the river. The bridge is particularly notable for its castle like water intakes near the bridge.
TIJERAS MUSICAL ROAD: TIJERAS, NEW MEXICO
Driving east on old Route 66 (now Highway 333) just outside Albuquerque is a musical road. Rumble strips in the roadway are arranged to play the tune of “America the Beautiful” when vehicles drive over them at 45 miles per hour. Drivers will see signs reminding them to reduce their speed. The project was completed to get drivers to slow down in the area. We love safe driving and defensive driving techniques. This is one of the most unique ways to encourage safe driving that we have ever heard of or seen.
THE BEGINNING AND THE END: GRANT PARK – CHICAGO, ILLINOIS AND SANTA MONICA PIER – SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
Route 66 ran from Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois all the way to the Santa Monica Pier in California. Traditionally, travelers driving the length of Route 66 began at Grant Park and ended in Los Angeles. It was more popular to head west to explore the United States. Both locations have signs indicating the end of Route 66. Both are popular attractions regardless of their history with route 66. Grant Park has been a major landmark for decades and has recently been the site of Lollapalooza and Barack Obama’s 2008 election acceptance speech. The Santa Monica Pier is beloved for its iconic entrance, shops, fresh seafood, aquarium and multiple attractions.
State and National Parks Along Route 66
America’s park system is an incredible gem. Route 66’s stretch passed nearby many of the nation’s best park lands. Travel Route 66, and you’ll be within miles of these state and national parks. These are chalk full of natural wonders, history, and recreation. Do yourself a favor and take the detour.
The Grand Canyon is the largest canyon on the planet. It is easily visible from space. Spanning two hundred twenty-six miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep, the Grand Canyon has been nearly two billion years in the making. The Colorado River flows through it. It cuts channels into rock layers among the Colorado Plateau. Tourist attractions include camping, lodging, shuttle buses, hiking, mule riding, rafting, bicycling, and more. Time your visit correctly and you can catch the beautiful sunrise and sunset.
Located in Arizona with areas running parallel to Route 66, the Petrified Forest National Park is a sight to behold. The park is home to fossils and fallen 225 million-year-old petrified trees. The park was popular during the days of Route 66. The location remains popular today as visitors enjoy sightseeing, hiking, and photography.
Petrified Forest National Park is also home to part of the famed Painted Desert. This spot is as beautiful as it sounds. It is certainly one of the gems of the landscape of western America.
Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest Canyon in the United States. The canyon is colorful and scenic. Visitors can explore by foot, bike, horse, or car. You can camp in this area. Visitors are showered with more than 30 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horse riding.