For anyone who loves nostalgia, driving the 2,448 miles of Route 66 is a must. The iconic highway has inspired road trips, songs, and animated movie characters since construction on the “Main Street of America” was approved in 1926, back when gas cost less than a quarter a gallon. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck dubbed Route 66 the “Mother Road;” a place where migrants came together as a community. Nat King Cole recorded “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” in 1946—and more than a half-century later, Tow Mater from the 2006 animated film “Cars” was inspired by a rusty tow truck in Galena, Kan.
After the Great Depression, families looking for a better life could finally wander out West, driving their way across eight states starting in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles. Mom-and-pop shops, service stations, and motels popped up along the route. Travelers can still visit the Old Riverton Store in Riverton, Kan., grab a root beer at Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, Ariz., or spend the night at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M.
U.S. Highway 66 was realigned several times until 1985 when it was decommissioned and replaced with interstates. Modern roadways may have made sections of Route 66 irrelevant, but about 80% of the winding road still exists. Congress is still considering designating the roadway a National Historic Trail, but the government has already restored many of the historic sites along the route.
Using information from historic sites, news stories, and the National Park Service, Stacker compiled a list of 50 attractions—state by state—to see along the drive. Click through to see where travelers can get their kicks on Route 66.
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Many choose to start their Route 66 journey at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park—Chicago's oldest park—before heading west. To find the original “Historic 66 Begin” sign, travelers can head to the southern side of Adams Street and look west toward Wabash Avenue. The “End Historic Route 66” sign can be found at the intersection of Jackson and Michigan avenues.
The Chain of Rocks Bridge, constructed in 1929, sits 60 feet above the Mississippi River and links Madison, Ill., with St. Louis, Mo. The mile-long historic structure is popular with motorists and cyclists. The bridge got its name from a 17-mile series of rocky rapids called the Chain of Rocks that made the river difficult to navigate, which is why the Corps of Engineers built a dam to cover them in the 1960s. The bridge cost $2.5 million to erect, which was twice the original estimate at the time.
Drivers can find the World's Largest Catsup Bottle a little south of downtown Collinsville. The 170-foot-tall historic water tower was completed in 1949 for the Brooks Foods plant, which is no longer open. If it didn't have water in it, it could hold 640,000 bottles worth of catsup (or ketchup, as the tomato-based condiment is commonly called today).
Drivers can get their day started at the Old Log Cabin restaurant in Pontiac with some freshly made eggs and hashbrowns. This quaint spot originally opened in 1926 as a roadside lunchroom and gas station. The owners now serve customers from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day but Sunday. Locals love the cheeseburgers, homemade coconut cream, and rhubarb pie.
The World's Largest Rocking Chair (its actual name) may have only been created to break the Guinness World Record for the largest rocking chair. Nevertheless, the Fanning Outpost decided it made a great roadside attraction. The 42-foot-tall steel rocker had to be able to move back and forth to break the world record in 2008, but it has since been secured in place. The rocker was the largest in the world until 2015, when a 56.5-foot-tall chair was built in Casey, Ill.
Drivers can stop in the Route 66 State Park visitor center—located at the former Bridgehead Inn, built in 1935—to learn a little bit about the highway's history. The park also offers nature trails and picnic sites where road-weary travelers can stretch their legs or have a bite.
Motorists passing through Stanton, Mo., can stop in for a guided tour of the Meramec Caverns, a multi-level natural underground wonder that has been a tourist attraction since 1933. Some say the cave was a hideout for Jesse James and his crew. To get the full experience, visitors should be prepared to walk a well-lit 1.25 miles for about an hour and 20 minutes.
The historic Wagon Wheel Motel has been around for 83 years, making it the oldest continuously running motel on Route 66. It opened in 1936 and still beckons weary drivers with original flashing neon lights from the ‘40s. The original wood doors, windows, and floors from the 1930s have been updated.
Devil's Elbow, Mo., is situated in the Ozark Mountains and the Mark Twain National Forest, making it one of the more scenic stretches of Old Route 66. Motorists can stop by the Elbow Inn Bar & BBQ—formerly the Munger Moss Sandwich Shop, built in 1929—for a cold drink and some barbecued brisket. The restaurant, which is located on Tear Drop Road off Interstate 44, smokes its own meats.
Only about 13 miles of Route 66 wind through Kansas, but Cars on the Route—the old Kan-O-Tex service station—is worth a stop. The station now has a “Cars” theme and is home to the mining boom truck that inspired the character Tow Mater in the animated film. It was first restored by Betty Courtney, Melba Rigg, Renee Charles, and Judy Courtney, which is why the gas station was dubbed “Four Women on the Route” for several years.
The Galena Mining & Historical Museum—which sits inside the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas train depot—educates passersby on the history of this mining town. Visitors can also learn about how Pixar animators based the fictional town of Radiator Springs—from the movie “Cars”—on this small Kansas town.
The historic Brush Creek Bridge, also known as Rainbow Bridge, was constructed in 1923. Iowa bridge designer James Barney Marsh created the Rainbow Arch design and patented the construction elements in 1912. Route 66 motorists used the 130-foot bridge to cross Route 66 until the interstate was built in the 1960s.
Baxter Springs is one of only three towns Route 66 drivers pass through while in Kansas. The town's Independent Oil and Gas Service Station is one of the locations worth a drive-by. What's interesting about the gas station is that it looks more like someone's home than a place to fill up. After the Great Depression, some oil companies redesigned their buildings to have more of a domestic feel that might make their customers feel more comfortable.
The historic Milk Bottle Grocery was built in 1930 and is hard to miss: The 350-square-foot building has a giant milk bottle perched on top of it. Since its creation, many dairy companies have paid to advertise their names across the side of the sculpture. The landmark is a popular spot for Route 66 motorists to snap photos and has been home to a variety of businesses that include a cleaners, a realty office, a Vietnamese sandwich shop, and even as the office of a landscape architect.
The Blue Whale is exactly what it sounds like. Zoologist Hugh S. Davis originally built the sea mammal replica as a place where his grandchildren could play and swim. The whale took two years to create and was completed in 1972. Davis's daughter still owns the whale, but swimming is no longer allowed. There are some picnic tables nearby for motorists to take a driving break for lunch.
Built in 1929, Lucille's Service Station is no longer offering gas, but the building has been restored to its original condition. The vintage pumps are still on site and a historical marker tells visitors about how the station began. Included in that history is a bit about the station's namesake, Lucille Hamons, who ran the business for more than 50 years.
Built around 1930, this service station—also known as Hole in the Wall Conoco Station—offered a place for Route 66 travelers to fill up. It did start out selling Conoco gas but switched to Phillips 66 in 1938. Word on the street is that Bonnie and Clyde may have even fueled up here. Allen's Conoco Fillin' Station may have originally been a gas station, but the tiny green and red structure—built out from the side of a building—is now a souvenir shop.
Artist Ed Galloway created his Totem Pole Park—located about 3.5 miles off Route 66—as a place to show off folk art made of stone and concrete. Many of the pieces depict birds and Native American images. The largest totem pole in the park is 60 feet tall. The original construction lasted from 1937 to 1961 and was restored from 1988 to 1998.
In 1974, a group of San Francisco artists decided to bury 10 Cadillacs made between 1949 and 1964 nose-first into a Texas field. Millionaire Stanley Marsh 3, who died in 2014, funded the art installation. Graffiti is encouraged, so road trippers can stop by and leave their own mark on the cars before heading further west. The site is off Exit 66 of Interstate 40.
If Cadillac Ranch is too crowded, motorists can drive a few miles from Amarillo to the lesser known VW Slug Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas. The scene is similar to Cadillac Ranch, except the cars are Volkswagen beetles instead. To find the art installation, motorists can plug "Conway Inn & Restaurant" into GPS.
Adrian, Texas, marks the official midpoint of Route 66. There's even a white line on the road and a sign noting the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles—both are 1,139 miles away. Hungry motorists can stop in for a burger at Midpoint Cafe, which reopened with new owners in 2018. Midpoint Café served as inspiration for Flo's V8 Cafe in the animated movie "Cars."
Constructed in 1936, the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe on historic Route 66 includes a retail store, the Tower Conoco Station, and the U-Drop Inn Cafe. The latter got its name from a local boy who won a naming contest. The structure is now a visitor center, chamber of commerce office, and community center.
Truck-stop owner Ralph Britten created the Leaning Tower of Texas to drum up business. The structure slants at an 80-degree angle with the ground and was quite the site for unaware tourists who thought it was falling. Motorists regularly popped into the nearby truck stop to alert Britten, who would calm their fears and invite them in for quick bite. While the tower is still in position, Britten's truck stop has since burned down.
Travelers should bring their appetites when they visit the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. The restaurant, which opened in 1960, is home to the 72-ounce steak. Diners can eat for free if they finish their 4.5-pound steak—and the sides—in one hour. Tired motorists can sleep off their meal at the nearby motel.
The historic Blue Swallow Motel was built in 1939 and is still around today, making it the oldest motel still operating on New Mexico's part of Route 66. The neon lights beckon guests off the road, where they can stay in vintage-style rooms that are fully restored. Some even have detached garages.
After spending a night in the Blue Swallow, travelers can stop by Tee Pee Curios, a 1940s gas station-turned-gift shop. The store offers jewelry, pottery, and any number of Route 66 souvenirs. Guests enter the shop through a concrete wigwam built around the front door. A Route 66 shield is painted on the side of the building.
This natural sinkhole with sapphire-colored water was a fish hatchery in the 1930s. The Blue Hole became a recreation area in the 1970s and is now a popular spot for swimmers and scuba divers. The water is 81 feet deep and about 60 degrees, fed by a network of artesian springs connected to the Pecos River.
The Hackberry General Store has been around for about 80 years, but it's easy to miss. Visitors should keep an eye out for two vintage gas pumps (which don't work anymore) out front. The owners have adopted some interesting decor: the walls and ceiling are covered with old license plates, patches, and money donated from around the world. Travelers should check out the re-creation of an old ‘50s diner before picking up some Route 66 souvenirs.
Travelers who want to take it easy should make sure to stop by the corner where Old Highway 66 meets North Kinsley Avenue in Winslow, Ariz. The 1972 Eagles song “Take it Easy” inspired an installation called “Standin' On the Corner” Park,” a statue of a man with a guitar standing on the corner near a red flatbed truck. The town of Winslow didn't create the park until three decades after the song was written, partially because Interstate 40 bypassed the town and cut down on tourist traffic.
Motorists can stop in for a root beer float or a burger at Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In. Visitors should take a close look at the walls and ceiling, which are covered with patches, money, and other paraphernalia donated from visitors around the world. Juan Delgadillo opened the shop in 1953, and his son still runs the business.
Visitors to Oatman, a former mining town, can get a glimpse of bighorn sheep or mingle with burros (small donkeys) that roam the city streets. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard married in nearby Kingman and may have honeymooned in the Oatman Hotel, which remains open as a museum and restaurant.
Tired motorists can sleep off a long day on the road at the historic Wigwam Village Motel #6 (there are five previous versions across the U.S.). Chester E. Lewis, charmed by wigwam villages he'd seen in Kentucky, opened the motel in 1950. There are classic cars on display out front, but the rooms have been renovated to include more modern amenities like air conditioning and cable TV. The Lewis family still owns and operates the business today.
Access to Grand Canyon National Park isn't right off Route 66, but seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World is worth a detour. From Williams, Ariz., drive 60 miles north to get to the South Rim.
About 50,000 years ago, a meteor crashed into northern Arizona. The site has been preserved and is only minutes from Interstate 40 and the old Route 66. If it's too hot, visitors can pop into the Meteor Crater Visitor Center on the crater's rim to view the site from an air-conditioned room.
A popular spot for an Instagram photoshoot, Elmer Long created his now-famous Bottle Tree Ranch out of bottles he collected as a kid. Years after he retired, he started hanging the empty glass bottles onto metal pipes that scatter rainbows of light when the sun shines through them. Visitors can try to spot the column topped by a rake—it's Long's favorite.
Motorists can stop by the California Route 66 Museum to learn some history and take some photos in the ‘50s diner or VW Love Bus. There's a Model T on the grounds and an old outhouse. Visitors can make a pit-stop in the library and gift shop to get some Route 66 memorabilia before heading back to the road.
The first McDonald's opened in 1948 close to Route 66 (the exact location is 1398 North E. St. at W. 14th Street in San Bernadino). In 1954, businessman Ray Kroc—played by Michael Keaton in “The Founder”—met the McDonald brothers in California while selling the brothers milkshake mixing machines. The rest is franchising history.
The canary yellow Cucamonga Service Station was built in 1915 and remained a gas station until the ‘60s. It fell into disrepair in the ‘70s but has since been restored and turned into a museum.
Roy's opened in 1938 and is located in Amboy, which some call a ghost town. The sign is a particularly popular photo spot for Route 66 road trippers. While some hope the cafe is fully restored in the future, visitors can still pop in and thumb through old newspapers or buy a souvenir and some snacks.
In 1926, the original end to the route was at Seventh and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. That spot wasn't a very scenic end for drivers after a long trip. So in 2009, the Route 66 Alliance and the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation decided to erect an “End of the Trail” sign on the pier. To get there, motorists drive toward the pier and then walk out about 200 feet. The end sign is just past the Bubba Gump shrimp franchise and just before the Playland arcade.