Vintage neon signs, mom and pop diners, historic bridges, and historic buildngs, are just some of the roadside attractions on Route 66 to find.”
Will Rogers Highway. The Main Street of America. The Mother Road. It doesn’t matter what you call Route 66 when it comes to road trips, it doesn’t get any better. The reason this road is so famous is that it was one of the first highways to cross the country when family automobiles and road trip vacations were gaining popularity.
Thousands of people set out each year to explore this historic route that winds its way from Chicago, Illinois all the way to Los Angeles, California. Passing through the varying landscapes of the Midwest, Great Plains, and Southwest, this highway boasts a collection of quirky places, unusual landmarks and famous roadside attractions to rival all other U.S. Highways.
You’ll find a plethora of things to explore as you dine in hometown diners and slumber in mom and pop motels along this iconic route. And while there are many attractions that you may have heard of like the Blue Whale of Catoosa located just outside Tulsa, Oklahoma or the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, there are many lesser-known attractions that are well worth a detour along the way.
Must See Roadside Attractions on Route 66
Route 66 Attractions in Illinois
Illinois has 301 miles of Route 66 as it travels from grand beginnings in downtown Chicago to the Missouri border at St. Louis.
Chicago is worthy of a few posts all its own, but if you’re itching to get on the road, try not to hit Chicago’s rush hour traffic (generally 6am-10am and 3pm-7pm) or you’ll be lucky to see St. Louis in the same day!
Begin Route 66 Sign, Chicago
To properly document this trip, you must get a photo (or four) at the “begin Route 66” sign located in Chicago. The sign has moved a few times over the years, and there are a couple of signs now, but the best one to find is across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago, at 99 E. Adams St, at the corner of Adams and Michigan. Adams Street is a West-bound one-way that will take you past Willis Tower, Union Station and out of the city in a southwest direction to begin your big adventure!
The Gemini Giant, Wilmington
About 60 miles out from Chicago, plan a quick stop in the small town of Wilmington to check out the Gemini Giant. A prime example of the “Muffler Men” that started popping up at businesses in the 1960s, these 20-foot-tall fiberglass statues were meant to draw business in from the road. Many of them have gone by the wayside, but the Gemini Giant remains in Wilmington, holding a rocket ship, which in addition to the “Gemini” name is a testament to America’s obsession with all things outer space in that time.
Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum, Pontiac
Roughly 100 miles from the Chicago “Begin” Route 66 sign, you’ll find yourself in Pontiac, Illinois. The Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum is a must-stop; not only is it free but the museum has loads of information about the infamous road, plus many artifacts from Bob Waldmire’s life.
The Route 66 legend and his Volkswagen Microbus provided the inspiration for “Fillmore” in Disney’s movie, Cars and you can see it on display. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and don’t forget to go outside behind the museum to see Bob’s school bus turned mobile home and to take a picture in front of the giant Pontiac mural lined with original Route 66 bricks. For Illinois Route 66 attractions, visit the Dang Travelers.
- Angela from Dang Travelers
Lincoln Home, Springfield
Abraham Lincoln came to Springfield, Illinois at the age of 28 and made his home here for many years. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is open for tours, and there are many other Lincoln-themed attractions in Springfield, including his Presidential Library.
Springfield is also the state capital of Illinois, so you can see the State Capitol Building, too.
Route 66 Attractions in Missouri
Route 66 slices through Missouri at an angle from St Louis in the East to Joplin in the West, where the highway then dips into Kansas for a hot minute. Missouri is chock full of fun roadside attractions along Route 66. These are a few favorites.
The Gateway Arch, St. Louis
As you leave Illinois and cross the Mississippi River into Missouri, one of the biggest and brightest roadside attractions welcomes you to a new state.
The Gateway Arch stands as a symbol of American optimism and commemorates St. Louis’ role in America’s 19th century westward expansion. It’s worth a stop to ride an elevator up to the top of the world’s tallest arch.
Missouri Ozarks, Cuba
Cuba is one of those gems that has everything I like when visiting a community- historic architecture, public art, hospitable people. I’ve traveled through Cuba several times and one of these days I’d love to spend a couple of days exploring thoroughly.
If you’re only passing through, at the very least spend some time checking out the Murals of Cuba that tell the history of the city through beautiful paintings.
The World’s 2nd Largest Rocking Chair, Fanning
Although this giant rocking chair in Fanning, Missouri has been bumped from the top spot by the giant rocking chair in Casey, Illinois, it’s still a fun stop along Route 66 in Missouri.
The chair was unveiled on April Fool’s Day in 2008 by local business owners. The location is at the Fanning 66 Outpost where you can buy souvenirs, snacks and lots of fun soda flavors.
Munger Moss Motel, Lebanon
For an overnight stop in a classic Route 66 motel, check out the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon.
This mom-and-pop roadside motel has been owned and operated by the same family for the last 42 years, and while the price may have increased a bit from the $9 rates in the 1970s, the personal and friendly service today hasn’t changed a bit.
- Becky from The Missouri Mom
Route 66 Attractions in Kansas:
Kansas has the distinction of holding the smallest section of the original Route 66. Barely over 13 miles of the Mother Road runs through this state, but those 13 miles hold some memorable sights.
Lead mining brought thousands to the area and created vast fortunes for many. Spend time at one of the area’s history museums to read about these interesting times.
You will also want to visit the last Marsh arch bridge left on Route 66. You may even run into some interesting characters as we did. You will certainly drive away with a new appreciation for this sliver of America’s Highway.
- Jeff & Crystal from Our Changing Lives
Cars on the Route, Galena
Did you know that one of Pixar’s most popular animated films was largely inspired by real people and places along the Mother Road? Cars on the Route in Galena, Kansas is one of many inspiration sources for the Cars movie found along Route 66.
Your entire family will enjoy visiting this beautifully restored Kan-O-Tex service station to see the old boom truck they lovingly call Tow Tater.
This 1951 International Boom truck inspired the character of Tow Mater in Cars. Your children will also be delighted to discover other restored vehicles resembling characters from the movie. Enjoy some friendly discussion about Route 66 with the fantastic staff while you peruse the gift shop there.
Cars on the Route sells sandwiches, snacks, antiques, and souvenirs.
- April from MiniVanAdventures
Route 66 Attractions in Oklahoma
Route 66 continues its southwest journey through 375 miles of Oklahoma. From the northeast corner at the Kansas border to the western border into Texas, these are a couple of fun Route 66 stops in Oklahoma.
The Blue Whale, Catoosa
The Blue Whale of Catoosa is easily one of the most well-known attractions along Route 66. Located just outside Tulsa, this amazing roadside attraction was built by Hugh Davis as an anniversary gift for his wife.
This attraction has been drawing crowds since its construction in 1970.
Read more about the Blue Whale of Catoosa here.
Pops Soda Ranch, Arcadia
Pops 66, or Pops Soda Ranch, is a fun stop along Route 66 in Arcadia Oklahoma where you can try all the soda flavors your heart desires.
You’ll be able to spot it on the side of the road thanks to the 66-foot tall pop bottle. If you’re arriving at night, you’ll be welcomed by its neon glow. Pops is a gas station/diner/soda shop in Arcadia, the original location.
There is a second location in Nichols Hills, Oklahoma, too. Once you walk in, you’ll see the glass walls decorated by color with different soda bottles.
These are for sale, or you can grab a cold one instead. You can build your own six-pack from choices of 700 different sodas to include anything from Chocolate flavored to a classic cola.
If you’re in the area, it’s a fun stop that won’t take up half of your day. Plus, you get to try weird new beverages and when is that not fun?
- Megan from Red Around the World
Weatherford Wind Energy Center, Weatherford
We “discovered” this interesting stop a few years ago on a road trip to California. Sure, we’ve all see wind turbines grouped up like a flock of geese in farmer’s fields. But have you ever seen a wind turbine blade up close? They are unbelievably massive!
Weatherford is home to the second-largest wind farm in Oklahoma.
The Weatherford Wind Energy Center has a giant turbine blade on display, as well as an interpretive center where you can learn more about wind energy.
Route 66 Attractions in Texas
The wide-open plains of Texas are prime road trip territory. Route 66 cuts through the panhandle of Northern Texas, with 179 miles through the Lone Star State. Even in this short distance, there are always roadside attractions to check out!
Leaning Water Tower, Groom
You’ve heard of the leaning tower of Pisa, but what about the leaning water tower of Groom Texas? You may not have heard of it, we hadn’t either, but you can’t miss it if you’re driving Route 66 through Texas.
This quirky roadside attraction doesn’t appear to serve a purpose any longer, as the businesses it once marked are now closed. However, it’s a fun photo opp as you make your way through Texas.
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
A much more famous Texas roadside attraction is the Cadillac Ranch, just outside Amarillo, Texas. The “ranch” features ten Cadillacs buried face-first with the trunk-end sticking up out of the dirt.
Visitors are free to bring spray paint and leave their own mark on this art installation that’s been an attraction that has welcomed Route 66 travelers since the 1970s.
Route 66 Attractions in New Mexico
Route 66 enters New Mexico at the town of Glenrio and has several roadside attractions to check out. With 392 miles, New Mexico can claim the longest stretch of Route 66 in the country, although it can be hard to follow in some places where Interstate 40 has taken over.
Stopping on the stretch of Route 66 running through Tucumcari, New Mexico feels a bit like visiting a ghost town that people still live in.
But just as people find beauty in the remains of Rome’s Colosseum or Athens’ Parthenon, so is it worth visiting the strands that remain along this stretch of Route 66 after the Interstate Highway Act signed its death sentence back in 1956.
- Sage from EverydayWanderer.com
Cindy from Exploration Vacation agrees that this stretch of Route 66 is desolate but offers additional suggestions on what to see.
Whatever you hope to find along Route 66 can be found in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
Looking for ghosts? There are plenty hiding in long-abandoned motels and overgrown lots watched over by rusty signs.
Just need a few souvenirs or gifts? Tee Pee Curios has something for everyone, just as it has for generations of travelers before.
Hoping to do a little time travel? Check into one of Tucumcari’s lovingly restored classic motels.
A room at the iconic Blue Swallow Motel, the fun and funky Safari, or the swanky Roadrunner isn’t just a comfortable place to spend the night – it’s a carefully furnished time machine where the past isn’t past and a trip along Route 66 is still all about the journey.
- Cindy from Exploration Vacation
One of the best stops to make along Route 66 is in Santa Fe, New Mexico! The famed road cuts right through the historic downtown area.
There are so many wonderful things to see and do in the historic town from visiting the native American market to buy handmade turquoise accessories, indulging in authentic Mexican cuisine, taking in incredible nature, and learning about the unique history of the area.
If you only have time for a roadside stop, pay a visit to the house and studio of globally acclaimed artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.
The artist refurbished an adobe home amidst incredible nature in Abiquiú, which is near her beloved Ghost Ranch, which should also be visited! Be sure to find the unique space in her home which inspired her so much that she painted it over 20 times.
Tickets must be booked in advance and can be reserved here.
- Lola from Miss Filatelista
66 Diner, Albuquerque
Any fan of Route 66 has to make a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
After all, Albuquerque contains the largest urban stretch of Route 66 in the whole country! (Albuquerque also contains the only place where Route 66 intersects itself.) But Albuquerque is also home to one of the best Route 66 themed restaurants in the country: the 66 Diner. The building was constructed as a Philip’s gas station in the 1940s, but it was converted into a restaurant in the 80s.
The 66 Diner is famous for giant burgers, homemade pies, and thick, creamy, creative milkshakes. Do like the New Mexicans do and get the green chile bacon cheeseburger. Top it off with cherry pie and a Pink Cadillac milkshake (strawberry + cookies and creme) and you’ll feel just like you’ve stepped back in time to the Mother Road’s heyday!
- Stella Jane from Around the World in 24 Hours
Route 66 Attractions in Arizona
After New Mexico, Arizona claims the second largest stretch of Route 66, with 388 miles. Route 66 enters Arizona on the Navajo reservation near the town of Lupton.
Petrified Forest and Wigwam Motel, Holbrook
Holbrook is full of Route 66 attractions, including some roadside dinosaurs! The National Park features intriguing sandstone landscapes in the Painted Desert unit, while the Petrified Forest area includes hundreds of Petrified wood samples.
Holbrook is also home to the uber-kitschy Wigwam Motel, a throwback to the 30s and 40s when this was actually a motel chain with multiple locations.
Standing on the Corner, Winslow
You can’t get your kicks on Route 66 if you’re not standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona. Such a fine place to be! Thanks to the Eagles, this is now a real roadside attraction, complete with a girl (my lord!) in a flat-bed Ford!
Meteor Crater, Winslow
This is not a kitschy 1950s creation, but rather a somewhat terrifying natural landmark along Route 66 just west of Winslow. This real-life Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across.
Online it may just look like a hole in the ground, but once you see it in person, you truly understand the magnificence of this impact. The visitor center is recently remodeled and includes interesting exhibits as well as a short film.
Walnut Canyon National Monument, Flagstaff
Just before you reach Flagstaff, stop off at Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of several great places to see Indian ruins in Arizona. After driving through the desert for days, the lush pine forests of Flagstaff are a welcome change. You can take a short hike into Walnut Canyon to see Sinagua ruins from 800 years ago. A visitor center explains more about the Sinagua culture and how they came to live in this canyon.
- Leigh, Campfires & Concierges
Wild Burros, Oatman
Of course, a big part of Route 66 is the road itself! Driving the Oatman Highway and the Sitgreaves Pass between Kingman and Oatman is a must. The road winds through the desert and offers up some amazing scenery.
Try and find the Shaffer Spring. A staircase up the rock face leads to a small pond that has goldfish in it, which locals have been ‘stocking’ for years and the views from the top are worth the climb (just be aware of the bees)!
When you reach Oatman you’ll be greeted by the friendly wild Burros, a type of donkey that roams free around this little Wild West-style town.
For travelers with kids or younger travelers, finding the Route 66 movie locations from the Pixar Cars movie is super fun!
- Kylie from Between England & Iowa
Route 66 Attractions in California
Back when Route 66 was just gaining popularity, everyone dreamed of visiting California. It was not a quick trip, but the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean are there are greet you at the end.
If your kids are like ours, they will want to get to the ocean quickly, but there are still a few stops along the way before Route 66 comes to an end.
Fair Oaks Pharmacy, Pasadena
Pasadena, California lies more than 2000 miles from Route 66’s eastern terminus in Chicago.
After days of driving cross country, westbound travelers would have been thrilled to arrive in Pasadena, knowing they had reached the Mother Road’s last stretch into Los Angeles. Many of these road warriors would have enjoyed a last stop at Fair Oaks Pharmacy (then called South Pasadena Pharmacy).
The pharmacy, at first, was just that – a pharmacy. But when Route 66 came through town, the pharmacy quickly expanded to capitalize on tourism, growing to include a soda fountain serving ice cream, shakes, and a lunch menu. Turn of the millennium renovations have restored Fair Oaks Pharmacy to the pinnacle it was during The Route’s glory days. So today’s travelers can connect with history and have an amazing lunch all in one go!
Learn more about Pasadena along Route 66 here.
- Julie from Open Wide the World
Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
At the end of Route 66, you’ll find yourself at the famous Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California, a crucial stop on any Los Angeles itinerary.
Probably the most important thing to do here is to take a picture with the famous “End of the Trail” sign that stands a little way out onto the pier.
While you’re there consider checking out some of the shops and restaurants or jump on some of the family-friendly rides at Pacific Park. Then, once you’ve had your fill of fun, sit back and relax at the end of the pier to catch a beautiful sunset.
What better way to end your long journey along Route 66?
- Kiyoko from Footsteps of a Dreamer
Have you traveled along Route 66? What attractions did you find most memorable?
© 2019, Tonya Prater. All rights reserved.