What to see on Route 66? That's a question so big that entire books have been written trying to answer it. And not many of those books have succeeded, either.
In fact, even some of the largest tomes written about the historic road tend to leave out some of its most revealing and exciting sights – usually just because those spots are placed a little bit off the well-paved path.
Consider the following list a small, condensed sampler of the kinds of experiences you might have if you were to make your own trip down 66.
We've organised them state-by-state, to help keep it simple. But even within such a small sample group, you'll find a wide range of attractions, fit to please all different kinds of interests and passions. That's indicative of just how much 66 has to offer – in this article alone, we've got iconic roads, caves, restaurants, motels, movie theatres, and so much more.
It just goes to show what a diverse and varied collection of experiences you can have while travelling west on "the mother road" – so long as you've been pointed in the right directions!
Presuming that you're starting your journey in Chicago, why not start things off at the (unofficial) starting point?
While traditional U.S. highways have no start or endpoint, the Historic Route 66 does have something of a beginning: The Eastern Terminus of Route 66, located in Chicago. Because the tradition of Route 66 has so much to do with people travelling west, this easternmost terminus has come to represent the "start of the journey" for so many travellers who find themselves on the storied highway.
Because of the vagaries involved in U.S. roadways, there's some ambiguity about where exactly the Route might "officially" start. But you can find the sign commemorating the "begin" of Historic Route 66 on the corner of Michigan and Adams street – and that's as good a place to start as any other!
As Route 66 leads you towards the Ozarks in Missouri, one can select any number of unique locations or landscapes to visit. But few measure up to the Meramec Caverns, found beneath the valley of the same name. Found right along the 66 route, the Meramec Caverns are open to visitors daily, with guided tours available as well.
Only a small amount of the historic route stretches through Kansas – but even still, there's numerous special locations and attractions that may temporarily draw you away from the road. Like for instance the Independent Gas and Oil Station in Baxter Springs, which has been preserved as a historic site in the United States.
Offering a real look at that classic old "American service station" (just as it was captured in movies, photographs, and Norman Rockwell paintings), the Independent connects back to the earliest origins of Route 66.
If you haven't learned enough about the history of Route 66 from the road itself, then you can make a stop at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, in the town of Clinton. Promising "a look at the history, myths, signs, photos & music of the iconic road, plus a diner replica, the museum promises to be an ideal place to rest up for a couple hours (that is, unless you'd prefer a real-deal diner – and if that's the case, there are plenty of those to be found along the route in Oklahoma as well!)
Everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes the many attractions down this portion of 66! There is the half-kitsch, half-majestic Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, for instance, which seems to stand as a massive celebration of not just the vehicle in question but Americana in general.
And the size differential extends to the food, as well. One of the most famous eateries on all of Route 66 is the Big Texan Steak Ranch, also located in Amarillo. Offering a world-famous 72oz. steak (offered free to anyone who can eat the meal, in full, complete with all the sides and "fixings"). Some cliche phrases endure because they're true – and the steakhouse offers yet another example that "everything's bigger in Texas". This is not just a saying, but a fact.
So much of American culture was shaped by the movies, especially during the years when Route 66 was being used by migrants across the country. With that in mind, while passing through Albuquerque in New Mexico, why not stop by the historic Kimo Theater?
A true "movie palace" as they existed during the silent era of movies (and the Great Depression that followed), the Kimo is also an incredible work of architecture, illustrating the art deco style that was so common during the same timeframe (and celebrated to this very day). Restored in recent decades and now open for both tours and shows, the Kimo is a small piece of a large American story.
Old "ghost towns" are often considered to be a major part of the contemporary Route 66 journey – and Twin Arrows, in central Arizona, certainly fits the bill. While you're there, you can also make a stop at the "ruins" of the Twin Arrows Trading Post, an abandoned old meeting space that now hosts a truly overpowering atmosphere.
Once you reach California, there's almost too much to see! It may even demand a trip of its own. But if you're continuing your journey past the western terminus in Santa Monica, here's just a few of the additional places and spaces we recommend: The Santa Monica Pier, the Venice Beach Boardwalk, the Griffith Observatory, theme parks including Universal Studios, museums and other art institutions including the Getty – and, of course, Hollywood!
For all this and so much more, a trip down Route 66 has proven to be an essential one for any automobile or motorcycle enthusiasts across generations. For information on our next guided tours (and whether or not there are open spots currently available), contact Route 66 Tours now.