Being the quintessential American road trip, Route 66 has inspired a huge number of songs, TV shows, and films, including the Nat King Cole song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”, the Pixar movie “Cars”, and the book “The Grapes of Wrath”. Route 66 is a journey of adventure, discovery, and freedom to explore the open road ahead. “ As Ron Warnick from Route 66 News says, “ All travellers are different in their own way and may find different things on Route 66 rewarding. You may encounter things that you may not expect, and these things may change your life. “
Before you get your kicks on Route 66, check out our guide below:
Cozy Dog Drive In: Back in 1946, Ed Waldmire invented the famous hot dog on a stick, known as the Cozy Dog. The diner then became famous for its signature offering, which it makes daily, and has been operating on Route 66 since 1949. Cozy Dog moved to its current location in 1996, where customers can order inside, take their food away or get it from the drive through window. There’s a selection of other tasty treats too, lots of Route 66 memorabilia, and a guest book full of messages from tourists around the world.
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket: If you want to “get your chicks on Route 66”, then Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is the place to go. With its special recipe fried chicken, the Chicken Basket has been serving hungry travellers since the 1930s, when it began as a mere lunch counter attached to a service station in rural Hinsdale. In 1949, the restaurant was rebuilt right next door to its original location and has been a famous stop-off for those driving down Route 66 ever since.
Lou Mitchell’s: This iconic diner has been serving up big breakfasts and tasty lunches since 1923. Lou Mitchell’s is famous for giving customers waiting for a table fresh donut holes and for giving children and females a box of complimentary Milk Duds. The food is delicious and the prices are fantastic – often visited at the beginning of Route 66, it’s earned the name “the first stop on the Mother Road.”
Chain of Rocks Bridge: Linking the states of Missouri and Illinois, the mile-long Chain of Rocks Bridge is pretty unique and even has a 30 degree turn half way across it. Standing more than 60 ft. above the Mississippi river, the bridge has been a must-see landmark for anyone driving along Route 66 for decades. The bridge’s name comes from the multiple rocky ledges that lie just under this stretch of the river, beginning just north of St. Louis.
Muffler Men: There are numerous Muffler Men along Route 66, and these huge, fiberglass advertising figures have become famous in their own right. In Illinois there are several Muffler Men to be seen, and often the giants appear and disappear as quickly as some businesses do, but the Gemini Giant, the Lauterbach Tire Man, and “Tall Paul” the Hot Dog M-Man are three of the most famous in Illinois.
Twin Drive-In Theatre: In the late 1950s, Illinois was home to over 50 outdoor movie theatres, but after a steep decline in numbers, only a dozen or so remain. The Green Meadows Drive-In Theatre closed in 1982, but was refurbished and reopened as the Route 66 Drive-In by the Knight family in 2002 and has provided customers with a fun and authentic experience ever since. Grab some popcorn and a drink, and watch your favourite film under the stars with your fellow travellers.
Turkey Tracks: The famous turkey tracks were imprinted in the 1920s, when the Route 66 concrete was drying. The story of the culprits varies from a local farmer’s escaped turkeys to wild turkeys. Thanks to Zsolt Nagy, from Riding Route 66, for this tip!
The oldest hotel on Route 66 is the Eagle Hotel in Wilmington, Illinois.
‘Route 66’ – The Rolling Stones
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard: Ted Drewes is actually a pair of frozen custard shops founded in 1930 by Ted Drewes Senior. One of the stores is on South Grand Boulevard and one is open on Chippewa Street, a designated area of Route 66. No trip along the route is complete without a visit to Ted Drewes, and not only is there an amazing range of flavours to try out, in the winter you can even pick up your Christmas tree there!
Missouri Hick BBQ: If you’re looking for some melt in the mouth meat, then this is the place to go. Missouri Hick seasons its meat with a selection of house blend spices and smokes it for a good 12 hours before serving. You can choose from a range of delicious BBQ style meats, including turkey, chicken, beef, and bison, and pair your choice with a giant stuffed baked potato. While the food is a real winner here, the décor adds to its charm, with handmade tables, beautiful woodwork, and bucket lights to top it all off.
A Slice of Pie: Often overlooked by those on the road, A Slice of Pie is hidden away in an old strip mall, but is certainly not to be missed. While it has a selection of quiches, soups, salads, and pies on offer for lunch and dinner, most people come here for dessert. Offering a huge selection of pies, cakes, and cheesecake, if you have a sweet tooth, then you’re in for a treat. With slices of pie as large as a dinner plate, it may not be the cheapest place, but it is most definitely the best.
The World’s Largest Rocking Chair: Dan Sanazaro’s 42 ft. tall rocker was awarded the title of World’s Largest Rocking Chair by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008 and has been a popular Route 66 attraction ever since. To be certified by Guinness, the chair had to rock, which it originally did, but Sanazaro was worried tourists might overturn it, so securely welded the chair to its base. The rocking chair sits next to the Fanning Route 66 Outpost and was originally built as an attraction to bring people into the general store.
The Gateway Arch: This beautiful, sleek construction can be found on the shores of Mississippi and was built to honour the Americans that settled in the western United States. The Gateway Arch is 630 ft. tall and has a huge impact on the St. Louis skyline and can be seen from miles around. Visitors can actually take an elevator up and along the curve to take in the breath-taking views below.
Meramec Caverns: The charming Meramec Caverns are a set of limestone caves that were initially developed during the Civil War, when saltpetre was used to manufacture gunpowder. After the war, the caves became popular as a place for local farmers to host dances, and the largest cave is still used for craft shows and Easter services. A room in the caverns has featured in multiple films and TV shows, including ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and an episode of ‘Lassie’.
Route 66 crosses the Mississippi River, linking Missouri and Illinois.
‘Missouri’ – Low
Cars on the Route: One of the most famous stops on Route 66, this old Kan-O-Tex service station was originally bought by four women from Galena and operated as a tourist attraction called “Four Women on the Route” for a number of years. It has now been renamed as “Cars on the Route” thanks to its connection with the film “Cars”, and has a couple of vehicles outside, including the mining boom truck that was the inspiration behind the character ‘Tow Mater’ in the film. Snacks, sandwiches, and antiques are all available at Cars on the Route.
Eisler Bros. Riverton Store: The Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store in Kansas has been open longer than Route 66 has been in operation, and was originally built in 1925 by Leo Williams. Until 1973 it was called Williams’ Store, but it was changed when Joe and Isabell Eisler bought it. It’s now run by their nephew and is a great place to stop for a delicious sandwich and ice cold drink, and it also sells groceries, flowers, and a range of souvenirs.
Eye Scream Labs: This relatively new addition to Route 66 is perfect for a refreshing ice cream stop, but this isn’t a normal ice cream store. Eye Scream Labs uses liquid nitrogen to make its smooth and tasty ice cream, and while this phenomenon is nothing new and is becoming more popular across the country, Eye Scream Labs is the only one of its kind for hundreds of miles. This is a must-try for all ages and has a huge range of delicious and experimental flavours for the whole family to enjoy.
Marsh Arch Bridge: The last of its kind on Route 66, The Bush Creek Marsh Arch Rainbow Bridge is one of three originally built in 1923 on what would later become Route 66. Visitors can walk and drive over the bridge, but in a westbound direction only, and there is a bypass over Bush Creek for normal traffic. The bridge is now on the National Register of Historic Places, which keeps it safe from demolition or condemnation.
Carona Train Depot: The Carona Depot and Railroad Museum was formed in 1991 and is the core of the Heartlands Railroad Club. The museum was opened in order to display and preserve a range of railroad memorabilia. Members of the club also provide customers with short passenger train rides and motorcar excursions, but it’s best to call ahead and check out the opening hours and train ride schedule.
Litch Historical and Mining Museum: Named after the town’s local historian and much loved citizen, Howard “Pappy” Litch, the Litch Historical and Mining Museum contains numerous different artefacts and pieces of artwork from the days of the lead and zinc mining operations in Kansas. The museum itself occupies an old Missouri-Texas-Kansas railroad depot and looks fairly small, but there is actually a much larger building tucked just behind it that contains an array of mining equipment and mineral specimens.
Kansas has the shortest section of Route 66, with only 13 miles altogether.
‘Wichita Lineman’ – Glenn Campbell
Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger: Famous for its giant cuckoo bird made of yellow fibreglass that emerges from the front of the building, and a bright yellow and green neon sign that makes it hard to miss, Waylan’s Kuk-Ku Burger is known for its hamburgers. Back in the 1960s, Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger was an original fast food chain, but now this burger joint in Oklahoma is the last one standing. This is a great choice if you’re looking for a classic meal of burger and fries.
Clanton’s Café: One of the oldest family run eateries on Route 66, Clanton’s offers a variety of lovely home-style dishes, including chicken fried chicken, calf fries, hamburgers, and creamy mash potatoes. Clanton’s walls are lined with pictures of famous faces, including Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, and the cafe was once featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”.
POPS: Situated in Arcadia, POPS is a must stop destination. Featuring a 66 ft. high soda pop bottle made of multi-coloured LED lighting at the front of the building, POPS is hard to miss. With a record-breaking selection of ice-cold sodas and drinks, the restaurant has 600 different varieties to choose from. Lunch and dinner are served daily, and there’s a delicious breakfast selection at the weekend. POPS also has a gas station, so visitors can fill up their tanks before getting back on the road.
Totem Pole Park: Home to the largest concrete totem pole (60 ft. tall and 30 ft. in circumference), Ed Galloway’s 14-acre Totem Pole Park is a slight detour off Route 66, but definitely worth a visit. There are 11 sculptures in total built by Galloway, but none as big as the colourful totem pole that rests on the back of a turtle and depicts spirit lizards, owls, and Native American portraits. The park also features Galloway’s “Fiddle House”, which used to house his hand-carved fiddles and is supported by 25 totem poles inside and out.
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum: With over 28,000 Western and American Indian artefacts and pieces of artwork, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, formerly known as the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, opened nearly 50 years ago and has had over 11 million visitors from around the world. There are lots of different galleries and ever-changing exhibitions to check out, and the amazing 18 ft. tall statue of a Native American riding a weary horse called “The End of the Trail” is a must-see.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa: Built as an anniversary gift from Hugh David for his wife Zelta in the early 1970s, this 80 ft. long sperm whale featured a diving platform on its tail and a slide coming out of its head for their kids to enjoy. The whale and its surrounding pond quickly became a local summer hot spot, so David opened “Nature’s Acres”, which also featured an Animal Reptile Kingdom and a Trading Post. The attraction closed in 1988, but Catoosa locals have since restored and repainted the whale so it’s back to its brilliant, blue self.
You can still drive down Ribbon Road in Oklahoma, a 9 ft. wide stretch of the route that was built in the 1920s.
‘Oklahoma Hills’ – Woody Guthrie
Midpoint Café: The name says it all. The Midpoint Café is a restaurant, souvenir, and antique shop in Adrian, Texas – the geographical midpoint of Route 66, between Los Angeles and Chicago. Famous for its “ugly” pies, the Midpoint Café has a selection of tasty food and is a great place to stop off for a bite to eat and to get your picture taken with the Route 66 midpoint sign across the road.
The Big Texan: Opened by R.J. “Bob” Lee back in 1960, and moved to a new location in 1970, the Big Texan Steak Ranch is famous for its “72 Ounce Steak Challenge”. The steak, called “The Texan King”, is free to anyone who can eat it alongside a bread roll, baked potato, shrimp cocktail, and salad in less than an hour. The record is currently held by Joey Chestnut at just 8 minutes and 52 seconds.
Golden Light Café: This historic cafe is one of the originals on Route 66 and has barely changed since it opened. Serving fabulous Frito pie (called Flagstaff pie on the menu) and delicious burgers, the Golden Light Café is a must visit. Seating is limited, but there are plenty of smiles when you walk in, so take a break in the Lone Star State and enjoy some delicious American cuisine.
Cadillac Ranch: The famous Cadillac Ranch is in fact not a ranch at all, but a famous art sculpture in Amarillo, Texas. Created in 1974, by art group Ant Farm, it is made up of 10 junk Cadillacs that are half buried, nose down, in the ground. They all face west in a straight line, and represent a number of models from 1949 – 1963. They are apparently all buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Leaning Water Tower: Originally a functioning water tower, the leaning tower in Groom, Texas, now serves as a decorative attraction for passers-by. Destined for demolition, Ralph Britten bought the tower and moved it to use as a sign for his truck shop and as an information centre. Every Christmas the town mount a huge coloured star on top to celebrate the holiday season.
The Devil’s Rope Museum: There are many barbed wire fans in the Texas panhandle, and luckily for them the Devil’s Rope Museum celebrates nothing but barbed wire. When settlers first arrived, the prairie had no trees or rocks that could be used for fencing, so they invented over a thousand varieties of barbed wire – much of which can be seen in the museum. Along with the actual wire and tools, the museum displays a range of barbed wire artwork.
Adrian, Texas, calls itself the geographic “Midpoint of Route 66”
‘Headin for the Texas Border’ – Flamin Groovies
Santa Fe Bite: Previously known as the Bobcat Bite, before moving to the Garrett’s Desert Inn, the Santa Fe Bite is one of the top dining spots on Route 66. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Santa Fe Bite was featured in the Washington Post for serving up Santa Fe’s “Best Green Chili Cheeseburger”. It also offers homemade lemonade and creamy milkshakes, so there is something for everyone, whatever time of the day you stop off.
Joseph’s Bar & Grill: This restaurant gained its brilliant reputation by consistently serving its customers great food year after year. Joseph’s Bar & Grill is a family owned eatery that has been serving delicious New Mexico and American favourites like green chili burgers, steaks, and seafood since 1956. This Route 66 classic is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering a full bar, including some of the tastiest margaritas around.
Owl Café: A famous landmark in Albuquerque, the Owl Café has been popular with visitors since 1986 and stands out thanks to its giant owl shape. With a 1950’s diner theme, the Owl Café transports you back in time with its horseshoe shaped counter, jukebox, and pie case full of desserts. Keeping with the New Mexico theme, the Owl Café is also famous for its Green Chili Burger and has award winning shakes – there’s something on the menu for everyone.
Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway: The longest aerial tram in the US, the Sandia Peak Tramway spans the northeast edge of Albuquerque to the crest line of the Sandia Mountains. It takes 15 minutes to go up the mountain and from the top you can see around 11,000 square miles of New Mexico countryside. With breath-taking views and a range of activities, this unique experience is like nothing you will ever have done before.
Wild West Nature Park: This 122 acre wildlife refuge park and zoo has over 20 species of native New Mexican animals and is maintained by the New Mexico Wildlife Association. The nature park has wolves, bears, cougars, birds of prey, and more, all of which have been rescued from a variety of traumas. The park is open all year, so you can meet the animals, walk along the Birding Trail and take the kids on the Interactive Trail.
The Blue Hole: Located in Santa Rosa, this geographical sensation is a beautiful 80 ft. deep hole full of fresh, clear blue water. Santa Rosa is nicknamed the “City of Natural Lakes” due to the number of different places tourists can swim. Scuba diving is also allowed and makes a lovely change after a day of driving. This rare oasis is a must-visit for those travelling along Route 66.
The highest point on Route 66 is at Continental Drive in New Mexico
‘New Mexico’ – Johnny Cash
Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In: This historic roadside attraction was built in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo, mainly using scrap lumber from the local Santa Fe Railroad yard. The restaurant is famous for the decorated Chevy outside, that is brightly painted and adorned with horns, emblems, and even an artificial Christmas tree in the back. The founder’s sense of humour and playful manner is seen throughout the restaurant and in all the friendly staff.
Mr D’z Route 66 Diner: With a bright pink and turquoise colour scheme, and pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe adorning the walls, Mr D’z Route 66 Diner serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a fun fifties flair. A cross between a modern and vintage diner, Mr D’z has a typical American menu of cheeseburgers, onion rings, and root beer. With big portions and low prices, what’s not to love?
Twisters: Originally a Texaco filling station, Twisters 50’s Soda Fountain is a blast from the past, serving up hot dogs, ribs, steaks, and burgers, and specialising in retro delights like banana splits, sundaes, and hand spun malts. Twisters is an authentic throwback to the 1950s and definitely worth stopping at to enjoy some delicious ice-cream, while relaxing in a booth and listening to the jukebox tunes.
Petrified Forest National Park: The only National Park system that contains a part of Route 66, the Petrified Forest is named as such due to the amount of petrified wood that can be seen. This wood came about after the forest was buried in volcanic ash around 225 million years ago. The wood was then covered with silica and given a stone-like appearance and consistency.
Meteor Crater: Around 37 miles east of Flagstaff and 18 miles west of Winslow you will find one of Arizona’s greatest landmarks. The crater was made by a meteor approximately 50,000 years ago and is nearly a mile in diameter and 550 ft. deep. This privately owned tourist attraction has three lookout points on the rim of the crater, an indoor crater viewing area, and guided rim tours, where visitors can find out more.
Jackrabbit Trading Post: This trading post is very popular with Route 66 fans and is easily identified by its iconic jack rabbit on both the sign and the side of the building. The Jack Rabbit Trading Post is one of the world’s most famous Stop-N-Go convenience stores and it’s “Here It Is” billboard is a required photo stop for all Route 66 travellers.
Arizona has the longest stretch of the historic Route 66 that is still in use today.
‘Arizona’ – Kings of Leon
The Bagdad Café in Newberry Springs, California, is open from 7am to 7pm and is a must stop for fans of the German cult classic film of the same name. The film was actually shot at this sweet little café, so be sure to read and sign the guestbook, which contains hundreds of comments from fans who have travelled to the café from all over the world.
Big Dean’s Oceanfront Café
This sports bar has a beautiful beach view and is the perfect place to have your final Route 66 meal. Open from 11am to 11pm, you can sit on the patio with a cold draft beer and reminisce about your road trip across the county. Serving up burgers, wings, and a whole host of other American classics, you can be sure to end your journey in style.
This historic roadside diner was built in 1952 and takes its name from its original location at the summit of Cajon Pass. The menu features an array of typical diner food, with a few surprises here and there, and uses local ingredients such as ostrich eggs and buffalo. Famous customers include Elvis Presley, Pierce Brosnan, Pearl Bailey, and Clint Eastwood.
Just off Route 66, and only a 13 minute drive away from the San Bernadino International Airport, this fun accommodation dates back to 1949 and is made up of nineteen 30 ft. tall concrete teepees. Each teepee has a 25-inch TV, a bathroom, mini-fridge, and WiFi, and is likely to be the most unique place you stay at on Route 66.
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is a large, double-jointed pier that hosts a family amusement park, the old Looff hippodrome with its charming carousel, an aquarium, and an array of pubs and restaurants. The views of Malibu and South Bay are incredible from the pier, so stick around to see the sunset over dinner – you may even catch some of the live local music.
Universal Studios Theme Park
Take a drive over the famous Hollywood Hills to the Universal Studios theme park and enjoy a selection of rides based on some of your favourite films. With an array of shops, restaurants, and entertainment spaces in Universal CityWalk, you can really make the end of your Route 66 experience unforgettable.
A slight detour will take you to the site of the very first McDonald’s restaurant in Bernadino, California.
‘California Girls’ – The Beach Boys
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