Route 66. Dating back to 1926. The classic American road trip, spanning 2448 miles across 8 States from Illinois, all the way to California on the West Coast. There is SO much to see and do. I spent just under 3 weeks (with a side trip to Vegas) on the road, averaging roughly around 300 miles day, but we did have to by pass some attractions. It’s impossible to stop at every museum and gift shop after all! Most of the Route passes through little forgotten towns, these are often where you’ll find the friendliest of people that are so happy to talk about their life on Route 66. Here’s a list of some of my must see Route 66 attractions, that I believe are well worth a stop.
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8 Route 66 Stops
SkyDeck @ the Willis Tower – Chicago
Location: 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606
Ok so this one is kinda cheating. The location of the Route 66 start sign is on Adams Street, between Wabash Ave and Michigan Ave, technically Adams Street runs alongside the Willis Tower but it’s not really on small town 66.
I’m including it in my list, not only because it has awesome glass pods that stick out from the side of the building, 103 floors up, but while we were up on the observation deck, we looked out in the direction of our route and suddenly 2448 miles seemed like a massively exciting challenge, you can literally see for miles, it’s flat everywhere and there’s a whole lot of open road between you and the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the country!
Route 66 Drive In Theatre – Carthage
Location: 17231 Old 66 Blvd, Carthage, MO 64836
Being from England, Drive In movies aren’t something we’re used to (however outdoor cinemas are growing in popularity but you just take a blanket…not your car). Open weekends between April to September, the Route 66 Drive In Theatre will show 2 fairly recent movies back to back for $7 per Adult ($3 child). When I visited, Cars 2 (which we were really happy about!) and Rio were being shown.
We parked with the ‘trunk’ facing the screen, lifted up the lid and sat in the back (we had an SUV so this worked!), however there were a lot of locals that had taken deck chairs to sit outside. The movie’s sound plays through the cars individual radios. There’s also a concession stand that sells drinks and snacks. In the summer, lighter evenings = later showing times.
Cars on the Route (Previously: 4 Women on the Route) – Galena
Location: 119 N Main St, Galena, KS 66739
Before the trip we were big ‘Cars’ (the movie) nuts, we stopped here because we wanted to see ‘Tow Tater’, a tow truck that was inspiration for Mater in the film. It’s on the forecourt of an old petrol station, that’s now a gift shop that sells snacks. One of the owners saw us on her way to work and even stopped to open up just for us. She told us all about how Disney Pixar came by and the history of the business. Route 66 may not cover much of Kansas (13miles) but it was such an interesting stop to make!
The Blue Whale – Catoosa
Location: 2600 Rte 66, Catoosa, OK 74015
A typical American roadside attraction. It’s exactly what it says on the tin, a big blue whale. Once upon a time it was a play frame built on a little lake, by a guy for his kids back in the early 1970’s. It has a diving platform, slides and a ‘loft’ up into the whale’s head. It’s no longer used for swimming but its open to the public just to have a look at and climb up the ladders etc. It’s just a fun and quirky stop!
Many of the Route 66 attractions have official roadside attraction boards with a little bit of infomation on them. You’ll find that a lot of the stops are ‘unmanned’ and you’re kinda free to just wander around at your own leisure! It’s a little bit strange because sometimes it feels like you are walking around someone’s garden/yard!
Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo
Location: 13651 I-40 Frontage Rd, Amarillo, TX 79124
One of my all time favourite Route 66 stops! 10 old scrap Cadillacs are buried nose down in the ground and people are encouraged to go and spray paint/graffiti over them, public art style! We picked up a cheap can of spray paint from the local Walmart and once we were finished, we passed it on to someone else that was arriving as we left. It’s just a bit of fun, writing your name/year etc, I climbed on them for a couple of photos, they are so bright and colourful. Every now and then they are painted a solid block colour to create a brand new fresh canvas.
Sandia Peak Tramway – Albuquerque
This went slightly wrong for us once we reached the top of the Sandia Mountains but the tram ride up was fun! The mountains literally stick out in one ridge line, all around it is completely flat, so on the journey up you can look right over Albuquerque and off into the distance! However as we reached the top, a storm came in and we couldn’t leave the station, there were no trams running back down until the storm had passed (it took around an hour), which was a shame because we then didn’t really have time to explore at the top of the mountain!
If you’re after a unique attraction just off of Route 66, the ‘Sky City‘ Acoma Pueblo is an interesting stop. It’s around a 20 minute/15 mile drive from I-40. You can take a guided tour of a Native American village that sits high up on top of a mesa in the desert. I found it very interesting but I did feel pressured that I had to buy the expensive products that were being sold (after paying an entrance fee, a photo permit and then obviously tipping the guide). There is also a dress code, no short shorts and shoulders have to be covered.
Oatman (Oatman HWY option)
Over the years, the route has slightly changed over time, such as rather than re-surface the gravel road, they built a new bit next to it…but the old stretch is still open to drive on. The Oatman HWY is a Route 66 off-shoot not far from Williams. It goes along a bendy mountain road and through the town of Oatman.
Now, it looks very much like a tourist town, in the sense it’s looks like you’ve just walked onto an old Western movie set, it’s full of gift shops and restaurants BUT during daylight hours, wild Burros (donkeys) roam the streets, poking their heads in shop doorways etc. They are harmless and cute. The babies have stickers on their heads saying ‘STOP don’t feed me’ because they are too young to digest the adult ‘donkey food’.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch – Helendale
Location: 24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande, CA 92368
Another quirky stop, at first we were slightly worried about visiting because it’s just located within a garden outside of a house, we had read thats it’s fine to wander in but it still makes you question if it’s ok! Elmer, the genius behind the art, saw us, came out and welcomed us into his garden, telling us that of course we were more than welcome to wander round and look at his artwork.
There are thousands of welded metal ‘trees’ with lots of old glass bottles covering the ‘branches’ and random objects placed on the top. It’s been over 30+ years in the making and there’s so much detail. We saw: old Route 66 signs, surfboards, parts of guitars, old car parts, everywhere you looked there was something different!
Recommended Guide Book
I recommend using EZ66 as a Route Guide Book. It was our life line with step by step driving instructions and it lists things to do and see and places to eat etc. If you plan on sticking to the old Route as much as possible, this guide book is definitely for you!
This is barely stratching the surface of Route 66! Just driving along you’ll see so much that you’ll want to pull over and take a look at. I haven’t even mentioned Seligman, Pontiac, St Louis, LA…the list goes on! This is just a summary of some of my favourite Route 66 attractions and everyone’s journey is different!
What are some of your favourite Route 66 stops?
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Disclosure: Please note Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking. It comes at no extra cost to you! As always, opinions are my own.