Historic Route 66 draws more than 13 million people annually to cruise the 2,400-mile highway from Chicago to Los Angeles in search of Roadside Americana featuring one-of-a-kind restaurants, neon-laced motels, and quirky and cool attractions.
When traveling east to west, put these 10 spots on your “don’t miss” Route 66 list:
1. Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, Chicago, Ill.: Fuel up at Lou Mitchell’s as you begin your journey. Founded in 1923, the popular eatery is famous for doling out millions of fresh donut holes to waiting customers and complimentary Milk Duds to children and ladies.
2. Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis, Mo.: Spanning the Mississippi River on the north end of St. Louis, the bridge’s most prominent feature is its 24-degree bend. Opened in 1929, the bridge was closed for repairs in 1970 and never reopened to automobile traffic. However, in 1998, the span was renovated for pedestrian and bike use.
3. 4 Women on the Route, Galena, Kan.: Kansas has the shortest section of the legendary highway—13 miles in all—but makes the most of the road in Galena, where Four Women On The Route, a sandwich and gift shop housed in a restored service station, is a highlight. Displayed outside the attraction is “Tow Tater,” a 1951 mining boom truck that inspired the character “Tow Mater” in the 2006 animated movie Cars.
4. Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Clinton, Okla.: Operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society, this attraction is one of the best museums devoted to the fabled highway, filled with retro exhibits, vintage cars and an indoor “drive-in theatre” where you can view a Route 66 documentary, all for an admission of $4 per adult.
5. U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas: One of the route’s most iconic architectural structures, this gleaming green gas station and restaurant have been painstakingly restored. Serving thousands of travelers from 1936 until the mid-1990s, the inn today houses local tourism offices.
6. Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas: Rancher/art collector Stanley Marsh created this “carscape” in 1974. The roadside pop art collection features 10 vintage Cadillacs buried nose-down in concrete. Over the years, the cars have been assaulted by the elements and spray-painted by thousands of visitors.
7. Tucumcari, N.M.: Home to neon-laced motels like Motel Safari and the Blue Swallow, Tucumcari also features curio shops and diners dating back to the road’s glory days from the 1930s to the 1950s and its famous “Tucumcari Tonight!” roadside signs, which promoted the town as a favorite overnight stopping point. Tucumcari is one of the highway’s best-preserved towns.
8. Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Ariz., and San Bernardino, Calif.: Two out of America’s three surviving renovated concrete teepee hotels (the third is in Kentucky) are along Route 66. Constructed in the shape of traditional American Indian teepees, these distinctive rooms include typical motel amenities such as bathrooms, carpeting and air conditioning. Yes, you really can sleep in a teepee on Route 66!
9. Snow Cap Drive-In, Seligman, Ariz.: Established by the late Juan Delgadillo, the Snow Cap is famous for “cheeseburgers with cheese!” and continues to be operated by family members. Juan’s brother Angel Delgadillo, a retired barber called the Father of Route 66 for leading a campaign to revive the highway, founded a popular gift shop here. The entire town features whimsical Route 66-themed shops.
10. Santa Monica Pier, Calif.: Historically, Route 66 ended a few blocks north of this landmark pier, which opened in 1909. Its designation in 2009 as the official western terminus of Route 66 acknowledges the common perception that the highway ends here. The pier features a sign that declares “Santa Monica 66 End of the Trail.”