Route 66 has been decommissioned for decades, but it’s still ripe with Americana
Where it all begins — or ends, depending on where you call home. Route 66, aka the “Main Street of America,” opened in 1926 and runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. Just outside of Grant Park, facing west on Adams Street in Chicago, you’ll find the original Begin Historic Illinois Route 66 sign. The end sign is just a block away, at Jackson Boulevard and South Michigan Avenue. Like generations before you, be sure to grab a bite at Lou Mitchell’s, a diner established in 1923 that was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Among the various retro motels and service stations in Carthage, you’ll also find the historic 66 Drive-In, which projected its first movie on September 22, 1949. After closing in 1985, it was renovated, reopened and now has showings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
A mere 13 miles of Route 66 ventured into the state of Kansas, so you might as well cruise through all of it: Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs. The famous “Kan-O-Tex” service station in Galena opened in 1934, and it’s now a diner and souvenir shop renamed “4 Women on the Route.”
Oklahoma is home to more than 400 miles of what John Steinbeck called “the Mother Road”—the most of any of the eight states Route 66 traversed between Chicago and Los Angeles. It’s also home to some of the many Route 66 museums, the largest (and some say best) of which is in Clinton, Oklahoma.
Route 66 didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Texas, just 177 miles across the panhandle between Oklahoma and New Mexico. But it made the most of its small share, almost all in the town of Amarillo, with its many historic sites. Just outside of town, you’ll also find the iconic Cadillac Ranch — rusted-out Cadillacs buried upright in the desert by artists in the mid-’70s. A short 30-minute detour on what is now I-40 brings you to the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas. Its slogan is: “When you’re here, you’re halfway there.”
Tucumcari, New Mexico
If you have kids, the Blue Swallow Motel is a must-see. It’s the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel office in the Disney-Pixar movie “Cars_.”_ Indeed, the 1,000-mile stretch between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Kingman, Arizona, served as inspiration for the entire film.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
In the heyday of Route 66, Albuquerque was dotted with motels and motor lodges, a handful of which — like the Luna Lodge or Tewa Motor Lodge — are still standing, with all the appropriate historical designations. But perhaps the two most iconic stops in town are the KiMo Theater, a gorgeous Pueblo Deco building from 1927, and the 66 Diner, which was originally a Phillips gas station.
Gallup, New Mexico
Further east in Gallup — burned into our collective memory in the lyrics of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” — you’ll find the historic Hotel El Rancho, where then-actor Ronald Reagan liked to stay.
Arizona overflows with iconic Route 66 stops — the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, the Hackberry General Store, bustling Flagstaff, iconic Kingman, countless neons signs, diners, motels and the like — but Seligman is the only place that calls itself the “Birthplace of the Historic Route 66.” In 1987, Angel Delgadillo, a local barber, along with fellow business people, successfully lobbied the state to designate Route 66 as a historic highway.
San Bernardino, California
The city made it into the lyrics of the Nat King Cole song, so there must be something to see in San Bernardino, California. Perhaps it’s the Wigwam Motel, one of only three left in existence. (Originally, there were seven.) Or maybe it’s the original McDonald’s, opened in 1940, which is now a museum.
Santa Monica, California
How do you know when you’ve traveled the full 2,450-some miles of Route 66? When you get to the ocean. Officially — well, since 2009, as declared by the Route 66 Alliance — the end of the line is the Santa Monica Pier.
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