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21 Top Things to See & Do on Route 66

Charlotte Boswell

With its quirky roadside diners, retro neon signs, world-renowned museums, spectacular national parks and iconic landmarks there is plenty to see and do on Route 66. The ‘Mother Road’ is an US institution and bisects the heart of the country providing a glimpse into the individualism and idiosyncrasies of American society and culture. For a true taste of authentic Americana here are our highlights of the key places to visit on Route 66. 

1. Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo, Texas)

A short 15-minute drive from Amarillo lies one of the most iconic and quirky sites on Route 66; Cadillac Ranch a public art installation and sculpture. Amongst the red Texan desert sits 10 half-buried graffiti-covered Cadillacs nose-first in the ground. Visitors are encouraged to create their own art by spray painting a part of their chosen Cadillac.

Upturned cars covered in graffiti at the Cadillac Ranch in the USA

Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili

2. The Painted Desert (Indian Wells, Arizona)

It is the kaleidoscope of colours and layers gives this vast and beautiful landscape its name. This region of rocky badlands located in northern Arizona features rocks in every hue, from sunrise pinks and oranges to deep greys and lavenders. Take a short detour from Route 66 and be sure not to miss the quintessential experience of watching the sunset over the Painted Desert, where the sky and rocks morph into a canvas of fiery colour.

Red hues of the Painted Desert in Indian Wells, Arizona

3. The Milk Bottle Grocery (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

Atop a traditional red brick building sits a giant milk bottle. Why you ask? Well why not, this is Route 66. A classic landmark and photo stop of the Mother Road in Oklahoma City, the Milk Bottle Grocery historically served as a grocery and milk store, however now it is home to a Vietnamese café serving bánh mì and iced coffee.

Giant milk bottle statue outside the Milk Bottle Grocery in Oklahoma City

Photo credit: Nicolas Henderson

4. St Louis and the Gateway Arch (St Louis, Missouri)

St Louis is generally the first or second stop after starting the Route 66 drive from Chicago. Situated along the Mississippi River, it is a melting pot of culture, history, music and sport. Cheer on the St Louis Cardinals during a baseball game, hike or bike through the beautiful Forest Park and explore the city’s fine food and drink offerings. The iconic Gateway Arch is also an attraction not to missed, visitors can take a 630-foot ride to the top of the famous monument for sensational views of the city.

Panoramic view of the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri

5. Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum (Pontiac, Illinois) 

One-hundred miles from the traditional start point of Route 66 stands the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum which is home to thousands of pieces of historic memorabilia and artefacts from the glory days of the Mother Road. Get a photo of the iconic Route 66 mural at the museum, view images of the road’s history and learn about life when the route was the most important highway in America.

Route 66 wall mural in Pontiac, Illinois

Image credit: David Wilson

6. Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park (Foyil, Oklahoma) 

Holding the record for the world’s largest concrete totem pole lies Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park, an art installation three miles off Route 66. The park was built in 1937 by retired art teacher Ed Galloway because, well he could! It is the oldest and largest example of folk art in Oklahoma and the cleverly carved and painted structures featured are mainly based on the figurative images of birds and Native Americans.

Colourful totem pole at Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park in Foyil, Oklahoma

Photo credit: CGP Grey and www.CGPGrey.com

7. Petrified Forest (Holbrook, Arizona)

Before reaching the Wild West town of Holbrook, a stop off in the otherworldly Petrified Forest National Park in north-eastern Arizona is a must. It is home to the world’s largest collection of petrified wood, where some pieces’ lifecycle began 225 million years ago. The Petrified Forest also offers vividly coloured landscapes, a range of badlands wildlife and has a strong Native American culture where you will find ruins and petroglyphs.

Eerie landscapes of the Petrified Forest in Holbrook, Arizona

Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili

8. Santa Monica Pier (LA, California)

The end point for the epic Route 66 means more iconic insignia; cue the ‘Route 66 – End of the Trail’ sign that sits on the famous Santa Monica Pier. The pier’s infamous big wheel set against the sweeping sand beach and Pacific Ocean is a classic US sight. Home to a historic carousel and amusement park, the pier also offers interesting free historical walking tours, a selection of American diners and restaurants and a wide range of events including yoga and aquarium story time.

Beach front homes and palm trees in LA close to Santa Monica Pier

9. The Blue Whale (Catoosa, Oklahoma)

Another quirky roadside attraction is the Blue Whale of Catoosa, a waterfront structure that is one of the most recognisable icons of Route 66. Immersed in a beautiful pond and surrounded by a shaded picnic area, it is a great spot to stop and eat al fresco before the drive ahead to Oklahoma City.

Giant stylised Blue Whale sculpture in Catoosa, Oklahoma

Photo credit:Chuck Coker

10. The Wigwam Motel (Holbrook, Arizona)

The infamous Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona is one of the two remaining Wigwam properties on the Mother Road and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1950, this kitsch and original motel offers guests the chance to sleep in wigwams for the night, although funnily enough, the rooms are shaped like tipis not wigwams!

Iconic teepees of the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona

Photo credit: Joseph Novak

11. Palo Duro Canyon State Park (Amarillo, Texas)

A short 30-minute drive from Amarillo lies the intriguing and stunning Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It is the second-largest canyon in the US and one of the most magnificent natural attractions with extraordinary vistas of colour and rock formations. Follow the trails used by Native Americans and early Spanish explorers by hiking, biking or horse riding, or enjoy a picnic to take in the mesmerising vista.

Panoramic view of the red rolling terrain of Palo Duro Canyon State Park

12. Lou Mitchell’s Diner (Chicago, Illinois)

Regarded as the ‘First Stop on the Mother Road’, Lou Mitchell’s is your typical Route 66 all-American diner. Established in 1923, three years before Route 66 was created, it served as a starting point for hungry drivers about to hit the first stretch of road. Lou’s is renowned for their hearty breakfasts, fluffy pancakes, prime US burgers and fresh fruit shakes.

Charming frontage of Lou Mitchell’s Diner in Chicago, Illinois

Photo credit: Laura LaRose

13. Route 66 Museum (Clinton, Oklahoma)

One of the best rated Route 66 museums, Clinton offers guests a fantastic journey through the history of the nation’s most revered highway. Highlights include a replica 1950’s diner, a ‘Dust Bowl’ experience, Big Band music from the era and changing special exhibits focusing on different Route 66 aspects.

Artefacts from the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma

Photo credit: Kevin

14. Tee Pee Curios Shop (Tucumcari, New Mexico)

The colourful concrete wigwam and neon signs of Tee Pee Curios are hard to miss whilst driving through Tucumcari. Once a gas station built in the 1940’s, the business had to lose its gas pumps due to the widening of Route 66. However, not one to miss an opportunity, the owner turned the quirky building into a souvenir shop selling kitsch gifts and Route 66 memorabilia to passing drivers and still stands today.

Unique architecture of the Tee Pee Curios Shop in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Photo credit: el-toro

15. Meramec Caverns (Stanton, Missouri)

The revered Meramec Caverns are one of the most visited cave systems in Missouri and a highlight landmark for those driving Route 66. The 4.6-mile cavern system was formed from the erosion of limestone deposits over millions of years and the caves also contain artefacts dating back to Pre-Columbian Native Americans. Take a guided tour of this natural wonder and be amazed by the history and beauty of the cavern.

Stalagmites and stalactites of the Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri

16. The Gemini Giant (Wilmington, Arizona)

The 30-foot tall Gemini Giant is one of many of the colossal ‘Muffler Man’ statues found on Route 66. A Muffler Man was an American advertising concept during the sixties that consisted of building giant fiberglass models to draw attention to roadside diners and souvenir shops. The Gemini Giant found in the quaint town of Wilmington advertises the Launchpad Diner and is themed after the Gemini space program.

View of the helmeted Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Arizona

17. Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Located on the eastern edge of Albuquerque in the Sandia Foothills, this aerial tramway will transport you 2.7-miles overlooking deep canyons and breathtaking terrain. Once at the summit, be inspired by the stunning vista from the observation deck of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment. Hike the surrounding forest but make sure not to miss the sunset where the desert sky produces a spectacular myriad of colours and light.

Panoramic view from the summit of the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Photo credit: Dan Costin

18. Rialto Square Theatre (Joliet, Illinois)

The stunning Rialto Square Theatre was originally opened as a vaudeville movie palace in 1926. Designed in the Neo-Baroque style, the theatre is adorned with dramatic glass chandeliers, intricately painted murals and gold-flecked marble pillars. The Rialto Square now shows mainly concerts, musicals, plays and stand-up comedy and is well worth booking a performance either when in Chicago or on the drive to Springfield.

Opulent view of Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, Illinois

Photo credit: David Wilson

19. Mojave National Preserve (Baker, California)

With the bright lights of Vegas behind you, just over the Nevada-California border lies the Mojave National Preserve, a vast land of desert, canyons and rugged mountains. Highlights for visitors to Mojave include sunrise or sunset at Kelso sand dunes, California’s second largest dune system dotted with colourful wildflowers, trekking to Cima Dome where the world’s largest concentration of Joshua Trees are located and touring the spectacular limestone Mitchell Caverns.

Pink hues of the Mojave National Preserve in Baker, California

20. Seligman (Seligman, Arizona)

Get your kicks on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona and enjoy this retro Mother Road town filled with neon signs, nostalgic treasures and classic cars. Seligman is also home to Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, a colourful and kitsch American diner that offers customers a quirky menu of ‘cheeseburger with cheese’ and ‘dead chicken’.

Old wooden home and historic car in Seligman, Arizona

Photo credit: Mispahn

21. Santa Fe (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Founded in 1610 as a Spanish colony, New Mexico’s capital is renowned for its Pueblo-style architecture and sweeping views of the Sangre de Cristo Rocky Mountains. The exuberant and colourful city can be explored on your Route 66 journey as a side-visit between Amarillo and Albuquerque. Discover the various flea markets, sip margaritas in traditional plazas and wander down the twisting streets gazing at the adobe landmarks of the city.

View of traditional adobe homes in Santa Fe, New Mexico

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