Best places to visit on a Route 66 road trip

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Jay Ward

Route 66 is probably the most talked about road in America and people are always saying they want to see it saved, but not many are doing anything about it. With the 100-year anniversary coming in 2026, there are companies doing their part to help save this piece of American history. One example of a business invested in saving Route 66 is Mobil 1. The motor oil brand is trying to preserve and protect the Mother Road by running a campaign “Keep Route 66 Kickin”. This campaign aims to help small businesses along historic Route 66 by advocating to make it a National Historic Trail. This act would help generate more dollars for the preservation of the road and all the small business along it. Also included in the campaign are Guinness Book of World Record setting events planned along Route 66 and creating a guide to Route 66’s small businesses. You can support the effort by visiting keep66kickin.com.

Benjamin Preston

With Mobil 1 coming up with a way to try preserve this piece of automotive history, it got us thinking about encouraging a great American road trip. What better place to take a road trip than historic Route 66. For most people, Route 66 is thought of as these nostalgic images or even pictured through the lens of the Pixar movie Cars. There is a lot of American culture and history that can only be seen by driving this decommissioned highway. If you’re thinking about taking a drive on Route 66, Hagerty employees shared 18 of their favorite spots to visit along the route below. But first, what is Route 66?

History

Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

Opened in 1926, Route 66 is 2,448 miles long from downtown Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier near Los Angeles. Some of it is actually older than that as a portion began as a government-funded wagon road built by the US Army in 1857. Although it was signed into law in 1927 as one of the original US Highways, it wasn’t fully paved until 1938 (with numerous route changes and adjustments over the years, there are still parts that are unpaved you would drive down today). A combination of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the Great Depression caused many families to use the road to travel west in search of jobs.

Phillip Thomas

Along with the rise of the automobile offering freedom for motorists who wanted to explore the country this became quite the well-traveled route. Mom-and-pop businesses like gas stations, restaurants, and motels were popping up everywhere. During the 1940s it was war-related industries in California bringing more traffic to the route. Then, in the 1950s, vacationers heading to see the west coast were a lot of the people traveling the road. This is when most of the wacky tourist locations started appearing. Everything from teepee-shaped motels and reptile farms, to displaying giant “Muffler Men”. Not to mention the birth of the fast-food industry occurred along Route 66 during that time. The road was so busy that there are sections, especially in Oklahoma and Illinois, that have underground walkways just so people could safely get to the other side of the street.

Benjamin Preston

Eventually a decline in travel came with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. New highways were added, many times running parallel to Route 66, that made travel much faster and were used to bypass cities and small towns. The loss of traffic meant the loss of businesses and eventually whole towns along the route. Ultimately all parts of Route 66 were replaced by different highways, and it was officially removed from the US Highway System in 1985. The road isn’t gone though, and is still a popular drive for people looking for a bit of adventure and nostalgia.

Planning a road trip

Driving the original Route 66 and alternate alignments is doable, but can be a challenge. Some parts are still their original width of 9-foot-wide “sidewalk highway” form, never having been resurfaced to make them into full-width highways. These old sections have a single paved lane with gravel shoulders for passing. A lot of Route 66 is bypassed, unmarked, or slowly deteriorating back into the earth. Staying on it demands constant vigilance as it frequently crosses interstates.

Benjamin Preston

If you’re trying to stay exclusively on Route 66, be prepared for the frustration of rolling at 45 mph parallel to an interstate where you could travel nearly double that. Hagerty’s Senior Vice President of Content Larry Webster drove it with his 2 sons and mother and his best advice was the “keep-it-loose strategy” when it comes to planning everything out. He says a trip down Route 66 is always an unpredictable journey. They took a 1969 Chevelle instead of renting a newer car which allowed them to meet many people that would not have otherwise. We definitely think if it is possible, taking a classic car for the drive is the best way to experience it.

James Lipman

Even if you can’t make it all the way from Chicago to LA, driving just a portion of it will still be memorable. There is so much history and heritage of the route to learn about. A road trip like this gives you an appreciation for the way life was not so long ago. As you drive you will hopefully see a revival of Route 66 happening with old motels, diners, and gas stations being restored now.

18 locations along Route 66 Hagerty staff think are worth visiting

Illinois

Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66
Bloomington, IL
A Route 66 and Abraham Lincoln themed museum, gift shop, and visitor center to pick up your Route 66 Passport and start your journey.

Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb – Oakridge Cemetery
Springfield, IL
The 16th president’s tomb is the 2nd most visited grave in the country. Along with the 117-foot-tall obelisk over his grave, there are many statues and war memorials worth seeing. Be sure to rub the nose on the bronze bust of Lincoln for good luck.

Missouri

66 Drive-In
Carthage, MO
Opened in 1949 this historic drive-in appears in the epilogue of the movie Cars. It’s a family friendly stop with playgrounds to keep the kids entertained during intermission.

Jay Ward

Kansas

Kan-O-Tex Service Station
Galena, KS
Only about 13 miles of Route 66 are in Kansas, but there’s some cool old building to see on their small stretch. Parked outside this service station is the tow truck that inspired “Tow Mater” for Cars. The town has since added a “Sheriff” car from the movie mounted on a pole, a “Red” firetruck, and a replica of “Luigi” as well. You can even find a small stretch of yellow brick road in town.  

Benjamin Preston
Jay Ward

Oklahoma

Cultural District
Miami, OK
Driving through the town you will see many murals commissioned in the last 30 years with more added each April, making this a highlight of public art.

Benjamin Preston

Texas

U-Drop-Inn Conoco Station
Shamrock, TX
The historical station is fully restored now and serves as a visitors’ center. It was also the building that inspired Ramon’s House of Body Art in Cars.

Jay Ward

Cadillac Ranch
Amarillo, TX
Yes, it’s a total tourist trap, but isn’t most of this stuff anyway? Grab a can of spray paint (sold in front of the cars actually) and add your name to these 10 tail fin Caddies in the ground. You have a choice of models to paint from 1949-1963.

Jay Ward

New Mexico

The Motel Safari
Tucumcari, NM
An unbelievable motel that feels like going back in time… except squeaky clean.

Blue Hole
Santa Rosa, NM
In the midst of the desert, there is a beautiful clear blue water lake that attracts scuba divers from around the world. This 100-foot-deep water stays clear by renewing itself every six hours. It’s free to stop by for a quick swim, but be warned, the water is very cold.

Musical Highway
Albuquerque, NM
Align your tires on the rumble strips and drive exactly 45mph and you will hear America the Beautiful. Sometimes the governments’ ways of getting cars to slow down can be annoying, however this one is neat and really works (only on the eastbound lane).

Arizona

Wigwam Hotel
Holbrook, AZ
These used to be a chain of seven locations around the US but are down to just three (with another one being on Route 66 in San Bernardino, CA). Cozy Cone Motel anyone? What’s not to like about hotel rooms in simulated Teepees, plus it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Benjamin Preston

Angel & Vilma Delgadillo’s Original Route 66 Gift Shop
Seligman, AZ
This is the town Radiator Springs from Cars was based on. If you’re lucky you can stop by Angel’s barber shop and talk to Angel Delgadillo who is considered the “Guardian of Route 66”. Every type of Route 66 knickknack you can think of is available to purchase here, plus there’s lots of cool stuff to see in this small town.

Jay Ward

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark
Winslow, AZ
The world’s best-preserved meteor impact site. Enough said.

Wild Burros
Oatman, AZ
The roads around the old western town of Oatman are beautiful and scary at the same time. A lot of no guardrail hairpin turn steep drop-off white knuckle driving to get there (definitely not something for an RV). Once there you will have the unique experience of seeing wild donkeys walking the streets and sometimes even into the bars. The donkeys were left by gold miners 100 years ago and like to be fed by tourists.

Howard Koby
Howard Koby

Walnut Canyon National Monument – Ancient Cliff Dwellings
Flagstaff, AZ
The 600-foot-deep canyon with ancient cliff dwellings are spectacular to see and well worth a stop.

Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest, AZ
Although Route 66 no longer goes right through the park, it still takes you to the entrance. This is a park you can drive through and park at many well maintained easy to walk paved trails with stunning views.

California

Route 66 Museum
Victorville, CA
This is a free museum with great handouts and a gift shop where the workers will share entertaining historical stories with you.

Jeff Peek

Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
Oro Grande, CA
A totally unique free folk-art environment to explore.

Those are some of the Hagerty staff’s favorite stops, what are yours? Comment below and let us know what we missed.

If you’re trying to find some independent businesses to visit along the route, Mobil 1 put together a whole list of them all in one place.

There are over 4 million miles of road in the US, but no road is home to more incredible memories than Route 66. For the love of driving, let’s keep Route 66 kicking.

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Comments

    Yup. It’s decided. I’m gonna figure out how to drive my ’66 car and Route 66. Some way, somehow, gonna get it done! 🤩

    The Corral Courts motel. I can understand why it was left off the list. It was available to rent by the hour and each separate unit also had a garage, so no one would mess with your vehicle while you took a quick 60 minute siesta.

    We accidentally found ourselves on Route 66 at the town of Amboy as we travelled from Las Vegas to Palm Springs through the Mojave desert. The only reason I knew it was because a crown of bikers were standing in the middle of the road taking pictures of the bog Route 66 sign painted on the tarmac. I really felt like I was experienced an part of Americana if somewhat briefly.

    In 1953, just out of high school in Iowa, I had tired of cornfields. So everything I owned went into my 1940 Chevy and I headed for Southern California. Got onto route 66 in Kansas and everything seems so different from the midwest. Little did I know that it would become world famous after a few decades. Traveled it many times since and was always entranced by the changes.

    When in Windslow, after you take a picture of Glen Frey standing on a corner with the flatbed Ford, make sure you stop at the Amtrak Station (WLO).
    This is probably the last Harvey House Hotel complex left in the United States.
    It’s open along with the La Posada Hotel.
    Take a walk back in time and take your time to enjoy this 1930’s Southwestern Art Deco style architecture. It’s unbelievable!!!
    We can’t wait to go back to spend a couple of nights there.

    From my birth in 1952 to 1964 when my last grandparent passed, we would travel every other weekend from St. Louis to southwest Missouri. I could tell you most motels, diners and gas stations along the way by memory (back then not now). I would sit in the back seat behind my Dad and pretend to drive, listening to the crackling am radio to country music or the Cardinal baseball games. Wish I could go back one more time!!

    What a great trip. We did it last year and I would do it again. No one should make the trip without stopping at Oatman AZ. Scary ride!

    Just did (May, In a 1972 Scout) the trip. Everyone should do it at least once. Oatman was certainly a stand out.I loved the donkeys. I have a picture of the Scout in the Conoco station in Shamrock. There was so much from the movie Cars on the trip. It does need to be better marked in some locations.

    Stopped and got gas at a station on old Route 66 between. Las Vegas and Palm Springs
    Purchased a couple coffee mugs that say things about Route 66 for souvenirs. Nice place, but not fancy or anything. But, a good
    memory. nonetheless.

    We’ve been taking our time and doing one state at a time. One of our favorite places was Pontiac, Illinois. The Route 66 museum, the Livingston County War museum, the small Pontiac museum, the many ghost murals made for a very fun stop. Don’t breeze through this town, it’s worth the stop.

    Spencer’s station in Halltown, Missouri is refurbishing the buildings. It’s looking great. The new owners are working hard to get it back to its glory. Try to stop in next time your getting your kicks on Route 66

    Loyolas restaurant on route 66 at Adam’s and Central Avenue in Albuquerque. Great taste of New Mexican cuisine and they shot “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” there.

    Tucumcari, NM: Historic Route 66 Motel, family owned, great service, quaint & clean rooms. Blue Swallow is beautiful but always full.
    Santa Fe, NM: How could y’all not include this beautiful city on your list?!
    Winslow, AZ: If you’re an Eagles fan, then you definitely want to visit “the corner”.
    Flagstaff, AZ: Lots to see, including Mother Road Brewing Company
    AZ-CA border: The original bridge crossing the Colorado River, used by Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck, & all the dust-bowl refugees (including Buck Owens).
    Barstow, CA: Route 66 Motel (195 Main St), one of the oldest buildings in Barstow, old cars parked on site, great family owned & run business, very friendly great service

    After being tantalized by short stretches of Route 66 in the American Southwest for several years during winter vacations, in September of 2018 Irene and I decided to drive from Poulsbo, WA to Chicago and drive the whole highway in its entirety. It was fabulous; the weather was grand at that time of year. We took two weeks for the Route 66 section of the trip, so we had time to dawdle along and explore the various changes that the Route evolved through, as well documented by Jerry McClanahan’s guide book. As soon as we hit the beach in Santa Monica, we looked at each other and agreed that we needed to do it again.
    But we haven’t. Because about a year later, we were down in southeastern Arizona, and I saw a road sign that said, “Historic US Hwy 80”. Now what’s all this about? A little research revealed that the original US Hwy 80, otherwise known as the Dixie Overland Highway, despite what the boosters of the Lincoln Highway claim, was the oldest cross-country highway in the United States that retained its original alignment. (The Lincoln Highway was a constantly changing patchwork in the early years, but I’m not here to bash the Lincoln, but to praise the Dixie.) The Dixie Overland Highway evolved from 1915, was chartered in the original US Highway plan in 1926, and ran from Savannah, Georgia to San Diego, California. Irene and I decided to go do it. Covid intervened, but last winter we drove from Poulsbo to Savannah. Armed with what research I was able to scrounge up and the best maps I could find, we set off and tried to reconstruct the old route. No overall guide book that I know of exists, but if you get your nose to the ground you turn up all sorts of clues. Parts of it were easy, parts of it were hard, but overall I think we did a real good job of finding the old road, and we had a fabulous time. Hey, Hagerty, you’re right. Driving can be fun. In many different ways.
    My favorite spot on Rte 66? Tough one, but I really liked the car show we stumbled onto in Winslow, AZ.
    The Dixie Overland? Antebellum-style charm in Savannah; Cultural Significance at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; How in the World??? at the Plank Road, Algodones Dunes in California.
    What’s next? Have Northwest Territories got that road from Fort Simpson up to Tuktoyaktuk open yet?

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