Spanning nearly 2,500 miles of highway, Route 66 runs through eight states as it makes its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. This ribbon of road holds a special place in our nation’s consciousness. We’re still captivated by the gripping images of the gaudy roadside attractions and neon-lit motels that dotted this icon stretch of asphalt.
Although Route 66 was officially decommissioned in 1985 as the federal interstate system came of age, it’s still possible to drive close to 85% of the original route. Although a number of the vintage tourist traps of days gone by have disappeared, there are still plenty of adventures to be had along this famous thoroughfare. You can complete the entire journey in about two weeks if you just hit the high points. But once you get rolling, you’ll likely want to turn it into a longer RV trip. We’ll share some of our favorite things to see and do as well as some scenic spots to stop along the way.
Top Picks For Getting Your Kicks on Route 66
Standard Oil Gas Station - Illinois
A hundred miles or so after shoving off from your starting point in the Windy City, roll by the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, IL. Built in 1932, this building is on the National Register of Historic Places. You’ll enjoy checking out this place that now serves as the town’s visitors center. Restored to its original look and feel, it’s not hard to imagine this place with 1960’s era Cadillacs, tail fins and all, lined up waiting for a fillup.
66 Drive-in Theatre - Missouri
Nothing will set the mood of this trip quite like taking in a classic drive-in movie. As you cruise through the Show Me State, be sure to spend the night in Carthage, MO. It’s home to the 66 Drive-in Theatre. This vintage theater shows modern films the old fashioned way. Showtimes start at 9:15, so be sure to stay at one of the several RV parks close by. Camp Mi Casa RV park gets good reviews from fellow travelers, is on Route 66, and is just five minutes outside of town.
Galena Historic District - Kansas
Route 66 makes its way through the Sunflower State for just eleven miles. But what Kansas lacks in distance, it more than makes up for in must-see attractions. Our pick goes to Galena. Route 66 goes right through the town’s historic center. You’ll see the buildings much as the original roadtrippers would have. In fact, the entire downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the lighter side, if you’re traveling with youngsters, be sure to stop by the town’s vintage tow truck that’s been fitted out to have an uncanny resemblance to Mater, the much-beloved truck who stars in the Disney movie Cars.
Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park & The Blue Whale of Catoosa - Oklahoma
For 400 miles or so, Oklahoma hosts the largest stretch of Route 66. With so many places to choose from, we couldn’t pick just one. We split the top honors between Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park and the the Blue Whale of Catoosa. Located in the small town of Foyil, OK, Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park is one man’s labor of love. From 1937-1961, Ed worked to create the oldest and largest collection of outdoor folk art in the state. This truly fascinating place is filled with totem poles he created using concrete and steel rebar. The centerpiece of this property is a nine-story-high pole that’s heavily decorated with his signature style of carving and painting. Other totems dot the property too. This is one of the most iconic stops on Route 66.
Top stop number two for Oklahoma is the Blue Whale of Catoosa. Built in the early 1970’s, this concrete model of a sperm whale was the creation of Hugh Davis. It was given as a 34th wedding anniversary present to his wife Zelda, an avid collector of whale figurines. Although originally intended to be enjoyed only by his family, this 30+ foot whale that’s fancifully wrapped around a small pond became too popular with locals to stay under the radar. With its proximity to Route 66, it was just a matter of time before this creature became a must-stop destination with hordes of sensation-seeking travelers.
Cadillac Ranch - Texas
The Cadillac Ranch is arguably one of the most recognizable sights on Route 66. The brainchild of three creative architecture students, the public art installation consisting of ten vintage Cadillacs buried in a row has been turning heads on this route for generations. It’s unique in that it’s constantly evolving. Visitors are welcome to bring cans of spray paint and add their own distinctive flair to this fanciful tribute to the great American road trip! After you’ve sprayed to your heart’s content, stop at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It’s not far from Amarillo and makes a great place to spend the night in a particularly scenic part of the Lone Star State.
Kewa Pueblo - New Mexico
Located right at the halfway point into New Mexico, an earlier routing of Route 66 passed closer to the state’s capital of Santa Fe, NM than the more recent one. With Sante Fe considered too isolated, the more modern Route 66 goes right through Albuquerque instead. Consider going old school and swinging off the main drag to experience some of the sights that Route 66’s earliest travelers would have experienced. One of the most interesting stops along the way is the Kewa Pueblo. This traditional pueblo features an informative museum and cultural center. The Kewa people are famous for their intricate pottery and gorgeous turquoise jewelry.
Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona
Just north of Route 66, the Grand Canyon has been tempting travelers off the main drag for generations. If you think this is just a glorified hole in the ground, you’re in for quite a treat! This iconic stop offers something for every level of physical ability. The South Rim provides plenty of jaw-dropping views of the canyon just a short walk from the visitors center. If you’d like to venture further afield, the South Kaibab Trail is a well-maintained trail that heads down into the canyon for a more up-close experience with one of nature’s finest masterworks. There’s RV camping inside the park at Trailer Village. Be sure to book your spot early, since this is one of the country’s most popular parks.
Orpheum Theatre - California
As Route 66 cruises into its final destination of Los Angeles, it runs past one of the most iconic stretches of real estate in the country, the Broadway Theatre and Commercial District. Passed by Dust Bowl refugees and light-hearted vacationers alike, this six-block stretch was once one of the premier entertainment districts in the nation. Perhaps the most recognizable of the 1920’s vintage movie palaces is the Orpheum Theatre. The list of movie and music greats to perform here reads like a who’s who of entertainment legends, including the Marx Brothers, Judy Garland, and Duke Ellington. Take a step back in time and attend a live show in a building that hasn’t changed much since its heyday in the Roaring 20’s. Park your RV and rest up at the nearby Crystal Cove State Park. This oceanfront state park hosts 28 RV sites and miles of beautiful coastline. It’s the perfect place to finish up your epic cross-country trek.
With so many sights to be seen and myriad experiences to be had, Route 66 far surpasses the capacity of a single blog post. For more help with in-depth trip planning, the National Park Service hosts an interactive map of Route 66 with a variety of stops along the way. Once you’re on the Mother Road, the Route 66 Navigation app offers turn-by-turn directions, over 900 points of interest, and a number of different routes that travel some of the historical variations in the route. It also offers reverse directions to so you can retrace your path and see all of the sights you missed on your way back!
Historic Route 66 is an adventure that’s not easily forgotten. With a little bit of planning and a solid chunk of time, this trip is guaranteed to capture your imagination as it has for generations of travelers before.
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