Top 10 Stops on Route 66
Route 66 — aka “America’s Main Street,” “The Mother Road” and “The Will Rogers Highway” — has captured the imagination of roadtrippers since its inception almost a century ago. Although the highway officially named U.S. 66 has been replaced by the interstate system and renamed in various segments over the years, the storied path from Chicago to Los Angeles still exists — and it has come to represent the hope and spirit of travelers on the drive westward in search of the American Dream.
Whether you’re preparing to buckle up the kids in the back of your SUV or you’re putting on a helmet and heading out on your motorcycle, traveling Route 66 is as much about the stops along the way as it is about the road you’re traveling. The following list of attractions is a small taste of what this pop cultural icon of roadways has to offer. Each stop is unique, but taken together, these roadside wonders help keep the appeal of Route 66 rolling along through the decades.
1. Dixie Truckers Home
At the intersection of U.S. Routes 136 and 66 in McClean, Illinois, is the site of one of America’s oldest truck stops: Dixie Truckers Home. Since 1928, this haven has been providing fuel, a bite to eat and a place to rest for weary truckers. While the buildings have been remodeled over time, the original signs remain as a tribute to the stop’s history. No matter how many other truck stops have provided similar offerings along America’s highways over the years, Dixie Truckers Home remains a true original.
2. Cozy Dog Drive In
One of the pioneers of the now-classic American treat, the Cozy Dog Drive In has been serving up corndogs on Route 66 in Springfield, Illinois, for decades. Opening a few years after the first Cozy Dog was served at the Lake Springfield Beach House and then at the Illinois State Fair in 1946, the Waldmire family has been serving up this quick and easy hot dog on a stick ever since.
3. Chain of Rocks Bridge
Most of the time, bridges let you drive straight from one shore to another — but not the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River. This Route 66 landmark, which runs between Madison, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, takes a 30-degree turn at its midsection. This unique bridge opened in 1929, taking its name from the treacherous, rocky river section it spans. It was not part of Route 66 until 1936, however, when the highway was rerouted over the Chain of Rocks Bridge. After decades of ushering vehicles from Illinois to Missouri with a mid-river turn, the Chain of Rocks Bridge was closed in 1968, and its traffic was routed to a new bridge just 2,000 feet away. After languishing for years under threat of demolition, the bridge was restored and opened to pedestrian and bike traffic in 1999.
4. Cars on the Route
Though Kansas may only host 13 miles of Route 66, it’s home to Cars on the Route on Main Street in Galena. Four women restored the KanOTex Service Station, which was then called Four Women on the Route, sparking a new era for this stretch of Route 66 as a tourist stop. Home to the 1951 International Boom Truck that, according to its owners, served as inspiration for Tow Mater in Pixar’s animated movie “Cars,” the name has been changed to Cars on the Route. The building and decor connect visitors to both Route 66 and the movie. You can stop in for a snack, to get a souvenir and to look at the antique cars outside.
5. Will Rogers Memorial Museum
Will Rogers was a beloved newspaper columnist, Broadway performer, political pundit, radio legend, movie star and philosopher — and Route 66 is home to a museum built in his honor. Take a break from your Route 66 road trip in Claremore, Oklahoma, at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum, where you can explore a collection of art, memorabilia and artifacts that tell the life story of one of America’s most beloved personalities.
6. Tower Station and U-Drop Inn
Built of brick and green-glazed tiles in 1936, the U-Drop Inn’s tower at the intersection of U.S. Routes 83 and 66 in Shamrock, Texas, may be one of the most recognizable structures along the entire 2,400-mile stretch of America’s Highway — an Art Deco design topped with a metal tulip. Owned today by the City of Shamrock, the U-Drop Inn returned to its original luster, thanks to local fundraising and a Federal Transportation Enhancements Grant. Tower Station and U-Drop Inn are now home to a gift shop, museum, visitors’ center and even the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
7. Cadillac Ranch
It’s not every day you see 10 Cadillac automobiles buried nose-down in a line facing west. Known as the Cadillac Ranch, this spot has become a popular stop for fans of public art, cars and Route 66 since its creation in 1974 by a group of artists known as the Ant Farm. Though over the years, countless people have stopped to take a piece of the cars as a souvenir or mark them with spray paint, which didn’t seem to bother owner Stanley Marsh 3. As the city of Amarillo grew, the entire installation was moved 2 miles west of its original site in 1997, But even with the move and being repainted a number of times, the Cadillacs remain intact and welcome to visitors.
8. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Opened in 1997 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, just 11 years after the renowned artist’s death, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum houses more than 140 oil paintings and almost 700 drawings by its namesake. It’s also the site of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center, dedicated to advancing the study and knowledge of American Modernist Art. Stop by to view a wide selection of work from O’Keeffe’s 83-year artistic career and to learn about other American modernists.
9. Wigwam Motels
Featuring teepee shaped rooms, this unique motel began in 1933 with original owner Frank Redford’s museum of Native American artifacts. He added motel rooms around the museum, creating a “Wigwam Village.” At one time there were seven Wigwam Villages, but only three remain today. Two of the motels are along Route 66 (the third is in Kentucky), and if you’re stopping in Holbrook, Arizona or Rialto/San Bernardino, California for the night, you can stay there. They contain all of the amenities of a regular hotel room, except you have the added bragging rights of saying you slept in a teepee on your journey westward.
10. Santa Monica Pier
As the stopping point of Route 66 and its connection to the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find an official “End of the Trail” sign at Santa Monica Pier. Here in Santa Monica, California, among local surfers and international tourists, you can unwind and enjoy the pier’s many offerings — including arcade games, historic walking tours, the famous Ferris wheel, Muscle Beach and Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
Wherever you choose to stop along the “Mother Road,” make it a trip to remember. Drive safely, and enjoy your journey.
Originally published on August 6, 2013.