Route 66 — a.k.a. “America’s Main Street,” “The Mother Road” and “The Will Rogers Highway” — has captured the imagination of road-trippers 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 Although the highway officially named U.S. 66 has been replaced by the interstate system and renamed in various segments over the years, the storied path from Chicago to Los Angeles still exists — and it has come to represent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.
So whether you’re preparing to buckle up the kids in the back of your SUV or you’re strapping on a helmet and revving up your Harley, getting your kicks on 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.
At the intersection of U.S. Routes 136 and 66 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. But, 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.
One of the pioneers of the now-classic American treat, the Cozy Dog Drive In has been serving up corndogs on Route 66 for decades. Opening a few years after the first Cozy Dog was served 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.
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 takes a 30-degree turn at its midsection. The bridge opened in 1929, taking its name from the treacherous, rocky river section it spans. 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.
Though Kansas may only host 13 miles of Route 66, it’s home to the proud 4 Women on the Route on Main Street in Galena. Here you’ll find the restored Kan-O-Tex Service Station, a snack bar and the 1951 International Boom Truck that, according to its owners, served as inspiration for Tow Mater in Pixar’s animated movie “Cars.”
Will Rogers famously said, “I never met a man I didn’t like” — and America returned the favor. 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, Okla., at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum, where you can explore a collection of art and artifacts that tell the life of one of America’s most beloved personalities.
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 may be one of the most recognizable structures along the entire 2,400-mile stretch of America’s Highway. Owned today by the City of Shamrock, the U-Drop Inn received nearly $2 million in Federal grants to bring it back to its original luster. Here you’ll find a gift shop, museum, visitors’ center and even the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
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, and the entire installation was moved 2 miles west of its original site in 1997, the Cadillacs remain intact. At this point, they have been buried longer than they ever traveled on the road.
Opened in 1997, just 11 years after renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s death, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum houses more than 3,000 works of art and more than 1,000 paintings 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.
From the seven original Wigwam Villages, three survive today. Two of the motels are along Route 66 (the third is in Kentucky), and if you’re stopping in Arizona or 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! And, for animated movie fans, the motels are another Route 66 inspiration for the movie “Cars,” in which characters sleep in giant traffic cones at the Cozy Cone Motel.
Above the landmark 1909 pier stretching out into the Pacific Ocean, you can read the sign that declares you’ve reached the “End of the Trail,” a direct reference to the end of Route 66. Here, amongst local surfers and throngs of international tourists, you can unwind and enjoy everything from arcade games, amusement park rides like the famous Ferris wheel, and even a trapeze school.
Wherever you choose to stop along the Mother Road, make it a trip to remember. Drive safely, and enjoy your journey.