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Top Destination for 2023 Historic Route 66 Ultimate Road Trip Guide!

Top Destination for 2023

Historic Route 66 Ultimate Road Trip Guide!

2023 is the year of the road trip and us here at AVR Van Rental are excited to provide yet another amazing road trip guide. Our ultimate Route 66 road trip guide is the only guide you’ll need as it covers every state that historic Route 66 runs through along with what you should do if you are planning to drive the whole thing and we highly recommend that you do as it’s an unbelievable experience. The best part about this road trip is every step of the way feels like the destination as you craft your own experience down this historic road. The memories you make will last a lifetime.

The Story of the Road

The "Mother Road" or Route 66 is a historic stretch of asphalt that starts in Chicago and ends in Los Angeles. It's a road trip full of picturesque scenery, historic landmarks, and unique sights. Despite not always appearing on Google Maps, the route is still there and offers an unforgettable journey through America's heartland and western deserts. Along the way, you'll find notable stops such as a prison from Beat literature and the popular TV show Prison Break, a barbed-wire museum, a diner serving 20-cent pie, and more. If you're planning a road trip, consider taking the ultimate American journey on Route 66.

Start your journey today

Illinois

Illinois its starting location day one (if you started from Illinois): Before embarking on your Route 66 journey, make sure to start your day off right with a hearty breakfast at local favorite Lou Mitchell's. Fuel up on monster omelets and bottomless coffee and maybe even meet fellow road-trippers in the neighboring booths. Take a stroll in Chicago's Millennium Park before heading to the Historic Route 66 Begin sign, snap a selfie and officially start your journey. If you're in a rush, stop by Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, an iconic 1930s gas station turned lunch counter known for their delicious fried chicken. As you make your way through Illinois, take a detour to the infamous Old Joliet Prison and explore the creepy grounds, and check out the 30-foot Muffler Man statue at the Launching Pad Drive-In. Make sure to stop by historic sites like Ambler's Texaco Gas Station and Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup to buy some maple candies for the console. For a hearty meal, head to the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop in Springfield for beef sandwiches and shakes. Keep driving and you'll eventually see the looming Gateway Arch of St. Louis.

Missouri

St. Louis is a city with a lot to offer and is often referred to as the "Gateway to the West." Before leaving the city, make sure to stop for a hearty meal at Southwest Diner, where you can enjoy classic dishes such as country-fried steak or pancakes. Take a tram to the top of the Gateway Arch, tour the historic Anheuser-Busch brewery, or walk above the Mississippi River on the Chain of Rocks Bridge. Make the most of your time in the city before hitting the road again. Outside of St. Louis, the drive takes you through charming small towns and rolling green hills. Take a detour to the Meramec Caverns, a dramatic cave system that was once an alleged hideout of Jesse James. Guided tours are available. When it's time to rest for the night, consider staying at the Wagon Wheel Motel, a 1930s landmark offering tidy stone-and-mortar cottages.

The Fanning 66 Outpost is a must-stop destination for many Route 66 veterans. The general and farm store offers a giant rocking chair for photo ops, popcorn, and glass-bottle soda for stocking up on snacks for the car. For a more scenic detour, head south of the highway to Mark Twain National Forest for a picnic and an easy hike on the Stone Mill Spring trail, which offers stunning views of the Big Piney River. For a nostalgic experience, catch a double feature at the 66 Drive-In and spend the night at Boots Court Motel, which offers period furniture and radios playing big-band music. The unassuming Joplin History & Mineral Museum is a hidden gem, with local discoveries like a wooly mammoth tooth on display, oddball antiques including old circus funhouse mirrors, "Bonnie and Clyde" memorabilia from their Joplin bolt-hole, and an entire exhibit of cookie cutters.

Oklahoma

This part of Route 66 is full of fascinating and unique stops along the way. One of the must-see attractions is the Coleman Theater, a Spanish Revival gem from the vaudeville days, where you can catch a glimpse of the ghost of the abandoned Chelsea Motel. At Totem Pole Park, take a moment to gaze up at the world's largest concrete totem pole. The roadside whimsy continues at the Blue Whale of Catoosa, an adorable whale whose smiling mouth you can walk right through. The Golden Driller statue, standing at the entrance of Tulsa's Expo Square since the 1960s, is another iconic landmark of the route.

Tulsa's amazing barbecue scene is a must-experience and Burn Co is a popular spot that grills and smokes its meat in Tulsa-made charcoal ovens. For a simple yet satisfying meal, head to the Rock Cafe in Stroud for a patty melt and ice cream float. Gearheads and Marvel fans will love the Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum, a former gas station now filled from wall to wall with bikes ranging from a 1909 Triumph to a custom-built ride used in Captain America film shoots.

Before crossing into Texas, stop by the landmark Pops in Arcadia to quench your thirst with over 500 varieties of sodas, ginger ales, and root beers. Take a detour to eerie little Texola, a town with a population of 6, where you can still see relics of the former farming town, notably a one-cell cinder-block jail all alone in an overgrown field.

Texas

The Art Deco Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe provide a classic Texas welcome to Route 66 travelers. Originally a gas station and diner, the beautifully preserved visitors' center is home to classic Conoco pumps and a booth where Elvis once ate. One of the unique stops along the route is the Devil's Rope and Route 66 Museum, dedicated to the history of barbed wire and other artifacts from the state's ranching heritage, including the cattle brand used at former President Lyndon B. Johnson's Texas ranch.

In the remote Panhandle location of Groom, visitors can see the largest freestanding cross in the U.S. and the Britten Leaning Water Tower, a long-time roadside attraction. In Amarillo, explore the antique shops in the Route 66 Historic District, grab a bite at the down-home burger joint Coyote Bluff Cafe or take on the challenge of eating 72 ounces of steak at The Big Texan Steak Ranch. For a more unique experience, stay at Starlight Canyon, a bed-and-breakfast with cabins and an Old West vibe.

Before leaving Amarillo, make sure to visit the iconic Cadillac Ranch, where a group of vintage Cadillacs are buried nose down in the ground, their tail ends poking skyward and covered in graffiti. As you hit the halfway mark of your journey, Chicago is 1,139 miles behind you and L.A. is 1,139 miles ahead, celebrate with a slice of pie at the throwback Midpoint Cafe.

New Mexico

As you continue on Route 66, the flatlands of the Panhandle give way to the stunning landscapes of the American West. The Blue Swallow Motel , opened in 1939, is a must-see destination for Americana enthusiasts, with attached garages next to each room, Frank Sinatra crooning through outdoor speakers, and one of the best neon signs outside of Las Vegas. The Tinkertown Museum, originally started as an artist’s hobby of carving tiny figures, has grown into a sprawling collection of detailed Old West dioramas and walls made from concrete and 50,000 glass bottles.

In Albuquerque, stop by 66 Diner for a picture in front of the wall of vintage tin signs and indulge in classic diner fare like Frito pie and banana splits. For a unique experience, check out Enchanted Trails RV Park & Trading Post, which has 60s-era trailers for overnight stays. Or, for a more traditional option, stay at the El Rancho Hotel, where John Wayne once slept.

Arizona

As you continue on Route 66, you'll pass through the stunning red mesas and the eerie moonscape of Petrified Forest National Park . The Rainbow Forest Museum is a great starting point for hiking trails to see the famous petrified logs. Drive to the Blue Mesa trail for a one-mile loop through hilly badlands. One of the must-see stops on the route is the Wigwam Motel, where guests stay in teepee-shaped guest rooms, surrounded by vintage cars from the 1950s, adding to the vintage vibe.

Visit Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, a chilling reminder of the prehistoric asteroid impact that formed it. No desert journey is complete without visiting the Grand Canyon, a 60-mile detour north at Williams, Arizona, where you can see the South Rim of the national park. For a unique experience, book in advance for an edge-facing cabin at Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins or a spot in Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. As you continue on Route 66, you'll pass through an open expanse of prairie and red rock and have the opportunity to check out time-capsule towns such as Seligman, Peach Springs, and Kingman along the way.

California

The final leg of Route 66's journey towards the Pacific is in the Golden State. The semi-defunct Roy's Motel and Cafe, located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, is a fun stop on the way to Calico Ghost Town Regional Park. The roadside attraction recreates the California Silver Rush era with pioneer-style restaurants, shops, and a narrow-gauge train through the dry terrain. Another must-see stop is the Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch, a collection of glass-bottle sculptures in the middle of the desert. If you missed the teepee experience at the Wigwam Motel in Arizona, the San Bernardino outpost offers one more chance to experience it.

Take a trip down memory lane and visit the original McDonald's, now a free museum and quirky shrine to the fast-food giant's humble mid-century beginnings. The Cucamonga Service Station, with its mint-condition Richfield pumps dating back to 1915, serves as a tiny Route 66 museum. Finally, the journey ends at the Santa Monica Pier, the all-American boardwalk, where you can take a stroll among the endless parade of pedestrians, partiers, and performers, marking the official end of Route 66.

 

We hope you enjoyed this jam-packed guide full of amazing things to do in ever state that Route 66 runs through. This is of course, only one way to experience this amazing road trip as you can start from any stretch of the journey and create your own path. Maybe you split them in two and do one half one vacation and the other the next time. With so much to see you may not want to rush through it all so fast. That is the beauty of the road trip! The destination isn’t always the real vacation, sometimes the journey makes the whole thing worthwhile. Because the journey should be just as fun as the destination.

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