Route 66 crosses eight states and three time zones. Some of its best-preserved sections include the stretch between Springfield, Missouri and Tulsa, Oklahoma; the road west of Seligman, Arizona; and the Oatman Highway through the Black Hills of Arizona. Here’s a look at Route 66 highlights state by state, along with a general overview of directions from east to west.
Chicago: Where it all begins. The Mother Road starts in the Windy City and stretches through Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri. Though much of the route has been replaced by I-55, there’s still plenty of two-lane blacktop left to explore. Starting in Chicago, Route 66 heads southwest to Pontiac. Visit the Route 66 Hall of Fame and stretch your legs over the historic Swinging Foot Bridges. In Springfield you’ll learn about the 1908 Race Riots, and in Staunton stop to pet some furry friends at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch.
Missouri and Kansas
In Missouri, the Mother Road enters Ozark country passing through lush rolling hills, quaint historic towns, and pristine farmland. This leg of the trip starts in St. Louis, where you’ll walk across the Chain of Rocks Bridge, play in the artistic wonderland of City Museum, and treat yourself to frozen custard at Ted Drewes. Cross another signature bridge in Devils Elbow, visit landmarks from the Trail of Tears in Waynesville, and spend a day in Springfield, the official birthplace of the Mother Road.
Route 66 only covers 13 miles through Kansas, but there are several places worth a stop, like Cars on the Route in Galena for souvenirs and Angel’s on the Route in Baxter Springs.
Oklahoma has more drivable miles of Route 66 than any other state. You’ll cross some of the earliest roadbeds and one of the longest bridges on the Mother Road. Start in Catoosa with a visit to the iconic Blue Whale then stop for a soda at Pop’s in Arcadia, where you’ll choose from more than 600 varieties. Head to Tulsa and explore the stunning Art Deco downtown. Learn about the Tulsa Race Riots at the Greenwood Cultural Center and the devastating Dust Bowl at the Woody Guthrie Center.
Route 66 bisects the Texas panhandle, running parallel to I-40. The drive offers that middle-of-nowhere feeling with rusting grain silos and abandoned motor courts. Don’t miss Shamrock’s Tower Station and U-Drop Inn, a Depression-era Art Deco marvel. Stop in McLean, a ghost town preserved in time, and head west to Amarillo with a quick detour to the Cadillac Ranch, where 10 tail-finned Cadillacs sit buried-nose deep in a Texas wheat field. The MidPoint Café in Adrian marks the halfway point of this road trip.
After entering the state near Tucumcari, follow the pre-1937 alignment and leave I-40 behind. Head north to Santa Fe, stopping to enjoy some of the best chile at Tia Sophia’s. Route 66 then dips south to Albuquerque, home of the opulent Pueblo Deco KiMo Theatre. Learn about American Indian culture at the Acoma Pueblo and then head west to the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup.
Parts of the original Route 66 are not passable in the east side of the state, making I-40 the most practical driving option. Lunch at Joe & Aggie’s in Holbrook and then spend an afternoon browsing downtown Williams. The best overnight option on Route 66 is La Posada Harvey House in Winslow. After reaching the iconic Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, Route 66 opens up to 159 miles of a pristine two-lane black top all the way to Kingman. Brave the hairpin curves through the Black Mountains on the way to the mining town of Oatman.
California here we come! On the home stretch, Route 66 passes by desert towns, an ancient volcano, and contorted Joshua Trees. After crossing the Mojave, stop in Oro Grande to gaze at the eclectic Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch and order a Brian burger at Emma Jean’s Holland Burger in Victorville. This stretch of the route includes two Harvey Houses plus the Fair Oaks Pharmacy, a 1915 soda fountain in Pasadena.
The suburban slab leads to the historic district in downtown Los Angeles, the original terminus of Route 66. But the official end of the Mother Road is actually in Santa Monica at the Santa Monica Pier overlooking the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
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