If you have a couple of weeks at your disposal, a Route 66 road trip is a rewarding way to spend them. Established in 1926, Route 66 is one of the original highways in the United States, built before the interstate road system was a thing. The route winds through 8 states and covers 2,451 miles. Along the way you will see farmland, urban areas, mountains, desert and every kind of landscape in between. In theory, you could drive it in one week, but in practice it makes sense to take the time for stops to take in the scenery and attractions. Our suggestions of where to stop by state is by no means exhaustive, as there are literally thousands of things to see and do along the way. But if you have the time to allow for some unscheduled stops if something interesting catches your eye while on this once-in-a-lifetime road trip, you will be rewarded. Let’s go!
The Route 66 States
State 1: What to See in Illinois
The route starts here as Interstate 55 (most of the original Route 66 now is on interstate roads) and follows a southwestern route through Illinois, passing by Bloomington and the state capitol, Springfield, before crossing into Missouri. In summer months, you can enjoy the lush farmland, and in winter be prepared for plenty of snow.
Route 66 Eastern Terminus Sign, Chicago: The first thing to see is the sign marking the start of the highway on the western edge of Chicago. Despite the fact that you can, of course, make Chicago the last stop on the road trip if you start in Los Angeles, this was meant to be the beginning. Directions to Route 66 Eastern Terminus Sign
Lauterbach Muffler Man, Springfield: This is the first of many pieces of kitschy Americana that you can see on the route. The “Muffler Man” sits outside a car service shop and has exchanged his muffler for an American flag, but otherwise has been mostly unchanged since going up in 1962. You can also find the “Gemini Man” in Wilmington that was retrofitted from another statue in honor of NASA’s Project Gemini. Directions to Lauterbach Muffler Man
World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, Collinsville: This 170-foot tall bottle of ketchup is actually a water tower. It stands where a canning and packing factory for tomato products once was. Directions to World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
Several Historic Gas Stations: You will see a lot of these along the way, which is part of the reason why people still like to drive Route 66. Notable in Illinois are the gas stations in the towns of Dwight, Odell, and Mt. Olive.
Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, Pontiac: This one is pretty self-explanatory and has artifacts and vehicles that tell the story of the route that some call the Mother Road. Directions to Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum
State 2: What to See in Missouri
Drive through the state from east to west on Interstate 44/Route 66 to keep following the route from Illinois. You will immediately drive through St. Louis after crossing the border between the states, and then continue traveling southwest through Springfield and Joplin. There are also some towns along the way with delightful names like Bourbon, Cuba, and Doolittle.
One end of the Chain of Rocks Bridge outside of St. Louis
Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis: The pedestrian and biker bridge over the Mississippi River leads into St. Louis from Illinois. There is a parking lot on the Illinois side and you can walk the circa 1929 bridge to Missouri. Directions to Chain of Rocks Bridge
Wagon Wheel Motel and Gas Station + Mural City, Cuba: Stop in Cuba for the night, to fuel up or eat, and check out the numerous outdoor murals on the town’s buildings. Directions to Wagon Wheel Motel and Gas Station
66 Drive-in Theater, Carthage: If you are tired of driving and want to catch a movie during warmer months, stop in Carthage for a slice of Americana at a classic drive-in movie theater where you can smuggle in as much food as you want. Directions to 66 Drive-in Theater
Giant Rocking Chair, Fanning: Claiming the title of the “Largest Rocking Chair on Route 66” (the World’s Largest Rocking Chair is in Illinois), this giant chair no longer rocks due to safety concerns but makes for a nice photo. Directions to Giant Rocking Chair
State 3: What to See in Kansas
The route crosses into on Highway 66 Kansas from Joplin, Mo., and travels through the state for only 13 miles. You will pass through only three towns, but will see a couple of noteworthy things.
The Rainbow Bridge outside Baxter Springs
Kan-O-Tex Service Station, Galena: This vintage station has been there from 1934, and now includes a café and souvenir shop. Directions to Kan-O-Tex Service Station
Rainbow Bridge, Baxter Springs: This is the only Marsh arch bridge (named after engineer and bridge designer James Barney Marsh) left along Route 66. As it was on an old stretch of the highway, you will have to drive a little bit off the route to see it. Directions to Rainbow Bridge
The Williams Store, Riverton: This is the oldest continuously operating store on Route 66. The store opened in 1925 after a previous store on the site was destroyed by a tornado. You can get some groceries and souvenirs inside. Directions to The Williams Store
State 4: What to See in Oklahoma
You will spend a fair amount of time in Oklahoma after passing into the state from Kansas on Alternate Highway 69 and will pass through the state’s two largest cities: Oklahoma City and Tulsa. There is no shortage of historic and kitschy things to see along your way, and here we have selected only a few to start your adventures.
The defunct Water Hole #2 bar outside Texola
POPS 66 Soda Ranch, Arcadia: This newer attraction combines modern architecture, a 66-foot tall soda bottle made of LED lights, and 650 varieties of soda to buy. Get ready for a sugar rush. Directions to POPS 66 Soda Ranch
Totem Pole Park, Chelsea: You probably won’t miss the world’s largest concrete totem pole, 90-feet tall, that was built in 1937 as the centerpiece of the park. Smaller totem poles are sprinkled around the grounds, as well as a Fiddle House that contains hand-carved fiddles. Directions to Totem Pole Park
Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger, Miami: You can drive through or sit down at this eye-catching eatery that looks like a cuckoo clock on the outside. The menu of what at one time was a national chain includes the usual burgers and fries and other American fare. Directions to Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger
Will Rogers Memorial Museum, Claremore: The museum covers the life of the most famous performer and cowboy from Oklahoma. Directions to Will Rogers Memorial Museum
The Blue Whale, Catoosa: This giant cement blue whale sits on the waterfront of a lake outside Catoosa. It has been there since the 1970s when a man built it as a gift for his whale-enthusiast wife. Directions to The Blue Whale
Afton Station, Afton: This restored service station, built in the 1930s, also has a collection of classic cars. Directions to Afton Station
Water Hole #2, Texola: As the name of the town suggests, this abandoned bar sits just before the border between Oklahoma and Texas. Directions to Water Hole #2
State 5: What to See in Texas
The stretch of Route 66 that goes through the Texas panhandle on Interstate 40 has plenty to offer. You will find an iconic piece of artwork made from cars and, of course, some classic service stations.
The famous Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo
Conoco Tower Station, Shamrock: This art-deco service station is much fancier than most roadside places. It was built in 1936 and now operates as a museum after being donated to the town in 1999. The station is even featured in the Disney-Pixar movie “Cars”! Directions to Conoco Tower Station
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo: If you drive this stretch of the route, this is a must-see attraction. Made up of 10 classic Cadillacs half-buried with the hood in the ground, the cars were actually moved to their current location in 1997 from a previous site 2 miles away. Directions to Cadillac Ranch
Café at the Midpoint of Route 66, Adrian: If you made it this far in the drive – 1,139 miles between both Los Angeles and Chicago – you deserve a break for some food at the Midpoint Café. Directions to Café at the Midpoint of Route 66
State 6: What to See in New Mexico
If you started the drive in Chicago, once you enter New Mexico on I-40 you are more than halfway to the end of the route. The landscape has changed, but the slices of Americana you see along the route stay largely the same. After you pass into the state, the towns are few and far between until you get to Albuquerque and pass through some welcome greenery in the Cibola National Forest.
A part of the adobe San Jose Mission Church in Laguna
San Jose Mission Church, Laguna: This traditional pueblo building made of adobe sits on the tribal land of the Laguna people. It was built in 1701 and still serves as the center of religious activities for the community. Because it is on tribal land, be sure to observe any posted rules and regulations regarding photography and other behavior. Directions to San Jose Mission Church
San Miguel Mission/De Vargas Street House, Santa Fe: Just a bit north of Route 66 is the city of Santa Fe. It’s well worth a side trip to see this Catholic church that was built in 1625, making it the oldest in the U.S. Also in Santa Fe is the oldest house in the country, the De Vargas Street House. Both of the adobe structures are a step back in time. Directions to the Oldest House Museum
Acoma Curio Shop, San Fidel: Make a stop in this tiny town to buy some Native American handicrafts and stretch your legs. Directions to Acoma Curio Shop
State 7: What to See in Arizona
You will travel the width of this desert state that contains one of the most-beloved natural treasures of the U.S. Soon after crossing into Arizona on I-40 from New Mexico, will see a unique park, while further up the road are some rugged, mountainous areas.
The kitschy Hackberry General Store is worth a stop in tiny Hackberry
Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook: Yes, there are petrified trees here, but also some gorgeous stone formations. If you have half a day to spend here you can drive through the park and go for a hike along the Painted Desert Rim trail to see the totally natural multi-colored badlands. Check out the Painted Desert Visitor Center to see some of the petrified wood the park is named after. Directions to Petrified Forest National Park
Grand Canyon National Park, north of Flagstaff: Only 80 miles, or about 1.5 hours, from Flagstaff is the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the south entrance to the park. If you have come this far, definitely spend the time to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Directions to Grand Canyon National Park
Hackberry General Store, Hackberry: This store once operated in the desert mining town of Hackberry – population, 68 – a little bit up the road from Kingman. If you blink, you’ll miss it, but the store was reopened in 1992 and is full of memorabilia and kitschy things related to Route 66. Directions to Hackberry General Store
Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, south of Winslow: This is the site of where a meteor crashed into the ground 50,000 years ago. It’s only about 6 miles off the interstate. Directions to Meteor Crater Natural Landmark
State 8: What to See in California
On this last (or first, if you start at the western terminus) stretch of Route 66, desert will give way to the sprawl of Los Angeles and its suburbs, and then the Pacific Ocean. The first part of the drive across California, mostly on I-40, is desolate. Then you will eventually hook up with Interstate 15 and will ultimately be rewarded for making it to the end with a view over the water on an iconic pier.
Mojave National Reserve, Kelso:This 1.6-million-acre desert park is a destination for camping and hiking. Take a short walk on one of the trails and look out for some desert wildlife and flora and fauna. Directions to Mojave National Reserve
Wigwam Motel, San Bernardino: Have you ever wanted to sleep in a cabin that looks like a Native American dwelling? You can still rent a room at this quirky motel built in 1949 that is ideal for a good night’s sleep and social media post. Directions to Wigwam Motel
Broadway Theater and Commercial District, Los Angeles: From 1910 on, this was the epicenter of theaters in the city. You can still see six classic theater facades, although four of them are now retail stores. Directions to Broadway Theater and Commercial District
Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica: You can enjoy the views and people-watching at the western terminus of Route 66. There is an amusement park here, several entertainment options and, of course, a beach. The pier is more than 100 years old and became the new western end of Route 66 when it was extended from Los Angeles in 1936. Directions to Santa Monica Pier
You can rent a car from Sixt at either end of the iconic highway route, from our station at Chicago O’Hare International Airport or at one of our Los Angeles-area branches. And if you want to make it iconic, upgrade to a Ford Mustang GT convertible or sports car to experience the route in a classic way. With Sixt, you get great deals on monthly car rentals.
Written by Andrea Heisinger, Junior Online Editor for the Sixt US website.