Route 66 has seen its fair share of sights, sounds, smells and what have you worth stopping to check out. And each state that has been graced by this beautiful stretch of pavement has got a lot of stories to tell and attractions to pull over and see for yourself. Out here on the road, the saying is “keep on trucking” but this list of some of the weirdest, wildest and most amazing sights to see will make you want to step out the car and give a looks-see. So from California, to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, we got a list of some majestic Americana for you to peruse. From 7 foot tall Muffler Men, to sites older than the road itself, from Wild West Ghost Towns to retro 50’s and 60’s kitsch. Oh, and by the way, make sure to brake for any Jackalopes you may see along the way!
Route 66 Arizona Attractions
1. Grand Canyon
Staring off our list of Route 66’s scenes worth seein’ is the Grand Canyon State. And actually, that’s gonna be our first item on our list from Arizona. The Grand Canyon! Though strictly speaking, not located on Route 66, How could you miss this one? Carved over millions and millions of years by water, the Grand Canyon is much, much more than your average hole in the ground! But certainly don’t forget another big hole in the ground in the Copper State, that is Barringer Crater.
2. Barringer crater
Barringer is the remains of a meteoric impact. So we got the slow and steady of water versus the big “kaboom” of a meteor. Both resulting in some real big holes! Besides big holes, we have the Twin Arrows and the Jack Rabbit Trading posts!
3. Twin Arrows
Twin Arrows is a good old fashioned ghost town. You can’t miss it on the road on account of the two big Twin Arrows sticking out of the ground!
4. Jack Rabbit Trading Post
As for Jack Rabbit Trading Post, it’s got a mighty colorful history, having once been a joint exhibiting snakes (not jack rabbits?) and featured a giant “man-sized” Jack Rabbit sporting a saddle, inviting weary motorists to take a ride on the old Rabbit’s back.
5. The Hackenberry General Store
The Hackenberry General store is another great shop to check out, featuring a retro general store in a historic area.
6. The Rainbow Rock Shop
And for something a bit “heavier” the Rainbow Rock Shop is the best place to grab yourself a souvenir of polished petrified wood. Just be on the lookout for a bunch of dinosaur statues. That’s right. Dinosaurs.
7. Petrified Forest National Park
And speaking of petrified wood, Arizona also is home to the Petrified Forest National Park. Come and get a good look at the colorful prehistoric rock formations and petrified wood in all its, well, petrified, glory.
8. Winslow’s Corner
While traveling on Route 66, Winslow’s Corner is perfect for a photo-op! A big section of street featuring a mighty large “Route 66” sign painted on the pavement and some murals also hosts a street festival in September!
9. The Town of Oatman
Arizona is still a hotbed of Wild West culture, too! The town of Oatman has got a cowboy vibe that will make the most slick of city slicker want to trade in their Wall Street finery for a pair of spurs! This town has got some rich history, swaggering gunslingers and some gregarious burros for curious travelers to take a look at and certainly take a few pictures, too!
10. WigWam Village Motel
Now, coasting down the roads of Route 66 can get mighty tiring, so why not take a rest at one of the many curious and kitschy motels that can be found. Retro and charming, unique and creative, the motels out there are absolutely worth a good gander. And the wigwam village motel is true kitsch at its finest. The Native American style “wigwams” still welcome guests to this day. And as I mentioned before, make sure to brake for jackalopes…
Route 66 California Attractions
The Golden state! Home to hippies, Hollywood, and you guessed it, Route 66. California also happens to be the “End of the Road” for Route 66. But don’t despair, for those with a wandering spirit can find attraction after fantastic attraction here in Cali. The Mojave desert sounds uninviting, but actually has a realm of otherworldly beauty and natural wonders. In the desert make sure to watch out for snakes, and definitely brake for jackalopes (if you can find any!). Now, some of these attractions aren’t strictly on Route 66, but when you are visiting California, this massive state has cities and rare wonders you won’t want to miss out on.
1. San Andreas Fault
The Sand Andreas Fault is a place for those interested in seeing the earth move under their feet. It is an active fault line and helps to illustrate California’s active seismic nature.
The Hollywood sign may be haunted close up (or so they say!), but certainly the city of a million movies is a place worth dropping by, and seeing your favorite stars on the Walk of Fame!
3. Los Angeles
Maybe Los Angeles can offer a fantastic pastiche, check out some greak kimchi jjigae in Koreatown, or catch a film or two at Broadway Theater and Commercial District.
4. San Francisco
You can let your hair down in San Francisco and pay some old hippie locales a visit. And certainly beaches on top of sun kissed beaches are not attractions to pass up. Which leads into our next attraction…
5. The Santa Monica Pier
The Pacific Ocean welcomes all the weary motorists from Route 66 to come by and take a dip. The Santa Monica Pier, hosting the Pacific Park is sure to bring a smile to your face and a fun story, recently nominated as the “Endpoint of Route 66”.
6. Roy’s Motel
And the End of the Line for Route 66, Cali has a ton of historic, kitschy, cool, fun and memorable motels and cafes you can take a rest at. Roy’s Motel and café is iconic, retro and worth a photo or two!
7. The Aztec Motel
The Aztec motel is another great example of classic kitsch at its finest, adorned with a Meso-American façade that is actually Mayan rather than Aztec, just so you know the difference!
8. Wigwam Village Motel
Just like Arizona, a Wigwam village motel park is also present in California, have you slept in a wigwam lately? Because if you missed the Wigwam village back in Arizona, here is your chance!
9. El Garces Hotel
El Garces Hotel, built in the style of a Greek temple adorned with fabulous Tuscan columns. Between the Mayan and Greek architecture you won’t be want of interesting and “historic” buildings!
10. The Bagdad Cafe
Once gracing the now vanished town of Bagdad, the Bagdad Cafe (formerly the Sidewinder Cafe) was the inspiration for the setting of the film, “Bagdad Cafe”. Perhaps give this film a nice viewing before you head out in search of this hinterland cafe!
11. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
Now for some proper heavy metal, the Bottle Tree Ranch is a meditation on consumerist culture, featuring scrap metal “trees” foliated with colorful bottles. Or, it is a fun and kitschy place to admire some serious devotion to metallurgy! Whatever you get from visiting here, is up to you!
12. Cucamonga Service Station
This historic service station, built in 1915, is another must see from our list. Not just for its historical significance to the area, but certainly also to take a look at the Spanish Colonial style facade of this building. Conquistadors may not have built this service station, but one wouldn’t be surprised if they had!
Route 66 Illinois Attractions
Buckle in, and make sure to use the bathroom one last time before hitting the road, because the “Land of Lincoln” is the starting place of Route 66! To be exact, it starts in the “Windy City”, Chicago. From here it rolls along Lake Michigan and through the American Southwest. So let us take a look at some of the amazing sites, scenes and stations along the way in Illinois, and though jackalopes may be scarce here, make sure to brake for jackalopes nonetheless!
1. Route 66 starting and ending point signs
Whether your journey along Route 66 has just started or just ended, taking a look and some photos of the vintage beginning and end signs is certainly a treat!
2. Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station
Dwight, Illinois has some choice landmarks and places to visit. Ambler’s Texaco is certainly on the list to get a gander at a classic and retro style old gas station. They don’t make ’em like they use to!
3. Standard Oil Gasoline Station
Another great traditional style gas station is the Standard Oil Gasoline Station. designed in the ’30’s following the “House and Canopy” or “domestic” style of architecture, this little blue and white gas station will make you want to move in!
4. Mural City
Many murals can be found among the towns and cities in Illinois. Some of which have transcended into “ghost signs” or painted ads or murals on brick that have been preserved for nostalgic or historic value by the building’s owner. The murals range from the cute and humorous, to the patriotic and invigorating, to the ephemeral and haunting.
5. Historic Sprague’s Super Service
The Old World charm of England is found right here, in the Historic Sprague’s Super Service station. It’s hard to imagine that this grand Tudor-Revival style manor house was once a gas and service station. like many of the other historic gas stations on our list, one wouldn’t mind moving into one of these stations given their inviting and charming architecture.
6. Ariston Cafe
This brick cafe is still open for business to hungry motorists traveling on Route 66. And those who drop in for an ice cold Budweiser and bite to eat will also get to enjoy the Route 66 Hall of Fame!
7. Lauterbatch Muffler Man
A colossal man, in the style of that mythical giant lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, the Lauterbach Muffler Man stands tall and proud and ready for some pictures from elated motorists!
8. Soulsby’s Service Station
Gas stations, gas stations and well, more gas stations! This time a retro style Shell filling station welcomes you with a classic yellow and red emblem once ubiquitous on American roadways across the country.
9. Historical Chain of Rocks Bridge
The mighty Mississippi river was once traversed by motorists via this historic, though now defunct bridge. Take a look at the unique zig-zag design of the bridge.
10. Historic Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower
The ketchup versus catsup debate may rage on for a long time, but certainly not when one marvels at the water tower designed to resemble a “catsup” bottle in Collinsville.
11. The Guinness World Record’s Largest Covered Wagon
This truly enormous covered wagon bears a statue of “Honest Abe” himself in Lincoln, Illinois. come and gander at this colossal wagon, the smaller version of which was once the main mode of transportation in the United States.
12. The Gemini Giant
If you enjoyed the retro kitsch of the Lauterbach Muffle Man, the Gemini Giant Muffler Man is 60’s Kitsch incarnate. Resembling something from the Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, this giant is friendly, luckily!
13. Historic Brick Road
Brick meets concrete at this historical connection of two segments of road on Route 66. Come and explore the two segments in Auburn!
14. Girard to Nilwood
Ride along historical roads once again on this stretch of Route 66 that once hosted horse and mule drawn carts and carriages. This road is nearly 100 years old and is still going strong.
Dorothy wasn’t the only one wishing she was back in Kansas, or at least she won’t be after you take a tour of the Sunflower State on your journey through Route 66. Located in the heart of the country, Kansas features some incredible history, mighty kind people, and even the Great Plains. Let’s peruse some more of the authentic Americana you will encounter while rolling through Kansas!
A vintage style filling station from the ‘30’s. The Kan-O-Tex station is more than just a historic and charming old gas station. And out front, there resides the inspiration for “Mater” from the Cars movie franchise, along with the town of Baxter Springs!
2. Baxter Springs Independent Oil and Gas Service Station
Don’t pass up the chance to enjoy this Tudor Revival style gas station. Standing tall since the Great Depression, this gas station tried to “blend in” with the pleasant cottage style houses of the surrounding area. In fact, just like many of the other vintage gas stations on our list, this English style cottage gas station is charmingly quaint.
3. National Cemetery
While Europe has their tales of haunted castles and forests and Asia has their ghost stories starring the apparitions of vengeful maidens and ghosts who wander school hallways after dark, in America, there are dark tales of haunted roadways. As drivers, maybe the hapless solo traveler on a dark, poorly lit road drives on into the night, there are scores of tales that describe the eerie and the surreal. From phantom hitchhikers, to things seen or heard by drivers never seen or heard of before or again after. And yet, so far on our list we have not encountered too many. Not yet at least, but the closest thing to a ghostly place to visit would be the National Cemetery in Baxter Springs. The cemetery hosts the remains of the 88 soldiers killed and hurled into a mass grave after the fort Blair massacre in the 1800’s. Now, they are commemorated with a monument. But maybe go there far before dark…
4. Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store
After serving in WW1, Leo Williams opened up a little diner. But, unfortunately, one of Kansas’s famed tornadoes blew in and destroyed it. Having a pioneering spirit, Williams rebuilt a smaller shop, and decided to make it a small general store. The oldest operating one on Route 66.
5. Historic Rainbow Bridge
The Bush Creek Bridge, also known as a the “Rainbow Bridge” (not to be confused with the track in Mario Kart 64). The bridge is one of many “Marsh Arch bridges” named after the engineer James Barney Marsh who designed, patented and then build dozens and dozens of his “Marsh Bridges” across the country. The Rainbow Bridge is special because it’s the last of the Marsh Arch bridges that still resides along Route 66.
6. Fort Baxter Site
For the more martially inclined, Route 66 hosts some moving and riveting sites that commemorate various battles, struggles, invasions, raids and flashpoints of conflict throughout American history. Fort Blair (an alternative name for Fort Baxter) has seen its fair share of bellicosity. The Battle of Baxter Springs, or the Baxter Springs Massacre took place at this very fort. In 1863 a large war-band called Quantrill’s Raiders attacked the fort while passing through Kansas. The pro-Confederate raiding party consisted of about 400 men, while the fort was defended by around 100 Union troops most of whom were African-Americans. The defenders prevailed, but Quantrill’s Raiders rode off into the prairie lands and ambushed another group of Union troops killing most of the soldiers they encountered. A harrowing tale of bravery, tenacity, ruthlessness and brutality, all here at Fort Baxter.
7. Galena Historic District
Past and present are always in an interesting state of flux on Route 66. For example, many of the attractions and sites one can find as they traverse this special roadway will find spectacular and miraculous things, many of which were relatively common place 50, 60 or maybe even 80 years ago. And Galena is one such historic district and town! Remaining the way it looked in the ’40’s. Galena has charm and appeal that has not waned over time, and the vintage murals are absolutely worth a looks-see.
8. The shortest alignment of Route 66
Well this next one isn’t a special site or attraction per say, but is fun to think about and consider nonetheless! With the shortest mileage of Route 66 in any state, at a humble 13 miles, feel free to take it slow here in Kansas! No need to throttle the gas, but rather feel inclined to liberally meander a bit when it comes to checking out some of Kansas’s other fun and unique things to see and stuff to do!
9. The Cafe
The back-story of the deceptively plainly named, Cafe, is one of changing names, changing venues and potential bank robberies. The site that is now the Cafe was once the Crowell Bank. The bank was built in the 1870’s back when the town was seeing some extra cash in-flow during a boom from cattle ranching. Legend has it that the famous outlaw, Jesse James once knocked the old Crowell Bank over back in 1876! Come and check it out yourself, and explore more of the town, too!
10. Litch Historical and Mining Museum
Time for some serious rock ‘n roll! Or rather, rocks that were rolled away to get some precious resources…well you get the idea. The museum is named after a local historian, Howard “Pappy” Litch and was established to commemorate the town’s origins as a zinc and lead mining operation. And minerals isn’t all, come and see the train with its caboose, which resembles the type of train that once was used to haul precious resources, and an army tank, which serves the historical purpose of looking cool.
The “Show Me State” has got a whole lot to show us on the legendary Route 66. Native American cultures once built thriving mound cities here. Then for a time it was a territory of France, where it was ruled by Louis XIV. That’s right, the Sun king himself once technically ruled Missouri! Next it was ruled by Spain, and then eventually became an American territory and then full state. Missouri has seen many different waves of westward migration periods throughout American history as well. From Mark Twain, to plenty of caves, to the Ozarks and St. Louis, Missouri really does have plenty to show us.
1. The World’s (second) largest Rocking Chair
Despite being dethroned as the #1 largest rocking chair by Casey Illinois (also within the Route 66 states), the “Route 66 Red Rocker” is still a site to see, standing at 42 feet (12.81 meters). And just be glad it doesn’t rock anymore, it was welded down for safety reasons. I know I certainly don’t want a 42 foot tall rocking chair crushing me when I’m driving!
2. Meramec River US 66 Bridge
Back in 1900, the Votaw Bridge was the first bridge to mark this spot. but in 1933, following the new alignment of old Route 66, the bridge was replaced by a historic bridge. You can still see the historic version of the bridge today.
3. Big Chief Hotel
The Big Chief Roadhouse truly is a chief attraction. With a Spanish Mission Revival facade, the Big Chief Roadhouse has withstood the test of time and the realignment of Route 66. It has been a restaurant, a venue for hosting dances and conferences and was also once a “cabin hotel”. 62 separate cabins, all of which were even outfitted with garages and hot and cold showers. Today, it is still a restaurant, so come on in and hail to the Chief.
4. Red Cedar Inn
A charming inn, financed with some questionable money. It all goes back to James and Bill Smith, two brothers and former bootleggers who made a fortune selling moonshine. When Prohibition ended in the ’30’s the two decided to go clean, and used their gains from selling illegal liquor and opened the Red Cedar Inn. Luckily by this time, the alcohol they served up was (probably) all legal. And the building itself is worth a look at, built with brick and cedar (hence the name) to be reminiscent of the old pioneer houses.
5. Wagon Wheel Motel, Cafe and Gas Station
And for our weary travelers, why not stay a night or two at the Wagon Wheel Motel, Cafe and Gas Station? Originally this site hosted 3 Tudor Revival style cabins, each with private baths and showers, heating, fans and garages. What may sound like a given, facilities like private bathrooms and hot water, years and years ago these were a big draw and amenities not every facility hosted. Today the Wagon Wheel also has a cafe, gift shop and gas station in addition to being a motel.
6. Historic Rock Fountain Tourist Court Motel
Take in a true time warp when you visit the Historic Rock Fountain Tourist Court. If one were to hold up a vintage post card of Rock Fountain Court circa 1945, sans the actual rock fountain that is. The buildings are masterfully crafted from sandstone from Missouri’s Ozarks. Be advised, though, as it is now private property, so maybe just admire this one from afar.
7. 66 Drive-in Theater
For motorists who needed a bit of entertainment after long hours on the open road, the 66 Drive-in Theater served as a beacon of light. Opening in 1949 and closing for a while in 1985 with the advent of home videos, the 66 Drive-In reopened in 1998 and still operates today. so for those looking for vintage campy and kitschy, take a break from cruising for a bit to take in something on the big screen.
8. Circle Inn Malt Shop
And the retro kitsch doesn’t stop at drive-ins! The Circle Inn Malt Shop will have you imagining poodle skirts and sock hops in no time. Come to enjoy some classic 50’s eats and explore the Route 66 photos and memorabilia inside, too.
9. Munger Moss Motel
Besides alliteration, this other classic example of 40’s and 50’s Route 66 charm is still open as a restaurant and motel today. The neon sign for Munger Moss Motel is a must see.
10. Gillioz Theatre
The various buildings and attractions along Route 66 are known for their eclectic range of architectural styles and themes. Many of which were for eye-catching advertising purposes, were merely the style of the time period, or reflect an eccentric owner’s fancy. In regards to the Gillioz, it is hard to place which of the three this theater truly reflects, and perhaps there is no need to. Built in an elaborate Spanish style which makes this theater stand out in its area, the Gillioz is still showing films today!
Come and discover why New Mexico is known as the, “Land of Enchantment”. All of the states on our list have their own charms, whether they be natural or man-made that make them worth visiting. But New Mexico in particular has some incredible things to see and do. From Carlsbad Caverns, to the amazing Pueblo Native settlements constructed from cliff or rock face and adobe. New Mexico has deserts starring animals both dangerous and adorable. And once again, after a bit of a hiatus, make sure to brake for jackalopes!
1. Saint Joseph Church
One of the first religious sites on our list, the San Jose (Saint Joseph in English) Church was built in 1701, making it the oldest church in America. In addition to that, it is a very moving building, constructed in the traditional Pueblo style and is still the center for religious life in the village of Laguna Pueblo. If you time your Route 66 tour right, September 19th is the “Fiesta de San Jose”, or the “Feast of Saint Joseph”. This festival features dancing, stalls selling folk arts and crafts and a fun atmosphere. Pueblo Laguna hosts a few other great festivals and celebrations, most of which take place in September.