It’s a route so legendary that celebrated author John Steinbeck named it The Mother Road in his novel The Grapes of Wrath. The highway built in the 1920s that once served as a main thoroughfare from east to west, still beckons travellers seeking a classic piece of Americana.
The historic Route 66 runs from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California and crosses the states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Spanning a distance of more than 2,000 miles, Route 66 passes through a cross section of the USA that lets you see the country’s heart and soul. Traverse the urban streets of Chicago and St. Louis, take in the expansive Grand Canyon, experience the Southwest’s Native American communities, and hit the beach in Santa Monica without leaving the route.
This well-worn, fabled road has a history worth noting. In the mid-1940s, Route 66 wound through small towns across the Midwest and Southwest. It was often called the “Main Street of America” with its mom-and-pop shops, cafes, motels and gas stations. In the late 1950s, the old Route 66 was bypassed as high-speed interstate highways were built. Still, pop culture pumped more life into the road with Nat King Cole’s song, “Route 66” and the 1960s “Route 66” TV show starring a Chevrolet Corvette. The Pixar movie Cars was inspired by a road trip on Route 66, and was almost named “Route 66.”
In 1984, Route 66 was decommissioned and the old route, now designated as Historic Route 66, still maintains its original charisma. Roadside attractions include a treasure trove of 1950s nostalgia from general stores to diners to quirky motels equipped with neon signs—all capturing the glory days like a weathered Polaroid snapshot. Lodging in these kitschy motels is a memorable way to experience the nostalgia. The Munger Moss Hotel in Lebanon, Missouri is quintessential Route 66 stop, while the novelty-laced Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona lets you “sleep in a Wigwam.” El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, also known as “Home of the Movie Stars” catered to the likes of celebrities like John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart.
Landmarks include the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago, Illinois, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri and the Mojave National Preserve in Nipton, California. On the novelty side, you can see the “World’s Largest Concrete Totem Pole” near Foyil, Oklahoma and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The Ariston Café is a member of the Route 66 Hall of Fame and a popular stop for food in Litchfield, Illinois. Further down the road in Amarillo, Texas, a famous spot called Big Texan serves massive 72 oz. steaks.
Once you reach the California coast, the Santa Monica Pier marks the original end of the route. However, travelling to Los Angeles and Sunset Boulevard through the oldest part of the city, the Spanish colonial Olvera Street is a particularly wonderful add-on.
What to bring: an appetite for the eclectic, an open mind and a travel journal to record your chance encounters, hidden gems and favourite stops.
Basic Route Information