Route 66, also known as the Mother Road and the Main Street of America, may have had its heyday years ago, but it’s definitely still worth a drive. Construction of the highway began in 1926 and it became one of the most famous roads in America. Connecting Chicago to Los Angeles and passing through 8 states, and covering over 2,000 miles, people came in droves to Get Their Kicks on Route 66.
Though long since bypassed by modern highways, Route 66 attractions still make it a road trip your family should take. Large sections are gone now, but cities, towns and individuals have preserved its charm and history along the way. Don’t forget to bring a camera and capture the adventure, giving your family something to truly remember for years to come.
If you have a couple of weeks you could make the whole trip, but I recommend breaking it up, as I’ve done over the years. That way you can slowly enjoy the whole experience, like people did before modern day highway speed limits. The Western section has a lot more of the original route and attractions preserved, but the Eastern half still has some great surprises as well. Here are some of the highlights I’ve had a chance to see. I’m sure you will have your own stories to add to this great part of American history.
Time To Hit The Road
It all starts in Chicago (or ends there depending on the direction you’re traveling). Modern maps don’t show major portions of the original Route 66, but you can find state-by-state directions here. Even though much of the Eastern half is now major highways, many of the towns and cities still have the original route marked on their main street. Just get off the highway and you’ll still be able to discover some of the original sites along the road.
Large portions of Route 66 have retained their husker, entrepreneurial spirit. Even today billboards and giant statues still remain, peddling roadside attractions. You can still see live rattlesnakes and other wild creatures on display, or even swim alongside a giant blue whale in Catoosa, OK.
Retro Hotels & Motels
Although many of the old motels are long gone, there are many towns along the way still beckoning travelers to come in and stay. You’ll spot countless billboards along the highway like, Tucumcari Tonight with 2,000 Rooms. Sadly, many of these places are only barely surviving or sit vacant, driven out of business by major hotel chains along the highway.
If You’re Hungry There’s Plenty To Eat
This same shameless self-promotion has helped many towns along the old route stay alive. Modern diners play up their Route 66 connections. Luckily there are also many original mom & pop restaurants kept in business by travelers wanting a nostalgic taste of our American past.
Running On Empty
Of course for any road trip you need to keep the tank filled. Back in the day before vehicles were more environmentally friendly you needed to stop often. Fortunately a number of these picturesque old stations have been preserved. But just make sure to fill up elsewhere first as they are no longer in operation.
Are We There Yet?
If you still haven’t gotten enough kicks, there are several towns with Route 66 museums. They’re full of retro displays, cars and stories about the road’s history and the colorful people that made this an American icon. Even if you only have time for a short trip it’s definitely something you don’t want to miss. Especially now as more of the original road and it’s culture disappears.
All photos courtesy Franck Fotos