Map and Itinerary Planning

Begin at 65 E Adams Street in Chicago. Be an early bird—parking's scarce along E. Adams Street. First photo op: Route 66 start sign. Then, embark on the drive and look for:

  • Gemini Giant, Wilmington: A classic Muffler Man at the Launching Pad Drive-In.
  • Ambler's Texaco Gas Station, Dwight: Perfectly preserved for that retro feel.
  • The Standard Oil Gas Station, Odell: A vintage gem.
  • Route 66 Association of Illinois, Pontiac: Home to Bob Waldmire's bus and Route 66 murals.
  • Cozy Dog Drive-In, Springfield: Birthplace of the corndog.
  • Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis: Take a stroll across this pedestrian-only bridge.

Wind down in St. Louis with a scoop of frozen custard at Ted Drewes. Spend your night in downtown St. Louis or Forest Park.

Rise early; you're covering almost all of Missouri. Key spots:

  • Route 66 State Park, Eureka: Museum and old stretch of Route 66.
  • Missouri Hickory Bar-B-Q, Cuba: Top-notch barbecue.
  • Giant Rocking Chair, Fanning: Grab a quick pic.
  • Springfield: Grab dinner and see the Route 66 Car Museum.
  • 66 Drive-In Theatre, Carthage: Drive-in movies are a must when available.

End the day in Joplin, Missouri.

You'll drive through Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Highlights:

  • Grand Falls, Joplin: Missouri's largest flowing waterfall.
  • Kan-O-Tex Service Station, Galena: Inspiration for the movie "Cars".
  • Nelson's Old Riverton Store: A quaint, oldest supermarket on 66 stop.
  • Blue Whale of Catoosa: An eye-catching roadside wonder.
  • Golden Driller Statue, Tulsa: Towering at 76 feet.

Wrap up in Oklahoma City, enjoying its rich history and architecture.

Morning in Oklahoma City, then hit the road. Stops to consider:

  • Old Route 66 Bridge, Lake Overholser: Historical bridge site.
  • Sid's Diner, El Reno: Famous for onion burgers.
  • Lucille's Historic Highway Gas Station: Iconic service station from 1941.
  • U-Drop Inn, Shamrock: Classic Route 66 art deco architecture.
  • Lean Tower of Texas, Groom: Posed as a tilted water tower.

Finish the day in Amarillo, Texas.

Don't miss Palo Duro Canyon in the morning—then continue on to Tucumcari:

  • Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo: Spray-paint to your heart's content.
  • MidPoint Cafe, Adrian: Marking the halfway point on Route 66.
  • Ghost Town, Glenrio: A hauntingly deserted place.
  • Neon Lights, Tucumcari: An evening drive through glowing motel signs.

Check into a retro motel for an authentic 66 experience.

Key stops include:

  • Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa: Tour classic cars and memorabilia.
  • Santa Fe Loop: Beautiful vistas, spicy tacos, and adobe architecture.
  • Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks (subject to opening): A natural wonder.
  • Nob Hill, Albuquerque: Great mix of modern eateries and historic Route 66 vibes.

In Albuquerque, settle in and enjoy the local fare.

Final stretch includes:

  • Petrified Forest National Park: Walk among ancient fossils.
  • Standin' On The Corner Park, Winslow: A community tribute to The Eagles song.

Wind down in Winslow with a view of the famous flatbed Ford.

Throughout your trip, keep your eyes peeled for quirky roadside attractions and vibrant murals. Don't forget to top off at stations like Pops 66 Soda Ranch in Arcadia, famous for its vast selection of sodas. Each stop has its own flavor and history, making your journey uniquely yours.

Must-See Attractions

From the nostalgic kitsch of Muffler Men to spectacular cultural sites and oddities, Route 66 offers a treasure trove of must-see stops.

Dive into the charm of Illinois with stops at the Gemini Giant in Wilmington. This towering Muffler Man is a testament to the mid-century roadside culture that Route 66 celebrates. Down the road, Ambler's Texaco Gas Station in Dwight and The Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell provide perfectly maintained slices of history.

Crossing into Missouri, the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis offers a unique experience with its mid-span curve and now serves as a pedestrian and bicycle path. In Cuba, don't miss the Giant Rocking Chair—an oversized piece of Americana perfect for a photo op.

In Kansas, visit Galena's Kan-O-Tex Service Station, which pays homage to Radiator Springs from Pixar's "Cars". Don't overlook the Rainbow Bridge near Riverton: a graceful Marsh Arch Bridge, one of the last of its kind1.

When passing through Oklahoma, the Blue Whale of Catoosa is impossible to miss. This 20-foot-tall structure invites travelers to snap whimsical photos. In Tulsa, marvel at the Golden Driller Statue, standing an impressive 76 feet tall—a symbol of the state's oil industry heritage2.

Texas promises larger-than-life attractions like the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. Here, spray-painting colorful graffiti on the half-buried cars is encouraged. Don't forget U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, an Art Deco masterpiece that stands out along the Mother Road.

En route to New Mexico, embrace the beauty of the Palo Duro Canyon, the second-largest canyon in the U.S. In Santa Rosa, the Route 66 Auto Museum showcases an array of vintage cars. As you head towards Albuquerque, don't miss the stunning vistas of the Santa Fe Loop.

Arizona's stretch includes natural wonders such as the Petrified Forest National Park, where you can walk among ancient fossilized trees3. The quirky ghost towns like Seligman and Hackberry offer glimpses into the past.

Finally, in California, ease into the end of your trip with the nostalgic scenery of Route 66. Roy's Motel and Cafe and Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch provide intriguing stops that embody the artistic spirit of Route 66. Finish your journey at the Santa Monica Pier, a perfect spot to reflect on your adventure with the Pacific Ocean stretching before you.

Every twist and turn of Route 66 offers a unique story, each stop an opportunity to walk through the pages of American history.

The towering Gemini Giant Muffler Man statue standing outside the Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington, Illinois, along Route 66.

Historical Significance

Traveling along Route 66 isn't just about scenic views and roadside diners—it's a journey through history. Known as the Mother Road, it symbolized hope and opportunity for millions during tough times. From 1926 to 1985, Route 66 was the main artery for adventurers, migrants, and dreamers heading west, weaving through the heart of America and offering a lifeline for those seeking a new start.

John Steinbeck once called Route 66 "the road of flight" in his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. In the 1930s, Dust Bowl migrants laden with hope and few possessions trekked westward in battered cars, escaping the environmental and economic calamities of the Great Depression. This highway provided a lifeline, connecting the heartland to the promise of a brighter future in California. For many, the journey along Route 66 was grueling, but the road became a beacon of resilience and determination.

The post-World War II era saw Route 66 transform into a leisure path for post-war families. The advent of the automobile industry and the rise in disposable income turned it into a leisure destination. Families packed into their new cars to explore the marvels of the American Southwest. Roadside culture burgeoned with the construction of motels, gas stations, and diners—each vying for the attention of passing motorists with quirky signs and eye-catching architecture4.

However, the road's significance wasn't just in its function. Route 66 went beyond its practical purpose by becoming a symbol of freedom and opportunity. It helped shape the country's cultural and social landscape, giving birth to an era of unprecedented mobility. Songs, movies, and television series immortalized the beckoning call of the open road.

Despite its decommissioning in 1985, the magic of Route 66 has not waned. It remains etched in the collective American memory, celebrated through preservation efforts, annual road trip traditions, and the resurgence of nostalgic interests in vintage Americana5. Advocacy groups have strived to maintain and restore many of the original landmarks, ensuring that travelers today can still experience a slice of history.

Today, as you travel along Route 66, every mile tells a tale of transformation and perseverance. From the urban landscapes of Chicago to the sandy beaches of Santa Monica, this journey allows you to step back in time, tracing the footsteps of those who forged the path before you. Each town, each stop along the route, narrates a unique chapter of America's story, filled with dreams, hardships, and the triumph of the human spirit.

A beautifully preserved vintage gas station along Route 66, representing the iconic Americana and roadside culture of the historic highway.

Safety Tips

Safety first—always. Avoid driving after dark as remote roads can get tricky. Park in well-lit areas, keep your valuables out of sight, and be aware of weather conditions, especially in areas prone to tornadoes and wildfires. Route 66 takes you through diverse terrains and climates, each with its own set of conditions to navigate.

Install a reliable weather app on your smartphone to receive real-time updates and alerts, particularly when traversing Tornado Alley in Oklahoma or the wildfire-prone regions of California. If there's a warning, find shelter and wait until it is safe to continue. During monsoon season in the desert areas, be prepared for sudden flash floods. Stay informed and ahead of potential hazards.

Ensure your vehicle is in good condition before hitting the road. Regularly check tire pressure, oil levels, and coolant to avoid breakdowns in remote areas. Have a basic roadside emergency kit with:

  • Water
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • A first-aid kit
  • A flashlight

When stopping for the night, choose well-reviewed hotels or motels with good lighting and security. Trust your instincts; if a place feels unsafe, move on. Keep your doors locked and valuables out of sight to reduce the risk of theft.

In cities, follow traffic laws and speed limits. In rural areas, watch out for wildlife. If you face a breakdown or emergency, stay inside your vehicle with the doors locked while waiting for help. Always have the contact numbers of local towing services and emergency response teams.

Share your travel itinerary with someone back home and check in regularly. Pack layers for variable weather, a hat for sun protection, and comfortable shoes. Carry plenty of water, especially in desert areas.

By exercising caution and staying informed, your journey along Route 66 can be safe and enjoyable.

Optimal Travel Time

The best time for a Route 66 road trip is between late April and early October. These months offer ideal weather conditions, enhancing your experience. However, July and August can be hot and crowded.

Consider planning your trip for May or September to avoid high temperatures and busy attractions. In May, you'll find blooming landscapes and milder weather. The desert regions are not yet scorching, and the climates in Illinois and Missouri are often ideal for driving and sightseeing.

September is another excellent option, with pleasant weather and fewer crowds as schools resume and the tourist season winds down. This allows for a more relaxed trip to enjoy the iconic stretches and nostalgic stops at your own pace. Autumn touches the landscapes with hues of gold and red, particularly in the Midwest.

Traveling during these shoulder months means you are more likely to find accommodations without extensive advance bookings. Motels and hotels along Route 66 often have more vacancies and better rates compared to peak summer.

Keep in mind that weather can be unpredictable across diverse terrains. Monitor forecasts as you plan and embark on your journey to be prepared for any sudden changes.

Timing your trip wisely between late April and early October gives you optimal weather, manageable crowds, and the quintessential Route 66 experience.

A picturesque stretch of Route 66 winding through a vibrant autumn landscape, showcasing the ideal time for a road trip along the historic highway.


A true Route 66 experience wouldn't be complete without a stay in some of its iconic motels. Look for vintage, family-owned options that offer a nostalgic vibe. These motels are more than just places to rest—they're a step back in time, each with its own story interwoven with the history of the Mother Road.

The Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri, opened in 1946, has retained its mid-century charm. Neon signs greet you, and the rooms are a homage to the classic car culture that thrived along Route 66. Owners Bob and Ramona Lehman add a personal touch, ensuring every guest feels at home.

The Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, established in 1939, is another must-visit. Its vintage neon sign is an Instagram favorite, and the classic garages next to each room add a nostalgic touch. The current owners, Kevin and Nancy Mueller, have passionately restored the property, maintaining its historic integrity while adding modern comforts.

The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, built in 1935, is the oldest continuously operating motel on Route 66. Its stone construction adds rustic charm, and each room blends retro decor with updated facilities.

The Boots Court Motel in Carthage, Missouri, from 1939, has carefully preserved Art Deco styling. The rooms have radios playing 1930s and 1940s tunes, adding to the ambiance.

Your accommodations on Route 66 are integral to the journey. Each motel offers a narrative of the rich cultural tapestry of America's most famous highway. By choosing these vintage, family-owned stays, you're immersing yourself in the true spirit of the Mother Road and supporting the preservation of its unique history.

Packing Essentials

Packing efficiently is important for a comfortable and hassle-free Route 66 road trip. Keep a small overnight bag with essentials like sleepwear, toiletries, and entertainment within easy reach to avoid rummaging through your main luggage every evening.

Organize your main luggage thoughtfully, with items needed later in the trip at the bottom and daily necessities at the top. Use packing cubes or vacuum-sealed bags to compartmentalize your clothing by type or day to save space and keep your suitcase orderly.

Bring multi-functional items that serve more than one purpose, like a scarf that can double as a blanket or pillow. Choose clothing that layers easily to adapt to temperature shifts without packing an entire wardrobe. Quick-dry fabrics are excellent for clothing and towels, as they can be washed in motel sinks and will be ready to use by morning.

Pack a small first-aid kit, including any necessary medications, and keep it accessible. Don't forget entertainment for long stretches of highway, like a well-curated playlist, audiobooks, or podcasts. A portable car charger or power bank is essential to keep your gadgets powered.

A separate "day pack" can hold items you might need during pit stops:

  • Sunscreen
  • A hat
  • Snacks
  • A water bottle
  • A map

This way, you won't have to dig through your main luggage every time you explore a roadside attraction.

Be prepared for unexpected weather changes with a lightweight rain jacket and sun hat. Route 66 crosses diverse climates, from the windswept plains of the Midwest to the arid deserts of the Southwest.

By focusing on multi-functionality and accessibility, you can create a packing system that keeps you organized, minimizes stress, and maximizes your enjoyment of the iconic Route 66.

A collection of essential items for a Route 66 road trip, including a map, sunglasses, a camera, and a vintage-inspired suitcase, representing the importance of smart packing for the journey.

Route Choices

Choosing the direction of your Route 66 journey—whether starting in Chicago or Los Angeles—is a deeply personal decision, and both options promise equally enriching experiences. Traditionalists often opt for the east-to-west route, starting in Chicago. This direction mirrors the path of historical pioneers and migrants who ventured westward seeking new opportunities and a fresh start.

Kicking off in Chicago, the adventure begins with the symbolic start line at 65 E Adams Street. This east-to-west route lets you follow in the footsteps of countless travelers who journeyed this path. As you traverse Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and onward, you experience the gradual shift in landscape and culture, each state revealing a new chapter of the American story.

Starting in Chicago means your journey begins with the Midwest's bustling cities and vast farmlands, gradually transitioning to the open plains of Oklahoma and Texas. As you move further west, the scenery morphs into the dramatic deserts of New Mexico and Arizona before finally leading you to the coastal beauty of California.

On the flip side, beginning your adventure from Los Angeles offers its own charm. Launching your journey this way, you can experience the wonder of traveling from the modern, sprawling cities of California eastward, passing through historic small towns and natural wonders, eventually culminating in the urban landscape of Chicago.

This west-to-east direction often comes with the excitement of leaving the familiar modernity of Los Angeles behind. As you travel through Arizona's deserts, the cultural richness of New Mexico, and the fields of Oklahoma and Kansas, you peel back layers of America's history. By the time you hit the expanses of the Midwest, each town along the way has added its story to your adventure.

Regardless of the direction you choose, both routes provide an equally rewarding mosaic of sights and stories. Each town, diner, and roadside attraction along Route 66 narrates its tale of the past, making every mile unique and significant. The Mother Road is less about the destination and more about the journey itself—the stories you gather, the people you meet, and the historic landmarks you discover.

Whether you opt for the traditional east-to-west route or take the less conventional west-to-east path, Route 66 guarantees a memorable adventure. The road beckons with its promise of nostalgia, exploration, and an emblematic American experience. Each stretch of this historic highway invites you to step into the narrative of countless travelers who came before you, making your journey along Route 66 a timeless and quintessentially American odyssey.

A classic Route 66 highway sign indicating the east and west directions of the historic road, symbolizing the choice travelers make when embarking on their journey.

The Journey Through Time and History

Traveling Route 66 is more than just a road trip; it's a journey through time and history. Each mile offers its own story, creating an unforgettable experience that connects you with America's past and present. Consider the following aspects that make this journey truly remarkable:

  • Nostalgic Americana: Route 66 is lined with countless examples of classic Americana, from vintage gas stations and neon signs to diners and motels that have stood the test of time.
  • Diverse Landscapes: The route traverses a wide array of landscapes, from the rolling hills of the Midwest to the vast deserts of the Southwest, offering a visual feast for travelers.
  • Cultural Richness: Each state along the route has its own unique cultural heritage, which is reflected in the local cuisine, music, art, and architecture.

As you embark on this iconic journey, take the time to immerse yourself in the stories and experiences that make Route 66 an integral part of American history. Embrace the opportunity to create your own memories while paying homage to the countless travelers who have come before you.