Route 66, and its 2,500 miles, is known affectionately as "The Mother Road." It's the quintessential cross-country road trip experience. From Chicago through the beating heart of America, the route officially ends at the Santa Monica Pier. The road reached peak popularity in the late 1940s and early '50s before being officially removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985. After a few years, travelers from around the country and beyond started feeling tinges of nostalgia, and by the end of the 1980s it was once again becoming one of the most popular road trip routes.
Looking for more tips for your Route 66 trip? We've got you covered.
Route 66 is renowned for its classic American cuisine. If you’re not still full of donut holes (or even if you are), visit Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, just outside Chicago, for some of the best fried chicken you'll ever taste. The roadhouse has been serving its home-cooked goodness since 1946, and even if you’re not ready to eat just yet, the neon sign is a classic photo op.
For the full Lincoln experience, spend the night at the Pasfield House Inn in Springfield. This gorgeous bed and breakfast is owned and operated by Tony Leone, a local historian, who greets his guests with that famous Prairie State hospitality. The Georgian-style inn is a Springfield landmark, and oozes with style.
The home was built in 1896 and has been lovingly preserved under the care of Leone since 1996. The six-suite bed and breakfast sees quite a lot of visitors, especially history buffs on Lincoln-inspired pilgrimages.
Six miles south of Mount Olive, take a slight detour to Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton. The ranch is full of Rabbits—both the Volkswagen kind (some stick out of the ground in a Stonehenge-like fashion) and the fluffy kind. If you’re lucky, you might get to meet the owner and pet the real-life rabbits that spend their days hopping around the store. A short drive away is the St. Paul Lutheran Church and its large blue neon cross.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, a Route 66 icon, has been serving hot and hungry road travelers for more than 80 years. After opening his first successful custard store in Florida in 1929, Drewes opened a few more stores, including this stand located on Historic Route 66. Almost a century later, the stand is still a family-run business.
The Jesse James Wax Museum in Stanton is an interactive walking museum that takes visitors through the life and mysterious death of the notorious outlaw. The gift shop is loaded with kitschy James memorabilia. The nearby Riverside Wildlife Center, full of snakes and alligators, is also worth a visit.
There are so many Route 66 icons to see and experience while in Cuba, but it’s absolutely essential to take a tour of the famous Route 66 Viva Cuba Murals. Take a journey through the town’s history via 12 outdoor murals. For a more in-depth look, a narrated bus tour departs from the Cuba Visitor Center. A self-guided map is available at Cubamomurals.com.
Your last Missouri stop should be at Gary's Gay Parita in Ash Grove, a verifiable Route 66 icon. As Gary says, “Folks from all over the world say it’s the dream of their life to travel Historic Route 66. It’s the dream of my life to meet those folks.” Owner Gary Turner loves the Mother Road and the people on it so much that he recreated a little retro Sinclair gas station and spends his days welcoming travelers with a soda and great conversation.
Your first stop in Galena should be Cars on the Route, a restored Kan-O-Tex service station formerly known as 4 Women on the Route. Along with snacks and sandwiches, here you can shop for antiques and Route 66 memorabilia made by local artists. Outside is a lineup of old trucks on display, including one that inspired the Tow Mater character in Disney’s Cars.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa was built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift for his wife Zelta, who loved whales and collected whale figurines. Take time to wander around the remnants of this famed roadside wonder, and have a snack at one of the picnic tables.
The historic Rock Cafe is a classic Route 66 stop. Named for the sandstone rocks used in its construction, the cafe opened in 1939. Crews from Pixar stopped here while they were researching the movie Cars, and the popular eatery was also featured on the "TV show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives." The cafe may be famous for its mouthwateringly golden-brown chicken-fried steak, but if you're in the mood for something sweet, try the Diet Doctor Pepper float.
After all that driving, you're probably thirsty. If carbonated refreshment is your jam, prepare to worship at the altar of the Pops Soda Ranch. Located just off Route 66 in Arcadia, POPS offers more than 700 sodas, sparkling waters, and shakes. Some of the more bizarre soda flavors include mustard, buffalo wing, ranch dressing, and sweet corn. There's a 66-foot-tall soda bottle out front, which lights up at night for a great photo op. This diner, gas station, and gift shop offers visitors several ways to “fill up.”
Lucille's Service Station—also known as Provine Station—is a classic Route 66 gas station known for its unusual design. Built by Carl Ditmore in 1929, there are only a few of these upper-story, porch-style stations left in the U.S. Ditmore sold his station to the Hamons family, and Lucille Hamons ran it for 60 years, earning it its current name.
If you've had your fill of chicken-fried steak and are in the mood for some good barbecue, head to Jigg’s Smokehouse in Clinton, one of the most famous BBQ joints on the entire Mother Road. Established by Jiggs Botchlett, the Smokehouse has been serving its signature “secret” BBQ from a little hole-in-the-wall shack since the late 1970s.
You may recognize Tower Station from the movie Cars. One of many locations in the animated movie based on real-life Route 66 icons, Ramone’s House of Body Art (an auto body shop) is heavily inspired by the U-Drop Inn. Built in 1936, the U-Drop Inn was inspired by a drawing John Nunn made in the dirt with a nail. The gas station and cafe would become an enduring example of fine Route 66 architecture for roughly 60 years before closing in the 1990s. The First National Bank of Shamrock purchased the building in 1999 and donated it to the City of Shamrock, which restored it with help from a $1.7 million federal grant. Today you can “drop inn” to the gift shop and small museum.