When Route 66 was at its peak, the Mother Road was lined with diners, motels, and curio shops, and each was vying to get your car in its parking lot. Giant dinosaurs and spacemen like the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, IL worked well in the daytime, but nothing caught the attention of nighttime travelers better than a big, beautiful neon sign. Here are some of our favorites from east-to-west along the Mother Road…
he unofficial “first stop” for anyone headed out on Route 66 from Chicago, Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket has been featured in so many documentaries and books about the Mother Road it would take a page to list them all. It’s proximity to Chicago coupled with this gorgeous neon has made it a popular stop on Route 66 for over 60 years.
Wagon Wheel Motel
The Wagon Wheel Motel has lit up Route 66 with its simple yet eye-catching neon sign since 1947 and then doubled-down with another unique neon in 2013 so travelers from both directions catch a glimpse of the Wagon Wheel's neon glow. The motel itself features unique Ozark stone building from the 1930s, all updated with modern amenities.
Missouri Hick Barbeque
The Wagon Wheel also has the bonus of being next to Missouri Hick Barbeque, another must-eat place along Route 66.
The Munger Moss Motel itself isn't particularly interesting from an architectural standpoint... It's just a simple brick motel like so many along the two-lane highways of America, but its neon sign has made it a well-known attraction along Route 66. Today, the Munger Moss is a favorite for Route 66 travelers, and it's hard to believe that giant neon sign isn't a big part of that...
Steak 'n Shake
These days most Steak 'n Shakes are all pretty much the same... Modern attempts to try and capture the spirit of the 1950s diner and drive-in. Well, this Steak 'n Shake on Route 66 in Springfield, MO actually IS an old-school vintage diner, complete with awesome neon all around. You know we love to push the local one-of-a-kind places, but we'll make a big exception for this retro Steak 'n Shake.
Carthage, MO is a town with plenty of Route 66 charm of its own like the Boots Court Motel, a spot Clark Gable spent a night or two.
The 66 Drive-In Theatre is right on the edge of Carthage and fills up every weekend with both locals and travelers wanting to catch a drive-in movie showing. The neon sign point the way to a truly Route 66-style experience.
Waylan's Kuku Burger
Classic neon sign. Classic diner food. Classic Route 66 pit stop. Although the area around it has changed, the Waylan's Kuku Burger neon sign in Miami, OK still points to one of the best spots for crispy fries, delicious burgers, and tasty ice cream anywhere along Route 66.
Meadow Gold Sign
For several decades, this giant Meadow Gold Sign sat atop a building at 11th & Lewis in Tulsa, OK, becoming one of the town’s most recognizable Route 66 icons, but when the new owner of the building decided to tear the building down, the sign was in danger of being gone forever. Thankfully, it was rescued and sat atop an open-air museum/learning center made to resemble a retro filling station.
The tiny town of Shamrock, TX's Tower Conoco & U-Drop Inn may just be the most beautiful art deco building outside of Miami, FL, and there's no better example of its beauty than when it lights up at night. We had the awesome opportunity to swing by this landmark that inspired a location in the Pixar movie Cars, at night and take a whole boatload of awesome nighttime shots.
One of the last remaining curio shops in New Mexico, Tee-Pee Curios is not only awesome from the outside, but its packed with all the Route 66 souvenirs, pottery, shirts, and jewelry you could ever want. The new owners are incredibly friendly, and even following their Facebook page feels less like you’re being advertised to and more like you’re having a conversation with the owners, wishing you could be in Tucumcari to stop in and say hello.
When you combine a classic retro design with an eye for style you get the beautifully renovated Motel Safari. The owners, diehard Route 66 lovers, are more than happy to share a beer on the patio and tell you all about Tucumcari. Their outgoing, friendly spirit is a prime example of the people making Tucumcari great once again.
Often referred to as the most photographed motel sign on Route 66, the Blue Swallow Motel's neon just screams everything awesome and retro about Route 66. Its neon sign is already well-known to most travelers before they ever arrive in Tucumcari, but the whole place is just as classic with little garages and plenty of vintage cars on the grounds to give it just the right feeling. Walk next door to the old filling station, and you’ll likely find one of the owners fiddling with an old car or two.
A local favorite for decades and a filming location in Breaking Bad, the Dog House in Albuquerque, NM has one of the most beloved neon signs on Route 66 with its adorable animated dog neon. (If you're a real neon-lover, spend a night exploring Albuquerque's section of Route 66. They've had a big push to re-light the strip with plenty of eye-catching neon.)
El Trovatore Motel's main sign has some neon, but it's not the most impressive in town, but when you figure in El Trovatore's awesome neon tower, the two neons combine for a pretty awesome night scene.
Santa Monica Pier
The end of the road... And what a beautiful end it is. Santa Monica Pier's iconic sign is a great photo op, day or night.
There you have it a few of the coolest neon signs along Route 66. Of course, these signs also look pretty amazing during the day, and when driving down Route 66 plan to spend time in each of these amazing small towns.
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