Experience deserts and ocean along the last leg of Route 66

Though they're at the end of the Route, Arizona and California offer incredible fun

  • 16
  • 12:07
  • 655 mi
  • $79
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Created by Choice Hotels - June 10th 2019

The last leg of Route 66, across Arizona and through California, can be more on the grueling side. Travelers will encounter long stretches of empty desert that seem never-ending, and some pretty steep, narrow, and winding switchback roads. But it's all worth it to get to experience living ghost towns, the Route's only national park, the most important attraction on Route 66, and the end of the road at the Santa Monica Pier, where you can finally, at long last, dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean. Sitting on the sand while watching the waves roll in is the perfect place to reflect on the journey.

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Looking at it now, it's hard to imagine that the Petrified Forest National Park was once filled with trees. The sloping desert hills and brown shrubs don't seem like a place for thousands of giant trees. But scattered along the road and among the brush, you'll find perfectly preserved pieces of wood. Over the years, these once living trees have been completely replaced by minerals and stone, leaving rings of gold and red marble. Many of the petrified pieces have been moved to private lands and museums, but you can still see the occasional trunk lying around.

In addition to these unique stone trees, the Petrified Forest is also home to another classic Arizona beauty—the Painted Desert. This stretch of mountains runs from the Grand Canyon all the way down to the Petrified Forest. Each mountain peak is lined with multiple colors, from pink to red to white, and is absolutely breathtaking if you can catch it at sunset or sunrise.

1
Joe and Aggie's Cafe

The atmosphere at Joe and Aggie's Cafe has been described "like eating at a friend's house." The staff is extremely warm and friendly at this little Mexican joint along Route 66. The portions are large and tasty, with chiles being a staple in most of the dishes. Be sure and try the Navajo Tacos, which are made with traditional fry bread instead of a corn or flour shell.

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Standin' on the Corner Park

When you roll up to Winslow, make sure you've got The Eagles queued up and ready to play. As a nod to the famous song "Take It Easy," this quaint little park is like taking a literal walk through the lyrics. You'll find a bronze statue of a man standing on the corner with his guitar, looking out at a red flatbed Ford truck parked right across the street. Once you've had a chance to take a picture with the lone guitarist, check out the giant mural on the wall next door or hop inside the gift shop (which is rumored to be a source of inspiration for Disney Pixar's film "Cars").

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Meteor Crater

Just a few miles off the freeway, you'll find one of the best-preserved meteorite impact sites in the entire world. Meteor Crater formed more than 50,000 years ago when a massive asteroid hit earth at 26,000 miles per hour. The result is a stunning two-mile long hole in the ground that will stop you in your tracks. To experience the extreme scale of the crater, visitors must pay $18 for a ticket, which includes access to the Discovery Center, a private movie showing, visits to three different look out points, and a guided rim tour. Expect to spend about two hours here and expect to be blown away by both the beauty and the size.

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3.5

Williams, AZ

A well-known establishment in northern Arizona, Rod's Steak House has been around since 1946. The surrounding area of Williams is home to a large number of cattle ranches, and Rodney Graves (Rod for short) was one of them. And even though the original Rod no longer owns this famous steak house, the new owners have tried to keep it as authentic as possible (including the cow-shaped menus that were around when the place first opened). The menu has everything from steak and lobster, to steak burgers, to salads and sides for non-meat eaters. Spend some time before or after your meal and check out the collection of old antiques, pictures, and trinkets.

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Delgadillos Snow Cap Drive-in

If there's a line of cars when you arrive at Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In, it's for a good reason. While the quirky eatery offers sarcastic takes like a "cheeseburger with cheese" and "dead chicken," the interaction with the staff is what makes this stop so unique and fun. Be prepared, everyone who works there has a trick or two up their sleeve...

If you love Route 66, or know someone who does, than Hackberry General Store is a must-stop. Often referred to as "the mother load of the Mother Road," this former gas station is filled with all things Route 66. Inside you'll find an unbelievable collection of stickers, old signs, gas pumps, even a vintage diner set-up. Park outside, have a look around, and take a quick lunch break at the shaded picnic tables out front.

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7
Quality Inn Kingman

After miles and miles of open road and desert heat, Kingman offers refuge for travelers coming from both the east and west. And there's no better place to stay than the Quality Inn Kingman. Perfect for travelers just passing through or those who want a getaway weekend, this Quality Inn caters to everyone. And it's pet friendly as well! With free breakfast, an outdoor pool, and free rides to the airport, it'll be hard to leave this desert oasis! Click here to book your stay.

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4.0

Kingman, AZ

You can't miss this turquoise and pink establishment! Mr D'z Route 66 Diner offers great food and a cool break from the blazing summer heat. With so much memorabilia hanging on the walls and placed throughout the interior, you'll find something new each time you visit. The menus are found in bright pink notebooks, with everything from pancakes (served all day) to sandwiches and hot dogs.

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Cool Springs Gas Station

Looking like something out of a movie, Cool Springs Gas Station is probably the prettiest gas station you'll ever visit. Yes, you can fill up on gas but also grab a bite to eat and enjoy the stunning views and scenic mountain ranges behind the station. The owner, Ned Leuchtner, has put a lot of time and effort into restoring this once crumbled stone building, and his handiwork is definitely worth seeing.

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4.2

Oatman, AZ

What was once a multi-million dollar gold mining town is now just a skeleton of its former self. Oatman is a real-life ghost town, having been completely abandoned since the 1960s when all mining operations were shut down. Located about 30 miles outside of Kingman, Oatman has now been turned into a popular stop for Route 66 travelers, featuring gift shops, a bar, and a pack of friendly donkeys that roam the streets. The road from Kingman to Oatman can be steep and treacherous, so reward yourself with a pit spot at this whimsical little town.

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Rt. 66 Roy's Motel Cafe & Gas Station

When it opened, Roy's Motel Cafe & Gas Station was considered a godsend by many traveling along Route 66. With nothing for miles in either direction, it was the perfect place to stop, eat, and rest for the night. While all rooms are currently being renovated, you can still stop and take a picture under the famous Roy's sign and check out some of the old cars scattered throughout the property.

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3.5

Yermo, CA

We can't complete our wild west tour without another ghost town. And while Oatman was mined for gold, Calico was known for its silver. Unfortunately, when silver lost its value in the mid-1890s, Calico ceased to exist. Calico sat untouched until it was bought in the 1950s and completely restored to its natural, authentic self. Today, visitors can stop by and learn about the town's history, eat at the restaurant, and even camp on the premises—a rare offering at these types of attractions!

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4.5

Oro Grande, CA

Right in the middle of southern California, half way between the Pacific Ocean and the Arizona/Nevada border, you'll find Bottle Tree Ranch. Built by local artist and collector Elmer Long, Bottle Tree Ranch is a stunning installation of over 200 "trees" covered in bottles. Comprised of a single, metal pole, "branches," and bottle "leaves," each tree is completely unique. Some move, some don't. Others make noise, while some have been fixed with antlers, windmills, even a tricycle. A true collection of artistry, Bottle Tree Ranch is not only a worthwhile stop but a great example of what can happen when you follow your passions.

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3.9

San Bernardino, CA

We've all seen them on countless road trips. They appear like mile markers along freeways and highways—the iconic golden arches of McDonald's. But this isn't your ordinary fast food stop. This building is home to the very first McDonald's restaurant. Here you'll find an extensive museum filled with pictures, toys, costumes, kitchenware, and just about anything that ever featured a McDonald's logo. Outside, there's a beautiful mural of California and some old play equipment. And while this location no longer serves burgers, it definitely serves up a healthy dose of history on America's most beloved fast-food chain.

4.0

Los Angeles, CA

It's only fitting that our Route 66 trip end where the road ends—at the ocean. Specifically, the Santa Monica Pier in the Pacific Ocean. A charming blue and white arch welcomes you as you step onto the dark planks of the pier and venture out over the ocean. On the pier you'll find an abundance of rides, shops, and entertainment, including a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, an aquarium, and an arcade. At the very end of the pier you'll find a small shop dedicated to Route 66 and its American legend.

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This stretch of Route 66 seems to truly embody the American spirit—roadtrippers and travelers will, quite literally, have seen purple mountains majesty and shining seas. And even though the trip ends at the Pacific Ocean, we'd like to think it's not the end of the road but only the beginning.

Banner Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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