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 and down to Los Angeles, the route officially ends at the Santa Monica Pier. The road reached peak popularity in the late 40's and early 50's before being officially removed from the US Highway System in 1985. After a few years, travelers from America and beyond started feeling tinges of nostalgia, and by the end of the 1980's it was fast becoming one of the most popular road trip routes once more.
Whether you call it the starting point or the ending point of the Mother Road, it all comes down to one place: the Santa Monica Pier. It’s the perfect spot to stretch your legs after your journey, or to snap a couple pictures of the ocean before embarking on a 2,000+ mile trip back east. Sure, it’s touristy, but it should be! It’s the Santa Monica Pier! Take a ride on the old 1922 carousel, grab something sweet from the soda fountain, and take in all the great people watching.
2728 W Foothill Blvd, Rialto, CA, US
If you're looking to go full kitsch, then you don't want to miss out on spending the night in a Wigwam Village. Once scattered across the country, today only several villages remain to offer guests the pure fun of staying in a teepee-shaped motel room. There's two along Route 66: Wigwam Village Motel No. 6 in Holbrook, AZ, and Wigwam Village #7 Motel in Rialto, CA.
87520 National Trails Hwy, Amboy, CA, US
After Oatman, you'll come to one of the best roadside stops along Route 66: The Rt. 66 Roy's Motel Cafe & Gas Station in Amboy, CA. Located on a desolate stretch of road, this is an iconic vestige of the Mother Road, and a must-visit for all 66ers.
Oatman-Topock Hwy, Oatman, AZ, US
Of course, no trip through the Wild West is complete without visiting at least one ghost town, and Route 66 offers a few opportunities. But, the best is arguably Oatman, Arizona, which considers itself a "living" ghost town, complete with gift shops, staged gunfights and wild burros wandering through town. Judy’s Saloon and Oatman Hotel and the Dollar Bill Bar are must-visits when passing through.
105 E Andy Devine Ave, Kingman, AZ, US
Another classic Arizona road food destination is Mr D'z Route 66 Diner in Kingman. This is the perfect place for a traditional, retro diner experience along the route.
301 AZ-66, Seligman, AZ, US
Your next major stop is Seligman. At just 6.4 square miles, and boasting a population of only a little over 450 people, it's become a legendary Route 66 town, welcoming multitudes of visitors from around the world every year. And, seriously, when you drive through the town it feels like you've been transported back in time. Seligman's Main Street is lined with historic locally-owned businesses that, against all odds, have withstood the test of time. Many Route 66'ers claim Seligman is a major culinary highlight along the route as well. It's eclectic, quirky personality shines through from Delgadillos Snow Cap Drive-in to the Historic Route 66 General Store, and the ridiculously quirky Rusty Bolt store.
301 E Route 66, Williams, AZ, US
Then hop back on the road and head over to Williams, AZ to grab a bite to eat at Rod's Steak House, which is close to the Grand Canyon National Park, and is known for their homemade rolls, steaks and desserts.
120 W Hopi Dr, Holbrook, AZ, US
Once you reach Arizona, visit Joe and Aggie's Cafe in Holbrook. This classic Route 66 restaurant is best-known for their homemade red and green chile sauces, and it's a fantastic place for a photo-op and to learn about the history of the Mother Road in the cute town of Holbrook.
1000 E. Highway 66, Gallup, NM, US
The historic El Rancho Hotel and Motel in Gallup, built by Joe Massaglia in 1936 has been featured in loads of Hollywood movies. The Western-style hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and features wagon-wheel headboards and suites named after famous Hollywood Western stars. Even if you don't spend the night here, at least pull over to check out their epic lodge-inspired lobby, which has loads of antiques and Native American decorations. The onsite restaurant also makes a delicious enchilada and tasty margarita.
1405 Central Ave NE, Albuquerque, NM, US
If you're still hungry, Route 66 takes you right through Albuquerque, so plan on a pitstop at the 66 Diner in the city.
Route 66, Santa Rosa, NM, US
Another New Mexico highlight along Route 66 is the small town of Santa Rosa, home to the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa. This deep azure-hued diving hole is a favorite local swimming spot, and it's absolutely worth a stop to take a dip, especially if you're braving the Mother Road in July or August. If you're a serious diver, this is one of America's most popular dive destinations. Then, once you've toweled off, visit the Silver Moon Cafe in town for some of the best pancakes of your life.
815 E. Route 66, Tucumcari, NM, US
If you're looking to spend the night in Tucumcari, the Blue Swallow Motel is an absolutely essential Route 66 lodging. It's perfect for photographs pretty much any time of day. Its retro signage is some of the best you'll see along the route, so make sure to pull over for a few pictures, at least.
924 E Tucumcari Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
In fact, you should plan on spending at least a whole day in Tucumcari. The entire town feels like you've stepped back in time. The people are salt-of-the-earth, friendly and passionate. They believe in Tucumcari and are fighting for it, so this great Route 66 town doesn't go the way of so many others in the wake of the highway system. Tucumcari is also home to the Tee Pee Curios, a quirky little gift shop. Or you can hit up the Sand Hills Curiosity Shop for some great taxidermy and other antiques.
1202 E Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
Next up is New Mexico! There are about 465 miles of historic Route 66 that run through the state, though in recent years a few of those miles have disappeared. However, there's still plenty of old-school road to drive along, and so many charming communities along the way to visit. There are tons of classic Route 66 places to see, including fully-functioning historic motels, diners and classic roadside attractions. A few of the notable Route 66 cities you'll pass through include Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Gallup. Enjoy a meal at historic 66 hotspot, Del's Restaurant in Tucumcari, where a cow gracefully adorns the sign above the diner.
305 W Historic Route 66, Adrian, TX, US
Once you reach Adrian, Texas, pat yourself on the back: you've made it to the middle of Route 66! You'll know you've arrived once you see the MidPoint Cafe, a vintage-style roadside diner, with lots of photo-ops to commemorate your journey down the Mother Road.
2906 SW 6th Ave, Amarillo, TX, US
When you're ready for a cold beer and some good tunes, visit the Golden Light Cantina in Amarillo. It's a fantastic little roadhouse that serves up burgers and beers, and also frequently has swinging live music.
7701 East Interstate 40, Amarillo, TX, US
No Route 66 trip through Texas would be complete without a big Texan-style meal. Do yourself a favor and head to The Big Texan Steak Ranch. It's a Route 66 legend with its 72oz steak challenge, which began way back in 1962. Just a couple years after owner Bob Lee opened the doors he noticed the influx of hungry cowboys on their paydays looking to down some hearty steaks. One Friday in 1962 he set up an eating contest to see who could eat the most one-pound steaks in an hour. After one cowboy downed 72oz worth of steak (along with a salad, a shrimp cocktail, and a baked potato) Lee declared that anyone who could eat that much steak in an hour gets it for free... and so a legend was born.
11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX, US
Get your nature kicks on Route 66 at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This is America's second largest canyon, and it only costs $5 to enter. You can easily drive the length of the park and pull over for some scenic overlooks. There's also a sizeable campground in the park.
219 Gray St, McLean, TX, US
Another great little Texas town to visit is McLean. Here you can stop at the Phillips 66 on the Route, a vintage 1928 gas service station that was designed in what was known as "Cottage Fashion," because it resembled a little country cottage. Adorable!
101 E. 12th Street, Shamrock, TX, US
On to Texas! The Lone Star state still has about 150 miles of Route 66 road still remaining, and it all closely parallels Interstate 40, so it's easy to hop on and off the patches of Mother Road. A few highlights include Shamrock, Texas, which is home to the Conoco Tower. This once-bustling stop along the route remains a great place to take pictures to this day. Of all the gas stations, open or closed, in America, this may be one of the most stunning. It’s just a hop, skip, and jump off I-40, so you really have no excuse not to stop and see this roadside classic. While you’re in Shamrock, also hit up their very own Blarney Stone.
Best time of year to travel along Route 66: The best time to road trip down Route 66 is between late April and early July, as well as late August through late October. The worst times to visit would be July and August, this is when the temperature is sweltering and all the kids are out of school, which means you'll come across some crowds along the route. In addition, July and August is considered high season, so you're going to be paying higher rates for lodging.