There is something amazing about the classic American road trip, and it doesn’t get any more classic than a drive across the country on historic Route 66. It could take anywhere from two weeks to two months! If you’ve decided to do this iconic drive, I guarantee that it’s going to be the road trip of a lifetime.
All along the way, there is an abundance of interesting attractions to see, so it can be really overwhelming to figure out what’s worth the stop and what’s not. There’s just so much between Chicago and Santa Monica. To help, here are a few highlights from coast to coast along the iconic route that you absolutely can’t miss.
The Start of Route 66 – Chicago, IL
Supposedly, Route 66 doesn’t have an “official” start and end point, but I think Chicago might say otherwise. Stop by 99 E Adam Street to start your trip right: with a photo of the “BEGIN Route 66” sign.
The Field Museum – Chicago, IL
This amazing natural history museum is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. They also have Sue, the largest T-rex skeleton in the world!
Meramec Caverns – Stanton, MO
You’ll see this stop advertised for miles before reaching it near Stanton, MO. It’s a limestone cave that was mined for gunpowder ingredients during the Civil War, and artifacts were found that suggest this was also a hideout for the infamous Jesse James. There are guided tours to take you through the 5-mile-long cave system, where you’ll see the rarest and largest cave formations in the world.
The Gateway Arch – St. Louis, MO
Built in 1967, the 630-foot Gateway Arch is the gateway to the western U.S., so make sure you stop through before heading into the wild west. There is an internal tram that will take you to the top of the arch for breathtaking views of St. Louis.
Meet Mater’s Inspiration – Galena, KS
If you’re traveling with your kids, or you’re a Disney fanatic yourself, don’t miss Cars on the Route. Galena, KS is the home of “Tow Tater,” the inspiration for Tow Mater in the movie Cars. This former Kan-O-Tex gas station is now serving up snacks and 66 souvenirs. Make sure you snap a family photo with Tow Tater before heading down the road.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa – Catoosa, OK
This giant whale was built in the early ’70s by Hugh Davis as an anniversary gift for his wife, who collected whale tchotchkes. It has since become one of the most recognizable attractions on Route 66. Don’t forget to pack some sandwiches for the picnic area.
POPS 66 Soda Ranch – Arcadia, OK
This attraction opened in 2007, making it a more recent roadside stop. It’s known for the towering 66-foot neon bottle sign outside, but step inside where you’ll find more than 600 varieties of soda from around the world. There’s also a futuristic gas station out front, and a restaurant serving up burgers and sandwiches.
The Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, TX
If you don’t stop to see the Cadillac Ranch, you’re not doing it right. This art project was created in 1974, and features 10 Cadillacs buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Visitors are encouraged to spray paint the cars!
Meow Wolf -Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe is now home to immersive and interactive experiences with art installations, video and music production, and extended reality content. The permanent installation that launched in 2016 was funded by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, and is described as a surreal “multidimensional mystery house” with secret passages and portals.
Make sure you reserve your check-in time on their website before you arrive, so they don’t sell out before you get there.
Wigwam Motel – Holbrook, AZ
Talk about a unique motel. The Wigwam motel was built in 1950 and became an instant roadside attraction. The motel rooms are shaped like the tepees of the Plains Indians, but they’re made of concrete and come equipped with air conditioners and cable TV.
The Grand Canyon – Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Lowell Observatory – Flagstaff, AZ
Meteor Crater – Winslow, AZ
This stop is a short detour, about 15 minutes off Route 66, but I think it’s worth it. This is a crater left from when a meteor crashed into the earth 50,000 years ago, and the crater is 550 feet deep and 2.4 miles in circumference. There are observation trails surrounding the crater, and there’s also an indoor interactive discovery center, a movie theater, and gift shop.
The Original McDonalds – San Bernardino, CA
Make time for this stop if you’re a fan of the famous “Golden Arches.” This is the original McDonald’s restaurant that opened in 1940, and is now a museum complete with memorabilia, menus, and news articles.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch – Oro Grande, CA
You’re going to have to see this one to believe it. Created by Elmer Long, the ranch is full of over 200 scrap metal trees, with bottles welded to their branches. The sun shining through bottles of all different colors, shapes, and sizes is a sort of unique beauty that makes this one of California’s most iconic stops on Route 66.
Santa Monica Pier – Santa Monica, CA
The sign at Santa Monica states that this is the “End of the Trail.” The Santa Monica Pier has so much going on, that I’d need a whole new article to get through it all. But while you’re living it up at this last stop, make sure to swing through the Last Stop Shop for just about any Route 66 souvenir you could want.