Route 66, one of the most famous highways in the world, spans over 2,400 miles and stretches across eight major states. The sheer length of this highway makes it the perfect option for a road trip with family or friends (even both simultaneously).
Your trip down this road is likely to be one you’ll never forget. You’ll be greeted with iconic landmarks, roadside diners, retro neon signs, and more.
Running down the middle of the United States (US), Route 66 and its adventures are a testament to American culture and society, making it perfect for a vacation without debt. Before we dive into the fun things you can do, let’s dig into the history of Route 66.
The Origins of Route 66
According to the National Park Service (NPS), the origins of Route 66 can be traced back to the nation’s first-ever trans-Mississippi migration in the mid-1800s. At the time, the route was initially surveyed for a railroad network. However, Congress ultimately opted for a network of wagon roads instead.
In the early 1900s, the US only had around 180,000 registered automobiles, which rapidly increased as time progressed. This increased number of registered cars triggered the American people’s demand for improved highways. The federal government’s response to these demands made Route 66 what it is today.
Public highway legislation appeared in 1916 and was modified in 1921. The government began to lay bricks on the road when Congress made a more detailed version of the law in 1925. The Mother Road was formally named Route 66 a year later, but this was just a number designated to a network of roads in poor condition.
Route 66 Today
Today’s Main Street of America stretches to a magnificent length of 2,400 miles, from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean. As you cruise down the road, you’re likely to find historical buildings and cultural sites like the:
- Painted Desert
- Route 66 Museum
- Meramec Caverns
- Gemini Giant
- Rialto Square Theatre
These sites and many others like them will surely make your Route 66 road trip an event you’ll cherish and never forget.
So, what are you waiting for? Calculate the motorcycle loan, rent that chopper, or get in the minivan and let the journey begin. Let’s look at the best 10 things you can do to make your road trip on Route 66 memorable.
10 Things You Can Do on Route 66
On your road trip down Route 66, you’ll likely find many natural wonders, vintage motels, and iconic diners. You’ll want to add an experience at each one to your bucket list, so embrace the fun and don’t roll your eyes at the budget. Use some of America’s best business credit cards to handle the expense. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, after all.
That said, some great things you can do on Route 66 include:
Drive the Entire Way
When driving down the road, there’s no right or wrong way. And it does not have to be that expensive. You can certainly drive a ‘beater car’ for a more nostalgic feel! The choice is 100% yours. Completing the entire drive in one go will probably be a thrilling experience, but you shouldn’t rush it. The Mother Road has so much to offer when it comes to entertainment that completing that trip without any stops would be nothing short of an injustice. You can:
- Visit museums
- Have picnics
- Enjoy some great cuisines
- See iconic landmarks
You can choose to go from state to state or from one site to another. Or you can take the 2,400-mile drive head-on as you listen to country music and only stop at the motels to sleep. You’ll need to rest after experiencing all the fun Route 66 has in store for you.
Stop for a Movie
Watching a movie on a road trip seems odd, doesn’t it? Well, think again because Route 66 is your average road. It has lots of drive-in theaters where you can get the true retro cinematic experience at a price that is only a fraction of what those modern movie theaters charge. Some of them include:
- 66 Drive-in Theatre
- Tee Pee Drive-In
- Skyview Drive-In
- Admiral Twin Drive-In
So, when you’re driving down Route 66, be sure to stop at one of these theaters. All you need to do is pick up some popcorn, turn the engine off, take a seat on the hood, and enjoy an experience you’ll never forget.
Some of these theaters may be abandoned now, but they still serve as a testament to what entertainment in America used to look like.
Get Some Sleep
If you plan to complete your road trip by enjoying all that Route 66 has to offer, chances are you will need some rest. Don’t opt for those regular chain hotels when it’s time for you to get some shut-eye. Go for the true Route 66 experience instead.
There are tons of different classic motels where you can spend that night. Some of them include:
- Motel Safari
- Blue Sallow
- Wigwam Motel
- Rail Haven Motel
You’d be surprised at the ambiance and nostalgic charm these motels have to offer.
If you’re looking for something special, something you even brag about on social media, book Room 409 at the Rail Haven Motel. It can’t get any better than this because this room is where Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll, stayed. This is your chance to enjoy the pink Cadillac bed.
Take Some Photos
This one’s a given. You’re going to take photos wherever you go on vacation, but the ones you take on your Route 66 road trip will be a bit different. How, you ask? Well, you see, you can only drive on Route 66 for so long before reaching an iconic attraction.
Some of these attractions include the:
- Giant Abraham Lincoln statue
- Blue whale of Catoosa
- World’s largest soda bottle
- World’s tallest gas pump
These attractions and many others like them will help you capture and savor that moment. Think about it: Who doesn’t want a photo with a giant Abe Lincoln statue? A quick stop at any of these attractions is just what the doctor ordered for a picture-perfect moment and what will get the likes flowing in on social media.
Visit a Museum
This is the next thing that should be on your Route 66 bucket list. A road trip on Route 66 can be filled with history lessons since there’s a museum for almost every state. These museums are operated by the regional Route 66 associations or by the parks department of the state.
Some of the best ones you can visit include the:
- Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum
- Joliet Area Historical Museum
- Route 66 Interpretive Center
- Route 66 Mother Road Museum
When you drive down Illinois on your Route 66 road trips, you’ll want to make a quick stop at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. It’s packed with collections, exhibits, and art galleries where you can relive iconic historical events like the 1969 moon landing and learn more about the rich history of Joliet.
Stop at the Oil Capital
Yes, you read that right. As you drive down Route 66, you’ll want to stop at the world’s oil capital, Tulsa. You’ll need some gas to carry on with the road trip, but that’s not the only reason why. Tusla is one of the many vibrant cities that you’ll come across on Route 66. Here, you can:
- Visit The Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza
- See The Meadow Gold Neon Sign
- Walk down the Tulsa Botanic Garden
- Take a picture with The Golden Driller
There are many things you can do in Tulsa apart from what’s mentioned above. However, if you’re short on time and have to choose, opt for seeing The Golden Driller. Per route66roadtrip.com, the statue stands 76 feet tall, comes in at number six in the US, and is dedicated to petroleum industry workers.
Enjoy Nature and Geology
Route 66, given its immense length, allows you to experience both nature and geology like never before. The natural landmarks and geological sights it’ll take you through will be an experience like no other. Make sure your phone is all charged up because these are moments that you’ll want to capture.
Some of these sights include:
- Lake Michigan
- The Meteor Crater
- The Grand Canyon
- The Meramec Caverns
There’s nothing on this list that you should miss, but if you had to pick one, let it be the Grand Canyon (if you haven’t seen it already). As per the NPS, it’s 278 miles long and was the homeland of 11 associated tribes. Visiting this iconic landmark and seeing the rock walls illuminated in different colors gives you a sense of freedom like never before.
See the Religious Sites
You’d want to add this great thing to your Route 66 bucket list. The Mother Road has fascinating motels, attractions, and landmarks and is also home to some magnificent religious buildings and sites. Some are a sight to behold, whereas others are the perfect place to find your spirituality.
These religious sights include:
- St. Paul Lutheran Church
- The Giant Cross
- Shrine Mosque
- The Giant Praying Hands
Out of all these sights, and many more like them, The Giant Praying Hands is truly a magnificent place to visit. According to roadsideamerica.com, this monument is built on a 40-foot man-made hill, is 32 feet tall, and weighs around 220,000 pounds. This monument also has some graffiti and a secret opening around the back.
Shop at Antique Stores
We all love to take a souvenir or two from a trip, right? These antique stores can help you with that part of your trip. Route 66 is filled with many antique stores, and you’re bound to find something you like, as these stores don’t sell all the traditional stuff like stamped shirts or mugs.
In these stores, you can find:
- DVD players
- Cultural postcards
- Old electronics
All these items serve as a true testament to your trip, and make sure that whatever you take back with you reflects the unique history behind Route 66. These antique stores have a ton of different items you can use for décor and collection purposes, and once you walk into one of them, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time.
Go to a National Park
The Main Street of America runs from one end of the country to the other, and it’s needless to say that it touches many national parks. You’ll want to visit as many of these parks as possible to make your Route 66 road trip special and memorable. Some of the many national parks alongside Route 66 include:
- Gateway Arch National Park
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Mojave National Preserve
- Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
If you had to pick one, let it be the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s one of the best national parks in California and is hidden in plain sight. This national park is almost at the end of Route 66 and, according to the NPS, has more than 500 miles of trails where you can explore different historical and cultural sites.
When Are You Taking Your Route 66 Road Trip?
Given what we know about Route 66, it can be said that the road is the true embodiment of America, similar to what SpaceX is for the universe. Take a trip down this road, and you’ll experience history, culture, natural wonders, mesmerizing architecture, and more. Remember, a vacation doesn’t have to be luxurious, overly sophisticated, and expensive. It can be simple and meaningful, and that’s exactly what Route 66 offers.