There’s Nothing Like Number 66
There are lengthier road trips, there are shorter road trips, and there are even slightly more scenic road trips out there, but there still isn’t a more iconic all-American road trip than Route 66. During the mid-20th century, when American families were heading west en masse, Route 66 served as an expressway to vacationland. Today, this road—which stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica —offers drivers snapshot after snapshot of American summers past and more quirky roadside attractions than you can shake a stick at.
Before you hop in the car and motor off down the Mother Road, here are 15 things you simply should know.
Skip Summertime Riding
Many of the original riders on Route 66 were families embarking on their summer vacation and while there is a certain charm in recreating this, you should stick to shoulder season (April-May, September-October) if you can. There will be less traffic on the roads and you will avoid the stifling summer heat (allowing you to roll the windows down), but you will still get the benefit of long hours of light and mild temperatures.
Rent Your Chariot
Unless you own an old-school muscle car that practically oozes nostalgia, go ahead and rent a car instead. The piece of mind and freedom that driving a relatively brand new rental brings is priceless. Reserving a one-way rental is a popular move among Route 66 adventurers, but if you have enough time at your disposal, aim to make driving the route a round-trip adventure.
Annie, Get Your Guide
You may be thinking that since it’s 2018, GPS and Waze will show you the way, right? Well, not exactly. Route 66 was officially decommissioned decades ago, so now motorists must chart a turn-by-turn course that combines former sections (mostly state highways, byways and side roads) with small stretches of modern interstate.
For this, you will need a good old-fashioned guidebook and the bible is EZ66 by Route 66 aficionado Jerry McClanahan. After you’ve acquired the latest edition, see his website for any applicable updates to the book.
Seek Professional Help, Too
In addition to driving with a guidebook, almost every restaurant and hotel you stop at along the way will be staffed with people passionate about the route and willing to offer advice, so pick their brain. In addition, the staff at state welcome centers are a great resource as it is their job to help enhance your trip.
Commence in Chicago
In some circles, Illinois is seen as an optional leg of Route 66 with some travelers skipping it all together, deciding to start their journey in St. Louis instead. This is a big mistake because you can’t say you’re truly “done” the Route unless you’ve gone from The wildly-popular Windy City to the Pacific Ocean.
In downstate Illinois, you will find many attractions like the much-loved Route 66 museum and mural in Pontiac, multiple mammoth “Muffler Men” statues and several restored filling stations. This is to say nothing of surprising Springfield with its wealth of Abraham Lincoln heritage and “you have to try them once” Horseshoe sandwiches.
Take Your Time
Obviously, the amount of time you have to explore Route 66 is between you and your boss, but the less rushed you are, the richer your experience will be. Therefore, to do things properly, you should try to build in 2-3 weeks for the trip and 4 if you really want to take a deep dive into the charming small towns you pass along the way.
Definitely Do Side Trips
One of the main reasons you will want the most time possible to take this incredible overland journey is the number of awesome places that lie a short side-trip from Route 66 itself. These include but are certainly not limited to the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Monument Valley, Four Corners, and the Lake of the Ozarks.
Don’t Count Out Kansas
The Sunflower State may own a tiny stretch of Route 66, but it packs plenty into those thirteen miles. The “Rainbow Bridge” is a historic architectural work, the Old Riverton Store is an eclectic hub for all things Route 66 and you will also find buildings in Galena that helped inspire the fictional town of Radiator Springs in the movie Cars.
The Old Road Is Definitely Still Kicking
While Route 66 certainly offers a glimpse of the past, the modern towns along the route are more than alive. You are destined to be surprised at home many places you visit are bustling and how many people you meet along the way relish their role as a Route 66 tradition custodian. Why are they smiling? Well …
Make Motels A Highlight
You could save up your points and only stay with your favorite hotel brand along the way, but what fun is that? Instead, mix in a snooze at one of Route 66’s unique hotels and motels. Places like the Wagon Wheel in Missouri and the Silver Saddle in Sante Fe offer stays steeped in nostalgia and a chance to meet other travelers.
You Definitely Won’t Be Alone
Don’t be surprised at all if you hear a plethora of accents paying for gas or ordering food at the cafes and diners along the route. Route 66 is a global rockstar and fans flock from all over the world—especially Europe—to experience it for themselves.
The Drive-Ins are Divine
You can’t say you’ve eaten on Route 66 until you’d had dinner at a down-home drive-in. They don’t typically bring the food to the car anymore, but they still serve up classic American fare in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Two fine examples are the Dog House Drive-In in Albuquerque and Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger in Miami, Oklahoma.
Make Time For the Movies
Why not make it a drive-in dinner and movie? There aren’t too many all-American drive-in movie theaters still standing on Route 66, but those that are still in business are gorgeous. Carthage, Missouri’s 66 Drive-In and Tulsa’s Admiral Twin both offer nights under the stars you will remember for years.
Not All Roadside Attractions are Created Equal
The term “roadside attraction” is used liberally on Route 66 and you will quickly find that one person’s treasure is another person’s giant ball of twine. Therefore, don’t think for a second that you have to stop at every last one of them. Pick a mixture of those that genuinely interest you and ones that spark your curiosity and leave it there.
Don’t Set Off Without a Soundtrack
Last but not least: you simply can’t put the pedal to the medal without a playlist. While you will want to listen to some regional radio channels to get a feel for the local flavor, making a massive list of road trip songs will pay dividends when you can’t find a good channel.
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