See ghost towns, giants, and national parks on your Route 66 trip.

By Elizabeth Rhodes
August 01, 2020
Advertisement

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

Driving the length of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles is a bucket-list experience for many road trip enthusiasts. Crossing eight states — Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California — this is one trip that’s more about the journey than the destination, with famous attractions scattered along the way.

Route 66 was constructed in 1926 to create the shortest, year-round route connecting the West Coast and Midwest. It was decommissioned in 1985, but the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was created to protect its historical and cultural significance. With that in mind, here are 16 Route 66 attractions you can still visit today.

Credit: Andre Poling/ullstein bild via Getty Images

1. Gemini Giant — Wilmington, Illinois 

The 30-foot-tall Gemini Giant is one of many “Muffler Men” you’ll find along Route 66. These large fiberglass figures were popular advertising icons and roadside decorations during the 1960s, and some still stand by highways throughout the United States today.

2. Route History — Springfield, Illinois 

Learn about the experience of Black travelers who drove along Route 66 at Route History. According to Route History’s website, this shop and museum is a “space to experience and learn about the tragedy, resilience, and excellence of Black people along the Historic Route 66 and in the city of Springfield, Illinois.”

3. Gateway Arch — St. Louis, Missouri

The 630-foot-tall monument in St. Louis is the world’s largest arch, and you can take a tram ride to the top for sweeping views of the surrounding area.

4. Meramec Caverns — Sullivan, Missouri

This 4.6-mile-long system of caves in the Ozarks was first used as shelter by Native Americans hundreds of years ago; today, tourists visit the caves to see the unique rock formations.

Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

5. Blue Whale — Catoosa, Oklahoma

One of many kitschy roadside attractions along Route 66, the Blue Whale was built as an anniversary gift in the 1970s, but turned into an iconic site.

6. Pops — Arcadia, Oklahoma 

Established in 2007, this diner attracts guests with its giant neon, bottle-shaped sign and over 700 different kinds of sodas and drinks.

7. Leaning Tower of Texas —  Groom, Texas

This leaning water tower may look like it’s on the brink of falling over, but it was actually put there as an advertisement for a truck stop (which no longer exists).

Credit: Getty Images

8. Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe — Shamrock, Texas 

This former gas station and cafe is a prime example of Art Deco architecture. You can actually see an animated version of this building in Cars, which took lots of inspiration from real-life buildings on Route 66.

9. Cadillac Ranch — Amarillo, Texas

Created in 1974, this art installation features 10 Cadillacs half-buried nose first in the ground. Today, people frequently spray paint the cars with their own graffiti; it’s definitely worth the stop for a photo op.

Credit: Getty Images

10. Blue Hole — Santa Rosa, New Mexico 

For an unforgettable stop along your road trip, dive into this turquoise blue swimming hole located just off Route 66. The Blue Hole is also a popular destination for scuba diving.

11. Meteor Crater — Winslow, Arizona

This large crater was created about 50,000 years ago when a meteorite hit the Earth. Today, you can visit the crater, take a tour of the rim, visit the Discovery Center, and more.

12. Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert — Arizona 

Once you reach the Arizona leg of your Route 66 road trip, you’ll be surrounded by stunning desert landscapes with opportunities to stop at stunning national and state parks. Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park containing part of Route 66, according to the National Park Service, giving travelers easy access to the beautiful hills and famous petrified logs.

13. Calico Ghost Town — California

Once filled with miners searching for silver, this town was abandoned in the 1890s and became a “ghost town.” It has since been restored to look like it did in the 1880s, making for an interesting stop along Route 66.

14. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch —  Oro Grande, California

Thousands of glass bottles make a forest of 200 tree-like sculptures at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, another unique Route 66 attraction worth stopping to check out.

Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

15. Original McDonald’s Museum — San Bernardino, California 

What’s a road trip without some fast food? McDonald’s golden arches can be spotted from highways across the country, so  stop at the Original McDonald’s Museum off of Route 66 to learn about the history of this iconic chain.

16. Santa Monica Pier — Santa Monica, California

Find the very end of Route 66 at Santa Monica Pier in California. Today, you can walk along the beach, visit the pier, or check out the boardwalk once you’ve reached the western end of this famous route.