A Route 66 road trip
provides historic kicks
Long before the “interstate” was born, road trippers looked to Route 66 to venture across America. Known by many names — the Mother Road, Main Street of America and Will Rogers Highway — this 2,448-mile stretch is among America’s most famous roads, connecting a number of states from Chicago to California.
The road became so famous that Bobby Troup wrote his infamous lyric — “Take the highway that’s the best / Get your kicks on Route 66!” — about it. For today’s nostalgic road trippers, this trek still offers up plenty of kicks, plus some of the most splendid historic hotels in America. From east to west, here’s a look at Route 66:
Illinois: Route 66 history
- Cities along the route: Start in Chicago … then head for Gardner, Bloomington, Springfield and St. Louis. After that, it’s off to Missouri.
- Where to stay: Before you make the long road trip, rest up at Hilton Chicago, where this historic Beaux-Arts hotel is certain to leave a lasting impression. (And as a road trip history buff, you’ll be fascinated to learn that in 1942, the U.S. Army purchased the hotel for $6 million for use during World War II, housing nearly 10,000 air cadets.)
- A must-see Americana attraction: Stop off at Berwyn, where the Berwyn U.S. 66 Museum will lend more inspiration to your road trip. (And of course, zip through Collinsville for a snapshot of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, a 170-foot-tall water tower.)
Missouri: Route 66 attractions
- Cities along the route: From the state border, venture toward St. Louis, Sullivan, Waynesville, Springfield and Joplin. Then breeze through Kansas.
- Where to stay: If you’re a HHonors award member, you’ll be thrilled to know you can check in at another historic Hilton — the Hilton St. Louis Downtown at the Arch — a Greek Revival landmark with convenient access to Missouri’s premier cultural attractions. Formerly the Merchant Laclede National Bank, the hotel still houses the original bank vaults.
- A must-see Americana attraction: Another “world’s largest” on the route is the gargantuan rocking chair in the town of Fanning. The 42’ 1” chair is appropriately named the Route 66 Rocker.
Kansas: A quick jaunt
- Cities along the route: Kansas is your chance to cut corners! Head straight for the Oklahoma state line.
- Where to stay: A quick jaunt, you won’t need to stop here for the night.
- A must-see Americana attraction: As you zip through Kansas, Route 66 will take you over the Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge, the most significant marker worth noting along the Kansas stretch.
Oklahoma: The Blue whale
- Cities along the route: From the state line, head for Quapaw, Vinita, Tulsa, Davenport, Oklahoma City, Hydro, Hext and Texola. Then it’s howdy Texas!
- Where to stay: In Oklahoma City, the Skirvin Hilton provides another historic hotel stay. This 1911 beaut was named after its founder, oil tycoon William Balser “Bill” Skirvin. Meanwhile, Colcord Hotel, the city’s first skyscraper, is another overnight stop in Oklahoma City. (Mind you, while the hotel is only twelve stories tall, it was built in the early 1900s in the aftermath of San Francisco’s earthquake. Needless to say, the hotel’s architect was instructed to use reinforced concrete in his design.)
- A must-see Americana attraction: Route 66 buffs will want to stop in Catoosa to visit the famous Blue Whale, built as an anniversary gift in 1972, for a slide down one of the whale’s water-slicked fins.
Texas: Breeze on through
- Cities along the route: Texas is another quick jaunt. Head for Amarillo, and then you’re New Mexico bound.
- Where to stay: Breeze through because Amarillo is the only main stop.
- A must-see Americana attraction: Vintage VW Bugs and Caddies are buried nose down in the ground at Bug Ranch in Conway and Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, respectively. Bring spray paint to add your own splash of color.
New Mexico: Route 66 history
- Cities along the route: At the New Mexico state line, head for Santa Rosa, Tijeras, Grants and Manuelito. Then say hello to Arizona.
- Where to stay: For a one-of-a-kind historic hotel experience, stray an hour away from Route 66 and stay at La Fonda in Santa Fe. Well worth the extra miles, you’ll experience an authentic Pueblo-style inn. When the Spanish founded Santa Fe in 1607, official records show that an inn or “fonda” was among the first businesses established. Since then, there’s always been a fonda on the Plaza to host traders, politicians, celebrities and travelers — including road trippers like you.
- A must-see Americana attraction: Straddling the border of Texas and New Mexico, the forgotten ghost town of Glenrio marks Route 66’s boom and bust.
Arizona: Route 66 attractions
- Cities along the route: In Arizona, venture toward Lupton, Winslow, Flagstaff, Seligman and Topock. After that, cue up your California road trip music, because Cali is next.
- Where to stay: If you’re looking for a historic hotel, the nearest one is the Hassayampa Inn, roughly an hour from Route 66, directly south of Ash Fork. Centrally located in downtown Prescott, the Hassayampa Inn sits in a mountain oasis where temperatures are 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix, just 90 miles away. The hotel itself boasts the charm of yesteryear in this southwest favorite.
- A must-see Americana attraction: Roadies will want to visit Meteor Crater near Winslow, where an asteroid collided with Earth approximately 50,000 years ago, leaving a mile-wide, 550-foot-deep crater in its 26,000 mph wake.
California: The Route 66
road trip finish line!
- Cities along the route: It’s home sailing now — head for Needles, Barstow, San Bernardino, Upland, Pasadena, Santa Monica and at long last, Los Angeles!
- Where to stay: Occupying an entire city block, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is a destination in and of itself. This remarkable AAA Four Diamond property in Riverside, California, took more than thirty years to complete, blending California mission architecture with Mediterranean country influences. The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is just twenty minutes from Route 66’s San Bernardino.
- A must-see Americana attraction: Making the Route 66 trip in reverse? Stop off at Barstow or Victorville for Route 66 museum inspiration. If not, we have a different stop for you — the first McDonald’s restaurant, located in San Bernardino.