Route 66 is a historical part of the original North American highway system. The route began as a national thoroughfare on November 11, 1926. The city of Chicago, Illinois is the beginning point of Route 66, with it continuing through the states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before coming to an end in California at the junction of the Pacific Coast Highway.
An exodus of farmers and their families from Oklahoma followed Route 66 to California during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s, during which time droughts made farming nearly impossible in the state of Oklahoma. The highway was also quite a popular path for anyone traveling westward during the height of its usage, all the way through the mid 1980’s when it was removed from the U.S. highway system.
Beginning in 1926 and continuing through the 1960’s, Route 66 was at the height of its heyday. At this time, shop owners, craftspeople, and other business owners met with a lot of business due to the amount of travelers on the highway. Although the popularity of Route 66 has decreased over time as more national roads and highways have been created, some attractions still remain today as do enthusiasts of this once nearly forgotten path.
Some of these attractions have remained over the years untouched from their original facades, while others fell into disrepair and have since been brought back to their original splendor. The latter is oftentimes thanks to the efforts and financial support of local townspeople to return some of the luster to the roadside attractions that once stopped many travelers on this historic route. What was once a major thoroughfare has now become a relaxing stretch of road, with many attractions still in existence to welcome the travelers of the historic Route 66.
10. Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop and Ariston Cafe, Illinois
There are two restaurants worth visiting along Route 66 in Illinois. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop, located in Springfield, Illinois was one of the first restaurants with a drive through window, and the oldest U.S. drive through restaurant still in operation. Ariston Cafe, which can be found in the city of Litchfield, Illinois is considered a historic site due to being the longest operating restaurant found on Route 66. It was constructed in 1935 and features an art deco style of architecture.
9. Route 66 State Park, Missouri
This Missouri Park is located on 419 square acres and it houses the Meramec River U.S. 66 Bridge. Before it was a park, the area was a residential neighborhood that eventually had to be evacuated and decontaminated in the 1980’s due to mass pollution. Afterwards, the area was rehabilitated to become The Route 66 State Park. The visitor center, located within the park, contains photos and memorabilia of the Route 66 haunt, and also holds the first road marker from the historic highway. Bicycling and horseback riding are among some of the most popular pastimes at the park.
8. Pops Restaurant, Oklahoma
This restaurant is unique in the fact that it is themed entirely around soda pop, even down to the moniker. The interior decor is primarily influenced by the numerous bottles of soda, arranged by color which are displayed on the walls, and can be bought and drank directly from the walls or from a refrigerated area. A roadside sign in the shape of a soda bottle with a drinking straw and measuring (coincidentally) 66 feet tall and weighing 4 tons announces the destination. Containing hundreds of LED lights, this sign has won architectural awards.
7. Arcadia Round Barn, Oklahoma
This architectural anomaly was constructed in 1898. Oak boards were soaked in water to become more flexible so that the round shape of the barn could be created. It is the only known round barn in the nation and the roof has a diameter that measures sixty feet across. It is also the most photographed landmark on Route 66. The second level of this barn was originally used as a local gathering place for community members. The barn, located in the town of Arcadia, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and often serves as the location of weddings.
6. Blue Whale, Oklahoma
In the early 1970’s, a large blue whale was built in Catoosa, Oklahoma, supposedly as a gift for the constructor’s wife. The surrounding area began as a pond in which local people came to swim. Eventually sand, picnic tables, and lifeguards were added to the swimming pond area. At one point, the entire location was referred to as “Nature’s Acres” and contained the blue whale, a reptile house, and a trading post. The whale is still the most recognized attraction on Route 66.
5. Lion’s Antique Museum, Texas
Lion’s Antique Museum can be found in the small city of Adrian, Texas, which is the midpoint of Route 66, located exactly halfway between Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California. The museum showcases antique farm and ranch equipment that was typically utilized in the United States from the time period of the 1920’s to the 1950’s. There is also a windmill that actively draws water. An antique mall for shopping and a BBQ restaurant complete this roadside attraction.
4. KiMo Theater, New Mexico
This market in Albuquerque, New Mexico has an architecture that is equal parts art deco and adobe styles. The three story building is the most well-known landmark in the city. The name KiMo means “mountain lion” in the Tewa language. Performances are currently given at the theater for public audiences. Paranormal activity in the theater has been attributed to a six year old boy who was killed after a hot water heater exploded in 1951. A stairwell within the theater serves as a location to place gifts and offerings to his spirit.
3. Maisel’s Indian Trading Post, New Mexico
The National Register of Historic Places contains Maisel’s Indian Trading Post in Albuquerque, New Mexico on its list. The trading post was built in the 1930’s by Maurice Maisel, and is located in the New Mexico Historic District. Olive Rush is the designer of the colorful southwest inspired murals that decorate the Pueblo architecture. The artists who painted the murals all became popular in their own right. Artists and craftsmen of Pueblo and Navajo heritage are employed at the trading post which offers tourists Native American and Mexican souvenir crafts that embody the spirit of the American southwest and Mexico.
2. Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Arizona
Joseph City, Arizona is home to Jack Rabbit Trading Post, which features as a fixture, a large fiberglass jackrabbit. All along Route 66, travelers will see billboards announcing how near to the trading post they are arriving, until finally reaching a sign that declares “Here it is.” Owned by the Jaquez family, the trading post also contains a convenience store. It is considered one of the major “must see” attractions on Route 66 by enthusiastic tourists.
1. Pacific Coast Highway, California
The Pacific Coast Highway marks the end of Route 66. This coastal highway features some of the most beautiful coastlines in the United States. This scenic route provides a path from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Monterey Bay is a popular tourist spot along the highway. Rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, and California wildlife such as orcas, sea lions, and cougars can be viewed in Monterey. Bicycling is also a possible way to travel this scenic coastline to enjoy the views and stay in shape.