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Nostalgia is big in today’s pop culture, and if there ever was a country full of nostalgia, it would be the United States.

Historic sites and forgotten routes still line its borders, and none more so that the historic Route 66. From ‘great displays of neon signs, rusty middle-of-nowhere truck stops, or kitschy Americana’, this legendary old road is sung about in ballads and romanticized in movies.

Passing through the heart of the United States on a diagonal trip that takes in some of the country’s most classic roadside attractions, if you’re a road trip enthusiast, Route 66 should be a must for your itinerary.

Even if you’re strapped for time and only able to drive part of it, make sure you experience at least a little of Route 66.

3 Iconic Highlights Along Route 66

Brief History of Route 66

Route 66 RF

Route 66 has a rich history as one of the original highways within the United States. The Chicago to Los Angeles route was officially designated as a highway in 1926, though it had in fact been used for many years before that.

It was the main route that connected people from the industrial East coast to suburban life in the West, and connected small rural towns and urban communities to major cities. Before it was paved every curve and stretch of road catered to the natural contour of the land.

After the Great Depression and World War II, the highway was used to reach the sunny coast of California which signified the demographic shift from East to West. More than 210,000 people migrated to California to escape the despair that had hit the West, and Route 66 symbolized the “road to opportunity”, and a renewed spirit of optimism.

Roadside attractions began to pop up, and the route became known as “The Main Street of America”, linking remote and under-populated communities with two of the most thriving 20th century cities – Chicago and Los Angeles.

When the interstate highways were finished in 1984, the route was decommissioned as a highway, but its historic status remains to this day, and it has very much been immortalized as part of the American consciousness.

Highlights Along the Route

In spite being decommissioned as a highway, Route 66 can still be used by those who want to live the nostalgia of the route, or see first hand some of the quirky road side architecture for which it has become famous.

With significant historical spots still dotted along the way, it’s easily America’s largest open air museum. These are some of the highlights to take in along the way.

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch Route 66

In terms of roadside attractions, Texas’ Cadillac Ranch is an icon of Route 66. This is a public art installation where ten Cadillac’s have been driven nose down into the dirt and spray painted by local graffiti artists with vibrant colors.

The cars have been here since 1974, and over the decades people have stopped along the highway to walk out and view the cars, leave their own mark of graffiti, or rip off pieces as souvenirs.

Defacing the cars has become a public rite of passage for those traveling Route 66, and if you haven’t traveled with your own can, you’ll find hundreds of discarded spray cans around the site, usually with a little still left in them.

Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

As you make your way down Route 66, why not take the chance to learn about one of America’s most famous Presidents.

Abraham Lincoln has been immortalized by his addresses to his nation in the past. However, if you want to know more about the man, taking a tour around his home is the best way to do so.

Prior to being President of the United States, Lincoln lived in Illinois. The four-block pedestrian zone that makes up Mr. Lincoln’s Neighborhood is now a historic site run by the National Park Service, and there are twelve buildings that have been restored to their 1860 appearance.

One of them is his modest sized home. Walking the halls in which he lived his childhood can be very nostalgic especially for history nerds.

Photo credit: Matt Turner

The Grand Canyon

Just off the road of Route 66, you can take a detour to the Grand Canyon; one of the great wonders of the world, no trip to the US is complete without stopping here to experience the iconic view.

The Southern Rim is the most popular and most developed part of the Canyon. Free shuttle buses leave from the parking lots and service around 7 or 8 different vantage points along the cliffs, each with a slightly different angle of the same view.

Horseshoe Bend (pictured above) at the very Eastern Rim is an area of the Canyon which is quickly growing in popularity, and while not worth driving to as a sole destination in itself, it is certainly worth the detour for those with extra time.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

    26 Comments

  1. Route 66! This would be a great road trip! ❤

    • America’s finest! Hope you have the chance to organize a drive soon :)

  2. How long does it take to drive the Route 66?

    • Hi Lawrence, it can be as short or as long a trip as you want, or you can stick to a few short sections if you’re really pushed for time. For the whole route start to finish I would give yourself at least two weeks, though ideally a whole month if you have the time.

  3. There’s obviously a LOT more to see beyond these 3.

    • Absolutely, there’s so much to see over the whole route. Not an exhaustive guide by any means, but hopefully we can inspire people to think about it from this short round up of highlights :)

  4. Cadillac Ranch looks cool! I wonder if they originally intended that people would come by and graffiti as well.

    • I don’t think they did, though there comes a certain point where they probably decided it was easier to embrace it! :D

  5. I knew the Route was historic but I wasn’t aware of a lot of the actual details, really interesting knowing it’s past, and that it was a big part of linking the country, and then a migration path after the war. Definitely sounds like the best way to visit quirky America!

    • Glad we could fill you in on some of the history Charli … I find it really fascinating too :)

  6. We drove Route 66 last year from Chicago right through to the Pacific. We took 22 days to make sure we saw as much as we could and even took a couple of detours to take in Memphis and the Grand Canyon. This truly is a trip of a lifetime and the community that you meet on the way is the unexpected yet wonderful surprise! I can see why people would take the opportunity to return, I certainly will.

    • So glad to hear you had a memorable trip Roger, and managed to include sites like the Grand Canyon and Memphis too. Maybe we’ll drive past you on the route one day as we plan our return trip too!

  7. We are thinking of doing route 66 in June 2019 . In between destinations is there places to stop for toilet breaks?

    • Absolutely Sandra, there are many towns and places dotted throughout the drive, and plenty of facilities along the route, you’ll have no trouble :)

  8. My best tip here would be to use your time wisely and not try to pack too much driving into a single day. You’re not going to be able to see everything if you’re driving for more than 4-5 hours each day, because the whole fun of the route is to take in the fun stuff along the way. For that reason don’t drive intrerstate.

    • Absolutely Jae, the drive definitely needs to be taken slowly to do it justice :)

  9. One of the most modern American treasures.

    • Absolutely Ebony :)

  10. Rode it on a Motorcycle provided by the Harley Davidson approved tour company Orange and Black.

    • Sounds amazing Tony! What a cool way to drive :)

  11. Wow fantastic report on a Route 66 trip. Very informative & great photos.

    • Thanks Jazabee, a short overview of a couple of sites not to miss. Glad you enjoyed the post :)

  12. Only 3 places on Route 66? That’s a tall order since there are so many places that I love!

    • Absolutely, there’s so much to see over the whole route. Not an exhaustive guide by any means, but hopefully we can inspire people to think about it from this short round up of highlights :)

  13. Is I 40 the same as Route 66?

    • Hi Jack, in many parts the Old Route 66 runs parallell to the I40, however they are not the same thing. I would map out the places you want to see along the Old Route because in many parts you could probably jump back on the interstate after you’ve seen what you want to see, especially if you’re short on time. Happy travels!

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