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The Best Stops on Route 66

Seven stops along America's most famous drive, an iconic road for more than 80 years, prove it’s still a great place to have fun

By Laura Hill on March 23, 2015

Cars drive under a rainbow on Route 66 in Albuquerque, NM.

John Steinbeck called it “The Mother Road, the road of flight.” It’s been celebrated in song and on TV, and many have described it as America’s Main Street. But Route 66, that 2,500 miles of highway that stretches from Chicago across the heartland to Los Angeles is more than an iconic highway that figures large in America’s imagination. It’s also one of the country’s best drives even today, with historic sites, stunning natural beauty, weird tourist attractions and plenty of entertainment along the way. Here are a few of the best stops next time you plan a road trip.

1. Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, Chicago, Ill.

Opened in 1923, this landmark eatery at 565 Jackson Ave., sits at the beginning of Route 66, and is darn proud to claim its place in the Mother Road’s history. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, this busy local institution attracts locals and the great and famous from around the world. Could it be those free donut holes and Milk Duds for ladies and kids?

2. Abraham Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library.

Head west and south from Chicago to Springfield, Ill., to discover the humble birthplace of Abraham Lincoln as well as a striking modern museum that brings this much-loved President to life with traditional exhibits – and animatronic figures. Don’t miss this.

3. The 66 Drive-In Theatre, Carthage, Mo.

Yep, there are still a few of those beloved outdoor movie theaters left, and this is one of the best. The drive-in fell on hard times when interstate highways left Route 66 in the dust, but was rediscovered and rescued from life as a salvage yard in the 1990s. Today, it shows family-friendly double features on weekends during warmer months.

4. Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park, Foyil, Okla.

For a completely one-off experience, stop in at this remarkable site, filled with the work of local artist Galloway. A sculptor, woodcarver and violin-maker, between 1937 and 1948 he created an astonishing 90-foot-tall totem pole that rests on a giant sculpture of a turtle. Made of wood, stone and concrete, the totem is the largest of several in the park, now maintained as an historic site.

5. U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas. 

Travelers are wowed by this striking example of art deco architecture, known as “the swankiest of swank eating places” when it was built in 1936. Carefully restored, the Inn is now a gift shop, museum and home of the Shamrock Chamber of commerce. 

6. Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, AZ.

Its slogan “Stay in a Wigwam!” began luring travelers in 1950, when this, the sixth Wigwam Motel in the country, opened. Fifteen 21-foot-diameter teepees are arranged in a circle (the “chief’s” teepee is now the office and a small museum), and each room contains original furniture and such necessities as a toilet, shower, TV, and even air conditioning.

7. Broadway Historic Theatre District, Los Angeles.

Last stop. The terminus of 66 is actually in Santa Monica, but take time to tour this remarkable neighborhood in downtown LA. A dozen beautiful movie and vaudeville theaters were built around Broadway in the first decades of the 20th century, and while they no longer show movies regularly, the buildings today paint a vivid picture of a fascinating era in Hollywood history. 

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