Route 66

A Route 66 road trip is a driving adventure along what is probably the most famous road in the world. Historic Route 66 spans over 2,400 miles and crosses 8 states, starting in Chicago, Illinois and terminating at the Pacific Coast in Santa Monica, California. Given its “66” designation in 1926, it became a well-travelled highway, bringing together people from all walks of life.

John Steinbeck would refer to Route 66 as “the mother road, the road of flight” for those trying to escape the Dust Bowl and the ravages of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Later it would support countless vacationing families from the Midwest heading to the Grand Canyon or Disneyland. As more Americans took to the highway, a roadside culture would spring up along Route 66—motels, diners, gas stations, tourist attractions—to cater to a population that was increasingly mobile.

History of Route 66 

Although it only existed as a unified, legally codified road for 59 years—between 1926 and 1985—Route 66 became a great symbolic trailway of human civilization. It will live forever as a route whose traffic reshaped the world of its time, transporting generations of adventurers, migrants, grifters, and dreamers toward untold opportunities.

Route 66 gave rise to new towns, new industries, and new vernacular architecture. A great deal of it was lost when most cross-country travels migrated to the interstates, but today, a thriving community of people who live along the road—travellers, well-wishers, and preservationists—share news and stories, raise money to protect landmarks, maintain museums, and otherwise work hard to protect its legacy. The route’s future, thanks to roadtrippers like you, looks bright. 

The Mother Road has been firmly embedded in the American mythos for decades. In the 1940s, Bob Troup pounded out “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” a catchy and enduring standard that has been covered by dozens of artists, from Nat King Cole to The Cramps. In the 1960s, CBS notched a major hit with Route 66, a series whose plot mostly amounted to two handsome guys rambling around the country in a Corvette roadster.

Very few of the show’s episodes were actually set in towns anywhere near the road it was named for, making it clear that Route 66 had already become shorthand for the adventuresome American spirit, and for the open road itself. And since Mother Road disappeared from official maps and its signage was removed in 1985, its mystique has only grown.

Route 66 Maps

“The Mother Road” was established on November 11, 1926, and ultimately stretched 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles.

From its beginning in Chicago, Route 66 headed south through Illinois and Missouri, and a small section of southeast Kansas.

From there it turned in a more westward direction through Oklahoma and Texas, with the final stretches in New Mexico and Arizona before its termination point in Los Angeles.

Alignments of the road changed often over the years, as improved sections of the highway were constructed. In the early years, many sections connected only one small town to the next and had no official federal route number. Over time the route was formalized as a Federal Highway numbered “U.S. 66”.

Top 10 Cities and Stops Along Route 66

For more insight into each stop along the route, our content is arranged by state. Here are some major cities and attractions along Route 66 that travellers aiming to follow only a section of the full cross-country route may wish to use to plan their drive:

  • Chicago, Illinois – The official beginning of Route 66 (we suggest kicking off from the Art Institute of Chicago)
  • St. Louis, Missouri – If you start or stop in St. Louis, swing by Ted Drewes Frozen Custard Stand
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma – A bustling big city that doesn’t make a song-and-dance out of its many treasures
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – A “mighty pretty” city that has long been one of the primary stops along the Mother Road
  • Amarillo, Texas – Not the biggest city along Route 66, but it is where you can order a massive 72-ounce steak
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico – A great starting point for travellers mainly interested in the southwest section of Route 66
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico – A cultural crossroads that has been at the centre of Southwest life for centuries
  • Flagstaff, Arizona – An enjoyable, energetic college town high on the Colorado Plateau
  • Sedona, Arizona – A New Age draw amidst an otherworldly landscape
  • Santa Monica, California – Technically more beach town than a big city, Santa Monica is the western end of Route 66.

Read More: Cable Cars in San Francisco

Where Does Route 66 Start? 

Route 66 starts in Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago, the official starting and ending points for Route 66 are a bit confusing as they changed over time and there are now one-way eastbound and westbound lanes making it even more tricky.

For those starting in Chicago, you can start at Jackson Boulevard at Michigan Avenue (the original beginning point in 1926) or Jackson Blvd at Lake Shore Drive (the official beginning point since 1933). These two points are only a couple of blocks apart.

However, the current Route 66 Begin sign (last we knew) is located on E. Adams Street at Michigan Avenue so may want to stop and walk over there before you set off. For those eastbound drivers ending in Chicago, the Route 66 End Sign is marked at Jackson Blvd and Michigan Avenue.

To take a photo of any of the Route 66 signs, you’ll want to find a place to park and walk to them if you can. The signs are located up tall poles (one next to a bus stop) to prevent vandalism/stealing, but this inconveniently makes it more challenging to take photos next to them!

If you do plan on visiting Chicago and spending some time sightseeing before or after your trip, take a look at our guide to spending 2 days in Chicago for some tips on what to see and do in the city.

Where Does Route 66 End? 

The route ends in Santa Monica, California. Although some say Los Angeles, California for simplicity since Los Angeles is a better-known city.

Like the starting point, you have more than one official ending point. The original 1926 terminus was at 7th Street and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles and was later moved to the intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica.

Olympic Boulevard is now divided by Interstate 10. For eastbound traffic, there is a Chevron gas station located at the intersection of Olympic and Lincoln (no signs). But for westbound traffic, there is both a brown Begin and End sign for Route 66 located at the intersection in front of Mel’s Drive-In (1670 Lincoln Blvd). Mel’s opened in 2018 and is a retro-style modern diner and a good place to stop for a bite to eat.

For a more satisfying end (or beginning) to your Route 66 road trip drive, we also recommend going a bit further to the Santa Monica Pier, the entrance is located at Colorado and Ocean Avenue. Then take a walk to find the 66 to Cali shop where you’ll find the “End of the Trail” Route 66 sign as well as a small Route 66 gift shop kiosk.

Route 66 Attractions

Here are some of our favourite Route 66 attractions. Make sure you don’t miss them on your next trip down the Mother Road.

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch National Park is so much more than just the iconic arch. There’s also a free museum with exhibits detailing America’s westward expansion and the building of the Gateway Arch, which is a good place to start if you’re waiting for your ride to the top (or if you’re scared of heights but still want the arch experience). A trip to the top of the Eero Saarinen-designed monument—the world’s tallest arch and the tallest man-made monument in the U.S.—offers great views of both sides of the Mississippi.

Blue Whale of Catoosa

The Blue Whale of Catoosa is one of the most popular roadside attractions along Route 66. It was built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift for his wife Zelta, who loved whales and collected whale figurines. Take time to wander around the remnants of this famed roadside wonder, and have a snack at one of the picnic tables.

Cadillac Ranch

Ten Cadillacs stand along Interstate 40, buried in the dirt at the same angles as the Great Pyramids of Giza. Visitors are encouraged to bring a can of spray paint and add their own mark to this unique roadside art installation. Spray painting the Cadillacs is a rite of passage for any true road-tripper, and the installation has gone through quite a few makeovers throughout the years. 

Oatman, Arizona

You’d be hard-pressed to find a ghost town more real—or more alive—than Oatman. Located at the edge of Arizona on Route 66 and perched 2,700 feet above sea level in the Black Mountains, Oatman is a strange place run by wild burros.

Santa Monica Pier

Whether you call it the starting or ending point of the Mother Road, the Santa Monica Pier is the perfect spot to stretch your legs or snap photos of the ocean before embarking on a 2,000-mile trip east. Sure it’s touristy, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a ride on the 1922 carousel or grabbing something sweet from the soda fountain. From the roller coaster and Ferris wheel to the arcade and the sign noting that it is the official end of Route 66, there’s tons of fun to be had here.

Route 66 Road Trip State by State

Let’s now look at Route 66 route in detail, state by state. In each box, we have included the main attractions worth visiting along the Mother Road from East to West, but of course, the order can be reversed as needed. Each of the boxes below is accompanied by an in-depth article that contains an interactive map: by following the indications given, you should be able to organize an itinerary on Route 66 that includes the most characteristic and iconic attractions. I can also take this opportunity to point out a post you may have missed: Why Route 66 is so popular?


Begin your journey on the Mother Road. After leaving Chicago, you can finally immerse yourself in the authentic atmosphere of Route 66. You will encounter the Gemini and Bunyon Giants – curious giants holding sandwiches and space rockets – the iconic murals of Pontiac, and the old charming service stations some of which have been abandoned. You’ll see a huge Lincoln on a carriage, a series of old cars planted in the ground like crooked trees, a sort of anticipation of Cadillac Ranch. But there are so many places that have faced their own personal challenge against the passing of time.


The first state you come across after Illinois is Missouri, home to St. Louis. As you know, Route 66 has its surprises on the road: the world’s largest chair and, just before St. Louis, the Chain of Rocks, a romantic disused bridge right on the border with Illinois. Also on the road are vintage motels, sentimental trading posts full of knick-knacks, bra museums, natural wonders (Meramec Caverns and Fantastic Caverns), the 66 Drive-In Theater in Carthage, and who knows how many other wonders!


The Kansas section of Route 66 is short but sweet and manages to pack in several must-see stops in a little under 14 miles (13.2 to be exact). This small stretch passes through three towns—Galena, Riverton, and Baxter Springs—and can be driven in as little as 30 minutes. Kansas is the only state on your journey where the Mother Road isn’t interrupted by the interstate. Don’t miss the only remaining Marsh Arch Rainbow Bridge, several museums, and other small businesses—on Kansas’ stretch of Route 66, you’ll find quality over quantity.

Galena is one of the most well-preserved towns along Route 66. Home to the Kan-O-Tex gasoline station from Disney’s Cars, the Murals of Galena, and a 1952 Will Rogers Marker, Galena was once a successful mining town. The town was hit hard by the Depression and violent miner strikes. Later, when the town was bypassed by I-44, tourists stopped visiting, the mines closed down, and the population dropped. Today, several historic buildings around town offer a peek into Galena’s rocky past.


This stretch of the Mother Road is a journey of Kitsch! In Catoosa, you’ll meet a giant whale (with a love story to tell), and visit a Totem theme park, while meanwhile, you will already have run out of film to photograph the fantastically restored gas stations. Arcadia has a lot to offer: among other attractions, you’ll see a house with bizarre architecture and the famous POPS, shaped like a bottle. In addition to Oklahoma City, which has a couple of quaint neighbourhoods to visit and some rather unusual museums, you can also visit a couple of ghost towns from the 1930s: some authentic, some faithfully reconstructed.


The Lone Star State has about 180 miles of old Route 66 road still remaining. It closely parallels Interstate 40, so it’s easy to hop on and off stretches of the Mother Road. The billboards along I-40 may not tell you this, but we will: Some of the very best roadside attractions in the U.S. are right here in the panhandle of Texas.

The town of Vega sits right on historic Route 66 and has several landmarks worth stopping for. Also worth checking out are Dot’s Mini Museum, Rooster’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, the Hickory Inn Cafe, Bonanza Motel, Vega Motel (built-in 1947), and a restored Magnolia service station. As one of the sunniest places in the U.S., Vega is sometimes referred to as the “Solar Capital of Texas.”

New Mexico

After so many miles, we finally make contact with the Hispanic heart of Route 66. Some of you will recognize in Albuquerque the set of Breaking Bad, others will prefer to see the ancient pueblos, but I’m sure that none of you will want to go without taking a selfie together at the sign of the legendary Blue Swallow Motel. In addition to these places of interest, I want to mention the traditional murals and historic hotels in Gallup, as well as the Route 66 Auto Museum in Santa Rosa, a must-see for those who love vintage cars.


You’ll know you’re crossing into Arizona when you spot the large, bright white Teepee Trading Post advertising “jewellery, pottery, kachinas, and southwest souvenirs.” The teepee-shaped souvenir shop is set against a striking backdrop of dramatic red rock cliffs and it’s a great place to pull over, grab a drink, use the restroom, and load up on souvenirs. With the exception of the Navajo Nation, most of Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time so be sure to confirm the time as you cross the Arizona/New Mexico border.

Sedona is one of those places you just have to experience in person—even the most spectacular photos don’t fully do it justice. Surrounded by majestic red rock canyons and pine forests, this small desert town is known for its vibrant art scene and mysterious healing forces. Yes, you read that right—Sedona is supposedly a hotbed of cosmic activity, sitting atop several energy vortexes that are easily accessible through hikes and tours. With its artsy vibe and comfortable climate, Sedona is also home to cute shops and restaurants, galleries, and lots of ageing hippies. 


The California section of Route 66 will give you a proper taste of the Golden State’s diverse scenery, from tiny desert ghost towns to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. This stretch is also packed with iconic roadside attractions. Take your time and meander through the glass forest at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch or get your photo taken next to the freshly restored neon sign at Roy’s Motel and Cafe. Before you know it, you’ll be finishing this epic journey at the end of the Santa Monica pier, where the West Coast meets the Pacific Ocean.

You’ll know you’re at the end of your journey once you arrive at the Pacific Ocean. But to reach the official end point of Route 66—and take a photo of the iconic “End of the trail” sign—you’ll have to ditch the car and walk to the end of the Santa Monica Pier. The coastal city of Santa Monica is also home to the original Muscle Beach outdoor gym and the pier’s Pacific Park amusement park. 

Congratulations! You have reached the end of the Mother Road—and by now you know it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. But whether the Santa Monica Pier is your ending or starting point, take some time to celebrate and reflect. With more than 2,000 miles of classic neon, motels, larger-than-life roadside attractions, museums, diners, and countless colourful characters, it should be obvious why the allure of Route 66 is as strong as ever. The road may look different today than it did decades ago—or even yesterday—but that’s all part of the fun.

Best Time of Year for Route 66 Trip

The best time to travel Route 66 is in the spring and summer seasons, mainly because some businesses and attractions along the route may be closed at other times of the year. The second reason is related to climate: winters in Illinois are extremely harsh, but even in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma the cold can cause problems. Of course, in the middle of summer, it can be very hot, especially in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, but you just need to be prepared.

Route 66 Road Trip Cost

We get asked this question a lot, and not only for trips on Mother Road. It is impossible to give a certain answer: as already mentioned, a road trip on Route 66 can take from a minimum of 15 days up to 20 to 25 days, depending on how long you intend to stay in the various places and the endless possible detours that can be made along the way.

Further variables are the period of the trip (high or low season), the quality level of the accommodations and your eating habits (if you eat at restaurants for lunch and dinner for example).

If you opt for a “do-it-yourself” trip with 3-star hotels, planning a Route 66 vacation of about twenty days (which I sincerely recommend), you are likely to spend between 4500$ and 5500$ per couple (considering only accommodation, rental car and meals). However, if you are not particularly demanding, you can do it for

Tips for Lodging On Route 66

The adventurous urge to go on a Route 66 road trip could make you decide not to book hotels in advance, choosing them during your trip and thus reserving the possibility of changing route and itinerary even at the last minute.

You will certainly have more freedom this way but, in our opinion, this is not the best solution, mainly for the following reasons:

  • Especially in big cities, it is not at all convenient to book at the last moment. On the contrary, it tends to be the earlier you book, the easier it is to find a cheaper rate.
  • During the many stops, you will make in unknown and sometimes remote towns, which may have 1 or 2 motels with only a few rooms available, you may not be so lucky to find accommodation (or at least any decent one!).
  • Booking a hotel in advance on an online portal often allows you to get very low rates, and also, in most cases, you will have the opportunity to cancel the reservation up to 24 hours before.
  • Finally, there’s the fatigue aspect: it’s true that we’re talking about a road trip and that we like adventure, but after hours of driving, finding yourself having to do even more miles in the evening to find a hotel is not at all pleasant!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Route 66

What States Does Route 66 Cross?

Route 66 runs through 8 different states within the United States. From east to west, it runs through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

How long does it take to drive Route 66?

Typically, travellers will plan no less than two weeks for the entire Mother Road road trip. In that amount of time, you’ll be able to visit the major sites. But if you want to savour the entire experience—strolling historic downtowns, sipping a root beer float at a soda fountain, and sleeping at a retro motel with a blinking neon sign—you could spend up to a month or longer.

What is the best way to travel Route 66?

Will you go from Chicago to Los Angeles or vice versa? Travellers often chose the east-to-west direction as that’s the route originally taken by pioneers escaping the Dust Bowl in the 1920s. But you can’t go wrong either way.

When Was Route 66 Built?

Planning for the road began in 1924 and 2 years later, on November 11, 1926, the name Route 66 was officially approved. 

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