• Road sign on historic Route 66 in the Mojave desert.

    Road sign on historic Route 66 in the Mojave desert.

  • The Grand Canyon at dusk, Colorado

    The Grand Canyon at dusk, Colorado

  • Route 66 sign, the beginning of historic Route 66, leading through Chicago, Illinois.

    Route 66 sign, the beginning of historic Route 66, leading through Chicago, Illinois.

Like an asphalt version of a Bruce Springsteen song, Route 66 has become synonymous with classic Americana. Old neon motel signs, vintage cars and roadside diners are just some of the nostalgic images associated with it. With all the movies, songs and books it has inspired, it’s no wonder a Route 66 holiday is high on the bucket list of wanderlusters across the globe. Here’s our guide to the best attractions you’ll find on the iconic highway.

Route 66 facts

  • Route 66 was designed as an interregional link between the east and west of America.
  • It was established on 11 November 1926.
  • It stretches 2,488 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles.
  • The highway runs through eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
  • In his famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck proclaimed it ‘The Mother Road’.
  • The route was decommissioned in 1985, when the new interstate was finished.

As Route 66 is no longer an official highway, many parts have fallen into disrepair. Over the course of the 20th century, most of the road has been swallowed up by Interstate 40, and the iconic sights often require some off-roading. Nevertheless, a Route 66 holiday is not just a road trip – it’s an odyssey of a lifetime, and you’ll come across some astonishing attractions you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Here are just a few of them.

Lou Mitchell’s

You’ll need to be suitably caffeinated to take on the ultimate American road trip, and where better to stop for a steaming mug of java than the ‘first stop on the Mother Road’? Lou’s is located right next to Chicago’s Union Station and is the first of many unique places you’ll see along Route 66. The diner is famous for handing out delicious donut holes and Milk Duds to those waiting in line for food. You’ll notice Lou’s – just like everywhere else in America – purports to serve “the world’s finest coffee”. We’ll let you be the judge of that.

Cadillac Ranch

Only in Amarillo, Texas, will you find the world’s only Cadillac Ranch. This place might just take the crown as the kitschiest stop on the highway. Where else in the world are you actively encouraged to use a car as a graffiti canvas? This public art installation is a celebration of the classic American motor, where junk Cadillacs are lovingly planted in the ground showing a number of evolutions in the car line. Top tip: buy your spray paint before you leave Michigan if you know you’re going to stop here, and share with others who come empty handed.

The Painted Desert

Of course, most of the allure of driving along the Mother Road isn’t the quirky 1950s relics, but the awe-inspiring landscape of the Great West. The most striking scenery is arguably in Arizona, where it passes the Painted Desert. The kaleidoscopic layers of the landscape give this vast and beautiful backdrop its name. On the eastern edge of the Painted Desert, you’ll find the Wupatki National Monument. Rich in Native American ruins, this 35,422-acre area is now managed by the National Park Service. Long ago, the prehistoric Anasazi and Sinagua peoples built pueblos and raised families here, thriving in a sometimes harsh climate where food and water seemed impossible to find. Now this glimpse into the past forms an essential part of any Route 66 holiday.

Grand Canyon

Carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon contends as the most unmissable sight on the road. At 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, it’s one of the wonders of the natural world. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, the Grand Canyon defies description, and you owe it to yourself to stop and look. Besides the sheer size of it, the incredible colours of the canyon help make it so mesmerising. Be sure to gaze upon it from as many different angles and at as many times of day as possible to for the best experience.

Santa Monica Pier

If you ever planned to motor west, you’ll be familiar with its path thanks to the song ‘Get Your Kicks (On Route 66)’, covered by a plethora of artists including Nat King Cole, The Rolling Stones and Depeche Mode. But did you ever stop to think about where Route 66 ends? If you’ve always imagined the sun-baked highway pierces right into the Pacific Ocean, you’d be correct. Your Route 66 holiday will finish at Santa Monica Pier, where a sign on the boardwalk reads ‘end of the trail’. The road is only over when the sea stands in its way.

Want to experience this once in a lifetime American road trip? Get a free additional driver with your Route 66 car hire from Alamo Rent A Car.