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10 places you need to see when driving Route 66

10Best logo 10Best 10/25/2018 Aimee Heckel, Special to USA TODAY 10Best

Although Historic Route 66 is no longer the "Main Street of America," this long stretch between Los Angeles and Chicago is still an iconic American road trip destination.

This corridor is like a journey through American history, where you can see flickering neon signs, abandoned gas stations, quirky museums, breathtaking natural formations, old-fashioned diners and motels, and some of the nation’s most-famous landmarks.

Don’t rush your Route 66 road trip; the journey is the destination here.

While some of the landmarks have shut their doors, there are still plenty of great stops along the way. Here are our favorite ways to "get your kicks on Route 66."

London Bridge

Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

Eads Bridge over a river: The London Bridge was relocated to Arizona from England © Bradley Gordon / flickr The London Bridge was relocated to Arizona from England

You might not expect to see the bridge of the well-known children’s song along Route 66 in Arizona, but it has been relocated here from its original location over the River Thames in England. Today, you can see the reassembled and restored bridge in Lake Havasu City, above a canal that draws water from the Colorado River.

This site looks somewhat out of place in the American desert, but the constructed English-style structures built nearby give it surprising context and make it a popular tourist spot. Take a walking tour and visit the museum and visitors center.


Seligman, Ariz.

a sign in front of a building: Travel back in time in Seligman © Mispahn / flickr Travel back in time in Seligman

Seligman claims to be the "birthplace" of Route 66, so it’s a must-visit stop along the trek. This small, quiet town feels like time-traveling in the Old West, with hitching rails for horses and an old street that looks like a movie set for a Western. However, the lifestyle around here is very real, complete with large cattle ranches.

Grab a bite to eat at the Roadkill Cafe ("You kill it, we grill it"), peruse the '50s museum, and check out the historic stretch of old Route 66 from Seligman to Kingman.

Grand Canyon

South Rim Visitor Center: 36°03'32"N 112°06'33"W

a canyon with a mountain in the background: The Grand Canyon is worth the short detour off Route 66 © Grand Canyon National Park The Grand Canyon is worth the short detour off Route 66

The magical Grand Canyon National Park is just north of Route 66 and is worth the slight detour. This 200-mile-long, dramatic canyon of the Colorado River is a destination in and of itself, and is easily one of the best natural formations along the historic route.

The canyon is more than a site to gaze in awe at, though. You can also book thrilling whitewater rafting trips, hiking, and camping excursions. However, most visitors see the site from the shuttle buses that drive along the South Rim, according to the National Park Service.

Wigwam Village

811 West Hopi Drive, Holbrook, Ariz.

a view of a building: Stay in a teepee in Wigwam Village © Ken Lund / flickr Stay in a teepee in Wigwam Village

Wigwam Village Motel No. 6 in the Arizona desert is one of the most interesting places to sleep on Route 66, in a concrete teepee. (Technically, it should be called Teepee Village.) These white and red, 28-feet-tall teepees were built in a semicircle in the '50s, but you can still stay here today.

Don’t miss the onsite museum of Native American and historical memorabilia. Each of the 15 teepees contains a toilet, sink, shower and furniture. Rooms are sparse, but also inexpensive. You can find a few other remaining Wigwam Village Motels across the country, too.

The Petrified Forest

Visitor Center and Park Headquarters: 35.065° N 109.781° W

a bed with a sunset in the background: Petrified Forest National Park © iStock / LarryKnupp Petrified Forest National Park

This national park in Arizona is like nowhere else, with unusual petrified logs, ancient petroglyphs and fossils. If you have time to stop for a day, backpack into the backcountry and explore the Painted Desert. You can camp overnight for free.

At the very least, drive through the park to see the stunning overlooks in this famous, expansive natural wonder. You don’t have to get out of your car to be amazed, but you won’t regret a stop to get out in nature (and snap some great pics).

Sky City

Haaku Road, Acoma Pueblo, N.M.

a canyon with a large rock: Sky City in New Mexico © iStock / ivanastar Sky City in New Mexico

Sky City in New Mexico is one of the state’s most important cultural destinations. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America, perched atop a sandstone mesa. Here, you can get up close to the region’s ancient history. 

Explore the museum, see exhibits, take guided tours throughout the year, and enjoy the vast views across the plains. You can only reach the several-hundred-feet-tall mesa via tour bus.

Cadillac Ranch

13651 I-40 Frontage Road, Amarillo, Texas

a group of people on a beach with Cadillac Ranch in the background: Cadillac Ranch is a traditional stop on Route 66 © CGP Grey / flickr Cadillac Ranch is a traditional stop on Route 66

Cadillac Ranch is the quintessential Route 66 stop. This odd public art exhibit in Texas features a line of colorfully painted Cadillacs essentially standing on their heads. Cadillac Ranch is a famous reference in pop culture, from songs to films. Stop for photo ops and marvel at the strange display near the halfway point along Historic Route 66.

Meramec Caverns

1135 Highway W, Sullivan, Mo.

If you’re looking for hidden treasures, the Meramec Caverns in the Ozarks are it – quite literally. Beneath the Meramec Valley, you can find a cavern system filled with ancient mineral formations, marking the largest cave formations in the world. See the seven-story "mansion" built underground and learn why Missouri is called "the cave state" in a guided tour

Chain of Rocks Bridge

St. Louis

a bridge over a river: Walk across the Chain of Rocks bridge © Doug Kerr / flickr Walk across the Chain of Rocks bridge

Another famous bridge along Route 66 is the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Although you can no longer drive over this unusual bridge, named after the rocky rapids in this dangerous stretch of the river, you can still walk and ride bikes.

Venture out to the sudden sharp turn halfway across the bridge, which has barely changed over the years since its construction in the 1920s, making it an important and authentic historical landmark. In fact, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cozy Dog Drive In

2935 S 6th Street, Springfield, Ill.

Sometimes, the best stops on a journey are the simplest. That’s why we love a quick stop at the Cozy Dog Drive In of Springfield, Illinois. This relaxed diner is a great place to grab Route 66 memorabilia and fill up your belly.

The Cozy Dog claims to have invented the corn dog, which is called a Cozy Dog here, in the late '40s. Food at this historical restaurant is inexpensive and the atmosphere is fun. You've never seen hot dogs on sticks celebrated like this before!

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.


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