There are so many Route 66 road trip stops you can make, but these are the absolute essential photo ops along the Mother Road.
First stop is Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois. This place is truly a hidden gem and is absolutely worth a visit. There are loads of Volkswagen Rabbits (yes, the cars) sticking out of the ground, a massive jackrabbit statue, and plenty of Route 66 signage. Go into the gift shop to meet the owner/proprietor of this crazy place, and pet his real-life rabbits that spend their days hopping around the store. The owner is super friendly and will regale you stories of Route 66.
Next up is the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven hotel in Springfield, Missouri. This classic roadside hotel has been a Mother Road fixture since 1938. There are tons of great photo ops around the hotel, including an old-school fire truck and vintage gas pumps. One of the hotel’s claims to fame is that Elvis Presley stayed here, and if it’s good enough for The King, it’s good enough for all of us. Keep your eye out for lots of nostalgic memorabilia displayed around the place.
Then, it's onto Catoosa, Oklahoma to gawk at the Blue Whale. This massive roadside attraction has been a Route 66 favorite since the 1970s, when Hugh Davis built the whale for his wife Zelta as an anniversary present (aww!) Today, the Blue Whale of Catoosa is one of the world's most recognizable Route 66 attractions.
While in Oklahoma, head to Arcadia's POPS Soda Ranch, where you can try more than 500 sodas! There's a gigantic 66-foot-tall soda bottle out front and it's a fantastic place for photos, especially at sunset, when the stark landscape seems to glow. The landmark diner is also an operating gas station.
Lucille's Famous Rt. 66 Gas Station in Hydro, OK is a classic Route 66 gas station known for its unusual design; it's an upper-story, porch style station, and there are only a few left in America. It was built by Carl Ditmore in 1929, and was later sold to Hamons family. It was run for the next 60 years by Lucille Hamons, hence the name "Lucille's Famous Rt. 66 Gas Station."
From Oklahoma it's right on to Shamrock, Texas, where the Tower Station and the U-Drop Inn have become an iconic piece of Route 66 history. Built in 1936, it's an Art Deco beauty that's almost too pretty to be a simple service station-- they definitely don't make gas stations like this anymore. Today, the building is a visitor center for Route 66 travelers, and even inspired a set design for Disney-Pixar's "Cars."
Since everything is bigger in Texas, you may as well try your luck at the 72-oz. steak challenge at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. The challenge was born way back in the day when the owner of the steakhouse wanted to know how many 1-pound steaks hungry cattle farmers could eat in an hour. So far, the most someone’s been able to eat is 72 oz. of steak... plus sides, of course. If you're up for the challenge and you finish the meal, you get it for free! There's also a shooting gallery, games, and a massive gift shop here as well. Oh, and don't forget to get a picture with the massive bull statue out front.
The Midpoint Café in Adrian, TX is a restaurant, souvenir and antique shop directly on Route 66. The Cafe claims to be the geographic midpoint between Los Angeles and Chicago (hence its name). Hop out for photo ops, some delicious pie, and to sign your name on one of the old cars out front.
The iconic Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, NM has been operating on Route 66 since 1939. As far as vintage neon signage goes, it doesn't get much better than the Blue Swallow's classic sign. If you can, stick around until dusk; it’s worth the wait to see the lighted sign. And if you plan on spending the night they have very reasonable rates and you can get a great feel for what an authentic Route 66 hotel stay was like back in the day. Plus, Tucumcari is an amazing town, and absolutely loaded with plenty of retro-looking photo ops.
See Arizona’s Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park in the late afternoon and then stop at Wigwam Village Motel No. 6 for the night. If you want to experience a little piece of history, this is just the spot: The rooms of this charming historic hotel are straight out of a 1950s time warp. It's definitely not a 5-star hotel, but if you're staying here, it's for the history and retro atmosphere, not for the amenities. Plus, staying here helps support the town of Holbrook and the motel!
Standin' on the Corner Park is a publicly operated park that commemorates the Eagles-Jackson Browne song "Take It Easy." The park contains a two-story trompe-l'œil mural by John Pugh, and a life-size bronze statue by Ron Adamson of a man standing on a corner with a guitar.
Another must-see stop is Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, a historic eatery and roadside attraction located along former Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona. The drive-in was built in 1953 by local resident Juan Delgadillo who was working on an extremely limited budget; he built the restaurant mostly from scrap lumber obtained from the nearby Santa Fe Railroad yard!
There you have it: the 12 most essential Route 66 photo ops! If you can afford it, take your time driving down the route; the towns you'll pass through may have seen better days, but they've all maintained their retro charm, as seen in their signage, mom-and-pop diners, and historic Main Streets.
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