Henry’s Drive-In is a Route 66 must-stop located on Ogden Avenue in Cicero. They are famous for their Chicago-style hot dogs, and the beautiful Giant Hot Dog Topped with Fries neon sign at the location. Henry’s has been in business since the 1950s. It was started in the 1950s by an entrepreneur whose surname was Henry.
The drive-in’s menu is classic Chicagoland (Cicero) hot dog stand fare: Italian beef sandwiches, Italian sausage sandwiches, combo Italian beef Italian sausage sandwiches, and Tom-Tom tamales on a bun topped with chili. The top menu item is the Chicago-style hot dog wrapped up with fries. Their slogan is “It’s a meal in itself”.
History of Route 66
Perhaps the most compelling reason to follow Route 66 is to experience the road’s ingrained timeline of contemporary America. Before it was called Route 66, and long before it was even paved in 1926, this corridor was traversed by the National Old Trails Highway, one of the country’s first transcontinental highways. For three decades before and after World War II, Route 66 earned the title “Main Street of America” because it wound through small towns across the Midwest and Southwest, lined by hundreds of cafés, motels, gas stations, and tourist attractions.
During the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of farm families, displaced from the Dust Bowl, made their way west along Route 66 to California, following what John Steinbeck called “The Mother Road” in his vivid portrait, The Grapes of Wrath. After World War II, many thousands more expressed their upward mobility by leaving the industrial East, bound for good jobs in the suburban idyll of Southern California—again following Route 66, which came to embody the demographic shift from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt.
Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing gradually over the next 25 years, old Route 66 was bypassed section by section as the high-speed Interstate highways were completed. Finally, after the last stretch of freeway was completed in 1984, Route 66 was officially decommissioned. The old route is now designated Historic Route 66.
Though it is no longer a main route across the country, Route 66 has retained its mystique in part due to the very same effective hype, hucksterism, and boosterism that animated it through its half-century heyday. It was a Route 66 sight, the marvelous Meramec Caverns, that gave the world the bumper sticker. And it was here on Route 66 that the great American driving vacation first flourished. Billboards and giant statues along the highway still hawk a baffling array of roadside attractions, tempting passing travelers to view giant blue whales, to see live rattlesnakes and other wild creatures on display in roadside menageries, or to stay at “Tucumcari Tonite.”
The same commercial know-how and shameless self-promotion has helped the towns along the old route stay alive. Diners and motels play up their Route 66 connections, and many bona fide Route 66 landmarks are kept in business by nostalgic travelers intent on experiencing a taste of this endlessly endangered American experience. That said, many quirky old motels and cafés hang on by a thread of hope, sit vacant, or survive in memory only—all for want of an Interstate exit. In fact, of all the roads covered in this book, Route 66 has perhaps felt the greatest impact from the modern Interstate world; for many stretches you’ll be forced to leave the old two-lane and follow the super slabs that have been built right on top of the old road.
Route 66 passes through a marvelous cross-section of American scenes, from the cornfields of Illinois all the way to the golden sands and sunshine of Los Angeles, passing by such diverse environs as the Grand Canyon, the Native American communities of the desert Southwest, the small-town Midwest heartlands of Oklahoma and the Ozarks, and the city streets of St. Louis and Chicago. Whether you are motivated by an interest in history, feel a nostalgic yearning for the “good old days” Route 66 has come to represent, or simply want to experience firsthand the amazing diversity of people and landscapes that line its path, Route 66 offers an unforgettable journey into America, then and now.
Events & Festivals on Illinois Route 66
2023 Litchfield Pickers Market
May 14 @ 9:00 am – October 8 @ 3:00 pm
2023 Litchfield Pickers Market
Downtown Litchfield 400 North State Street, Litchfield, IL
The Litchfield Pickers Market will return Every Second Sunday of the Month: May to October (Exact 2022 dates are May 14, June 11, July 9, August 13, September 10).
September 1 @ 8:00 am – October 1 @ 6:00 pm
Edwardsville, Litchfield, Staunton, Granite City IL, United States
Take your sweet time to savor the smells, revel in the flavors – and immerse yourself in the rich and vibrant coffee culture of the Great Rivers and Routes region.
Classic Car Show at Litchfield Skyview
September 14 @ 3:00 pm – 10:30 pm
Classic Car Show at Litchfield Skyview
Litchfield Skyview Drive-In 1500 Old Rte 66 N, Litchfield, IL, United States
Litchfield Skyview is hosting a Classic Car Show on Thursday, September 14th at the famous drive-in movie theater in Litchfield. The event also includes a Parade of Lights, with classic.
Dwight Harvest Days
September 21 @ 6:00 pm – September 24 @ 5:00 pm
2023 Dwight Harvest Days & Basset Waddle Weekend
GABR Park 413 West Waupansie Street, Dwight, IL, United States
The Dwight Harvest Days & Basset Waddle Weekend includes a craft show, flea marker, parade, bags tournament, axe throwing, carnival, canine in the clouds show, car show, and best food
Top 10 Cities and Stops Along Route 66
Here are some major cities and attractions along Route 66 that travelers 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 travelers mainly interested in the southwest section of Route 66
Santa Fe, New Mexico – A cultural crossroads that has been at the center 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 big city, Santa Monica is the western end of Route 66.
Does Route 66 go through IL?
Where in Illinois does Route 66 start?
How long does it take to drive Route 66 from Illinois to California?
Tips for traveling on Route 66
First Leg: Chicago, IL to St. Louis, MO – 298 mi.
Start your epic Route 66 road trip in the iconic Windy City. There’s so much to do and see in Chicago that you might get distracted. But since time is limited, set your sights on enjoying the open spaces and city views you’ll find in Millennium Park. Make your next stop in Springfield, IL—the Land of Lincoln and the Birthplace of Route 66. Here you can snap a photo of the former president’s 19 th century home, visit his 117-foot tomb, and see the beautiful Illinois State Capitol. Finish out the first leg of the journey in St. Louis, MO. Stand in awe of the 630-foot Gateway Arch, the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere, built to celebrate the westward expansion of the U.S.
Second Leg: St. Louis, MO to Amarillo, TX – 780 mi.
You’ll want to start early, because the next stretch of highway will be your longest stint on the road. From St. Louis, you’ll travel southwest before hitting Sullivan, where an underground adventure awaits just outside town. Visit the Meramec Caverns, a series of caves where outlaw Jesse James once hid out with his gang. Just be sure to bring a jacket – the caverns are a chilly 58 degrees. Your next stop is in Claremore, OK, and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. Stretch your legs in the serene countryside where the cowboy, comedian, commentator and “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” called home before hopping back in your car to visit the Texas panhandle. While the song “Amarillo by Morning” might be playing in your head, you’re more likely to be here by sundown (depending on whether you decide to do this leg in one sitting). If you have time, make sure to stop by Cadillac Ranch, created in 1974 by a San Francisco art group. Bring a can of spray paint to add your own work to these 10 half-buried Caddies—or just snap a photo to add to your Route 66 vacation collage.
Third Leg: Amarillo, TX to Winslow, AZ – 588 mi.
As you head further west, the states get bigger and the wide-open spaces seem like they stretch on forever. This third leg of your journey will take you through an area of the country that feels like it’s still part of the Old West. But once you hit Albuquerque, you’ll discover a quirky big city with plenty to see and do. Here, you can drive through a slice of classic Route 66 Americana with a cruise down Central Avenue—18 miles of vintage neon signs, motels and diners. Back on the road, you’ll find plenty of Route 66 inspired stops (and even a few ghost towns) in Arizona. You’ll want to take a short detour to Meteor Crater & Barringer Space Museum just 18 miles outside Winslow, AZ. A football-sized asteroid crashed here some 50,000 years ago and left a crater nearly a mile wide for you to explore. Finally, end your day in the town where The Eagles recorded “Take it Easy” in 1977; and be sure to get a pic of you “standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” while you’re here.
Fourth Leg: Winslow, AZ to Santa Monica, CA – 589 mi.
The final stretch of your Route 66 journey takes you from the high deserts of Arizona into sunny southern California. Your first stop is at the London Bridge (yes, that London Bridge) in Lake Havasu, AZ. Once spanning the River Thames in London from the 1830s through the 1960s, the bridge was sold for $2.4 million, disassembled, and then reassembled in Lake Havasu, of all places—and now offers the perfect photo-op. Next, cross the boarder into the Golden State and plan a visit to the famous Calico Ghost Town in Yermo, CA, near the Mohave Desert. This Old West mining town from the late 1800s once produced more than $20 million in silver over a 12-year span. Now, it offers ghost tours along Main Street, a self-guided tour into the depths of Maggie Mine, and a railroad tour around town. Finally, you’ll end this incredible journey where the road meets the sea in Santa Monica. Go for a swim or a jog at Santa Monica Beach, which has recently reopened for recreational use.
When is the Best Time of Year to Travel Route 66?
Most people drive Route 66 between early May and late September, and this is generally considered the best time to travel the route. This is the most traveled time period partly due to convenience (school and work holidays) and partly due to the fact that these months generally present the best weather conditions. You’ll also find most of the attractions open for business during this time period.
One of the challenges (and thrills) with Route 66 given its large expanse is that is crosses deserts, plains, mountains, and grasslands and six climate zones (ranging from desert to Mediterranean to alpine climates).
I would advise avoiding the winter months from mid-November to mid-February as you’ll likely find cold temperatures along much of the route (yes, it does freeze in places like New Mexico and Texas!), potential mountain road snow closures in the Western States (California, Arizona, New Mexico), and bone-chillingly cold winds in Chicago.
In addition to cold temperatures and potential poor road conditions, many of the smaller Route 66 attractions (and some of the bigger ones) close down in the winter months or have reduced hours making it harder for winter travelers to get the most of their Route 66 experience.
Some people also advise to avoid the months of July and August not only because of the heat and humidity, but also because they are the busiest months on Route 66 with the biggest crowds, most children, fewest discounts, and highest prices.
We actually did our road trip in July/August and although we did experience high desert temperatures (over 110 F degrees in Needles, CA for example), humidity, and rain during the route, we did not find the tourist sights or roads to be very crowded and did not have trouble finding motels or campground vacancies along the route. Very few people drive the route from one end to the other, and even fewer do it by faithfully sticking to the old route so we very often had the road to ourselves.
The busiest section was probably the section in Arizona between Topock, Arizona and Williams, Arizona so I would expect potential slow traffic and crowds on this section of the route. The larger cities are always busy and expect slower traffic there as well no matter when you are traveling. For those wanting decent weather (hopefully!) but looking to avoid crowds and the high desert temperatures, consider May, early June, September, or early October.
Obviously, the best time to drive Route 66 is the time you have available, and if you need to set out at a less than opportune time of the year, just be prepared and be flexible. No matter when you plan to set out on Route 66, plan ahead with the expectation that you will experience a range of temperatures and climates.
During your trip, I’d advise checking the weather conditions each day as snow, hail storms, landslides, tornadoes, thunderstorms, flooding, and dust storms are all possible along this route.
Should I Drive Route 66 Westward or Eastward?
There is of course no correct way to do a road trip, not even an epic one like Route 66. You’ll see essentially the same things no matter which way you go (guides will actually suggest sometimes driving both ways in a town to experience both eastbound and westbound sections of Route 66 if there is a split because of one-way roads).
I would first base this decision on logistics (e.g., where you are based, best flight or car rental deals, weather), practicalities (e.g., weather), and any time-limited sightseeing priorities (e.g., a museum open for only 6 months of the year, a concert in Chicago you want to be at on X day). For example, we drove it eastbound from California to Chicago as we were living near San Francisco and it logistically made the most sense to start there.
However, if you have no logistical issues making you lean one way or the other, I would choose to drive Route 66 westward, from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, CA. This is the traditional way that Route 66 was originally developed and it also follows the westward expansion of the entire country.
Is Route 66 Signposted?
Not really. There are some Historical Route 66 signs in some states, but not in others. Some towns have taken upon themselves to put up Route 66 signs to help guide drivers. But you can’t depend on signs to follow Route 66.
I will not that in recent years since we’ve returned to Route 66, we have noticed more signs and more cities choosing to rename routes as Historic Route 66 or Highways 66 or similar. However, the signage is still spotty and not good enough to actually use to direct your trip.
How Do I Find and Stay on Route 66?
Bad news is that you can’t just go to Chicago and follow Route 66 signs westward to California. Since the route was decommissioned in 1985, the signs were removed and the route was removed from official maps. The road is also no longer contiguous as parts of the old Route 66 are now closed, deteriorated, or paved over. Some states have kept the 66 designations for parts of the highway, but only as state roads.
Good news is that as time goes on, more signs are being put up along the route to denote the Historical Route 66 and some maps are including parts of Route 66 as a tourist or scenic highway. However, these sorts of signs and denotations are not consistent along the route, and are sometimes conflicting and confusing, so the best way to find the route and stick to it is with the help of a good guidebook or Route 66 specific map.
We get asked a lot about paper or digital maps for Route 66 one can use for turn-by-turn navigation. We have seen several and own a couple, but none are really ones we can recommend. The Here It Is maps are great for daily planning but are not to scale driving maps. None of the to-scale maps are detailed enough to actually use on their own and are best used for planning. If you find a great Route 66 map, do let us know!
Most GPS units will not be able to follow Route 66 although we found ours very useful to figure out which road we were on and to navigate to a specific address as needed. So we would recommend having a GPS unit or online maps on your smartphone to aid you as needed. But if you want a no-tech trip, you can certainly do it with the EZ66 Guide and a good road atlas.
Today, it is estimated that over 80% of the original Route 66 in some form or the other is still driveable and with the help of some good Route 66 planning aids, you can easily find and drive it. It is up to you how faithful you want to be in keeping to the original route as most people skip over sections to save time and hop on the Interstate, whereas others try to be as faithful as possible. For instance, there are many times when you can actually see the interstate from historic Route 66 and you are simply traveling alongside it on a slower local road.
Note that a few sections of Route 66 are not in great driving shape, may run onto private land, or may be impassable in bad weather conditions so keep this in mind and just drive safely. Guidebooks will often warn you about these sections and provide helpful advice, but they can’t always know the most up-to-date conditions.
How Much Time Does it Take to Drive Route 66?
This really depends on how much you want to see, how much time you are willing to drive each day, and how faithful you want to be to the historical Route 66. Also you will need to account for any detours you plan to make which can take up a lot of time (e.g., detours to Grand Canyon or Las Vegas, NV).
For those who want to be faithful as possible to the historical Route 66, drive extra alignments, and stop at all the main attractions, you’ll need at least 2 weeks to drive the full Route 66 route (not accounting for any major detours). However, it will be a bit rushed at 2 weeks. Four weeks seems to be the recommended amount of time to drive the route faithfully at a fairly leisurely pace and have time to do all the stops.
If you have less than 2 weeks, I’d highly recommend choosing a section of Route 66 to explore, and you can always come back and drive the rest at another time. So many people drive Route 66 multiple times in their lives as the route seems to have an appeal that pulls you back again since it is always changing.
For those wanting to do the full road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles but are not so concerned about faithfulness to the route and just want to be sure to hit the highlights of Route 66 can do the drive in less time. You can actually get from Chicago to Los Angeles via Interstates along the route with about 48 hours worth of driving or less. That said, you’ll want to make plenty of stops and drive portions of the old Route 66 along the way.
I’d suggest at least 8 days to 10 days to do this sort of trip for those who do not mind some extra Interstate driving. You can see our 8 day Route 66 itinerary designed for those who have 10 days or less. The Interstates can save you a lot of time, but just remember that those driving Route 66 are often searching for an atmosphere that exists away from the Interstates so be sure to include some good stretches of Route 66 to get this experience.
Our summer Route 66 road trip lasted 18 days but we spent 1 night in Page, AZ, 2 nights at the Grand Canyon, and an extra day or so in Albuquerque, NM visiting a friend. So we basically had 14 full days and nights along the route and we drove the route as faithfully as possible, sticking to the existing old sections of Route 66 and not getting onto the Interstate unless there was no alternative.
We stopped at just about all of the notable attractions, visited most of the Route 66 related museums, and made a countless number of stops to take a photo or take a look at vintage signs, motels, abandoned drive-in theaters, etc. along the route.
We also made a few minor side trips along the route. But to accomplish the above, we typically started driving between 8:00am to 9:00am and drove until around nightfall (generally 7:30pm to 8:00pm) every day. We’d stop for all notable (and most minor) stops with typically an hour or less allocated for a lunch stop, but dinner was usually made in the RV before going to bed each night.
It was a great road trip and we saw so much, but we drove a lot most days and never had time to spend more than one night in any place. On days when we wanted to spend a lot of time in one place, we’d make up for it by driving later into the night or getting up earlier the next day.
So yes it is possible to do a Route 66 road trip in 2 weeks, drive the route faithfully, and visit most of the attractions along the way, but it means a quick pace and long days of driving. For the average traveler with two weeks, I’d recommend slowing down more and either use the Interstate more to save time or skip some sections of the route so you can more fully appreciate the section you are driving.
If you have more than 10 days for your Route 66 trip, check out our suggested 2 week Route 66 itinerary as it provides a day-by-day itinerary for a 14 day trip. If you have more than 14 days, I’d add more stops (reducing teh amount you need to travel each day) or spend extra nights at some of the stops.
I Don’t Have Time for The Full Route, What Section Should I Drive?
Most people who travel on Route 66 do not travel the full route. And even among those who say they’ve traveled the full route between Chicago and Santa Monica, often don’t follow it faithfully, jumping on the Interstate highways to save time between major destinations.
If you have limited time, I would choose a section that fits in with your interests (e.g., vintage motels, Wild West, quirky roadside attractions, railroads) or that fits in with your other travel plans (e.g., a visit to Las Vegas or a family visit in Texas). Below is but a short list of suggestions:
Cowboys & Wild West: There are a lot of Old West oriented stops, and I’d recommend considering the Oklahoma to Arizona section. A must-stop for many is the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Also in Oklahoma is Will Rogers’ birthplace is in Oologah, Oklahoma, the Will Rogers Memorial is in Claremore, OK, and the annual Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo is held in Vinita, OK each summer.
In Texas, Route 66 drivers may want to pull over for a steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch and consider visits to the Devil’s Rope Museum in McClean, the American Quarter Horse Association Heritage Center and Museum in Amarillo, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Hereford.
The historic Old Town of Albuquerque and Santa Fe are both great places to buy Western wear in New Mexico. In Arizona, you might want to make a pitstop at Wild West Junction in Williams, Arizona and stroll through Oatman, Arizona which was a true Old West mining town and now holds Old West shows in the middle of the street in the summer. If you end up in California, I’d highly recommend a stop at the Calico Ghost Town.
Choosing Transportation for a Route 66 Road Trip?
It wouldn’t be a road trip unless you were driving, so either you’ll need to supply your own vehicle or motorcycle or you’ll need to rent one. If you are planning on renting, you should consider whether you want to stay in lodging along the way, bring camping gear to set up a tent at campsites along the way, or if you want to be able to sleep in your vehicle such as with a campervan or RV.
If you are doing a round-trip journey, you’ll have more options for rentals. But many drivers will want to do a one-way Route 66 road trip that allows them rent a vehicle at one end of the journey (e.g., Chicago) and return it at the other end (e.g., Los Angeles). So you will need to pay attention to companies that offer one-way rentals and any one-way fees that may be charged on rentals.
There are a lot of major rental car rental companies (e.g., Enterprise, Budget, Avis, etc.) that have rental offices in both Chicago and Los Angeles and allow one-way rentals. Unless you have a preferred company, we recommend using a rental car comparison website to .
Renting hybrid and electric cars is possible. There are electric charging stations along Route 66 but they are limited along some sections, so I’d check for EV charging stations along the route in advance to ensure you don’t run out of charge if driving an all-electric car. You will need to know what type of charge your car needs and what kind of connectors your car will accept when checking for stations. Note that the current costs for renting and insuring electric cars is often much higher than combustion engine cars.
Those wanting to hire either a classic car or newer sports car (e.g., a Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvette) should expect much higher rental rates. Many of the major rental companies offer convertibles and other sports cars, and there are a couple of car rental companies that specialize in classic car rentals like Ride Free.
For RV rentals, there are several companies that allow one-way rentals with offices in both Chicago and Los Angeles which include USA Rentals and Cruise America. We recommend using Motorhome Republic for RV rental as they compare prices across the major RV rental firms in the USA, including Cruise America, Apollo, El Monte RV, and Jucy, to find the best price for you. You can book your RV for the USA through them here.
For those who are doing a round-trip route (returning to where you started), peer-to-peer RV sites, like Outdoorsy, RVShare, or RVEzy may be another option. These sites allow people to rent out their campervans, RVs, motorhomes, travel trailers, etc. to people when they are not being used.
Those looking for a motorcycle rental for Route 66 might want to check out Eagle Rider and Ride Free.
To rent a vehicle or RV in the United States, you typically need to be at least 21 years of age (25 years of age is the minimum at many rental companies) and have a valid driver’s license. If you are not an American citizen you may need an international driving permit or an authorized English translation of your driving credentials. If you are an international driver and have never driven in the U.S., you should check out this article from Laurence about tips for driving in the U.S. for non-American drivers.
Car insurance is mandatory in most of the USA and is necessary if you plan to drive Route 66. Most states require some level of liability insurance coverage and this is usually included as part of the rental car price. For any type of rental, you’ll want to research what insurance coverage is included in the rental and what is recommended. You may have additional coverage for rental cars included as part of your own car insurance (particularly Americans) or as part of your credit card benefits.
When comparing prices, you’ll want to specifically check on any one-way drop-off fees which can add an additional $100 or more to a rental car price. Airport pick-ups and drop-offs can also be more expensive than picking up or dropping off a rental car at other locations.
Note that you should consider if you need a rental car for your entire trip. For Chicago and Los Angeles, you can get around both cities without a car pretty easily. Both cities offer public transit options (buses and trains), taxis, ride sharing services (e.g, Uber and Lyft), suburban trains, sightseeing buses, bike rentals, etc. If you plan to spend much time in either city, you might consider picking up your rental later or dropping it off earlier to save money (rental days and parking fees) and to avoid driving in these cities.
We have done Route 66 both in a campervan rental and with a regular car rental. Our first time we rented a small camervan from JUCY, which specialize in small custom-built campervan hires. Hiring a campervan gave us the option to sleep and eat (there is a small kitchen included!) in the RV, and this helped us save a lot of time and money along the way.
You can read our full review of our JUCY campervan experience. However, this is not currently an option for those driving the full route one-way but may be great for those driving only a western section and can return the van in California or Las Vegas.
Are Escorted or Guided Route 66 Tours Available?
Yes, indeed, there are several group and guided tours available for those wanting to traverse Route 66 by car, bus, or motorcycle. Some cover the full route and others cover only sections of Route 66.
Group tours may be a particularly good fit for foreign travelers who don’t speak much English, those who feel uncomfortable traveling independently, those unable to rent a car, or solo travelers wanting company during their trip.
If you are traveling from Europe, you might consider this 17-day guided tour of Route 66 by Titan Travel that includes your flights, transport, accommodation, and a number of entry fees/excursions. Geared to those who want a comfortable journey.
There are also a number of tours listed on TourRadar, including this 14-day tour and this 16-day tour. You can see more Route 66 tour options here.
Those wanting to join a guided bus Route 66 tour might want to check out itineraries from G Adventures. They don’t offer full Route 66 trips, but drive sections of Route 66 while also visiting places like Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Yosemite National Park.
Those wanting to travel on a motorcycle or classic car with a group of other Route 66 travelers should check out Eagle Rider and Ride Free.
Dining along Route 66?
There are ample places to eat along Route 66. You’ll find food options in almost any town along the route. There are lunch options in most towns of any size along the route, but dinner options can be more limited in smaller towns and rural areas.
If you are looking for a list of restaurants along Route 66, we recommend checking out the day-by-day Route 66 dining suggestions sections within our 2-week Route 66 itinerary. It lists a number of recommended places to dine across the full route with a focus on classic diners and restaurants.
Route 66 era diners are still serving up classic American road food such as hamburgers, chili, fried chicken, BBQ pork, milkshakes, and corn dogs. You’ll also find plenty of chain fast food places, independent restaurants, and even fine dining restaurants along the route.
Food options vary depending on the region. Some classics include green chili smothered burritos in New Mexico, steak in Texas, onion burgers in Oklahoma, frozen custard in Missouri, and cozy dogs in Illinois.
Vegetarians, vegans, and those with other kinds of special diets may have limited options in smaller towns along the route. While options have improved in recent years, you may want to keep snacks always on hand in your car to ensure you always have something to eat.
Most lunch spots require no reservations and most of the casual spots for dinner also do not require reservations unless you have a large group. We rarely made reservations along the route and were very flexible with where we ate.
However, if there is a more special restaurant you want to go to, especially for those in the larger cities, you should check its website to see if reservations are recommended. Some of the popular restaurants in places like Chicago and Los Angeles can book out weeks in advance.
For those who want to cook their own meals, do picnics, or buy snacks, you will find an ample amount of grocery stores along the route. Some common grocery stores along Route 66 include Kroger, Walmart (most Walmart stores have a large grocery section), Albertson’s, Smith’s, Aldi, Safeway, and Whole Foods. In smaller towns, you can try fuel stations, convenience stores, and general stores for pantry staples.
Lodging along Route 66?
For many years, the best resource to find hotels and restaurants was the Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide, which listed over 500 restaurants and motels throughout the route. Sadly, it published its final edition in 2015 and the guide is now difficult to find and some of its listings are now outdated.
So we now refer people to check out the day-by-day Route 66 lodging suggestions section within our 2-week Route 66 itinerary. It lists recommended places stay for each day. We also have a dedicated Route 66 hotels and motels guide which offers a list of over 50 classic Route 66 era lodging options.
If you are looking for a printed guidebok to take with you, we recommend the most recent edition of this guidebook which is edited by the National Historic Route 66 Federation. It isn’t as good or as comprehensive as the Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide but still provides some excellent recommendations.
One of the joys of a Route 66 road trip for many is staying in some wonderful old vintage motels or motor courts. There are many Route 66 era motels and several newer ones along the route dedicated to serving Route 66 tourists. The options are really varied and you can even sleep in a wigwam (e.g., Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, CA) or stay in a room where a celebrity such as Clark Gable (Boots Court Motel in Carthage, MO) or Elvis Presley stayed (Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield, MO). There are also some stunning historical hotels along the route, some dating back to the last 19th century and early twentieth century.
Even if you are primarily planning to camp or stay in an RV, I’d highly recommend staying at least one or two nights at a vintage motel along the route. Not only is this a great Route 66 experience, but your patronage supports these mostly family-run businesses and helps them keep their neon signs burning! We definitely enjoyed these stays.
Note that many hotels and campgrounds offer discounts for a number of reasons (seniors, U.S. military, AAA members), so be sure to check to see when booking and bring along proof at check-in (e.g., ID, membership card). Also you may want to sign up for a loyalty or rewards program if you plan to stay in a number of the same types of properties (e.g., Choice Hotels, Hilton, Marriott, KOA RV parks) to receive perks, discounts, and free stays.
Another option for those who want their own place and perhaps want to cook for themselves is to consider staying in vacation rentals along the route. We generally find these to be a better value for those staying for more than a couple of nights at a time. The best places to search for vacation rentals along Route 66 include Booking.com, , and Airbnb. Other places to check include The Plum Guide and Marriott Home & Villas.
For those on a tight budget, note that free primitive camping (no hook-ups) is available on many public lands administered by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and the USFS (US Forest Service) as well as some other organizations or even private ranches. Some WalMart stores also offer free overnight parking although policies are store-specific and at the discretion of each store manager so you will need to ask.
How much money to budget for Route 66 road trip?
The amount of money to budget for your Route 66 trip is really going to depend on where you are coming from, how many days you plan to be on the route, how you plan to travel along the route (e.g., sports car staying in hotels, campervan stopping at campsites), how many attractions you plan to visit, and your travel style.
The great thing is that a lot of the expenses you’ll hopefully know well before you leave home, including any flights, insurance, car rental expenses, and any needed travel documents for traveling and driving in the USA (e.g., visa, passport, vaccination certificate, driving certificates). So if you are unsure of these costs, I’d price them in advance as these can be a significant portion of your budget, especially if you are an international traveler, and will depend a lot on where you are coming from.
Now, the rest of your costs will come along the trip itself and will include things like lodging, fuel, food, attraction entry fees, tours, and souvenirs. I would say a budget of between $200 to $300 per day for 2 people traveling together and sharing a room is a reasonable Route 66 budget.
For a couple traveling together on a small budget, I would say a budget of $100 to $150 per day would probably be about the lowest budget I would recommend. This would entail camping or staying in hostels or budget motels, eating at fast food restaurants or diners or cooking for one’s self, and a limited amount of spending on things like attractions and souvenirs. If you have a small budget, I’d definitely try to plan ahead to ensure you can stick to it and I’d consider camping to save on both lodging and food costs. So maybe with a campervan, an average day would be $25 for camping fees, $20 meals (groceries for picnics and cooked meals), $55 fuel, and $20 attractions.
A lot of our readers who have contacted us often have a Route 66 budget of between $200 and $250 per day for 2 persons and this will give you a lot more flexibility. This would allow for budget to mid-range lodging, diner meals, and stopping at one or two attractions each day. So maybe an average day would be $100 for lodging, $60 meals, $50 fuel, and $20 attractions.
A daily budget of over $300 for 2 persons per day will give you even more flexibility. This would allow for mid-range to luxury lodging, restaurant meals, and multiple attractions per day. So maybe an average day would be $200 for lodging, $100 meals, $50 fuel, and $50 attractions.
If you already have an idea of your budget, you can work backward to find your daily budget. Let’s say you have $6500 saved for your trip. Your plane tickets, car rental, and travel insurance cost you $2500. That gives you $4000 for the rest of your expenses like lodging, meals, attractions, gas, attractions, tours, shopping, etc. If you are planning to spend 2 weeks driving Route 66, that gives you an average budget of $285 per day.
Some costs will be flexible and you can determine how important various elements of your trip are to you. Even with the same budget, you can prioritize the elements most important to you and try to save on the others. For instance, if lodging and attraction are most important to you, you can save money by looking for inexpensive meals. Whereas another person with the same budget might like to have a nice sit-down meal with drinks every night but care less about lodging and attractions.
If you have a budget you need to stick to during your trip, I’d recommend checking prices and booking what you can ahead for things like lodging so you know those costs in advance. If you want to stick to say a $100 average daily lodging budget, then booking ahead can ensure you can do that. If you wait until the last minute, you may end up paying more than planned. For instance, for lodging, we book all our own via Booking.com and generally book places with free cancellation (by a certain date) and then can keep track of it all in one place.
One price you are not going to have much control over is fuel costs. Once you know what kind of car you’ll be driving, I’d recommend using AAA Gas Prices and Gasbuddy to search for current and average fuel prices as well as doing gas trip calculator costs to get an idea of that expense for your budget. Fuel prices will vary by state. Electric cars will save you money in energy costs but they often cost more to rent and insure.
If you track your daily expenses during your trip and find you are spending more than expected, you can spend less on things like food or attractions later in the trip for example.
You’ll likely need to spend more on lodging and food in places like Chicago, Santa Fe, and Los Angeles, but you can save money in the smaller towns and cities along the way. So keep in mind while you may have a budget of $100 per night on lodging, it is likely you will be paying a bit more in the bigger cities but can find lower prices in the smaller cities and towns along the route to keep to an average of $100 per night.
How Safe is Traveling Route 66?
We felt safe during our trip and did not have any incidents; however, crime does happen along the route and you should be cautious, especially if you are traveling by yourself. Crime rates vary considerably along the route from big cities like Los Angeles and Chicago where there is higher rates of crime to small little towns in Oklahoma or Arizona where crime is relatively rare.
Most crime, especially violent crime, happens late at night or early in the morning. So completing your sightseeing by dinner time (most things are closed by then anyway) and heading off to your accommodation for the night may make you feel safer, especially if you are new to traveling in the United States.
The most common problem is probably theft (of valuables and cars) you should follow all the practical travel safety guidelines as you would elsewhere. Keep your valuables hidden, car and hotel doors locked, and be cautious about opening motel or hotel doors to people you don’t know. Travel insurance for any expensive valuables may be a good idea if traveling with items that would be costly for you to replace.
Have copies of important travel documents, phone numbers, IDs, credit cards, vaccination certificates, and insurance information stored in a separate place (in physical and/or digital formats) in case of theft. If someone stole your purse, phone, luggage, and/or car, would you still have access to your IDs and money?
Keep your cell phones charged and carry a spare battery or charger. Always have a bit of cash on you ($20 to $100) but don’t carry large amounts of cash in case you are robbed.
Travelers should always let family or friends know about your trip and it is a good idea to share you itinerary with at least one person, especially if traveling solo. Some people, especially women, also like to carry pepper spray.
If you are camping, I’d stay at proper campsites with staff on-site and avoid camping off by yourself out of sight of others. If staying in budget motels, hostels, or rented rooms (e.g., Airbnb), I’d be sure to read reviews and check on the area a bit (especially in larger cities) to try to avoid high crime areas. It can also help to make sure you have your lodging booked ahead at least a day or two in advance so you are never scrambling to find lodging late at night.
For digital safety, you should consider using a travel router and/or a VPN to help protect you when using public and hotel Internet. If you are using unsecured public WiFi, it is recommended that you don’t log-in to any data-sensitive sites (e.g., banks, emails, workplace accounts) or share any personal information.
Hopefully, you will not need medical care on your trip, but the United States does have world-class health care facilities. However, health care in the United States is notoriously expensive compared to most other countries. Make sure you have your health insurance information with you. If you are traveling from outside of the USA, be sure that you have travel insurance or medical insurance that covers medical care in the United States. A medical emergency could cost you tens of thousands of dollars without insurance.
We did not have any safety-related issues during our trip but I think you should definitely watch out for yourself like you would anywhere else and if you are new to these areas, it is always good to be a little extra cautious.
Can I Bring my Pets along Route 66?
Yes, of course, you can bring along your pets. The better question of course is to decide if you should bring along pets. It can be great to have the companionship of your dog on a trip but it also will limit where you can go and how much time you can spend exploring attractions along the route.
Many museums, attractions, restaurants, and hotels along Route 66 do not allow dogs (except ADA service dogs) or other pets. You can of course find many places you can go with your dog and several motel and hotel chains are pet friendly (e.g., Motel 6, Courtyard by Marriott) but it does limit your options. Most RV sites and campgrounds allow dogs so traveling with an RV can be a good option for pet owners.
Most motels and hotels have policies where you are not allowed to leave you pet unattended in the room which means one person should always stay with the pet. You should also of course not leave your pets unattended in a vehicle and in many U.S. states it is illegal to leave pets unattended in cars, especially in hot temperatures. It can be very hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) when driving the sections in the West, especially in the summer months, and these temperatures can be dangerous to pets, especially larger dogs.
How Accessible is Route 66?
If you (or your travel companion) are traveling in a wheelchair or have limited mobility, there are of course some things that will be more difficult and some places you will not be able to visit or stay. However, the great news is that a large number of the attractions can be seen from the road and you don’t even need to get out of the car to see most of Route 66’s roadside attractions, historic buildings, neon signs, etc.
I would make a list of the top places you want to see and then look up accessibility information to get an idea of what you will and will not be able to visit and see. For example the Meramec Caverns cave tour is not currently wheelchair accessible but the majority of the National Route 66 Museum complex is wheelchair accessible. Santa Monica has free all-terrain and beach wheelchairs available to rent that visitors can use to explore the area and beaches.
We would recommend that those with limited mobility, especially those with a wheelchair, book their accommodation in advance to be sure to get accessible rooms as options can be limited in the smaller towns and cities. Many motels and hotels along the route have wheelchair-accessible rooms available and most can be booked online, but you may want to call the property directly if you have any questions about any accessibility features.
Many of the historical hotels cannot accommodate wheelchairs due to the nature of the property (stairs, no elevator), but many of the vintage motor court motels are ground level with no steps although not all have fully accessible rooms.
Quick list of some items you may want to pack along for your Route 66 road trip:
- Sunscreen. We recommend getting something with an SPF of at least 30, but really the higher the better. We personally use and like Neutrogena sunscreens and La Roche Posay sunscreens the best.
- Sun protection such as hats, sunglasses and clothing, particularly if traveling in the summer.
- Insect repellent may be useful but depends on when and where you go. We weren’t bothered by insects much, but recommended for those who plan to do a fair amount of hiking in summer, especially in areas near bodies of water or forested areas. Just make sure it protects against the kind of insects likely encountered in those areas (e.g., ticks, mosquitoes, etc.).
- Rain protection, such as an umbrella, reusable poncho, or rain jacket. For those traveling and rented a vehicle with limited space, a reusable poncho or travel umbrella might work best.
- Reusable water bottle. We recommend a reusable water bottle for each person on the road trip so that you always have water with you. Coffee and tea lovers may also want a travel thermos like this one.
- Snacks as it can be a bit of a drive between restaurants in some places. We recommend things like granola bars, trail mix, nuts, pretzels, jerky, dried fruit, etc. that will still be good if it sits all day in a hot car.
- Picnic gear. Those planning on taking along sandwiches, having picnics, and keeping soda cold will want to pack a cooler. You’ll also want to take along some eating utensils, plates, drinking glasses, napkins, etc. You might also consider a cute shopping tote that doubles as a picnic basket. Picnics can be a great way to save money on your travels, especially for families.
- Rubbish bag or bin for car. It is good to have a designated place to keep trash in car until you can find an appropriate place to properly dispose of it. You might want to have a second one for recycling.
- Face coverings and hand sanitizer gel. Hand sanitizer gel with at least 60% alcohol is recommended to be effective against COVID-19 and similar viruses. Great to sanitize hands and other surfaces when water and soap are not available.
- Travel wipes. We recommend keeping a pack of travel wipes or mini towels in the car to wipe hands and clean up spills. Great for messy kids.
- Travel journal, such as this one or this one, to jot down memories and notes about your experiences.
- Games and toys. Keep entertained with car games, cards, word searches, sketching books, coloring books, and quiz games. There are plenty of car games and travel sized activities for both children and adults.
- Windshield shade. If traveling in the summer, we recommend a car windshield shield that helps keep the car shaded and cooler. A lifesaver if you have leather seats. Most of these are lightweight and fold up easily.
- Car power inverter. Need to charge electronic devices such as laptops, camera batteries, or tablets on the road? Consider a power inverter for cars and RVs; we used this one on our road trip. They plug into the cigarette lighters and allow you to charge devices with both AC electrical plugs and USBs in the car.
- Travel adapters. If traveling from outside of the USA, you’ll likely need a travel adapter to plug in your electronic devices. We recommend getting a couple of universal adapters, we use these ones. Be sure to only bring electronics that will work with 110V.
- Route 66 guidebooks and navigational books. We used and can recommend the latest editions of the EZ66 Guide and Adventure Handbook. See our Route 66 Trip Planning Materials section for more information and recommendations.
- GPS or Maps Data. We had a GPS navigation unit for the car. Many rental cars come with these or you can add one onto most rentals. You can also use your phone if you’ll have data instead and access a maps system such as Google Maps. Just make sure whatever you have will work without Internet access.
- USA road atlas. We always like having a set of physical maps on hand and recommend a good USA road atlas – we personally like the spiral-bound ones from Rand McNally or AAA best for the United States. Michelin and National Geographic also make good maps and atlases. Individual state maps of the 8 states also work.
- Multi-tool. Multi-tools often contain things like screwdrivers, tweezers, pliers, scissors, knives, bottle openers, nail files, and carabiners which often come in handy for fixing and opening things. Laurence always travels with a Leatherman tool. They are great to have with you on your travels, just be aware that these often can’t be taken onto airplanes and will need to be packed in your checked luggage.
- Basic car safety and maintenance supplies. A spare tire and good car safety kit that includes things like reflective signals, safety vest, jumper cables, and flashlight, gloves, and basic medica supplies. If renting a car or RV, these will likely come with it.
- First Aid medical supplies kit. It is good to have basic medical supplies in the car such as bandages, gauze, pain relievers, antiseptic, tweezers, and medical tape. You can buy a pre-made travel kit or make your own. These items may come as part of a roadside safety kit as well.
- Route 66 music, such as this Route 66 inspired song collection, which is available in a variety of formats including CD, MP3, or streaming.
Route 66 Music
(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 (song)* – This rhythm and blues song written in 1946 by Bobby Troup popularized the highway and is by far the most popular song about the highway. First recorded by Nat King Cole, it has been sung by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Rolling Stones. This is the one must-have song for your Route 66 road trip sound track!
Route 66 – Songs From The Mother Road (music collection) – A audio CD of Route 66 related song sung by the Road Crew.
Three Route 66 song collections by producer David Sanger*:
The Songs Of Route 66: Music From The All-American Highway (music collection)
More Songs of Route 66: Roadside Attractions (music collection)
Even More Songs Of Route 66: From Here To There (music collection).
Route 66 Films
Grapes of Wrath (film) – A 1940 film adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel directed by John Ford. A great film; however, it removes characters from the novel and is a more optimistic and less controversial depiction compared to the novel.
On the Road (film) – A 2012 film adaption of Jack Kerouac’s novel. Not the best reviewed film, but there is a lot of time spent on the road. Note there is quite a bit of nudity and sexual and drug-related content.
Cars (animated film)– This 2006 animated film by Pixar and Disney, tells the story of a popular race car who unexpectedly ends up stranded in the small town of Radiator Springs located along historic Route 66. The family-friendly film makes clear and constant references to Route 66, its history and its decline due to the U.S. federal interstate system, as well as references to specific people and places along the route. Fun to watch both before and after your road trip, as you notice so many more things after your trip.
Easy Rider (film) – The famous 1969 biker film that has Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper traveling through parts of the American Southwest and South by motorcycle. Only parts of it take place on Route 66, but great for those hoping to see Route 66 by motorcycle.
Thelma & Louise (film) – A 1991 crime film about two women who set out on a 2-day road trip that ends with deadly consequences. Again, only parts actually take place on Route 66, This is the film that really introduced Brad Pitt to the world.
Little Miss Sunshine (film) – A 2006 American comedy/drama film about a dysfunctional family who drives their 7-year-old daughter Olive from Albuquerque, NM to Redondo Beach, CA for a beauty pageant in an antique Volkswagen bus.
Bagdad Cafe (film) – A 1987 West German film about a woman running an isolated run-down cafe and motel in the California desert frequented by truck drivers and drifters. A bit odd and slow to get going but we enjoyed it. The filming location can still be visited in Newberry Springs, CA which is located on Route 66.
Paris, Texas (film) – A 1984 French-German film about a man who has been wandering the the desert and comes back to reunite with his brother and son. He and his son then travel in the American Southwest to find this wife. This film is loosely related to Route 66.
Wild Hogs (film) – A 2007 comedy starring John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy who are middle-aged friends from Cincinnati, Ohio who decide to drive their Harleys to California in search of a little adventure. The Film includes some scenes shot along Route 66, particularly in New Mexico.