Route 66: Vintage America at its Best

More than just a scenic road, the famous Route 66 is a trip back in time to the era before the modern highway system forever transformed the United States.

Connecting many of the country’s most famous landmarks, travelling along Route 66 is an old school adventure that showcases big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles but also the small towns the country was built upon. Along the drive of roughly two weeks, travellers experience a series of quirky and original American creations.  It is a trip that is as culturally rich as it is beautiful to behold.

To fully understand the appeal of Route 66, one has to go back to the world of the mid-1920s – roughly three decades before President Eisenhower would dramatically change U.S. transportation with the highway system. As the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression picked up in the decade after the road officially opened, wary migrants found comfort on the road that offered a respite of fresh opportunity and adventure.

Beginning near Grant Park in downtown Chicago, Route 66 heads southwest to Springfield, Illinois, where visitors usually stop to check out the Lincoln Presidential Library and the site of the first drive-through restaurant. Today, drivers cap off the first leg of the journey by spotting the now-famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which has hovered over the cityscape since construction wrapped up in 1965.

After checking out the views from the Gateway Arch during a breather in St. Louis, travellers then cut straight through the breadbasket of the country, experiencing the wide-open expanses of Missouri and Kansas as well as some of the most celebrated barbecue in the country. Along the way, there are not only some of the best sunsets of the trip but a chance to stay at a classic oasis like the Wagon Wheel Motel or check out the Tow Tater, the famous pickup truck in Galena, Kansas that was a major inspiration for the Disney-Pixar blockbuster movie Cars.

Once through Kansas, Oklahoma offers a terrific chance to slowdown and see some of the most iconic parts of Route 66.

Just before getting to Tulsa, travellers tend to pull over to snap photos of a replica of an 80-foot blue whale, which has become one of the most popular spots on the route since it was created in the 1970s. For those ready for a night or two in a bigger city, Tulsa offers all sorts of accommodation options and activities as well as famous Route 66 buildings like the Blue Dome.

Continuing through the scenic natural terrain of Oklahoma, a series of museums dedicated to Route 66 break up the lengthy trip before arriving Oklahoma City. In addition to being an up-and-coming city for entertainment, Oklahoma City offers quirky photo ops like the giant Braum’s Milk Bottle that sits above an old grocery store, a symbol of the city that dates back to 1930. Before skipping out of Oklahoma, the Route 66 Museum in Clinton offers an overview of the history behind the road and lets travellers stretch their legs on their way to Amarillo, Texas.

Although Route 66 only cuts through the tip of Texas, Amarillo is home to one of the most celebrated parts of the journey – the strangely intriguing Cadillac Ranch. Turning decrepit old Cadillacs into art, Cadillac Ranch shows off a long row of cars half-buried in the ground and covered with graffiti.  It is a creative collaboration of automobiles and art that has made it a must-see of Route 66.

Moving onto New Mexico, travellers get a chance to experience some of the most majestic natural landscapes in the country in the state that contains the most miles on the route. While the Dinosaur Museum in Tucumcari near the Texas border tends to inspire both the young and old alike, a jaunt south of 66 to White Sands is known to be well worth the trip, offering stunning views of pure white sand dunes that seem like they’re from another planet. Other opportunities for short side trips include checking out the flourishing artist community of Taos or the stunning Carlsbad Caverns.

While the first portion of the trip is largely about the quirky buildings and traditions that popped up along Route 66, the finale is a majestic trip through the heart of the American Southwest. Coming through New Mexico and into Arizona, travellers tend to have their cameras ready to capture famous landmarks like the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon, which are right off 66. Sedona near Flagstaff, Arizona has also quickly become one of the top destinations of the Southwest, offering terrific accommodation right in the middle of the beautiful red rocks the region is known for. The National Historic Route 66 Federation also recommends travelling along the route between March and June or September through November to avoid the extreme summer heat (or the occasional icy conditions further east during winter).

Once finished with the Arizonan desert, it’s onto Southern California, where Route 66 shoots straight over to Los Angeles. Although early travellers along Route 66 ended up experiencing a relatively undeveloped Hollywood, today there are countless things to do in the City of Angels, including popular bus tours through the movie-making capital of the world for those growing weary of driving. Finally, after about 2,200 miles (or close to 3,500 kilometres), the journey ends at the famous Santa Monica Pier about an hour north of downtown Los Angeles.

Although you can’t go wrong with embarking on Route 66 in Santa Monica and heading east, wrapping up the trip with a Californian sunset can be the perfect finale, and it doesn’t hurt that the weather tends to be the best of any place on the trek. Those with some energy left for further road excursions are also at the perfect launching point to head up the Californian coast on Highway 101 –  the famous road that winds high above the Pacific Ocean through breathtaking Big Sur to Monterrey. But for most who went the distance on 66, Santa Monica is a gloriously relaxing stop at the end of the road. With a wealth of accommodation and entertainment options, Santa Monica is a great place to put your feet up ocean side before hopping on a flight home with a suitcase packed with vintage Americana souvenirs and a camera filled with the many unique landmarks of Route 66.

Now you’ve got some great ideas for your Route 66 trip, don’t forget to arrange travel insurance as soon as you’ve made a booking. Get a quote today or call one of our friendly team on 1300 819 888 to discuss your requirements.

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