U.S. Route 66 is for many, the original, iconic highway. As such, from Chicago to Santa Monica, “The Main Street of America” is indelibly linked with the country’s turbulent history and rapid development over the 20th century.
From The Grapes of Wrath, Dust Bowl migrant era to the post-World War II, middle class era of relative affluence – when all of suburbia went to California on summer vacation – Route 66 is a veritable history lesson on how America became America.
Kitschy souvenir shops, the fast-food industry, diners, motels, quirky landmarks, the ubiquity of roadside neon and indeed, automobile culture – all of this now as America as baseball, apple pie and the National Rifle Association in part because of the development of Route 66. A lost relic of the past for a spell, interest in the National Scenic Biway is on the rise. As a new generation looks to recapture what has been lost in the name of “progress”, a Route 66 road trip is a throwback, authentic experience. So hit the road, turn your car into a time machine and discover some of the best landmarks on Route 66.
Built in 1929 on the north edge of St. Louis, Chain of Rocks Bridge was the span of choice to cross the Mississippi River on Route 66. On the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 2006, the bridge is now a pedestrian and bicycle path. But you can admire it from the comfort of your car on Route 66.
The Gateway Arch is the symbol of St. Louis, Missouri and a fabulous U.S. National Landmark. A stop at the Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a must.
When you get hungry on Route 66, skip the predictable fast-food chains and hit some authentic diners instead. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard has been a St. Louis and Route 66 landmark since 1930. Pull the car over, get in line and order a “concrete”.
Home to Pre-Columbian Native artifacts, the Ozarks limestone cave system outside of Stanton, Missouri is a phenomenal Route 66 attraction. Over 150,000 people visit Meramec Caverns every year.
The drive-in is classic Americana all the way. One of the best is the Route 66 Drive-In in Carthage, Missouri. A fabulous gem on the historic highway.
Built in 1923, Rainbow Bridge provides the tiny town of Riverton, Kansas with a monument on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
A great stop on Route 66, Oklahoma City has a lot of charm and landmarks in store for visitors. The State Capitol is one of the best. In town for more than one day? Check out the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
The Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma is home to a vast collection of curios and knickknacks that all relate somehow to the National Scenic Biway. A must-see stop on Route 66, in a Tornado Alley town of less than 9,000 people no less. From 1936 until a severe fire in 1999, Clinton’s Pop Hicks was one of the most popular restaurants on the Mother Road.
Known as Tower Station, the U-Drop Inn in tiny Shamrock, Texas is a major attraction on Route 66. Superb Art Deco architecture makes the former gas station, restaurant and motel quite special in the town of just over 2,000 people. The U-Drop Inn now operates as a museum and chamber of commerce. Like many landmarks on Route 66, the 1930s-era structure was a source of inspiration to animators on the 2006 Pixar hit Cars.
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