Stretching from St. Louis to Joplin, Route 66 loosely follows today’s Interstate 44. In St. Louis, the Gateway Arch is a can’t-miss attraction, and the Museum of Transportation displays one of the world’s best collections of transportation vehicles. Dining options are wide-ranging and include the historic Eat-Rite Diner, the Crown Candy Kitchen and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.
An hour’s drive west, Meramec Caverns opened as an attraction in 1935. The state’s largest commercial cave, Meramec Caverns offers year-round tours that explore its extensive underground chambers. Other Meramec attractions include a zip line, riverboat rides and canoe floats.
Dubbed Missouri’s Route 66 mural city, the tiny community of Cuba boasts 14 larger-than-life paintings of historic vignettes. Step-on tours highlight the murals and their stories. Built in 1935, the Wagon Wheel Motel is the oldest continuously operating tourist court along the historic highway.
Pulaski County claims some of the best-preserved pavement from the route’s several alignments: an original 1926 gravel section and Hooker Cut, which highlights the era’s innovative road construction. At the river’s bend in picturesque Devil’s Elbow, visitors can write postcards and mail them at the historic Sheldon Market. Step-on tours showcase Devil’s Elbow and the Waynesville area, where customized walking tours in Waynesville include the Pulaski County Courthouse Museum and Old Stagecoach Stop Museum.
Lebanon claims the vintage Munger Moss Motel. In Springfield, the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of the 1929 Gillioz Theatre remains an impressive landmark, with performances and behind-the-scenes tours. Also in town, the refurbished Rail Haven boasts eight sandstone cottages built in 1938 and offers Monroe and Elvis suites. In Carthage, the 66 Drive-In dates to 1949 and shows movies from the first weekend of April through mid-September.
“Springfield claims to be the birthplace of Route 66 because the 1926 meeting to determine the highway’s name was held there,” said Lori Simms, interim director for Missouri Division of Tourism.
Groups can travel almost all the 400 miles of Route 66 in Oklahoma without getting onto the interstate. Near the state’s eastern border, the Coleman Theatre in Miami has dazzled audiences since the 1930s with its Louis XV interior and 1929 “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ.
“Groups can opt for a customized tour and have lunch on our stage,” said Shannon Duhon, managing director at the theater. “If they spend the night in town, their day can end with a plated dinner in the ballroom, a tour and classic movie shown afterward.”
Nearby, the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore pays homage to this larger-than-life actor, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist and social commentator from Oklahoma. References to Route 66 as the Will Rogers Highway surfaced shortly after Roger’s death in 1935.
En route, the 80-foot-long Blue Whale beckons for a photo op as one of the highway’s most recognizable icons. In Tulsa, the Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge over Route 66, with its plaza sculptures and flags, offers another great spot for a group photo. Avery was known as the Father of Route 66 and helped create the Federal Highway System as Oklahoma’s first highway commissioner.
Chandler’s 1937 National Guard armory houses the Route 66 Interpretive Center. For a fun stop on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, Pops sells more than 600 flavors of specialty bottled sodas. Your group can eat on the back patio overlooking a large lawn planted with 66 redbuds, Oklahoma’s state tree.
Near the Texas border, Elk City’s National Route 66 and Transportation Museum complex features automobiles and first-person audio accounts from travelers. The museum’s replicated drive-in theater shows clips from movie greats such as “The Blob.”