Legendary Route 66 promises a journey down memory lane.
Commissioned in 1926, the 2,448-mile route from Chicago to Los Angeles rapidly gained notoriety. One of the nation’s original highways, it crossed Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in California.
In its heyday, businesses and communities along the famous Mother Road catered to travelers. Today, traveling Route 66 is a step back to a time when cars were king and Americans were discovering the joys of the open road. Your group can take in the towns, diners, museums and kitschy photo ops while following Route 66’s path across the country.
Few states can boast more Route 66 attractions than Illinois. Depending on your group’s starting point, the Mother Road either begins or ends near the Art Institute of Chicago. Stop for a photo op at the “Begin” or “End” Route 66 street signs. Then head to Lou Mitchell’s, a quintessential American diner that has been serving food since 1923.
En route to Pontiac, sites include the Gemini Giant in Wilmington and the restored Standard Oil gas station in Odell. Pontiac celebrates the Mother Road at the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, located in a restored firehouse. For nearly 40 years, Bob Waldmire created artwork that depicts Route 66, and groups can tour the repurposed school bus that was his home, gallery and transportation. Groups can also visit the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum or board the trolley for the Murals on Main Street Tour.
“Pontiac remains a gem along Route 66,” said Eric Wagner of the Illinois Office of Tourism. “People love to take a photo beside the world’s largest Route 66 shield at the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum.”
Historic Atlanta boasts the iconic Muffler Man statue and the Palm’s Café, known for its pie. And in Springfield, visitors love the Cozy Dog Drive-In. Home of the corn dog, it overflows with mementos, plus souvenirs for sale.
Original sections of Route 66 can be seen in the state’s southern leg, including in 1.4 miles of hand-lain-brick road near Auburn. The Litchfield History Museum and the Route 66 Welcome Center showcase local lore, and the Ariston Café has served customers for more than 90 years. Leaving Illinois, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, one of the world’s longest bicycle and pedestrian bridges, spans the Mississippi.