Group travelers can get their kicks on Route 66 by visiting cities that grew up along the Mother Road. Historic theaters, tasty diners, neon signs, unique photos stops and Route 66 museums abound in these five destinations.
Joliet, Illinois, has several landmarks and photo stops along the Mother Road, including Route 66-era motels and a Route 66 park. One of the top group tour sites is the Old Joliet Prison, a few blocks off Route 66.
The prison housed 1,300 inmates before it closed in 2002. Now it’s open for tours. Groups can take a 90-minute walking tour of the prison with trained guides from the Joliet Area Historical Museum or with former prison guards who can talk about what daily life at the prison was like when they worked there. The prison was featured in the TV series “Prison Break” and the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers.”
The Illinois Rock and Roll Museum will stand out on Route 66 when it opens this year, thanks to a 24-foot hand-sculpted guitar on the side of the building. The museum will feature memorabilia from Illinois musicians and include performance and event spaces.
The Joliet Area Historical Museum is the top Route 66 stop in Joliet, with exhibits about the city and famous people who called the area home. Its collection includes two Blues Brothers suits from the movie. An oversized Route 66 highway sign and 66 sculpture out front make a nice photo opp.
While in Joliet, groups can book a meal at the Jacob Henry Mansion Estate, built in 1873 in the Renaissance Revival architectural style, or tour the historic Rialto Square Theatre on Route 66, also called the Jewel of Joliet. The minor league baseball Joliet Slammers has group ticket options and fireworks displays at Friday night games.
Oklahoma City has more drivable miles of Route 66 than anywhere else in the state, and as a result, it attracts groups from around the world who want a taste of nostalgic Americana. The city has some of Route 66’s most Instagrammable stops as well as some one-of-a-kind museums.
One big stop is the state capitol, which sits on Route 66. Until a few years ago, it was among the few U.S. capitols without a dome. That has now been rectified, and visitors can take a guided tour of the building to learn about Oklahoma and U.S. history and enjoy the capitol’s extensive art collections.
The neon sign out front makes it easy to find The Tower Theatre, opened in 1937 in uptown. The theater still hosts live music and theater. In Arcadia, a roadside restaurant, gas station and convenience store called Pops attracts a lot of attention with its giant 66-foot-tall soda bottle out front, illuminated with multicolor LED lights when the sun sets. Pops sells classic sodas and contemporary soft drinks of every color and flavor, as well as candy and Route 66 merchandise.
For a healthy dose of cowboy culture and Native American art, there’s the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. A new stop, First Americans Museum, opened in 2021 and tells the collective histories of the 39 Native American tribes that call the state home. Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is a moving memorial to those who died in the 1995 terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
When hunger hits, travelers should seek out an Oklahoma staple, the onion burger, at Tucker’s Onion Burgers on Route 66 or Sun Cattle Company.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Route 66, now Central Avenue, is Albuquerque’s main thoroughfare, connecting most of the city’s entertainment districts. Highlights include Old Town, home to San Felipe de Neri Parish, the city’s oldest building, dating to 1706; downtown; the Nob Hill neighborhood and the University of New Mexico campus. At about 18 miles, Central Avenue is the longest urban stretch of Route 66 in the country. When the road was rerouted in 1937, Albuquerque became the only place in the country where Route 66 crosses itself. The corner of that intersection, Central and Fourth, or Route 66 and Route 66, is fun for photos.
Favorite Route 66 stops include the KiMo Theatre, a 100-year-old venue built in the Pueblo Deco style of the Southwest and lighting its original neon sign. Visitors to the 66 Diner, which serves malts from an old-fashioned soda fountain, are surrounded by Route 66 signs and memorabilia, including thousands of PEZ dispensers that line the walls. Several Route 66 motels have been restored to their former glory, including El Vado Motel, which opened to Route 66 travelers in 1937; the Monterey Motel; and Hotel Zazz in Nob Hill. M’Tucci’s Bar Roma is in the former Jones Motor Co., built on Route 66 in 1939.
A new Route 66 Visitor Center with a museum, an art gallery, a restaurant and tap room, is set to open soon on the city’s west side. Along with Route 66, Albuquerque is known for its Spanish history, New Mexican cuisine amped with red and green chiles, and more than 20 museums. Groups can take walking history and ghost tours of Old Town or a trolley tour that touches on the major attractions.
Other popular Albuquerque activities include shopping the many boutiques in Old Town or riding the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the top of 10,300-foot Sandia Peak.
Kingman sits on the edge of the Mojave Desert in northwestern Arizona, anchoring the longest unbroken stretch of Route 66 in existence. The section of Route 66 that travels through Kingman to Seligman, Arizona, is one of the most famous, remembered for its stark desert mountains and wide-open spaces. To learn more about the Mother Road through Arizona, groups can make the Arizona Route 66 Museum their first stop. It is part of the Powerhouse Visitor Center, a tourism office in a former power generating station, built in the early 1900s in the art deco style.
The museum, which opened in 2001, shows how travel evolved along Route 66 with murals, photos and dioramas. Groups can learn about the Native Americans who had trade routes through the area and early settlers who migrated west over the nation’s first federally funded wagon roads. The building also houses the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum, which features more than 34 electric vehicles from 1909 to 2013. The city has purchased a larger facility for the museum, and it will open sometime in the next two years.
Next to the visitor center, a drive-through Route 66 shield lights up at night and is a popular photo stop. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner gives groups that classic Route 66 meal experience. Nearby attractions include a self-guided narrated tour of Kingman’s historic downtown, with architecture dating from 1882. Groups can also visit the Mojave Museum of Art and the Mojave Museum; take photos of Giganticus Headicus, a 14-foot-tall Tiki-style head created by a local artist at the former Kozy Corner Trail Park; or tour Grand Canyon Caverns, dry limestone caverns 21 stories below ground.
Pasadena has big plans to celebrate the centennial of Route 66 and the 150th anniversary of Colorado Boulevard in 2026. The city’s section of the Mother Road features many old signs, including classic neons and ghost signs from long-gone businesses. The Colorado Street Bridge, a historic Beaux Arts bridge built across the Arroyo Seco, is a top Route 66 destination. The beautiful bridge offers spectacular views of the city and has been featured in “La La Land” and many other movies.
The Rose Bowl Stadium, built in 1922, is home to college football’s Rose Bowl game and is a National Historic Landmark. Group tours the last Friday of every month include the original 1922 locker room, now a museum, and the iconic field. The Norton Simon is an art museum along Route 66/Colorado Boulevard, and the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens feature 130 acres of themed gardens, including the nation’s largest desert garden as well as Chinese and Japanese gardens. The art museum exhibits British, European, American and Asian art. The Pasadena Museum of History tells the story of Pasadena’s founding and its position along the Mother Road.
The Pasadena Hotel, built in 1926, was renovated during the pandemic and reopened in November 2022. It sits on Colorado Boulevard, along the Rose Parade route. Built in the Mediterranean Spanish style, it is beautifully preserved. Its lobby bar serves anything from coffee to cocktails.