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Route 66’s Centennial Road Trips Await

Groups can get their kicks on Route 66 in 2026 as part of the highway’s centennial celebration. Many cities and towns along the road are already hosting festivals, car shows and other fun events to build up excitement for the 100th anniversary of Route 66 and have invested millions of dollars renovating the iconic buildings and neon signs that fire up visitors’ imaginations and take them back to a simpler time.

Here are some destinations where groups can celebrate the centennial in 2026.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The city of Albuquerque will officially launch its Route 66 celebration in May 2025 with one of the largest festivals on Route 66, the Route 66 SummerFest, featuring live music, food and craft vendors. As part of its centennial preparations, Albuquerque businesses have been busy refurbishing and renovating some of the city’s historic properties, refreshing neon signs, and planning new roadside attractions to entice travelers to stop and enjoy the city.

The El Vado Motel, built in 1937, was one of New Mexico’s first motels. It was recently renovated, adding modern comforts and amenities while maintaining the motor lodge’s historic character. El Vado is across from the ABQ BioPark, which features a botanic garden and aquarium.

The same property group that restored the El Vado also renovated Monterey Motel.

Imperial Inn is the first of 16 Albuquerque businesses to have its neon sign restored through the city’s sign improvement grant program. On the east side of downtown, Hotel ZAZZ turned the former University Lodge into a funky, boutique property with a speakeasy called the Z Lounge.

The city plans to have art stops and cool collaborations all along the 18 miles of Route 66 that flow through town. Several speakeasies have opened along the route and a new Speakeasy Trolley Tour offers groups an opportunity to visit several of them. Albuquerque has a Route 66 Visitors Center with a museum and event venues.

St. Louis

In preparation for the influx of visitors expected in 2026 for the Route 66 Centennial, Missouri is making plans that include large festivals and events and major improvements to the roadway’s infrastructure and attractions.

The first improvement project surrounds the old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which connects St. Louis to Illinois over the Mississippi River and was once Route 66’s route across the river. The Missouri side of the bridge was very industrial and not very inviting. Great Rivers Greenway, which maintains the pedestrian bridge and the area surrounding it on the Missouri side, designed Chain of Rocks Park on 16 acres surrounding the bridge to make it more inviting. The park, which opened in April, includes a gated entrance and other security measures, as well as a restored wetlands and woodlands and a 1.5-acre reconstructed prairie.

Chase Park Plaza is a historic hotel where wealthier people stayed when traveling Route 66. The hotel is on the edge of Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country that houses the city’s zoo, art museum, science center, two golf courses and hiking trails. The Gateway Arch is a must see. The arch grounds were re-envisioned in 2018, creating a bridge between the arch and the city.

Groups traveling the highway in St. Louis should stop and learn about the Dred Scott case at the Old Courthouse, grab some Ted Drewes famous frozen custard and wander the town of Maplewood, just over the St. Louis city line, which features a charming downtown district that spans Route 66.

Kingman, Arizona

Over the past five years, Kingman, Arizona, has worked on several projects in preparation of the Route 66 centennial celebration. The Kingman Visitor Center Arizona Route 66 monument sign was dedicated in May 2020, and the much-Instagrammed Route 66 Drive Thru Shield was installed in 2021.

Kingman has been hosting Route 66 Fest every year since 2021, with live music, a beer garden, food and craft vendors, a motorcycle show, a classic car show, a vintage trailer show, a pin-up contest, Route 66 displays, fun activity zones, a zipline and a photo booth. Each year the event gets bigger.

In 2026, Kingman will host the Route 66 Fun Run, a car show and rally hosted entirely on Route 66, while the Kingman Route 66 Street Drags take place in May 2026. That event, which attracted 13,000 spectators in 2023, is considered the largest legal street drags event in the country.

Kingman Route 66 Fest and Two ‘N Show Camp-out will take place in October 2026. The 2023 event attracted 9,000 attendees. As part of the city’s preparations, it added the Guardian Angel of Route 66 Exhibit in collaboration with the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, which opened in July 2023. Beale Street Streetscape, a five-block renovation, is expected to be completed early this summer. The world’s only Electric Vehicle Museum and the historic Beale Street Theater are expected to open by 2026.

Amarillo, Texas

Route 66 travels through historic downtown Amarillo, Texas, and features antique shops, restaurants and breweries. The GoldenLight Café and Cantina is one of the oldest continually operated cantinas along Route 66, offering burgers and beer plus plenty of live music by local and traveling bands. The café was founded in 1946.

Amarillo is home to two major icons of Route 66, The Big Texan restaurant, which is known for its 72-ounce steak challenge, and Cadillac Ranch, an art installation that includes 10 vintage Cadillacs buried in the ground with their tail fins in the air. Visitors can spray paint their marks on the cars, making the installation a constantly changing art project.

In 2023, Amarillo hosted its inaugural Texas Route 66 Festival, a successful 10-day event that highlights the Texas route. The 2024 event will take place June 6-15. Amarillo planned the event last year to “get ahead of the curve and set the tone,” said Hope Stokes, director of marketing for Visit Amarillo. “It is important for communities along the route to celebrate in their own city but also put arms around their partners and highlight the entire route.”

The city is already planning how to make the 2026 festival even bigger and better than last year’s event. As part of its Route 66 celebration, Visit Amarillo developed the Texas 66 Coin Cruise Album that encourages centennial visitors to travel east and west on Route 66 to collect nine uniquely crafted commemorative coins at attractions along the way. The coins can be stored in the album cover, and the whole package includes a map of the route, QR codes to scan and a Spotify playlist.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa, which bills itself as the Capital of Route 66, hosts one of the largest Route 66 festivals in the country, the AAA Route 66 Road Fest. A highlight of the event is a 150,000-square-foot exhibit called Journey, which details the history of Route 66 from the 1920s to the present. The festival also features a classic car show, a family fun area and hundreds of vendors. The city has plans to build a new Route 66 roadside attraction on Cry Baby Hill, which hosts Tulsa Tough cycling event and is a popular destination for tourists. The Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge is nearby, named after the man who convinced the federal highway department to allow the road to travel through Oklahoma. Built in 1917, the bridge was the first to use reinforced concrete to cross a river.

Tulsa is also seeking proposals for a new development that will integrate with the Cry Baby Hill attraction, have programmable outdoor space that enhances the tourist experience, and provide retail and a new hotel or motel.

The Tulsa Route 66 Commission started a neon sign grant program seven years ago that helps businesses along Route 66 restore their neon signs or install new ones. The commission has installed 54 neon signs in the past five years. Groups visiting Tulsa will want to stop and see Flick Adams, a 22-foot Muffler Man dressed as a space cowboy, at Cosmic Curios. The Mother Road Market is a nonprofit food hall along Route 66 that offers several dining options, from tacos and sushi to ice cream and Cajun food.