Today, for most travelers on U.S. Route 66, the goal is the journey itself, not any particular destination.
The highway was established in 1926, when it was advertised as “the shortest, best and most scenic route from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles.” The route’s founder, Cyrus Avery, believed that from St. Louis, the traditional outfitting and supply point for those traveling west, the best way onward to the Pacific Coast was through small towns in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California. During the 20th century, retailers, motels and gas stations thrived along the route, benefiting from a steady stream of new customers.
Begnning in the late 1950s, modern interstate highways supplanted the old U.S. highways. Route 66 was removed from the federal highway system in 1985 but continues in use as a scenic byway or local road. The road attracts tourists with a literary bent — John Steinbeck writes about migrants on the route in The Grapes of Wrath. Pop-culture aficionados flock to Route 66 to commemorate the hit song “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” the 1960s TV series “Route 66,” and the animated movie Cars, which helped make the route’s kitschy roadside attractions hip.
Driving the route, you’ll find regional accents, enjoy local culinary treats and come to understand what Main Street USA really means. Now hit the road.
Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas, offers a one-of-a-kind sculpture park. Decorated cars made 1949 to 1963 have been buried nose down in a field since 1974, thanks to hippie artists from San Francisco and a local billionaire.
“Sky City,” as Acoma Pueblo is known, sits on a 113-meter hill near Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dating back to 1150, it is one of the longest continuously inhabited Native American settlements in the United States.
“Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” is a pastime made famous by the Eagles’ 1970s hit song “Take It Easy.” A statue and a two-story mural are dedicated to the song.
Seligman, Arizona, initially lived off the railway business, but as the significance of trains declined, the small town with just 456 residents bet on Route 66 tourism.
Wear clothing suitable for a cowboy outfit, and you’ll be admitted to any establishment in Oatman, Arizona.
To get a taste of Route 66 folk art, see the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, California. At the nearby Green Spot Motel, Herman J. Mankiewicz and John Houseman drafted the screenplay of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”
The Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, California, inspired Cozy Cone Motel in Pixar’s Cars. You can stay at one of the renovated 1949 concrete tepees, each with its own miniature bathroom and wagon-wheel bedstead.
In the early 1930s in Los Angeles, a seven-block-long Broadway theater district boasted the highest concentration of movie theaters in the world. Today, you can still visit one of the preserved shrines of cinema.