Seeking a unique adventure this summer? Get your kicks on Route 66! With nearly 2500 miles of historic towns and landmarks, Route 66 stretches from Santa Monica, California to Lake Michigan in Chicago. Otherwise known as the Mother Road or Will Rogers Highway, Route 66 was established in 1926 as one of the original highways of the U.S. Highway System.
If you’ve ever watched a Disney Cars movie, you’re probably familiar with Radiator Springs. But did you know Radiator Springs was actually based on a real town along Route 66? Watch the DVD extras and you’ll learn about the road trip the animators took exploring Route 66 and how much of the story line – the prospering towns and the impact the new Interstate Highway System had on them – mirrored real life.
Many of these communities couldn’t survive, but through the years “Historic Route 66” has made a comeback. Today you can travel through parts both old and new, experiencing a taste of the fun and quirky uniqueness that made it memorable back in the day.
Interested in just a day trip? If so, you don’t have to travel far. Many locations we consider Los Angeles landmarks were actually part of the original Route 66, including Griffith Observatory, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and the Hollywood sign. Realigned several times as L.A. grew, the buildings you drive by hold historical significance you may not be aware of, such as the “shed” style gas station or the Chicken Boy statue along North Figueroa Street. Just note that many are not the type you’d stop by and tour, and if you blink as you drive by, you’ll miss them. Therefore, even though there are signs posted at Historic Route 66 locations, using a map and planning your route will help you locate things faster and with less frustration.
Heading east to Pasadena, the Colorado Boulevard Bridge, built in 1913, marks the entrance into L.A. for those driving west. Tour the nearby Gamble House Museum (www.gamblehouse.org/), a historic house with beautiful architecture, or stop at the soda fountain at Fair Oaks Pharmacy (www.fairoakspharmacy.net/) and view its famous neon sign.
Drive further east toward San Bernardino and check into the Wigwam Motel, a semi-circle of concrete teepees, or travel a little further to the Summit Inn and sample their famous cobbler. Continue on and tour the California Route 66 Museum just past Victorville or proceed to Barstow to visit the Route 66 Mother Road Museum, housed in the 1911 Harvey House hotel, along with the Western American Railroad Museum. Continue east on Highway 40 and dine at the Bagdad Café in Newberry Springs (of the same name as the movie), then follow the open road until you cross into Arizona. You can tour an old gold mine in Oatman and shop in buildings made of boulders at Cool Springs Cabins.
I was fortunate to travel this route west from Texas several years ago. We stopped along the way to eat at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, a gigantic restaurant that’s home to a free 72-ounce steak if you can finish it in an hour. We also visited Cadillac Ranch, where ten vintage Cadillacs are buried with their tail fins up in the air. Visitors can hike inland to get close and spray paint their names on the cars. And then there’s Gallup, New Mexico, home to the El Rancho Hotel, where lobby walls are covered in autographed photos of stars who have checked in.
That’s just a taste of the uniqueness that makes up Route 66. If you’re interested in learning more and planning your own Route 66 trip, check out related links on our website at www.wcmagazines.com, which lists the many changes that have occurred over the years.
There was something quite magical about stopping at hole-in-the-wall eateries and shops on our journey, not quite knowing what we might encounter. I’m not sure if it was the novelty or the idea that these places existed long before we did, but I know it was an adventure and one I would love to repeat sometime soon!
Denise M. Colby is a freelance writer, blogger, wife, and mother of teenage boys