The Big Route 66 Bucket List: 50 Can’t-Miss Things to See on Route 66

Historic Route 66 sign against blue sky in the state of California, USA
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Heading out on Route 66? While there are thousands of things to see on Route 66, you obviously can’t see every single national park, major city, and roadside attraction on the Mother Road unless you have months to explore. So use this Route 66 bucket list to plan your trip.

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The Big Route 66 Bucket List - the Best Things to See on Route 66

Illinois Route 66 Bucket List

Here are the best things to see on Route 66 in Illinois.

The Route 66 Begin Sign (Chicago)

Route 66 sign, the beginning of historic Route 66, leading through Chicago, Illinois.

Whether you start your trip in Illinois or California, you need to see the historic starting point for the Mother Road in Chicago! If you have time, spend a day or two in the city before starting your trip to see one of the great American cities.

Ambler Texaco Gas Station (Dwight)

If you want a glimpse of what the route would have looked like in the 1930s then you have to stop at this historic Texaco station. It was the longest operational gas station on the route since it was in operation from 1933 until 1999. (And yes, that’s sixty-six years)!

Mural City (Pontiac)

If you love street art, then you need to plant to stop in Pontiac and see the blocks of street art that have earned the nickname “Mural City.” These history-themed murals harken back to Pontiac’s past.

The Ariston Cafe (Litchfield)

The oldest restaurant on Route 66, a meal at the Ariston Cafe is an absolute must! Open since 1935, that’s almost one hundred years of serving hungry travelers some grub and wishing them well on their way!

Largest Catsup Bottle in the World (Collinsville)

Not merely decorative, this “World’s Largest Catsup Bottle” is actually the town water tower. The bottle was erected in 1949 by the Brooks Tomato Products Company at their plant.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (Collinsville)

The largest earthen mound in North America, aerial view of Monk's Mound at Cahokia. Collinsville Illinois

Cahokia Mounds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Illinois right over the border from St. Louis, Missouri.

According to UNESCO, this ancient pre-Columbian site is “is the pre-eminent example of a cultural, religious, and economic center of the Mississippian culture (800–1350), which extended throughout the Mississippi Valley and the south-eastern United States.”

While not directly on Route 66, you need to make sure to visit during your trip. You can see most of the site in an hour or two, or you can set aside more time to explore.

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (Madison)

The old Chain of Rocks Bridge over Mississippi River near St Louis - aerial view from Illinois shore

Leaving Illinois and crossing the Mississippi River into Missouri is quite exciting as it’s your first time driving Route 66 outside of Illinois. However, why not get out and walk instead?

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge no longer has vehicular traffic on it, instead, it’s been preserved and turned into a walkway. You can get stunning pictures and a bit of exercise before getting into your car and crossing into Missouri on the New Chain of Rocks Bridge nearby.

Missouri Route 66 Bucket List

Here are the best places to visit on Route 66 in Missouri.

The Gateway Arch (St. Louis)

USA - Missouri - St. louis downtown at twilight in USA

There’s more to the Arch than just a pretty photo opportunity, so don’t just blow past this major city. You can go up into the Arch for amazing panoramic views, explore the attached museum, and see the Courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was made.

Meramec River Bridge (Eurkea)

While this old truss bridge is no longer in use, it’s a must-see for anyone who loves photographing the oldest parts of the route. Part of the Missouri Route 66 State Park, the bridge is in an advanced stage of deterioration. See it now as its future is uncertain.

Wagon Wheel Motel (Cuba)

Opened in 1936, you can still stay at the Wagon Wheel Motel on your Route 66 road trip! Its neon sign is famous and dates back to the 1940s.

While its claim to fame is that it’s the oldest continuously operated motel on Route 66, it’s been updated to include twenty-first century luxuries as well.

66 Drive-In (Carthage)

If you want things to do on Route 66 at night, make sure to hit up one of the historic drive-in movie theaters on the route! The one in Carthage, Missouri dates back to the 1940s. Though it was closed for a while, if you time your trip to be in Carthage on the weekends you can catch one of their movie viewings!

Kansas Route 66 Bucket List

Here are the best places to see on Route 66 in Kansas.

Galena Historic Distric (Galena)

Side of an old building with faded letters, Galena, Kansas, USA. Route 66

The historic district of Galena still harkens back to this description of the town made in the 1940s:

garages: Phipps and Front St.; small hotel; no cabins; stores; gas; cafes. A town whose growth seems to have slowed. The main street has many old buildings, whose roffs are edged with the old-fashioned ornate metal cornices…

Make sure to visit the antique store that’s run out of a historic bordello!

Nelson’s Old Riverton Store (Riverton)

Also known as the Williams Store and the Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store, this is the oldest continuously operated store on Route 66. It’s been standing here (and open) since 1925!

Rainbow Bridge (Riverton)

Kansas - Close up of this Rainbow Curve Bridge Constructed in 1923 that is the only remaining Marsh Arch Bridge on Route 66. Route 66 signs are painted on the pavement.

An original 1923 concrete arch bridge, the Rainbow Bridge is perhaps the single most famous Route 66 stop in Kansas. Today you can no longer drive across it, so make sure to set aside time to get out, stretch your legs, and take some photographs of this beautiful stop.

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National Cemetery (Baxter Springs)

If you’ve never heard of the Battle of Baxter Springs, you’re not alone. Stop here to learn about this chapter of US Civil War history.

Oklahoma Route 66 Bucket List

Here are the most famous stops on Route 66 in Oklahoma.

Dairy King (Commerce)

USA - Oklahoma -Commerce - Dairy King

One of my favorite Oklahoma hidden gems, this cash-only burger joint is located inside an old Route 66 filling station, giving rise to their most popular item – the Route 66 cookies.

Veteran Route 66 travelers swear by the Dairy King as a must-stop spot along the Mother Road.

If you want to extend your visit to Commerce, Oklahoma, you can visit the home of Mickey Mantle and a site of a Bonny and Clyde shoot-out.

Ribbon Road (Miami)

Route 66: Sidewalk Highway, Miami, OK Single lane "sidewalk highway", a.k.a. "ribbon road" - to save money Route 66 is just 9 feet wide here, Miami, Oklahoma

Also known as the Sidewalk Road, this famous stretch of Route 66 is only nine feet wide. While there’s a rumor that it was made this width because they ran out of funds, that might be an apocryphal telling.

Rather it’s possible when they built it in the 1920s they expected to have less traffic on this section of the road so a one-late road would suffice.

Blue Whale of Catoosa (Catoosa)

USA - Catoosa - Iconic huge Blue Whale roadside attraction by swimming hole on Route 66 in Oklahoma on a winter day

While this is one of the most famous sites on Route 66, I don’t remember hearing much about the Catoosa whale growing up or even outside of Route 66 travel circles. Yet it’s one of the kitschiest stops on the Route, and a perfect Oklahoma hidden gem.

This quintessential roadside attraction actually began as a present from the original creator for his wife. After falling into disrepair, the town restored it just a few years ago. It is free for visitors

Rock Cafe (Stroud)

Oklahoma - Route 66 - Rock Cafe
By Emily RichardsonOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

When you find out that Rock Cafe is a famous restaurant on Route 66, you probably start to think about Rock n Roll. Well think again! The “rock” in Rock Cafe actually refers to the fact that the building is constructed from local Oklahoma sandstone.

The restaurant has another claim to fame. It was the inspiration for Pixar’s Cars! The owner, Dawn Welch, was even the inspiration for the character Sally.

The restaurant was first constructed during the Dust Bowl, and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Arcadia Round Barn (Arcadia)

USA - Oklahoma - Arcadia - Route 66 Famous Round Barn in Arcadia, OK - Built in 1910

This famous Route 66 stop is right on the side of the road outside of Edmond and near Pops. You can visit the Arcadia Round Barn museum and tour inside, or just try to get an Instagram pic outside.

In the museum, you will learn about the building and restoration of the Round Barn, Route 66 history and memorabilia, Oklahoma agriculture, the history of the town of Arcadia, and see artifacts from the families who built the barn.   

Milk Bottle Grocery (Oklahoma City)

This former grocery store was built in 1930, but it wasn’t until 1948 that got its signature milk bottle added to its roof.

This is one of the most famous Oklahoma City Route 66 sites, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wheeler Ferris Wheel (Oklahoma City)

USA - Oklahoma - Oklahoma City - Skyline of Oklahoma City, OK with OKC sign and ferris wheel

While it’s not technically on Route 66 any longer, the Wheeler Ferris Wheel is a fun must-see for Route 66 history lovers.

The centerpiece of the new Wheeler District, the Wheeler Ferris Wheel used to reside on the Santa Monica Boardwalk. It’s fitting that the Route 66 icon is still part of the Route 66 family.

Lake Overholser Bridge Route 66 (Bethany)

Lake Overholser Bridge in Bethany/Oklahoma City: Famous Route 66 icon that was built 1924.

This gorgeous industrial spot on Route 66 is a great place to plan an afternoon paddle boarding or kayaking if you need to get away from your car for a bit.

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum (Clinton)

This is a great place to come if you want to learn about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Okies who made their way west on the Mother Road to escape it. It also houses great memorabilia, classic cars, and a great gift shop with fun Route 66 souvenirs!

Texola Old City Jail (Texola)

Oklahoma - Texola - One Room Jail

This Route 66 roadside attraction in Texola dates back to the nineteenth century. Like other jails in small towns from this era, the jail consists of just a single room with bars.

Today this one-room jail has displays about famous outlaws. You can also pretend to be an outlaw yourself.

Texas Route 66 Bucket List

These are the most famous spots on Route 66 in Texas.

Conoco Tower Station (Shamrock)

This Iconic Art Deco filling station includes a one-hundred foot tower. It’s quite a bit fancier than a modern gas station! Built in 1936, it originally housed a gas station, a diner, and even a ballroom!

It was restored at the beginning of the twenty-first century and today houses a museum.

Palo Duro Canyon (Antelope Flats)

USA - Texas - Amarillo - Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon is one of the first places along Route 66 where you will really sense how the geography has changed from the Midwest to the Southwest. While less well-known than other national and state parks located on Route 66, it’s a great way to get out and experience a little bit of Texas!

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There are lots of great things to do in Palo Duro, so pack your hiking shoes!

Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo)

USA - Texas - Cadillac Rance
Photo by Kate Storm. Reused with permission.

One of the kitschiest places to visit Route 66 (and that’s saying a lot!), Cadillac Ranch is a psychedelic ode to cars. The ten Cadillacs buried into the Texas dirt and covered with paint.

It’s hard to believe this 1974 public art installation is almost fifty years old!

Glenrio Historic District (Glenrio)

Cafe sign along historic Route 66 in Texas.

Glenrio straddles the Texas/New Mexico border and is rumored to be one of the filming locations for the movie The Grapes of Wrath. It’s an important stop for history lovers. According to the National Parks Service:

Glenrio’s boom times ended in 1975 when Interstate 40 bypassed the town. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Today, the Glenrio Historic District includes the old Route 66 roadbed and 17 abandoned buildings. 

New Mexico Route 66 Bucket List

These are the most famous Route 66 attractions in New Mexico.

Blue Swallow Motel (Tucumcari)

Perhaps one of the most famous (and breathtaking) neon signs on Route 66, the Blue Swallow Motel originally dates back to the early 1940s. One of it’s former owners said this about her time there:

I end up traveling the highway in my heart with whoever stops here for the night.

Today it has been restored and you can stay here for the full experience or stop in their gift shop for a Route 66 souvenir.

Taos Pueblo (Taos)

USA - NEW MEXICO - taos pueblo

One of the US’s most important UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Taos Pueblo is ninety minutes north of the Santa Fe loop. However, it’s worth the detour if you have time to dedicate for an afternoon or day.

Besides the scenic drive to get here, once in Taos Pueblo you’ll see over a thousand years of Indigenous American history. Tours are offered throughout the day so you can learn about the history of the site.

From UNESCO’s inscription:

This Pueblo Indian settlement in northern New Mexico, consisting of ceremonial buildings and facilities, and multi-story adobe dwellings built in terraced tiers, exemplifies the living culture of a group of present-day Pueblo Indian people at Taos Pueblo.

As one of a series of settlements established in the late 13th and early 14th centuries in the valleys of the Rio Grande and its tributaries that have survived to the present day, Taos Pueblo represents a significant stage in the history of urban, community and cultural life and development in this region.

Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited and is the largest of these Pueblos that still exist, with its North and South Houses rising to heights of five stories. Taos Pueblo and the people of the Pueblo itself claim an aboriginal presence in the Taos Valley since time immemorial.

San Miguel Chapel (Santa Fe)

San Miguel Chapel Santa Fe New Mexico

This historic site is the oldest church in the US. Built by the Spanish with adobe, this Romanesque building was started in 1610. Keep in mind that this also is a significant moment in Indigenous history as well, as it represents the oncoming era of upheaval and conversions.

Sandia Peak Tramway (Albuquerque)

Albequerque New Mexico - Rio Grande Valley and tram car on top of Sandia Peak

If you spend a day in Albuquerque, it might be nice to get some elevation after driving ground-level for days on end. The Sandia Peak Tramway is a great way to rise above the chaos and take in some breathtaking views about the city.

St. Joseph Church (Laguna)

The only Pueblo visible from Route 66 itself, it’s not the only one in the area worth stopping for. However, if you can only go to one, this is it!

Dedicated to Saint Joseph, construction began on the mission in 1699.  San Jose Mission is a great example of Pueblo-style architecture, but it was made especially durable because of the mix of stones, plaster, and adobe used in its construciton.

Make sure to visit the interior, where you will see early Spanish paintings and wooden carvings.

Acoma Curio Shop (San Fidel)

This now-abandoned building served as one of the earliest gift shops along the route and later served as a gas station. While it is vacant today, it’s worth stopping for to snap a picture of its quintessential Route 66 architecture.

Roy T Herman’s Garage And Service (Thoreau)

This historic site dates back to the 1930s. According to the National Parks Service:

Roy T. Herman’s Garage and Service Station in Thoreau is one of the oldest remaining gas stations along Route 66 in New Mexico and one of the State’s earliest examples of franchise service stations with its style, plan, and materials.

Despite being uprooted and moved twice, the building retains its historic appearance and orientation to Route 66, a reminder of what it was like for travelers to stop for gasoline and service on the Mother Road.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Chaco)

Fajada Butte in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico, USA

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located just ninety minutes off of route 66. While it’s one of the least well-known American UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you should set aside time to visit.

The remoteness is what kept the former great houses of the Ancestral Puebloan people from being ruined by a century of tourists, though make sure to follow the instructions to get here carefully and don’t rely on GPS!

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There’s a lot to do in Chaco Culture NHP if you have time, from biking to hiking to photography.

Arizona Route 66 Bucket List

Here are the Route 66 activities in Arizona.

Petrified Forest National Park

USA - Arizona - Petrified Forest National Park

If you love visiting national parks, well get ready. Now that you’re in Arizona you have the opportunity to visit your fair share! First up is the Petrified Forest National Park, which is the only US National Park that actually has a portion of US Route 66 running right through it!

You can spend hours or an entire day (or even longer) exploring this fascinating landscape of brightly-colored petrified wood and fossils from the Triassic age.

Painted Desert

USA - Arizona - Painted Desert National Park

Stretching from just north of the Petrified Forest all the way to the Grand Canyon, you have ample opportunities to detour to the Painted Desert for sumptuous views of colorful rock fields.

If you can stay until sunset, do! The landscape positively bursts with color.

Rainbow Rock Shop (Holbrook)

Famous for its fake dinosaurs out front, this is the place to go if you want to buy a polished desert stone as your Route 66 souvenir.

Standin’ on The Corner Foundation, Corner of Kinsley &, E 2nd St (Winslow)

Winslow, Arizona

If you come towards the end of September, you can attend the Corner Street Festival, otherwise this quirky statue and mural are simply one of the most Instagrammed spots on Route 66.

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark (Winslow)

Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA

Just a few miles off US Route 66, the Meteor Crater (or Barringer Crater) is an impact crater. The price for admission may seem a bit steep, but it includes a Crater Guided Rim Tour to show you the crater.

Twin Arrows Trading Post Ruins (Flagstaff)

The abandoned town of Twin Arrows boasts the ruins of two mid-century arrows. While unfortunately they are crumbling to bits, stopping for a photo here is an absolute must do on Route 66.

Grand Canyon National Park

USA - Arizona - North Rim Grand Canyon Cape Royal

If you can only do one detour off of Route 66, make it the Grand Canyon! You can leave from Flagstaff and enjoy a one day in the Grand Canyon on a tour or on your own.

The canyon is too big to truly conquer in one day, but this Grand Canyon one-day itinerary will help you see the highlights.

The Oatman Burros (Oatman)

Burros (Donkeys) in Oatman Ghost town in Arizona, USA

One of the best historic towns in America, Oatman is one of the best historic towns in America:

“Oatman, Arizona, was founded in 1906 and was a thriving gold mine town until 1942 when the last mines closed down. Although most residents moved out of the town after the last mines closed, one particular type of resident decided to stay: the burros.

The burros that were brought to the town by early prospectors continue to live there today. They roam the streets freely and have become the town’s main tourist attraction.”

You can also see a Wild West show here twice a day, at 1:30 and 3:30 pm.

California Route 66 Bucket List

Here’s what to see along Route 66 in California.

El Garces (Needles)

This historic upscale hotel-turned-railway station-turned-historic site is currently under renovation. It’s period-specific architecture is a must-see. It also tells the story of how rail travel gave way to the road trip and left places who had built their success on the railroad behind.

Roy’s Cafe (Barstow)

One of the most famous signs along Route 66, this cafe is a must-see Instagram spot on Route 66.

Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch (Oro Grande)

This folk art paradise is a bit reminiscent of the Philadelphia Magic Gardens and the Ganja Bottle House in Azerbaijan. The original died in 2019 but the family is keeping it open. It’s a hard-to-describe art installation that has to be seen to be believed.

Colorado Street Bridge (Pasadena)

USA - California - Colorado Street Bridge

This concrete bridge over the Aroyo Seco in Pasadena is over one hundred years old. Because of its location close to Hollywood, many tv shows and films have been filmed here, including Lana Del Ray’s video Summertime Sadness.

Santa Monica Pier (Santa Monica)

USA - California - Santa Monica beach lifeguard tower in California USA

You are either ending your trip with a day (or at least afternoon) at the Santa Monica Pier, or you will just be starting out your journey. There really is no better way to end weeks on the road than with some sand, sun, and fun on the West Coast!

There are two pictures you definitely want to get while you are here: the arched Santa Monica Pier sign and the official “Route 66 End” sign.

More Route 66 Travel Resource

Here are some more Route 66 resources to help you plan your trip! First, check out the major cities on the route to help you decide which cities you want to explore.

As you plan this itinerary, use this Route 66 bucket list to plan your stops along the way.

If you plan on sharing your gorgeous photos from your trips, here are Route 66 quotes and Route 66 puns for your captions.

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The Big Route 66 Bucket List - the Best Things to See on Route 66

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