21 Family Must-Stops Along Route 66

Take the whole family on a classic American road trip. These top attractions, in the eight states the Mother Road passes through, are worth the stop.

By: Steve Larese

Photo By: The Field Museum

Photo By: Mark Williamson

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Photo By: Marcin Wichary on Flickr

Photo By: Mark Williamson

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Photo By: STEVE LARESE

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Travel Back in Time at The Field Museum, Chicago

Route 66's eastern end begins at Chicago's Millennium Park near the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. Get a family photo in front of Sue, the largest T. rex skeleton in the world.

Hop to Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois

Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois, features Route 66 memorabilia, pet rabbits that perform tricks and cars buried in the ground à la Amarillo’s famous Cadillac Ranch. These cars are VW Rabbits, of course.

Brave a Cave at Meramec Caverns, Missouri

Advertised on old barn roofs and billboards for miles along Route 66, Meramec Caverns near Stanton is a limestone cave filled with fantastical features. It was mined for gunpowder ingredients during the Civil War, was probably a stop on the Underground Railroad and served as a hideout for the outlaw Jesse James. Guided tours take visitors to some of the most scenic segments of the 5-mile-long cave system. 

Span the West at The Gateway Arch, St. Louis

Since its opening in 1967, the iconic Gateway Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the banks of the Mississippi River has commemorated the beginning of the western United States. Visitors can take an internal tram to the top of the 630-foot arch–the World’s largest arch–for sweeping views of St. Louis. 

Meet Mater's Inspiration in Galena, Kansas

Pixar's Route 66-themed Cars movie found inspiration for Mater the Tow Truck in Galena, Kansas, at the now Cars on the Route. The former Kan-O-Tex gas station is now a gift shop and snack bar at 119 N. Main Street. A picture in front of the orginal tow truck, now sporting eyes, is all but mandatory for families passing through.

Whale of a Time in Catoosa, Oklahoma

The Blue Whale of Catoosa in Oklahoma is one of Route 66's most famous landmarks. Built in the early 1970s by Hugh Davis for his wife, Zelta, who collected all things whales, it soon became a Route 66 icon. A picnic area next to the whale makes for a perfect stop.

This Land is Your Land in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Woody Guthrie Center at 102 E. Brady celebrates the life and times of American folk musician and Oklahoma native son Woody Guthrie, who penned such songs as "This Land is Your Land" and "This Train is Bound for Glory." Opened in 2013, the center has also been chosen to house the archives of Bob Dylan. Interactive displays showcase the times that inspired Guthrie, including the Dust Bowl of the 1930s that forced many Oklahomans west to California along Route 66 and that was popularized by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Make sure to also check out the nearby Tulsa Children's Museum.

Stop for a Pop in Arcadia, Oklahoma

One of Route 66's more recent roadside attractions, Pops 66 Soda Ranch opened in 2007 and is known for its towering neon pop bottle sign and the hundreds of soda bottles from around the world arranged by color. It's perfect for a quick family treat and photo.

Saddle Up at the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas

Created in 1974 as an art project, these 10 Cadillacs represent models from 1949 to 1963, and are buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Visitors are encouraged to spray paint the cars that are on the south side of I-40 and Route 66 about 10 miles west of Amarillo. 

Dig Some Dinos in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari, New Mexico, is a well-preserved Route 66 town, and home to Mesalands Community College. The college has combined its paleontology and fine-arts programs to create a dinosaur museum that features bronze-castings of dinos that roamed New Mexico 65 million years ago. While in Tucumcari, Route 66 lovers should also make sure to drop by Tee Pee Curios

Discover the City Different at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Until 1936, Route 66 jogged from Clines Corners, New Mexico north through Santa Fe before traveling south to Albuquerque. Santa Fe–nicknamed the City Different–has long been an art mecca and a family destination, made more so by the opening of Meow Wolf, an art installation described as a surreal haunted house built inside a 20,000-square-foot former bowling alley not far from the original Route 66. Meow Wolf was funded by Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones books.

Get Your Kicks in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque's Central Avenue is one of the best preserved stretches of Route 66 in the country. Its historic Old Town is a grassy plaza surrounded by local restaurants and shops, and the nearby New Mexico Museum of Natural History and ScienceExplora! Children's Museum and Albuquerque BioPark are family favorites. In October, Albuquerque's skies are filled with hundreds of hot air balloons during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world's largest annual ballooning event.

Discover Native America at Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

Route 66 opened the rest of the country to the West and Native America, passing through the land of several of New Mexico's 19 Pueblo tribes. Acoma Pueblo is one of the nation's longest continually inhabited communities. Its Sky City village, about an hour west of Albuquerque, is perched atop a towering mesa that visitors may see during a guided tour.

Go Out on a Limb at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

The 109,000-acre Petrified Forest National Park protects the colorful geology of the Painted Desert, Native American sites and one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world. It was one of the first attractions along Route 66.

Sleep in Style at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona

Built in 1950, these 15 concrete tee pee motel rooms were an instant roadside attraction, and still make a great Route 66 stop for the night, or at least a fun family photo opportunity.

Explore Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Route 66 is the gateway to Grand Canyon National Park, an hour and a half from Flagstaff. The canyon is a mile deep and sees 5 million visitors annually from around the globe. It is credited with associating Route 66 with family road trips out West.

Get Starstruck at Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona

Lowell Observatory overlooking Flagstaff is an active research observatory that is open day and night to visitors for astronomy programs, tours and astronomy viewings. It was here in 1930 that Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.

All Aboard in Williams, Arizona

The Grand Canyon Railway travels between Williams, Arizona and the South Village of Grand Canyon National Park. Cowboy singers entertain during the hour-long trip, and "outlaws" attempt to hold up the train during the hour-long ride that stops at the depot near El Tovar historic hotel at the South Village.

An Impacting Attraction at Meteor Crater, Arizona

Meteor Crater near Winslow is the best preserved meteor impact site on Earth. Some 50,000 years ago, a meteor slammed into the Arizona desert at 26,000 m.p.h., leaving an impression a mile across and 550-feet deep with the force of 20 million tons of TNT. View the crater from three overlooks and learn more about the event in the Discovery Center.

California or Bust at Mojave Trails National Monument

California’s stretch of Route 66 passes through Mojave Trails National Monument, created in 2016, and just north of Joshua Tree National Park. Conservation-focused Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in nearby Palm Desert has exhibits featuring both indigenous and exotic animals, as well as desert hiking trails that are perfect for families.

End of the Trail at Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica Pier marks the western end of Route 66 (officially two blocks away where Highway 1 begins). Here, Pacific Park amusment park has a Ferris wheel, roller coaster and other attractions, and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium features the marine life found in the area. Santa Monica State Beach is always a favorite familly destination.

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