Bobby Troup’s song, “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946. For the classic tune’s 70th anniversary — and the road’s 90th birthday — I drove the entire 2,448-mile distance from Chicago to Los Angeles. During the two-week road trip, I replaced the original cities with destinations that better capture the spirit of the Mother Road. Here are the new 10 stops and why they make the charts.
In case you’ve forgotten the lyrics to “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” here’s a refresher:
Now you go through Saint Louie
And Joplin, Missouri
And Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty, you’ll see
Gallup, New Mexico
Don’t forget Winona
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.
Now forget what you’ve just remembered.
Pontiac, Ill.: This time-capsule townfeels like an alfresco gallery with more than 20 murals, including the world’s largest painted Route 66 shield, and 15 miniature art cars. The Pontiac Museum Complex contains the Bob Waldmire Experience, which honors the Route 66 artist and cartographer; the Pontiac-Oakland Museum; and the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum. The Old Log Cabin Restaurant opened in 1926 and flipped its entrance around when the road was realigned in the 1940s. You can see an original section out back. Info: il-pontiactourism.civicplus.com.
Springfield, Mo.: The city backs up its claim to the Birthplace of Route 66 title with a replica of the telegram that greenlighted the road. See a copy of the message, plus other mementos, at the Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center. As part of a plan to create a living museum on a stretch of the road, the city erected a replica of the Red’s Giant Hamburg sign (the world’s first drive-through restaurant) at the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park. The Classic Car Museum opened this summer with more than 60 classic cruisers. The Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven hotel has eight sandstone cottages from 1938 as well as an Elvis suite with a tail-fin car bed. The Steak ’n Shake is a true 1960s diner: The steakburger and hand-dipped milkshake joint is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Info: springfieldmo.org.
Galena, Kan.: A 1926 section of Route 66 runs through the state’s oldest mining town. The Howard “Pappy” Litch Park was once a federal weigh station on Route 66. The park features a gazebo and a Will Rogers Highway plaque from 1952 that once stood at the Missouri-Kansas state line. A stand-in for Tow Mater and his “Cars” pals welcome visitors at the Cars on the Route cafe and souvenir shop, in the restored Kan-O-Tex gas station. Info: nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/east_galena_historic_district.html.
Tulsa: The Mother Road’s other birthplace honors the Father of Route 66 with a bronze statue at the Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza. The city has plans to build a Route 66 museum where the road crosses the Arkansas River. The Woody Guthrie Center dedicates exhibit space to Route 66, the Dust Bowl and the migrant workers — subjects that appear in many of the folk singer's songs. Tulsa will host the Mother Road Revival Weekend on Sept. 10 and 11. Info: visittulsa.com.
Adrian, Tex.: Halfway there! Document your success — 1,139 miles down, 1,139 to go — with a snapshot of the sign and the shield on the road. Then celebrate with a piece of ugly pie at the Midpoint Cafe, which also has a gift shop. Next door is the Sunflower Station, an antiques and souvenirs store whose owner, Fran Houser, inspired the Flo character in “Cars.” Info: route66midpointcafe.com.
Tucumcari, N.M.: Back in the day, the town’s slogan was “Tucumcari Tonite,” a nod to its booming hospitality industry. Today, the number of motor courts is drastically smaller, but the neon still burns bright at several establishments, including the Blue Swallow Motel, a lavishly restored property open since 1939, and the Motel Safari, established in 1959. The convention center houses the New Mexico Route 66 Museum, plus a slide show of Tucumcari’s past. During the day, follow the map to more than 40 murals around town, including several with Mother Road themes. For Route 66 swag, stop by Tee Pee Curios, a former gas station. Info: tucumcarinm.com.
Holbrook, Ariz.: The frontier town, near the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park, is overrun with petrified wood, extinct creatures and old outlaws. At the Navajo County Historical Society, creep around the jail covered in inmates’ graffiti; learn about the Blevins Shootout (diorama included) and George Smiley, a convicted murderer; and mail a letter via the Hashknife Pony Express (next delivery is the last week of January). On your way out, grab a map and take a walking tour of historic buildings and sites. A pride of dinosaurs guards the Rainbow Rock Shop, a trove of geologic finds. Spend the night in a conical structure at the Wigwam Motel, one of three surviving outposts from the 1930s chain. Info: www.ci.holbrook.az.us.
Winslow, Ariz.: Well, I’m a-standing on a corner . . . and I see . . . a family of eight in a camper, not a girl in flatbed Ford. But verisimilitude is not the point, nor is factual accuracy. According to a bartender at La Posada Hotel, co-writer Jackson Browne actually saw a girl passing by in a Toyota in Flagstaff, but the Eagles changed the lyric when their tour bus broke down in Winslow. The Standin’ on the Corner Park commemorates the “Take It Easy” line with a life-size statue of Browne, a mural and a parked flatbed Ford. A few blocks away, La Posada Historic District contains one of finest examples of a Harvey House, a collection of elegant resorts built by the Santa Fe Railway from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. The Mary Colter-designed La Posada Hotel features a top-notch restaurant, historical exhibits (meet the Harvey Girls), the Tina Mion Museum (the painter restored and runs the property with her husband) and a trading post with art by Native American and Southwest artists.
Williams, Ariz.: The last town to be bypassed by Interstate 40 isn’t throwing itself a pity party. Instead, it’s whooping it up with Wild West shows in the street, the Route 66 Zipline and train rides to the national park aboard the Grand Canyon Railway. Pop into the Williams and Forest Service Visitor Center for a history lesson and a free “I Heart Williams” pin. Cruiser’s Cafe 66 has a classic car on its roof, a barbecue pit and road memorabilia inside and out. Info: experiencewilliams.com.
Santa Monica: In 1936, planners extended the terminus to this beachfront city in western Los Angeles County. The Santa Monica Pier offers road-trippers an Instagram finish: the “End of the Trail” sign. At the 66 to Cali kiosk, sign the guestbook and buy your last Route 66 trinket. Then walk onto the golden sand and dive into the Pacific, a splashy ending to a 2,448-mile drive. Info: santamonica.com.