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Neon Lights and Diner Bites: Exploring the Heart of Route 66 with Brand USA

Brand USA is back with a plethora of inspiring road trip itineraries to inspire holidaymakers and this month we are deep diving into the magnificent Historic Route 66 – an iconic road trip, perfect for those seeking authentic American diners, the ideal selfie spots and a slice of classic Americana!

Chicago, Illinois

Some dispute where Route 66 actually begins in Chicago, but a good place to start is the Route 66 sign on Adams Street! While there is no shortage of Route 66 Museums on this route, Joliet, Illinios will be the first stop after Chicago and a great way to start the journey, learning all about the “Muffler Men” from the 1960’s who advertised auto repair shops, diners and other roadside attractions. In Dwight, stop at the Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station which was once the oldest continually operated gas station on Route 66. Passing through Pontiac, you’ll be treated to a collection of murals of President Abraham Lincoln as well as the opportunity to visit another Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum which plays home to vintage ads, memorabilia and neon signs. This itinerary suggests a stop for the night in Springfield, Illinois.

Route 66 Mural, Pontiac, Illinois

Before embarking on another day of driving, pay a visit to the Oak Ridge Cemetery to see the Lincoln Tomb – an impressive 35-meter monument that marks his gravesite. Next up is Litchfield where holidaymakers can grab lunch at the Ariston Café which has been open since 1935. The next stop on the journey is St. Louis, Missouri and the Gateway Arch National Park is the perfect first stop. A riverboat cruise down the magnificent Mississippi River is a great way to enjoy the beautiful greenery of St Louis before heading out for dinner to sample some tasty ribs or an array of amazing barbeque spots, which the city is famous for.

Old Courthouse & Gatewway Arch, St Louis, Missouri 

After a good night’s sleep, hit road again and make a pitstop in Stanton in the Missouri Ozarks and visit the Jesse James Wax Museum to learn about the life of one of the USA’s most notorious outlaws! You can also check out the Meramec Caverns, where it is believed Jesse James used as a hideout. Guided tours are available here and you can experience the stunning seven-story natural wonder for yourself.

Meramec Caverns, Sullivan, Missouri

A stop in Cuba, Missouri is recommended, to visit the Wagon Wheel Motel with its original neon sign, as well as a quick visit to St. Robert’s famous Uranus Fudge Factory & General Store to pick up some snacks for the drive. Tonight, a stay in Springfield, Missouri is recommended, as well as dinner at the Steak ‘n Shake, which has retained its charm and décor from 1962.

Water Tower, Uranus, Missouri

Day 4 sees us depart Springfield for Kansas, with a recommended stop in Carthage to see the 66 Drive-In Theatre. Drive through the quirky small towns of Galena (Kansas) and Commerce (Oklahoma) to get to one of the highlights of the route – Ribbon Road – which is the narrowest and oldest section of Route 66. Tonight, holidaymakers are advised to spend the night in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

66 Drive-In Theatre, Carthage, Missouri

Have a leisurely start to the day by enjoying one of the many Route 66 sites in Tulsa, making sure you visit the former gas station, Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios to snap a selfie with the famous Muffler Man Buck Atom: Space Cowboy. Leaving Oklahoma, you will pass through Stroud where a stop at the iconic Skyliner Motel is recommended to get a photo of their towering red arrow sign, as well as another stop at Pops 66 Soda Ranch in Arcadia, which has over 600 choices of soda pop. 

Pops 66 Soda Ranch, Arcadia, Oklahoma

Carry on to the state capital of Oklahoma City where buildings such as the Oklahoma State Capitol and the Milk Bottle Grocery await. Tonight, explore the historic Uptown 23rd District with its neon signs and array of Asian-owned restaurants.

Tower Theatre, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

On Day 6, leave the state of Oklahoma and drive for 256km to Amarillo, Texas, taking in stops at Clinton and Groom on route. You can’t visit Texas without having some delicious steak, so tonight’s dining recommendation is The Big Texan Steak Ranch, famous for its quirky architecture and flame-grilled steaks, with a 72oz Steak Challenge on the menu for those brave enough to try it!

The Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

The next day, drive west to the famous Cadillac Ranch, which is an installation made up of ten graffiti-covered Cadillacs half buried in the Texas desert. Next, stop in Adrian, where you can celebrate the halfway mark at the Midpoint Café, followed by a stop in the historic ghost-town of Glenrio – the filming location for the 1940 movie “The Grapes Of Wrath”, adapted from John Steinbeck’s iconic novel of the same name. Tonight, stay in the charming town of Tucumcari with a myriad of photo opportunities, including the landmark Blue Swallow Motel.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Day 9 starts with a visit to Santa Rosa to take a dip in the famous Blue Hole, one of seven sister lakes connected underground by a vast system of water in an otherwise dry and rain-free landscape. Head north-west to downtown Santa Fe to explore the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi and the exuberant La Fonda on the Plaza Hotel. Hit the road to Albuquerque for another night’s rest on this magnificent journey. Tonight’s dinner recommendation is the relaxed 66 Diner for an authentic American hamburger and home-made pie.  

Route 66 Sign, New Mexico

With a second night in Albuquerque recommended, take the day to explore all the city has to offer in the Old Town and Downtown areas, visiting must-sees such as KiMo Theatre and the San Felipe de Neri Church. Grab lunch at the Dog House Drive In, which was made famous by TV shows such as Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul! Explore the historic Nob Hill neighbourhood known for its vibrant nightlife and array of diverse restaurants, such as the Range Café.

Leaving New Mexico today, we head for Holbrook, Arizona, with recommended stops in San Fidel and Thoreau with its deep Navajo roots. Crossing stateliness into Arizona, the next stop is the Petrified Forest National Park with its 45-kilometers of incredible landscape, passing through the Crystal Forest Trail and the painted Desert. Tonight’s accommodation recommendation is Holbrooks’ iconic Wigwam Village Motel #6 in an oversized tepee!

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Leaving Holbrook, stop in nearby Winslow, Arizona, made famous by The Eagles hit single ‘Take It Easy’ which name-drops the town. The Standin’ on the Corner Park, on the corner of Kinsley and East 2nd St, commemorates the song and brings some of the lyrics to life with its whimsical statues such as a guitar-bearing singer and a mural of “a girl” sitting “in a flatbed Ford” truck. Next stop on the road trip is Meteor Crater where a meteorite fell to Earth around 50,000 years ago. Moving on, we head to the picturesque town of Flagstaff, Arizona where a lunch stop at Miz Zip’s is suggested. From here, take a 90-minute drive to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim for breath taking views, demonstrating the magnitude of the canyon.

Grand Canyon South Rim, Flagstaff, Arizona

It’s Day 13 and we are leaving Arizona for Nevada, with Las Vegas as our final stop today! Before arriving in the Entertainment Capital of the World, stops are recommended in Williams, Seligman and Kingsman, where the Arizona Route 66 Museum traces the history of the Mother Road. Make sure to visit Oatman, an old mining town frozen in time with wooden sidewalks and wild burros (donkeys) roaming the streets. Today we detour from Route 66 to spend the night in Las Vegas.

Fremont St, Las Vegas, Nevada

This morning, take time to explore the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum before grabbing lunch at Atomic Liqours, whose rooftop was once a viewing point to watch the atomic explosions in the Nevada desert! Tonight, hit the strip and see if Lady Luck is on your side in one of the many casinos or take in a show at one of the many decadent hotels lining the strip.

Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada

Our journey concludes today, but not before a long 471km drive through southern California with a stop in Joshua Tree Forest, rejoining Route 66 in Amboy. Continue to downtown San Bernardino, where the First Original McDonald’s Museum awaits, before hitting Downtown Los Angeles. You will soon be driving down the iconic Sunset Boulevard, followed by the spectacular Santa Monica Boulevard, through West Hollywood, making sure you stop for a selfie at the Beverley Hills sign. Arriving in Santa Monica, make sure to check out the Santa Monica Pier, with views of Venice Beach. Here you will also find a plaque dedicated to comedian and actor, Will Rogers, who inspired many to drive Route 66. A more fitting end to your Route 66 adventure, you cannot find!   

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California

To read the full itinerary, complete with dining recommendations and stop on route, click here. Check out Brand USA’s website to access rights-free images and videos, the USA Discovery Program and more suggested roadtrip itineraries.

Sunway Holidays offer a starting package price from €3,399pp based on 2 adults sharing

Including: return flights, car hire and accommodation along Route 66

Sunway Quote Ref: IV1161911

Carrie Day
Carrie Day
Carrie started her career in the travel industry in 2014 and has worked in various roles such as Travel Consultant in Canada & Ireland, Business Development Manager and later Industry Sales Manager EMEA at an international tour company. She is also a trustee for the ITAA Benevolent Fund since 2021 and proud member of the AWTE Ireland. Conversations around sustainable travel are welcomed and encouraged!

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