Established in 1926, Route 66 went on to become one of the world’s most iconic highways and has gone on to inspire movies, songs, and television series. Perhaps the most famous road-trip destination in the U.S., today, Route 66 follows the course of Interstate 40 and passes through eight states on its 2,448-mile journey from Lake Michigan at Chicago to Santa Monica, California. Along the way there’s the chance to visit important sites in national history and experience an authentic slice of Americana. Here’s three must-see places to get your kicks on Route 66.
Cadillac Ranch, Texas
If you want to drive Route 66 in style then rent a 1950s Cadillac, put the top down, turn up the music, and feel the warm breeze rush through your hair. In keeping with the Cadillac theme, Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch is one of the quirkiest of hundreds of roadside attractions that you’ll discover on the Mother Road. In 1974, a group of San Francisco art-hippies called Ant Farm had a vision to create an art installation that would baffle even the most curious minds. With the backing of local billionaire artist Stanley Marsh 3, they acquired 10 Cadillacs, drove them into a field, and buried them nose-down into the dirt. People came in droves, admired the cars, and eventually began decorating them with colorful graffiti. Visitors are actually now encouraged to contribute to the artwork, so bring a can of spray paint and leave your own personal mark on this iconic sight.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Feast your eyes on the remnants of the 200-million-year-old trees that help to create the otherworldly scenery of the Petrified Forest National Park. Looking at the vast mass of semi-arid grassland and undulating landscapes today, it’s hard to believe that this was once an area of forests and rivers inhabited by dinosaurs. A 28-mile-long road cuts through the park and has numerous viewpoints; stop at Kachina Point for views of the multicolored Petrified Desert. For activities on foot, the short walks and long hikes offer something for all ages. The Painted Desert Rim Trail is notably popular and takes you over the top of the colorful hills. Meanwhile the Rainbow Forest Museum and Painted Desert Inn Tap Room Gallery showcases the park’s history and evolution. Turn your visit into a true adventure by camping overnight in the park’s backcountry.
Santa Monica Pier, California
Arriving from the east, Route 66 draws to an end at one of the country’s most recognizable piers. Opened in 1909, Santa Monica Pier stands at the point of the sun-kissed coastal dream for many cross-country road trippers. It has since achieved legendary status with appearances in movies such as The Sting, A Night at the Roxbury, and Forrest Gump. A beating heart of the social scene of its namesake surf city, the pier presents a blend of nostalgic fairground kitsch and boardwalk entertainment. Ride a carousel, a solar-powered Ferris wheel, and roller coasters and spend a few bucks on classic arcade games at Pacific Park. Spot exotic fish at the Heal the Bay Aquarium and catch live music events at Rusty’s Surf Ranch. Otherwise, grab some seafood takeaway or an ice cream and watch surfers ride rolling waves from the boardwalk as the sun goes down.