The United States is blessed with many beautiful drives, but none are as iconic as Historic Route 66. The highway from Chicago to Santa Monica, California is known as “The Mother Road” or “The Main Street of America” because of its embodiment of Americana.
There are so many unique stops along the way, that we decided to take our time and break up our trip, which is what you should do too, when you decide to travel The Mother Road. Before you get started, make sure you buy a turn by turn guide to help you navigate.
The starting point for Route 66 has moved a few times, but just by a block or two. The sign designating the start is located at Adams and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. It originally started one block south at Jackson and Michigan Avenue, then moved one block east to Jackson and Lake Shore Drive, but now Jackson is one way, so Adams and Michigan Avenue has the designation. Jackson and Michigan Avenue is actually marked as the official end, but we’re just starting!
Grab a quick pic in front of the Art Institute of Chicago and its iconic lions. Hopefully, you arrived in Chicago a day or two early to see the city and experience the museum, as well as everything else the city has to offer.
Start your trip with breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s. It’s been around since before Route 66 and prides itself on quality ingredients and five generations of family ownership. It’s on Jackson, so you’ll need to back track a bit to get there. Once you and your car are fueled up and ready to go, hit the road for Joliet.
In Joliet, there are several things to see. Make your first stop the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center. It’s a great museum sure to thrill any Route 66 enthusiast.
Just a few blocks away is the historic Rialto Square Theatre. Take a quick pic and a look inside, if it’s open. Next, head across the Des Plaines River and grab a scoop at Rich and Creamy Ice Cream. Don’t forget to look up for the life-size Jake and Elwood Blues statues.
Stroll through Route 66 Park and snap a pic with the huge “Joliet Kicks on 66” sign. You’ll also be able to see the old Joliet Prison from an overlook. It’s where The Blues Brothers and Prison Break were filmed.
When you’re ready, get on the road for Springfield. There are a few stops you’ll want to make along the way including The Standard Oil Gasoline Station in Odell, which is a national historic site, The Route 66 Shield Mural at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, where you can take a pic with your mode of transportation on original Route 66 bricks; and “Tall Paul” in Atlanta. He’s a muffler man holding a hot dog, with a fun history. While in Atlanta, take a trip back in time when you grab lunch at The Palms Grill Cafe. Try a horseshoe or a ponyshoe. It’s a central Illinois thing.
Once you pull into Springfield, get settled at your hotel. The town is easy to get around, but try and stay near the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It will be your first stop tomorrow. For dinner, go to theCozy Dog Drive In. There are other things on the menu, but of course you have to try a Cozy Dog and definitely don’t call it a Corn Dog.
Start your day at Charlie Parker’s Diner. If you liked the horseshoe the day before, try the breakfast horseshoe here. Or, are you feeling up to the giant pancake challenge? Eat four giant pancakes and you don’t have to pay for them. Be aware, each pancake is the size of a large pizza. Roll yourselves out of the diner and to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It’s simply fantastic. You will be immersed in the life and death of our 16th President.
Get back on the road and head to Litchfield, with a stop just north of Auburn. It’s a little out of the way, but you can drive 1.4 miles of restored, hand-lain, original Route 66 brick road. It’s in the country and located on Curran Road.
On your way into Litchfield, stop at the Sky View Drive-in. It’s the last originally operating drive-in on Historic Route 66 in Illinois and one of only four in the nation. Just down the road, is the Ariston Café. It’s believed to be the oldest café on Route 66 and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Before you leave Litchfield, stop next door for pics at the restored Vic Suhling neon sign. It’s located at the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center.
Once you’re headed south, pull over at the Soulsby Service Station in Mount Olive. It actually existed before the road was paved.
Your quirkiest visit comes in Staunton at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch. It’s full of Route 66 gifts and collectables and, as the name implies, rabbits. If you’re hungry, stop at Weezy’s in Hamel, otherwise, keep trucking because it’s about time to cross into Missouri via the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
You will have to park at the entrance on the Illinois side. If you brought your bikes, jump on and ride across, but a walk is just as nice. The history of the bridge is also fascinating. Once you’re done, you’ll be able to say you walked across the Mighty Mississippi!
Plan to book a hotel in the Edwardsville area and get checked in. If you’re looking for a bite and a nightcap, head to Stagger Inn Again in Edwardsville.