Missouri is the second state of our eight state, east-to-west, cross-country trip on “The Mother Road.” If you’ve already read our piece on Route 66 in Illinois, you’re primed to keep discovering the gems of America’s past.
The trip through Missouri starts in St. Louis. It’s not a turn by turn guide, so you’ll want to make sure you have one. But, this will help you hit the right spots along the way.
It may not be on Historic Route 66, but Goody Goody Diner feels like it should be. It’s the perfect way to start your first day in Missouri. They’re known for their chicken and waffles. Could it get any better?
After breakfast, head to the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. It’s where you’ll buy your tickets for your trip to the top of the Gateway Arch. The Courthouse holds its own place in history. It was the site of the first two trials in the Dred Scott case in the mid-1800’s.
Take a look around, but make sure you leave yourself enough time to get down to the Arch for your trip to the top. Heads up, the car carrying you to the top doesn’t have a lot of head room. It holds five people. There’s a model in the room where you buy your tickets. Check it out and prepare to be cozy, probably with strangers. Don’t worry, they’ll be friends after the short ride.
After the Arch, it’s time to hit the road. If you want to spend more time in St. Louis, there’s plenty more to do.
No trip to St. Louis is complete without a stop at Ted Drewes for some frozen custard. Be sure to hit the location on Chippewa. It’s actually on Historic Route 66 near the Donut Drive-In. Grab some sweet snacks for the drive after you’ve finished your custard.
Carl’s Drive In is another option if you don’t have a sweet tooth. Many a father and son have bonded at their counter while enjoying their burgers.
Once you’re full and ready to drive, plan your first stop at Kern Service Station followed by Big Chief Restaurant in Wildwood. The two are close and were only on Route 66 until 1932. But it’s worth stopping for a pic, and the properties have great histories.
Next, work your way to Eureka and Route 66 State Park. The visitor center is the former Bridgehead Inn, which sat on the original Route 66. A little farther down the road in Pacific, Red Cedar Inn is closed, but you can still grab a photo outside.
You have two opportunities to go underground at your next stop. Meramec Caverns in Stanton and Onondoga Cave near Leasburg. Both are off your route, but are good opportunities to give your legs a stretch.
It’s time to get to Cuba and check-in to the Wagon Wheel Motel. It’s the oldest continuously operated motel on Route 66. Don’t worry, the rooms have been updated since the 1930s, but the doors, windows, and floors of the stone buildings are original. You’re going to love taking the evening to relax while imagining the memories that have been made here. Grab a bite to eat at Missouri Hick Bar-B-Que before you get too comfortable and decide to call it a night.
It’s going to be difficult to leave the Wagon Wheel Motel, but there’s more history to experience. Spend some time exploring the historic Uptown District in Cuba. There are 12 beautiful murals in the area to admire. Grab breakfast at Shelly’s Route 66 Café before heading south to take a pic with The World’s Largest Rocker in Fanning. You’ll only be able to stand under it, not sit in it. It’s that big!
Historic Route 66 winds through several quaint towns with possible stops between Cuba and Lebanon, so if you something catches your eye, be sure to take a moment to enjoy it. On your way into Lebanon, snap a pic at the Munger Moss Hotel, then grab lunch at Dowd’s Catfish and BBQ.
Next stop is the Route 66 Visitor Center in Springfield. From there, enjoy a shake at Steak ‘n Shake, stop at the Gillioz Theatre, and then spend some time at the Route 66 Car Museum. It may make you wish you had a different ride while traveling the Main Street of America.
Carthage is the perfect way to end the day. Check-in to the Boots Motel, another historic place to rest that will take you back in time. It stands at the “Crossroads of America,” the intersection of Route 66 and Highway 71. If you have some time left in your day, go to the 66 Drive-In Theatre. Why not catch a show and eat dinner in your car from the concession stand?
There’s only a brief stretch of The Mother Road left in Missouri. Before heading for Kansas, grab breakfast at Iggy’s Diner, then take a trip back in time to Red Oak II. Lowell Davis, who was concerned about the disappearance of small town America, decided to recreate the place where he grew up by moving the actual buildings from his hometown of Red Oak to his farm near Carthage.
Joplin is the last stop in Missouri. Take a photo at the Route 66 Mural Park. You can also enjoy a guided historic building tour in downtown. You’ll see the former sites of brothels, the Frisco Train Station, and the Fox Theatre.
The Joplin Museum Complex is made up of two distinct museums. The Mineral Museum takes you inside the replica of a mine shaft to highlight Joplin’s mining history. The Historical Museum includes exhibits about Historic Route 66, Bonnie and Clyde and even a National Historic Cookie Cutter exhibit. Before you head for Kansas, grab lunch at Granny Schaffer’s.