A Family Friendly Journey Along Route 66
The Mother Road, the Main Street of America, the Will Rogers Highway, but most commonly called Route 66 is one of America’s most famous and popular road trip routes. Extending from Chicago, IL in the Midwest to California in the West, historic Route 66 passed through many small towns, past neon signs, cafes, and quirky roadside attractions. A road trip following the path of historic route 66 is a must do road trip for anyone, but there are plenty of attractions that make for the perfect family friendly journey along route 66.
While historic route 66 can no longer be driven in it’s entirety as it was delisted as a highway in 1985 and is now bypassed by I-40, many sections of the historic route can still be visited today. This family friendly journey along route 66 includes both historic and more modern stops along Route 66 that should be added to your bucket list!
Navy Pier is a perfect starting point along route 66 for families looking to start their journey in Chicago. Navy Pier is home to free public programs including live music and fireworks, culture, fun, shopping, and delicious food! Navy Pier includes classic amusement park rides, including a carousel and Ferris wheel.
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Chicago’s Children Museum can also be found along the pier. For some green space visit the Polk Bros Park. Other family friendly attractions at the pier include Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze and an IMAX theater.
For some family friendly dining, be sure to check out the Billy Goat Tavern, Giordano’s, or Tiny Tavern. For some sweet treats be sure to visit Xurro or the AMRI Juice Bar.
The Muffler Men (Wilmington, Atlanta, & Springfield)
The Muffle Men are 18 to 25 ft. tall fiberglass and polyester resin statues. These statues can be found placed around the US for advertisements, as roadside attractions, or just as decorative statues. Muffler Men were common along route 66, but today only four remain. Three of them are in Illinois, while the other is found in Flagstaff.
In Wilmington you can find the Gemini Giant standing at the Launching Pad Drive-In. The Gemini Giant is 28 ft. tall and weighs 500 pounds. The statue depicts a green astronaut holding a space ship and has become an icon of route 66.
Bunyan’s Statue stands in Atlanta across the street from Palms Grill Café. The statue features Bunyan holding a hot dog. The statue once stood in front of a Cicero hotdog stand, but was moved and restored. Lauterbach Tire Muffler Man is located in Springfield outside the Lauterbach Tire & Auto Service. This muffler man once held a tire, but today holds an American flag.
Chain of Rocks Bridge
The Chain of Rocks Bridge is a historic bridge sitting above the Mississippi River linking Illinois and Missouri. A unique feature of this bridge is the 30 degree turn mid bridge. The bend is a result of protests by riverboat captains because of the dangerous waters of the area. The bridge was built at a bend to allow for the safe passage of boats through the area.
While the bridge was once drivable along historic route 66, today families exploring historic route 66 can enjoy a walk or bike ride across the bridge. From the bridge you will find some stunning views of the St. Louis skyline and Mississippi River.
Meramec Caverns are one of the most popular stops along Missouri’s stripe of Route 66. The limestone caves were first developed during the Civil War when the natural saltpeter found in the area was mined for use for gun powder. Some of the larger rooms in the caverns were used by local farmers for dancing and continue to be used for public get togethers, including Easter services and arts and craft shows.
The caverns are accessible to the public for guided tours lasting about an hour and a half. The tour is open to kids of all ages, but families visiting with small children should know that strollers are not allowed. The total walking distance and 1.25 miles round trip along a lighted pathway.
Other fun attractions at the site include ziplining, a rock climbing wall, panning for gold, and Meramec River excursions.
Cars on the Route (Galena)
Cars on the Route is a restored Kan-O-Tex station is Historic Route 66’s town of Galena. The main draw of this attraction, especially for the kids, are the several cars sitting outside the store painted as the characters from the movie Cars. After snapping some memorable photos, stop inside for some sandwiches, snacks, antiques, and several souvenir and Cars themed items.
Rainbow Curve Bridge
Located about 3 miles outside of Baxter, Kansas, Rainbow Curve Bridge is a restored bridge that sits along the historic route 66. The bridge can be visited today both by car and by walking. There is a small parking area off of the bridge that contains a plaque with an overview of the bridge’s history. Rainbow Curve Bridge is the last surviving bridge of its type, a fixed Marsh Rainbow Arch bridge, along route 66.
Interesting fact: The caretaker of the bridge, Dean Walker, was the inspiration for the personality of Mater from Cars.
Recommended by Ashlee Fechino, founder of The Happiness Function
Tulsa, Oklahoma, is one of the top places to explore along the historic Route 66 corridor. The Tulsa community and surrounding area take pride in showcasing the iconic history of this famous American route. In recent years, Oklahoma and the Tulsa community have spent a lot of money restoring, improving, and adding Route 66 stops and memorabilia. There are so many things to see and do in Tulsa!
Just 15 minutes outside of downtown Tulsa, near Catoosa, Oklahoma, visitors can stop and see the famous Blue Whale roadside attraction for free! The Blue Whale is a family friendly pit-stop that makes for adorable photos. The kids can run around, and everyone can stretch their legs. Plan to spend a quick 15-20 minutes checking the Blue Whale out!
While continuing along the historic Route 66 route in Tulsa, visitors will drive right through the downtown area. Once road trippers hit the 11th street area, venture south down Riverside Parkway (off of Route 66) along the Arkansas River to Tulsa’s prized city park – Gathering Place. Gathering Place was most recently awarded as 2021’s Best City Park in the U.S. by USA Today!
Gathering Place is free and offers one of the best parks for kids to play and families to enjoy in the U.S. We recommend visiting earlier in the day to beat the crowds. Spend a few hours at Gathering Place – let the kids’ imaginations run wild!
While touring Route 66, be sure to take your family to a place they will thank you for stopping at for years to come! Don’t miss the Blue Whale and Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma!
Pops 66 Soda Ranch (Arcadia)
Recommended by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
Pops 66 Soda Ranch is a quirky roadside stop located in the quaint town of Arcadia, Oklahoma. Just east of Oklahoma’s capital, a visit to Pops is a must for anyone visiting Oklahoma City with kids, or just passing through on a Route 66 road trip.
The iconic soda shop and old-fashioned diner, with its 66-foot tall spiraling neon soda bottle can be spotted from at least a mile away.
Inside, you’ll find everything from classic cream sodas to interesting flavors that only kids would dare try! Children will giggle while their parents squirm as you peruse the aisles and check out the different soda flavors like Dinosaur Dung, Bug Barf, and Monster Mucous. You can buy a six pack of your favorite old-fashioned bottled soda, or create your own six pack from the variety of 700 different sodas that line the shelves and glass walls of the building, perfectly arranged by color.
You can make Pops 66 Soda Ranch a pit stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or simply drop in for one of the most unique souvenirs you can find to remember your historic Route 66 road trip.
Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery
Recommended by Alyssa from Lyssy in the Sky
If you’re looking for a fun family friendly eatery serving up hearty Texan fare with a side of kitsch, the Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery is the stop for you. Just off Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas, this property houses a restaurant, brewery, motel, RV Park, and music venue. If you only have time to walk around, you’ll enjoy colorful Wild West scenery, cheesy photo ops, and fun Texan decor. For the full experience, however, you’ll need to stay for a meal.
The food is to die for – the hardest part of your trip will be deciding which menu item is the most tempting. But don’t worry, you really can’t go wrong here. If you’re really hungry, take a shot at the 72 oz Steak Challenge. Participants are given sixty minutes to finish a 72 ounce steak, shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and a buttered roll. If heartburn isn’t your thing, you can still cheer on anyone who is tackling the challenge! Contestants eat their meals on a raised stage in the middle of the dining room, backed by a large timer, turning this experience into dinner AND a show.
Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation and sculpture, is found along route 66 West of Amarillo, Texas. The Ranch was developed in 1974 by a group known as The Ant Farm, a group of hippies from San Francisco. Cadillac Ranch features 10 Cadillacs from 1949 to 1963 that were places nose-down into the dirt. The site quickly became a target of vandalism, when people would pull off, steal pieces of the cars as souvenirs, and leave behind graffiti. However, the creators of the site grew to enjoy the graffiti and even encouraged it! The cars at the site have been painted and repainted several times through the years, which continues to this day.
Known as the Sky City along Route 66, Acoma Pueblo is found atop a 367 ft. sandstone mesa. Acoma Pueblo is a historical city, inhabited since 1150 and still inhabited to this day by the Native Tribe. One of the main draws of this destination is the local pottery that can be purchased and the native food to be tasted. The stunning cliff side scenery is also a major draw of this location.
The city still contains over 200 dwellings without modern day luxuries such as electricity and sewage, but visitors can also find some attractions geared towards tourists, including the cultural center and museum, a camping site, and the Sky City Casino. But if you ask me, the history of the site is the main reason for visiting!
Previously a gas station along Route 66, Teepee Curios sits in Tucumcari, New Mexico. The gas station was built in the 1940’s as a Gulf gas station and grocery/souvenir shop. The entrance to the shop is marked by an unmissable neon sign and Teepee. The building continues to function today as a souvenir like shop, with everything from Route 66 souvenirs to New Mexico souvenirs, pottery, jewelry, and t-shirts.
Recommended by Debbie from World Adventurists
One of the unique stops along historic Route 66 is the ghost town of Oatman, in western Arizona. Located in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, the town was originally a mining camp where $10 million in gold was struck back in 1915.
You will immediately notice the wild burrows that wander around the town, outnumbering the human population. There are around 2,000 burrows and Oatman has a population of 128 people. Purchase some alfalfa cubes to feed the burros.
Do not miss the Gunslingers Wild West shootout (1:30 and 3:30 daily). The show is a fun way to take a step back in time. At the Oatman Mine Museum, you can learn about the history of the town, and walk into part of a shaft. The western-themed shops all have cheeky names and are fun to wander. The Oatman Hotel Saloon interior is covered with signed one-dollar bills. It was a tradition that started when Miners would sign and attach their money to the wall for use when they were short of funds.
Summertime is the hottest time of year to visit, with temperatures reaching 38°C in July. Spending a half to a full day in Oatman will give you plenty of time to explore it all.
Radiator Springs (Seligman)
Recommended by Karee from Our Woven Journey
Seligman Arizona, also known as Radiator Springs, is a fun, quirky little town that is worth putting on your road trip agenda. When they say “Get your kicks on Route 66” they definitely had this place in mind! Radiator Springs got its inspiration from the 2006 animated Pixar film “Cars” and you’ll find plenty of movie memorabilia around town to remind you of it.
Like the town in the movie, the real life Radiator Springs was also bypassed by the freeway and has found a new way to sustain itself through tourism. Snow Cap, a burger and ice cream joint, even has several real life replicas of different characters from Cars out behind their building.
You can easily spend the day browsing the retro shops that make it feel like you’ve stepped into the past. You’ll also find an old jail from the 1800’s, the Route 66 Motoporium and other whacky pieces of history that contribute to giving Seligman the title of the Birthplace of Historic Route 66.
Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course
Recommended by Taryn from Chasing Trail
When you’re exploring Route 66 in Arizona as a family, Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course (commonly known as simply Flagstaff Extreme) is a must!
Located just south of Flagstaff proper within Fort Tuthill County Park, Flagstaff Extreme offers year-round outdoor recreation for adventurous families. It’s divided into individual sections: the Adventure Course, Adventure Zip Lines, and Kid’s Course, designed for ages 7-11.
The Adventure Course must be completed in order and features various obstacles including ropes courses, platforms arranged in the trees, swinging bridges, barrel crawls, and climbing walls. Plan for 3-4 hours to complete the entire course. The zipline is a separate adventure with 32 lines in all, and participants must be at least 12 years old.
Note that Flagstaff Extreme is open all year-round. The park strongly recommends wearing gloves in the winter and in the event of inclement weather, such as rain. Make an entire day of it and enjoy the other activities Fort Tuthill County Park has to offer. Highlights include hiking trails, archery courses, a bike path, camping, and numerous festivals during the summer months.
Recommended by Ale from Sea Salt & Fog
Petrified Forest National Park is a must-visit on a family friendly journey along Route 66. Located in northeastern Arizona near the New Mexico border, this national park is made up of stunning views, cool petrified wood, and easy, family-friendly hikes.
Some of the best things to do in the park is to see and learn about petrified wood. The Giant Logs trail is an easy 0.4 mile stroll where you can see giant logs of petrified wood, and learn how it got to be here.
The Puerco Pueblo trail is another easy 0.3 mile walk that will take you through Native American ruins, plus there’s interactive exhibits where you can learn more about the native people who called this land their home.
This national park sits right on Route 66 – make sure you stop at the old truck that serves as the route marker (and makes for great photos!).
The best part? You can see most of the park’s attractions in only half a day!
Winslow, Arizona is one stop found along route 66 that was made famous in the song Take It Easy by The Eagles. One of the most well known attractions in Winslow is the Standin’ on the Corner Park, found on the corner of Route 66 and North Kinsley Avenue. At the park you can find a statue standing as a tribute to the song and band, a man standing in jeans and boots with a guitar in hand. It is also here where you can find Route 66 painted on the road.
Just outside of Winslow you can find Meteor Crater National Landmark, one of the world’s best preserved craters. You can tour the museum, visit the gift shop, and walk along the side of the crater for some great views. The closeness to the visitor center and lack of extensive hiking make this the perfect stop on a family friendly journey along route 66!
Another outdoor beauty nearby is Little Painted Desert, where you can enjoy colorful rock formations that are easily accessible from a paved trail. For some history of the area visit the Old Trails Museum or Homolovi State Park. Before heading out be sure to stop at Sipp Shoppe for some classic American cuisine and a tasty treat!
Bottle Tree Ranch
The Bottle Tree Ranch is a fun and unique stop for a family friendly journey along Route 66 located in Oro Grande, California. The ranch features one man’s take on art and creativity, lined with metal pipes with bottles hanging from them. The Bottle Ranch is visited by people all over the world looking to see the unique artwork.
The ranch was created by Elmer Long, who started collecting bottles with his father at a young age. After his father’s passing Long didn’t know what to do with all the bottles, but then decided to design his first bottle tree. From there it grew into today’s bottle ranch. Unfortunately Long passed away in 2019, but the family has decided to keep the ranch open for visitors and to preserve his memory. A quick stop at Elmer’s Bottle Ranch will find visitors enjoying the views while also listening to the tunes created by the wind blowing through the glass bottles.
Santa Monica Pier
Recommended by Kanupriyaa of My Lost Camel
The end of the incredible Route 66 in California is the Santa Monica Pier. The pier is one of the most popular places in Los Angeles and a great way to spend the weekend near the water. The pier is flanked by the Santa Monica Beach which has perfect water to swim in the summer months and lots of sandy area for sunbathing.
The pier has the iconic Pacific Park with the huge Ferris wheel that lights up at night as well as multiple other rides and an arcade next door with more than 200 games. The Heal the Bay Aquarium is right below the carousel at the beach level and one of the most interesting things to do in Santa Monica.
There is an abundance of restaurants, shops and souvenir carts lining the pier till its end where you can take in the most gorgeous west coast sunsets. There is plenty to do at Santa Monica Pier without getting bored – you can surf, get a tan, play at the games, eat some old times American food or just take the vibes at Ocean Ave which comes alive at nighttime.
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“Well, I’m standing on a corner In Winslow, Arizona”….”Take it easy, Take it easy, Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy”. Thank you, I don’t think this song will get out of my head in the next few days.
As for The Big Texan restaurant, I was there but only ordered the 12oz steak and unfortunately, nobody was trying their luck on the 72oz at that time. Anyway, looking through the gallery of the past winners is quite impressive.
Ah a US road trip is so high on our list and Route 66 looks like such a great one. We have only visited Santa Monica pier out of all those places, which we loved but the whole route looks amazing, with so many cool places to visit. It looks like we would get to see some different parts of the country, try some cool things and see some very random statues and road side attractions. What’s not to love…one day hopefully we will get to do this 😊
I love how varied and quirky the sights can be along Route 66! It’s so cool the way they have re-branded to keep these towns alive after I-40 cut off that route! I love the giant sculptures like the muffler man, the huge whale and the big old cow. The natural sights, like the caves and petrified forest are incredible too.
Plethora of options on the Route 66, the blue whale looks adorable, what a quirky choice for a photo-op!! I love the terrain of Petrified forests, would make for a fab hiking opportunity!! The steak ranches are cool too, and offbeat. Great options 🙂