Route 66 is affectionately known as the “Mother Road,” and it also happens to be the mother of all road trips.
The roadway, which was completed in 1926, stretches across the country from the Midwest to the West Coast. Though the route typically can’t be found on modern maps, it doesn’t deter drivers from all over the world from taking what is largely considered the quintessential American road trip.
Route 66 kicks off in Illinois, beginning in downtown Chicago and running 300 miles across the state. The journey takes road-trippers through charming small towns and past enough historic sites and delightfully-weird roadside attractions to quickly fill your Instagram feed.
“I think what’s so iconic about Route 66 is the history and the entrepreneurship that occurs,” says Cory M. Jobe, director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. “It’s all about mom-and-pop restaurants and shops that bring people together.”
Here are several road-trip worthy stops along the legendary Route 66:
Kick off your trip with a little bit of history. The Joliet Area Historic Museum focuses on the rich history of the Joliet area. The main gallery features interactive exhibits, such as a Route 66-inspired drive-in theater. Nearby is the Rialto Theatre, a historic vaudeville movie theater listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For lunch, take your pick of two renowned eateries. On the way into town, you’ll pass Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, which has been serving up legendary fried chicken since 1946. On the way out, you’ll pass right by the legendary Polk-a-Dot Drive In where you can grab a bite to eat and check out the plethora of memorabilia.
“Pontiac has really embraced its history,” says Jobe. “It’s just a neat little town; it’s a must stop.”
Check out some of that history at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, which displays an impressive collection of Mother Road artifacts. Classic car buffs will love the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum.
Before you go, traverse one of three historic swinging bridges over the Vermillion River and make sure to snap a photo in front of the colorful Route 66 murals.
A road trip through the Land of Lincoln isn’t complete without a stop in Springfield.
“You get a taste of both iconic Route 66 history and presidential history,” says Jobe.
Learn all about honest Abe at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. At night, catch a double feature at the restored Route 66 Drive-In (opens in April). Swing by the classic Cozy Dog Drive-In, home of the “corn dog on a stick.” As you leave Springfield, keep an eye out for the stretch of hand-laid brick in Auburn that was part of the original Route 66.
You won’t want to miss charming downtown Atlanta. Check out the historic (and octagon-shaped) Atlanta Public Library and Museum, then grab some quarters and head to the Route 66 Arcade Museum to play a few vintage games. The revitalized Palms Grill Café, well known during the heyday of Route 66, serves up award-winning slices of pie with a side of nostalgia.
Route 66 photo checklist
The Illinois stretch of Route 66 is full of fun, kitschy attractions where you can snap Instagram-worthy shots. See if you can spot any of these funky, roadside photo opportunities:
Gemini Giant, Wilmington
Paul Bunyon Hot Dog Statue, Atlanta
Abe Rail Splitter Statue, Springfield
Lauterbach Muffler Man, Springfield
Livingston Muffler Man, Livingston
World’s Largest Bottle of Catsup, Collinsville
World’s Largest Covered Wagon, Lincoln
Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, Staunton