What road travels from downtown Chicago all the way to the west coast? Route 66, of course! This week marks the 90th anniversary of the famed Mother Road and all the road trips and memories that go along with it. Since its creation in 1926, Route 66 has helped small towns along the road grow, including so many here in Illinois. To celebrate this epic milestone and its impact on our state, we’re taking you on a journey to the best stops, sights and grub along the 300 miles of the Mother Road that Illinois is lucky enough to call its own. So buckle up, there’s plenty to see and do along Route 66!
Museums of the Mother Road
Begin your journey on the famous Mother Road right on Adams and Wabash in downtown Chicago. The route takes you down what is now Interstate 55 and winds through many quirky and historic Illinois towns- like Joliet!
Whether you know much about space or not, the Joliet Area Historical Museum will educate you on Dr. John C. Houbolt, a former Joliet resident who played a big role in the 1969 moon landing. Along with plenty of memorabilia, this museum provides a great learning experience for all ages about the history of space exploration in the U.S.
Home to the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum and the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum, this city is a must see attraction for any road trip enthusiast. Stop in to get a feel for the sights and sounds that have kept people coming back to explore Route 66 for decades, such as vintage cars and road signs as well as Bob Waldmire’s van, which carried him on many trips throughout the Mother Road.
As you continue down the road, venture into Springfield, the capital city, to learn more about the first president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. Take a tour of Lincoln’s home at Lincoln Home National Historic Site or head over to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to hear how Abe began his life in a log cabin and ended up as president of the United States! For a unique experience, carve out some time to see the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site and rub statue Abe’s nose – it’s said to bring good luck!
Our final museum stop is in the town of Litchfield, a community that has a special place in Route 66 history. Designed to reflect the golden days of the Route 66 era, the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center features memorabilia and artifacts from past life in Litchfield. It’s a great place to reflect on what an impact this road has had on small towns, and how lucky Illinois is to be a part of Route 66!
Photo by Instagram user @travel_route_3
Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives (thanks Guy Fieri!) on Route 66
If you’ve worked up an appetite after looking at all of the amazing artifacts and memorabilia in the Land of Lincoln, zip over to the Cozy Dog Drive In, home to the famous “corn dog on a stick.” The hot dog shop has been on Route 66 since 1949, so make sure to stop by and snag a dog while in Springfield!
Photo by Instagram user @kate_henmueller
Another funky 1940’s diner to grab a bite at on the road is Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket. Located in Willowbrook, Dell Rhea’s fried chicken promises to be some of the best you’ll ever eat, and was even featured on an episode of ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ with Guy Fieri!
Photo by Instagram user @nathanmichael
Our final dining recommendation (because there are way too many good ones to list!) is Palms Grill Café in Atlanta. Travel back in time in this 30’s style diner and enjoy some of the classics like fish and chips and their award winning pies. Breakfast is served all day, and if you’re lucky, you’ll come in during their Bingo night!
Photo by Instagram user @acspata
The Perfect Places to Pose for a Picture
Since its creation in 1926, Route 66 has been known for its sense of fun and adventure. Many towns along the road in Illinois have kept the fun alive with great places for and attractions for photos and selfies.
If you love the city of Chicago, a great place for a pic is with the Begin Route 66 sign on the corner of Adams and Wabash. Take a selfie, or get a crew to pose in front of the sign; make sure to get the famous Willis Tower in the background!
Photo by Instagram user @tionebv
With more than 20 murals around the city of Pontiac, you’re sure to capture the perfect “road-trip” Instagram photo! From the largest Route 66 shield to unique sidewalk art, the Murals on Main Street are sights you cannot pass up.
As you continue down Route 66, you won’t be able to miss the two giant statue men in Wilmington and Atlanta. Gemini Giant, a 30-foot-tall statue named after the Gemini space program, is dressed in astronaut gear and holding a rocket. The other, Atlanta’s Paul Bunyon Hot Dog statue clutches a giant hot dog and stands at 19ft over the ground. These fun-loving giants love to have their pictures taken and are sure to make even the tallest person feel pretty short!
Photo by Instagram user @alex_dumarey
A little bit of history comes with these next two photo stops. In Auburn, enjoy cruising down 1.4 miles worth of hand-laid brick road. The Original Brick Road was made back in 1931, which was only five years after the route was built.
Another famous section of the Illinois Route 66 road is the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in Edwardsville. This bridge is even older than the Original Brick Road, because it was created back in 1927. Make sure to drive nice and slow and snap some shots on these historic roads!
For more ideas on where to travel along the Mother Road, visit the Route 66 trip planner on EnjoyIllinois.com.
-Illinois Office of Tourism