It’s an iconic road trip across the western half of historic Route 66. Travel from the seaside city of Santa Monica to Williams, Arizona — the Gateway to the Grand Canyon — and on to Adrian, Texas, the midpoint on the famous route. (The full itinerary continues to Chicago) Along the way, you and your family will marvel at the wide-open spaces, the changing landscape and the rich history to be found as you follow the path of the original Mother Road.
1. Santa Monica, California.
Minutes from downtown L.A., this seaside enclave lures visitors with its beachy vibe and lengthy list of sun-drenched options. The pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade is a haven for shoppers, gallery-goers and for those who relish the weekly farmer’s markets.
The Santa Monica Pier, a SOCAL landmark, has been a festive and fun destination for more than a century. Wander beyond the iconic entrance gate and make your way to the historic Ferris wheel for long views of the Pacific Ocean, test your skills in the arcade and prepare for thrills on the roller coaster. Don’t miss the vintage carousel that pairs well with a stop for treats in the adjacent, old-school soda fountain.
Route 66 begins and ends (depending on your point of view) here. So, visit the shop dedicated to the Mother Road for souvenirs or inspiration for your upcoming road trip.
2. Oatman, Arizona.
Yep, it’s true. There are more wild burros than people in this small town tucked within a Bureau of Land Management wilderness area along Route 66. The burros are the offspring of the original critters that worked alongside gold miners back in the day. Some shops even sell carrots that can be fed to the four-legged creatures. The colorful town might have faded into history were it not for the resurgence of interest in the Mother Road. And the burros, of course.
Today. visitors channel the Wild West history (be on the lookout for staged shootouts on Main Street), stroll along wide-planked wooden sidewalks, go for a hike in the adjacent wilderness areas and briefly consider adopting a burro.
3. Williams, Arizona.
This northern Arizona town, nestled in the pines, is located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be by-passed by Interstate 40. Amid classic neon signs and old-fashioned street lamps, historic highway memorabilia is featured in kitschy shops and restaurants. Old timey western shootouts are staged in the middle of Main Street on weekend evenings. And bear, bison and wolves roam in Bearzona, a nearby, drive-through animal park.
The colorful town of 3,000 residents is also the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. Williams is home to the Grand Canyon Railway, and visitors can hop aboard lovingly restored rail cars and take a day trip (or longer) to the Grand Canyon. Along the way, you’ll be entertained by musicians and the antics of cowboy characters as the train traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between the historic depot and the grandest canyon of them all.
4. Gallup, New Mexico
The most populous spot between Flagstaff, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gallup is home to classic neon Route 66 signage as well as the historic El Rancho Hotel. The inn once served as home to the Hollywood stars who came to the area to film Westerns in the 1930s and 40s. Located in the middle of the Navajo Reservation, Gallup is the epicenter of Native American art, history and crafts. The dramatic red rock country is also popular for hiking, biking, horseback riding and climbing.
5. Adrian, Texas
Life changed the day a group of researchers from Pixar descended on this small town that marks the midpoint of Route 66, halfway from Santa Monica to Chicago. Their reconnaissance resulted in the imaginary town of Radiator Springs, featured in the 2006 animated film “Cars.” The Flo, Mia and Tia characters were inspired by the then-proprietor of the Midpoint Café and two servers at the restaurant which would be known as “Flo’s V-8 Café” in the popular film. Today, visitors can stop in for “nostalgia food,” to sample their famous “Ugly Crust Pies” and to imagine what travel was like in the heyday of Route 66.
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