Route 66 is an iconic highway in the United States of America. Most people only have time to explore a small section, and in this article, you can read about the best Route 66 attractions in California and Arizona.
What is Route 66?
Route 66 (also known as Historic Route 66) is the most famous highway in the United States of America. The route runs from Chicago to Santa Monica (Los Angeles) and spans 2400 miles (3,940 kilometers). With the advent of the Interstate Highway System in 1985, Route 66 was discontinued. As a result, it is no longer possible to drive the entire Route 66, about 85% of the route is still open to traffic.
Route 66 appeals to the imagination and is mentioned in countless films, series, and books. Many people want to drive a section of this legendary road during a USA road trip. The stretch between Santa Monica and the Arizona-New Mexico border is especially popular with many tourists, as it is a great part of an awesome road trip in Southwest USA.
Continue reading if you’d like to know more about the best Route 66 attractions in California and Arizona.
Route 66 attractions in California
What are the best stops along Route 66 in California?
The Santa Monica Pier is the terminus of Route 66 and therefore a must-see. There is always something to see and do on the pier. There is an amusement park, there are restaurants and around it is a vast sandy beach.
Santa Monica is also a great base to discover Los Angeles, where a studio tour and a visit to the walk of fame are highly recommended.
- Travelguide: Lonely Planet Pocket Los Angeles
- Where to stay: Palihouse Santa Monica. Beautifully decorated 4* hotel in a historic building, just a 15-minute walk from the Santa Monica Pier.
After Los Angeles, you drive a long way through the desert, until you arrive in the city of Barstow. It’s a bit of a strange city, it’s mainly about trains (here is a junction of railway lines) and there are many trucks.
What should you do here? Visit the Route 66 museum! This is free (no admission) and you’ll learn a lot about this historic road. Please check the opening hours in advance on their website. From Barstow, it’s an easy drive to Calico, a ghost town full of beautiful sights.
- Where to stay: California Inn Barstow. Typical American motel in a very good location.
Amboy is a tiny place in the middle of the desert. No one lives here, but years ago this was a popular stop on Route 66, as can be seen from the large neon sign: Roy’s Motel Cafe. In the 1940s, this was the place to stop off between Barstow and Needles on Route 66.
Now you only see an empty motel, a gas station (where you can get a nice cold can of coke), and a post office. It seems like this place was abandoned 70 years ago and still remains the same. Which of course is awesome!
Needles is a typical truck stop along Route 66. It feels very desolate, being in the middle of the desert. You’ll find some real American diners here and it’s a perfect place to spend the night between Amboy and Oatman (Arizona). There are several affordable motels located right on Route 66.
- Where to stay: Rio Del Sol Inn Needles. Great motel with swimming pool (which is nice in the desert). Across the road is the fun Wagon Wheel Restaurant, which has a wild west theme.
Route 66 attractions in Arizona
What are the best stops along Route 66 in Arizona?
Of all the Route 66 attractions in California and Arizona, Oatman might be my favorite. It’s only a 30-minute drive from Needles, but it feels like you’re in another world.
Oatman is a crazy combination of a ghost town and a tourist hot spot. It mainly consists of shops with Route 66 merchandise. Nice detail: there are wild donkeys walking around everywhere. These are descendants of the donkeys used by the prospectors at the beginning of the nineteenth century. You can feed these donkeys with food that you can buy in one of the stores.
You drive from Oatman to Kingman via a winding road in the mountains. Pay attention along the way, as here you will occasionally see a “Historic Route 66” decal on the road (usually it’s just “Route 66”).
Kingman is another great stop along Route 66. Here you will find the large building of the Powerhouse Visitor Center, which now houses one of the better Route 66 museums. In addition, it is also a must to eat a burger and drink a milkshake in the amazing Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner.
Do you want to go back in time? You won’t need a time machine if you make a stop in Seligman. It’s a bit of a sleepy town, but it’s full of Route 66 memorabilia. There are various shops full of souvenirs (check The Rusty Bolt) and lots of great places to get a bite. Here you can really taste the atmosphere of an iconic Route 66 road trip. A few recommendations: Roadkill Café, Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, and the Black Cat Bar.
- Where to stay: Historic Route 66 Motel. Yup, this is a real American Route 66-style motel on Route 66. It doesn’t get better than this during a road trip on Route 66!
Detour: the Grand Canyon
Between Seligman and Winslow you can hardly do anything other than taking the exit to the left at Williams. From Route 66, it’s about an hour’s drive to one of the most spectacular places in the world: the Grand Canyon.
In Grand Canyon National Park you can go hiking, go on a helicopter ride or simply discover as many viewpoints as possible. It’s a feast for the eyes, the Grand Canyon is something really beautiful!
- Travel guide: Lonely Planet Grand Canyon National Park
- Where to stay: The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon. Wonderful luxury 5* hotel less than a fifteen-minute drive from the Grand Canyon.
During a USA road trip, Take it easy by The Eagles is really a great song to have on your playlist. The song contains the sentence: Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. And such a fine sight to see.
And that it is! Winslow is also one of those beautiful Route 66 attractions. In the vicinity of Route 66 plaza, you will find a huge painting on the road with the Route 66 logo and several shops and cafes that take you back in time.
Just before Winslow is also a beautiful sight: the Barringer Crater. This is a crater in the desert that was created by a meteorite impact that took place more than 50,000 years ago.
- Where to stay: La Posada Hotel and Gardens. Cozy hotel with lovely gardens and beautifully decorated rooms.
Petrified Forest National Park
The last scenic stop along Route 66 in Arizona is one of the most beautiful National Parks in the USA. Petrified Forest National Park is full of petrified trees. Long ago, there was a large forest full of giant sequoias in this location. It probably disappeared completely due to a huge volcanic eruption. Over the years, the trees petrified and now it’s a very special National Park to visit.
- Where to stay: Starlight Tent. Glamping in the desert. Wow!
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Do you feel like driving (a part of) Route 66? And would you like to book your own amazing Route 66 road trip?
- Find the cheapest flights to Los Angeles with Skyscanner.
- Check Rental Cars or Discover Cars for the best deal on rental cars.
- You can rent an RV at RVshare.
- You can book a room in a hotel or a motel via Booking.com.
More information about a USA road trip
Do you want some more information about a USA road trip? Here are some great books to get inspired:
I myself have traveled to the USA from The Netherlands seven times so far, and that’s why you can find a lot of useful information about traveling to the United States of America on this website.
These articles are also fun to read:
- 5 amazing USA road trip itineraries
- The best unknown places to visit in the USA
- Exploring Oregon: 10 awesome places to visit
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