Road trips are a rite of summer.
There’s no better way to enjoy the warm temperatures, the time off work and need for a little adventure than with the top down on the open road. And if you’re in the mood for a classic American vacation, then you might as well travel along a classic American road.
Long before the Interstate Highway System connected every major city in the country – and minor too, for that matter – there was Route 66, the original highway. Established in 1928, it was the first road to link the 2,448 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles.
You may have heard that Route 66 deteriorated when the interstates arrived in the 1950s, leaving nothing but a dusty trail of schlock-filled tourist traps. That’s partly true. What you may not know is that, interstates aside, the current Route 66 has plenty to offer motorists who travel its path.
Here’s a look at five places that are still must-see stops along the route.
Start your drive in Chicago, drive four hours south, enjoy a glimpse of the Gateway Arch as you pass through St. Louis and continue for another hour-and-a-half until reaching Carthage, Missouri.
In 1941, there were 52 drive-in theaters in operation nationwide. The number surged to 4,500 by 1956, according to the National Park Service. Today? The number’s more like it was in 1941.
The 66 Drive-In is one of the few that remains fully operational. This week, you can get a fix of nostalgia at the drive-in theater and see current features like Snow White and The Huntsman and Men In Black 3.
More info: 66-Drive-In-Route 66
By the time you leave Carthage and travel another 214 miles south, you might be ready for something to eat. After seeing two days worth of nostalgia, check out something decidedly futuristic.
That would be Pops Restaurant, just northeast of Oklahoma City in Arcadia. The food itself is your typical burger-and-fries fare. But you won’t find another selection of sodas like this, more than 600 overall imported from around the world. Sample everything from Guarana Brazilla to Waialua Pineapple soda here.
That should give you more than enough caffeine to fuel the next leg of the journey.
More info: Pops Restaurant
Here’s one for the car lovers. The Cadillac Ranch, a public art project and sculpture is located in Amarillo, Texas and is a breathtaking look at, among other things, the evolution of mid-20th century Cadillacs that lie half-burned in the ground.
Visitors are allowed to contribute to the art piece by painting on the vehicles, which were immortalized in Bruce Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch,” a macabre story of death and dying told through this Route 66 landmark.
More info: Cadillac Ranch
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
More than 20 years after her death, the museum that bears Georgia O’Keeffe’s name remains one of the most popular attractions in the state of New Mexico. It is, according to the museum’s website, the only museum in the world dedicated to an internationally known American female artist.
Although she first gained fame in New York, the New Mexico landscape that populates much of the Route 66 drive is “instantly recognizable” in her work. At one time, she said the state expressed “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.”
The museum, in Santa Fe, N.M., holds more than 3,000 O’Keeffe original works.
More info: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Petrified Forest National Park
After a few days in the car, it’s time to park for a while and enjoy one of the more underrated national parks in the country. Hear near Holbrook, Ariz., there are hiking trails for every level of experience across 50,260 acres of the park’s boundary, including many that can be done in one day or less.
The desert climate is a perfect place to find dinosaur fossils, check out wood petrified in the Late Triassic period, some 225 million years ago, and perhaps even come across a scorpion or two. Much like your car, make sure to top off your fluid levels before embarking on this trip.
More info: Petrified Forest National Park