For people across the US and around the world, Historic Route 66 embodies the American spirit, conjuring thoughts of freedom, adventure, opportunity, and the open road. From Arizona to Illinois, travelers on the “Mother Road” are constantly rediscovering the subtle grandeur of this iconic stretch of highway. Keep your camera in tow, but preserve your memories of your own road trip with more than a few photos. Pick up a souvenir, gift, or memorable craft or food item from the myriad of shops, stops, and trading posts along the byway.
The byway begins in Chicago, which, in all reality, is a shopper’s fantasy come true. Known as the birthplace of Cracker Jacks, Aunt Jemima Syrup, diet soda, and the hamburger, this remarkable city features several blocks dedicated entirely to everything from the high-end to the one-of-a-kind. Entice your taste buds with authentic dishes from all over the world or browse collections of designer clothing and accessories in the Windy City’s most exciting locations.
As you make your way southwest through Illinois, historic cities delight travelers with colorful stories of “the good ol’ days” and a host of amusing keepsakes and souvenirs honoring the highway’s remarkable past. Stop in Shirly for a bottle of homemade maple syrup that’s been a local family tradition since the early 1800’s. Stand in awe of Paul Bunyan’s 19-foot statue in the town of Atlanta, the statue’s new location since 2003. Continue on to Lincoln, and cruise the collection of quaint shops on historic Sangamon Street, where President Abraham Lincoln christened the city with the juice of a watermelon taken from a nearby cart on the day the first lots of the town were sold. Park the car for a few hours in Springfield and navigate your way to some of the sites from the life of our 16th President or visit Shea’s Gas Station Museum.
In Arcadia, visit a modern addition to classic Oklahoma destinations along Route 66, POPs Soda Ranch. Whether you call it 'pop', 'soda', 'soda pop' or 'coke', this shop will be hard to miss with its iconic, LED-lit, 66-foot-tall bottle outside. Inside, you can choose from more than 500 different varieties of the fizzy drink! The shop boasts more than 100 flavors of root beer alone. In addition to offering traditional favorites, the store also caters to more adventurous tastes. If you are feeling brave, sample the Avery Dog Drool, Bug Barf, or Toxic Slime flavors.
The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton showcases the history of the byway with a decade-by-decade look at vehicles and attractions along the road. After viewing the world’s largest curio cabinet, head to the gift shop to browse model cars, tin signs, dolls, jewelry, and more to find the perfect memento of your trip on Route 66.
Located in the heart of New Mexico, Santa Fe is the second-oldest city in the country and one of our nation’s hotspots for visitors at all levels. Ripe with galleries, museums, and boutiques, the city truly offers more than you could ever take in the first time around. If you’re in town on a weekend, visit the sprawling outdoor Tesuque Flea Market and take a gander at an unbelievable display of products from all over the world put out by over 100 vendors. The market takes on the look and feel of a Moroccan bazaar as buyers haggle over everything from Tibetan religious artifacts and Persian carpets to chile ristras and piñon nuts.
For a charming mix of history and culture just an hour southwest of Santa Fe, Old Town Albuquerque aims to please. Although the city has grown considerably since its founding in 1706, Old Town Plaza still maintains its serene village atmosphere. Whether you prefer exotic artifacts from around the world or lean toward the strictly Southwestern, odds are you’ll find what you’ve always wanted in one of Old Town’s 100+ shops, boutiques, and galleries. If you’re looking for something more fit for your palate, visit one of the town’s specialty shops and sample some jalapeño fudge or choose from dozens of flavors of scorching hot pepper sauce.
As you continue your trek out west, stop about an hour from Albuquerque in the pueblos of Laguna and Acoma. In an area with history dating back as far as 3000 B.C., you'll find a humble community with a proud tradition passed down from the first people to make this mesa their home. Although the best time to visit is in September during the Feast of St. Joseph, you'll find handmade pottery and other crafts for sale all year long.
If you'd prefer a truly historic western shopping experience, head further west to the town of Gallup, and enjoy a graceful combination of natural formations and rich Southwestern history in the surrounding area. Cross the border into Arizona, and visit the Hubbell Trading Post, a National Historic Site and the oldest continuously operating trading post of the Navajo Nation. Rather than a host of souvenir shops, the Hubbell Trading Post, boasts a real trading post, where you can mingle with Native Americans from several of the local tribes. Nab yourself an authentic hand-woven rug and learn about the history and significance of the different designs used by the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo people.
No trip on Route 66 is complete without a stop in Winslow, Arizona. Located west of the Hubbell Trading Post, this town’s claim to fame comes from the Eagles’ song “Take it Easy.” Take a moment to admire the local atmosphere and pick up a miniature figurine of the Standin’ on the Corner Monument.
As you make your way across central Arizona toward the byway’s southern terminus, consider burning a few hours in Flagstaff. Here, as you meander down the city’s 1890's-style streets, you’ll find a unique collection of locally made Southwestern art in a series of galleries and boutiques scattered throughout the town. Peruse assortments of everything from functional to high-end fine art. Whether it’s in a local gallery or at a strikingly furnished bazaar, you’re sure to find exciting artwork to complement your home décor, such as a traditional-style Hopi Katsina carving.
Whether you’re looking for timeless views that leave you breathless, historic stories that inspire and entertain, or that perfect little knick-knack, artifact, or keepsake to mark your journey, America’s Historic Route 66 never ceases to please.
- Copyright © 2001 New Mexico Department of Tourism.
- Public domain.
- Copyright © May 2003 Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project.
- Public domain.
- Public domain.
- Public domain. Photo by Dennis Adams
- Public domain. Photo by A. E. Crane
- Public domain. Photo provided by Leslie Connell
- Copyright © 2001 Ron Adamson.