Highway 66 is the main migrant road...
66 is the mother road, the road of flight.
JOHN STEINBECK

Speckled with romantic and unconventional attractions, it was the epitome of “cool”: a winding highway to Hollywood, lined with neon and kitsch, running from Chicago to L.A. right through the heart of the Show-Me State. In fact, the highway didn’t just pass through Missouri. It stopped off in Springfield in 1926 for a christening: its own, newly named Route 66.

Old Chain Of Rocks Bridge entering Missouri over the Mississippi River. Missouri Historical Society

From its beginning, Route 66 was a pathway of hope, allowing people escaping the Great Depression to motor west in search of a better life. With the increasing popularity of the automobile, it became an easy way for people to see the nation – most for the first time.

The Interstate Highway Act led to the eventual decommissioning of Route 66. Smaller highways were replaced with faster-moving interstates, and America changed. Our focus became the destination instead of the journey. But the “defunct” Route 66 changed too, through a revival that began – in part – in Missouri, into an iconic American experience. Today it draws some 200,000 or more people per year seeking the mystique and the romance of traveling the Mother Road.

Along the way, watch for quirky roadside attractions that were once and still are a hallmark of the original Route 66: the largest red rocking chair in the world in Cuba … Gary’s Gay Parita Sinclair Station in Ash Grove (it’s a bit off Route 66 but worth the detour) … and “The Route 66, Joplin, Missouri” mural by Anthony Benton Gude that hangs in City Hall, along with a mural titled “Joplin at the Turn of the Century, 1896-1906” painted by his famous grandfather – Thomas Hart Benton. It’s well worth a stop of its own. And don’t miss your chance to relive your youth – or the youth you wished you’d had – with movie night at the Route 66 Drive-In in Carthage.

Take care of your hunger on your trek with historic meal breaks. Eat dessert first! At Ted Drewes where they’ve been selling their frozen custard treats on the Mother Road for more than 80 years. Enjoy a little nostalgia at Cookin’ From Scratch in Newburg, with home-cooked meal experiences the way Grandma used to make them. Stop for a meal at the Elbow Inn Bar & BBQ in the historic 1929 Munger Moss Sandwich Shop building in Devil’s Elbow (near St. Robert). It’s a regular stop for bikers, soldiers from nearby Fort Leonard Wood, and Route 66 travelers who love their great smoked meats and fun and funky atmosphere.

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Rest from your travels in some of the same places the original road trippers did: at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba (the oldest continuously-operating motel on the route), the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield which offers all the neon and charm of a classic Mother Road motel, but with modern amenities and furnishings and the 1939 Boots Court Motel in Carthage.

Driving west on Route 66, travelers experience nostalgic flashes of what once was: like an original 1935 roadhouse in Eureka that now houses the Route 66 State Park’s visitor center with displays showcasing the road.

Discover more about America’s most famous road as you explore it at the Route 66 Museum in Lebanon and the History Museum on the Square in Springfield.

Haydn Blackey

Joplin

Springfield

Rolla

St. Louis

There’s something special about the open road: the wind in your hair, a ribbon of highway unwinding before you. Add in a bit of romance, a dash mystique and some uniquely American eccentricities and it isn’t hard to understand why people from all over the world come here to get their kicks on Route 66.

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