Plan the ultimate Route 66 road trip for your family from Plan the Ultimate Route 66 Road Trip for Your Family [Gallery]
Plan the Ultimate Route 66 Road Trip for Your Family [Gallery]
Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS
Plan the ultimate Route 66 road trip for your family
Here are 19 tips for how to organize an epic Route 66 road trip your family will never forget.
Brush up on your history
Before you start planning the road trip of a lifetime, it’s important to know what exactly Route 66 is. Route 66 is a 2,448 mile stretch from Chicago to LA that linked state highways, roads and trails together to form one of the first and most famous U.S. public national highways. Established in 1926, the route underwent both minor and major realignments until it was finally decommissioned in 1985. The complete original route is no longer drivable and most GPS systems will try to take you back to major roads and the newer interstate highways, but people have preserved the old route, and tourists from around the world drive it every year to take in a slice of American history that continues to capture the imagination.
Set a budget
Money Magazine did the math, and it estimates that the average two-week Route 66 road trip, including airfare, car rental, lodging, food and gas, costs $3,626. Your family’s cost could be more or less depending on a variety of factors. Even though the trip doesn’t seem glamorous or ritzy, expenses can add up. Make sure you know you much you’re willing to spend on the overall journey before forking over admission at every roadside attraction you see.
Many of Route 66’s iconic and historic motels, such as the Wigwam Villages, book up fast, so if you and your family have your heart set on spending the night here, make a reservation in advance. Other popular options are the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield, Missouri, which is famous for having housed Elvis Presley, and the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico. Its walls are lined with headshots of Hollywood stars who stayed there while filming movies, including John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart.
Factor in admission and souvenirs
While the main costs along Route 66 are gasoline, food and lodging, remember that many museums, national parks, monuments and attractions charge admission, and you have to be discerning to decide which ones are worth the entry fee for your whole family. For example, Albuquerque’s Sandia Peak Tramway offers beautiful view, but is also a steep price at $25 for adults and $15-$20 dollars for children over 5. Make sure and also budget for souvenirs as Route 66 is littered with kitschy, interesting and unique gift shops where you’ll surely want to pick up a postcard, vintage knick knack or a replica metal sign.
Determine how long you want to be on the road
You can use the handy online planner tool from TheRoute-66.com to estimate how many days it will take you to drive from your start to end destination based on how many hours a day you want to drive. That tool obviously doesn’t take into account the time you’ll want to stay at different destinations, but it does help you get a better sense of how long it takes to traverse Route 66. Two to three weeks is how long many families take to see the length of the route, with some taking up to a month. While you or your family members may start to get antsy for the end and want to push ahead, stick with the time frame you established at the beginning because the trip is more about savoring the journey than getting to your final destination.
Schedule in rest
Many Route 66 experts and resources will reiterate this point: Don’t burn yourself out. You won’t be able to see absolutely everything there is to see along Route 66, and that’s OK. If you rush through each experience or don’t prioritize recovery time, your party’s energy and enthusiasm will wane. Schedule down time or free time in your day so you have flexibility and time to rest sore legs.
Narrow down your must-see sights
With time allotted for rest and spending extra time at places or with people your family finds fascinating, the rest of your itinerary should revolve around the destinations you decide are must-sees. It’s important for all family members to speak up at the planning phase about what things they’d be heart-broken to miss, such as seeing sunset at the Grand Canyon, exploring Petrified Forest, staying in the Wigwam Motel or shopping at the Jackrabbit Trading Post.
Research towns and cities along the way
Once you’ve decided on towns to pass through to see your must-visit sights, explore what other cities along your proposed route have to offer. Many sites offer databases with each city on Route 66’s accommodations, shops, restaurants and attractions. With a little research, you can guarantee every pit stop along the way will have its own charms.
Find off-the-beaten path gems
While you can certainly stick to Route 66’s most famous “greatest hits,” don’t be afraid to look into some “deep cut” destinations that better fit your family’s interests. For example, if going on an extensive hike through the Grand Canyon with donkeys isn’t your thing, how about visiting Oatman, Arizona, a funky retro Western town where wild burros roam the streets? If you’re more into music and movie history, Winslow, Arizona has a tiny patch of grass called Standin’ on the Corner Park, named after the Eagles’ hit song “Take It Easy,” which mentions the town. It takes the rest of the lyric seriously as well: a flatbed Ford is permanently parked nearby. If you do a little digging, you’ll find so many unique options along the route that will delight your family.
Don’t miss the art all around
Although Route 66 offers plenty to do along the way, a major part of the journey is what you get to see, including unique pieces of Americana. Plenty of artifacts and installations along Route 66 are also art that capture a certain something about the American spirit and our country’s history. There are the classic neon signs and billboards, eateries and vintage cars to see, as well as vintage architecture and modern interpretations of classic motifs, such as the captivating Cadillac Ranch art installation outside Amarillo, Texas.
How will you get to US 66?
Think about all your options about how to actually get to the route itself when planning your family’s ultimate Route 66 trip. If you’re planning the full, classic route east to west, how are you going to get to Chicago? Are you going to drive your own vehicle there or fly in and rent a car that you’ll drive all the way to the West Coast? There are pros and cons to each. Remember to factor in the cost of things such as taxis to and from the airport.
Consider alternative transportation
While driving a car is certainly the way the majority of people traverse Route 66, you and your family might consider two other modes of transportation: motorcycle or RV. If sleeping in vintage hotels or eating diner food isn’t your main priority, cruising the route in your RV could be a more efficient, economical option. There are plenty of RV parks close to or right along Route 66. Biking down the Mother Road is the dream of many motorcycle owners, though the shape of certain stretches of road as well as some winding roads and blind curves will make for a bumpy ride. Multiple business also rent motorcycles and offer full guided tours to Route 66 vacationers interested in taking in the sights by bike.
Leave room for can’t-miss grub
Even if your mode of transit is packed with ice-cold beverages and snacks for the drive, you’ll surely work up an appetite on your trip for the simple, classic American fare found along Route 66. Drive-ins, diners and mom-and-pop cafes are your best dining options along the way. Many will have old-school favorites, like burgers, shakes, fries and floats, but there’s plenty of variety to be had as well. Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket outside Chicago has a national reputation, POPS Soda Ranch in Arcadia, Oklahoma, slings over 700 kinds of soda, the Big Texan Steak Ranch proves even steak is bigger in the Lone Star State, and the Eagle Cafe in Gallup, New Mexico has down-home grub with Southwestern flair.
Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT
Stop for a roadside photo op
Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera! Your family trip along Route 66 will be filled with photo ops, so make sure you have room on your phone, in the cloud, on a memory card or however you take and store your photos. Some places are worth stopping just to pose in front of kitschy landmarks such as the Paul Bunyan knockoff Hot Dog Giant in Atlanta, Illinois, and the Blue Whale of Catoosa in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Give your kids their own disposable cameras to capture their own snapshots. You can even make a game out of it through a photo scavenger hunt or a photo bingo card.
Customize your tunes
Since you’ll be spending lots of time in the car, it’s important to consider what soundtrack will accompany you as you take in the sights along America’s Highway. If anyone in your family is unfamiliar with classic American country and rock, this is the perfect time to educate them. Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson and, of course, Chuck Berry should make appearances. You can also theme your playlist around where you’re driving, choosing songs like the Blues Brothers’ “Sweet Home Chicago” to kick off the trip, putting on West Texas natives George Strait or Dwight Yoakam while passing through the Panhandle, and blasting Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” as your roll into your final destination.
Organize in-car activities
If you’ve got a few long stretches of car time in store, it’s nice to have a few options ready to settle or distract restless kids. I Spy, Twenty Questions and the license plate game are tried and true classics. You can also print out bingo cards with road signs, chain restaurants or automobile makes instead of numbers as well as Route 66-specific cards with landmarks, including iconic neon sign and road markers.
Catch a classic movie
After enjoying a diner malt, another way to indulge in the nostalgia of Route 66 is to take your family to see a drive-in movie. Though they’ve mostly died out around the country, a handful of original drive-in theaters are still operational along Route 66 during the spring and summer months, offering screening of both newer releases as well as classic films. One of the most famous is the 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage, Missouri. First opened in 1949, it was restored and reopened in 1998. Others options are the Route 66 Twin Drive In in Springfield, Illinois, and the Sky View Drive-In in Litchfield, Illinois.
Wander off the route
It might open a whole can of worms, but you should also consider venturing to nearby towns and landmarks slightly off the route. If you’ve never passed through a certain state or region before, it could be the ideal time for your family to see some nearby sights. Popular off-the-route destinations include Sante Fe, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Branson, Missouri, Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and Palo Duro Canyon in Texas. You can even continue your road trip past Santa Monica by hopping on California’s classic Highway 1.
Leave time for Chicago and LA
There’s so much to see and do along Route 66, it can be easy to overlook your starting and ending destinations. If you follow the road all the way from the “Begin Route 66” sign at Adams Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, consider spending a day in the cities where you begin and end your cross-country journey. Chicago is full of fantastic, family-friendly destinations, including the famous Field Museum, and offers regional eats like hot dogs and deep dish pizza. At the end of your trip, it’s definitely worth exploring the Santa Monica pier as well as visiting Grauman’s Chinese Theater before heading home.