Diners, dogs and the drive of your life: six top things to see and do on the 400-mile Illinois stretch of the ultimate road trip into the heart of America.
Route 66 is probably the world’s most famous long-distance driving route. This great American institution has much received homage, from the famous song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 to Pixar film Cars. You can experience the romance of this historic highway for yourself, and you don’t need a Hudson Hornet to do it.
Whatever you’re driving, you start Route 66 right in the centre of Chicago. From here the ‘Mother Road’ stretches for 400 miles through the state of Illinois. Don’t miss these six sights and attractions.
1. Lou Mitchell’s, Chicago
Before you leave town, you’re going to need some fuel for your big trip on the open road, so fill up the tank in style at Lou Mitchell’s. Eighty-five years after Uncle Lou started the family business, this benchmark ‘breakfast restaurant’ is still going strong, serving up pancakes, omelettes and more to hungry, happy customers.
2. Gemini Giant, Wilmington
There are many sights and attractions along Route 66 that one might describe as ‘kitsch’. One such sight is the gigantic Gemini Giant in the town of Wilmington. He is a 36-foot-high ‘muffler man’ – large moulded fibreglass sculptures that are used for advertising products, or just as decorations. You can’t miss him!
3. Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum, Pontiac
You will encounter examples of old-time Americana along the way as you motor down the Mother Road, but the Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum boasts the largest collection of Route 66 memorabilia anywhere, including the world’s largest Route 66 shield. Even better, entry is free.
4. Shea’s Gas Station Museum, Springfield
Bill Shea is one of Route 66’s most famous and well-loved characters. Lovers of the great American heritage come from around the world to admire Bill’s remarkable collection of Mother Road memorabilia, amassed over 50 years alongside Route 66. If anyone has a fascinating tale to tell of life on the road, it’s Bill.
5. 12th Annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, Springfield
If you’re heading down Route 66 in September, you really shouldn’t miss the annual celebration of America’s Highway. Historic downtown Springfield is a fitting setting for a gathering of over 1000 retro cars, as well as monster trucks and more motorised attractions, plus the best barbecue food in the state, live music and good ‘ol family fun.
6. Cozy Dog Drive In, Springfield
No, a cozy dog isn’t a big, lovable St. Bernard who you could snuggle up with on a cold winter’s day. It’s a twist on the American classic, a hot dog coated in a thick layer of batter. The place to try one, while admiring a selection of Route 66 memorabilia, is the Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield, which has been serving up deep fried treats since 1949.