Without any doubt this was my best trip ever, well, after discussing the subject with my love, we concluded that we can consider this trip the best ever … ex aequo with another great trip that I presented already in this blog: Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego e Isla de Pascua (Rapa Nui). As usual in my blog, this will be mainly a photographic post, but I will also try to write a few comments about places, the so called “Points of Interest” across the Route 66 and food. Almost all the photos have been taken by myself with my Leica M Type 240 (35mm and 18mm lenses) or my IPhone and by my wife (Canon G12)
A necessary premise for all who are starting to read this post because, as I repeatedly did before my trip, they are looking around the web to learn as much as they can about the Route 66 and related “points of interest”. Here below I list my personal advises:
- The perfect Route 66 is the one that you like. There are really hundreds things that are defined as “points of interest” in the Route 66-related web sites, so very much depends on your personal interests and your available time (if you want to see everything it will take at least one month). You will find over the web that each place or “POI” visited by the author will be a “can’t miss place”. Forget about that: just read as much as you can, then pick your preferred POIs and decide your own Route.
- It is important that you prepare very well your trip, especially if you don’t have unlimited vacation time. Bear in mind that technically speaking the Route 66 does not exist any more since 1985, therefore if you want to ride the original road you definitely need to prepare your trip carefully (there are few signs of “Historic Route” all around, but not always well preserved). But, as I said above, it is just up to you and your available time: in most of the cases the original Route is just the frontage road (55 mph speed limit) of the current Interstates (where you can drive at 70-75 mph…). I had the chance to exchange thoughts and get advices from an old friend of mine who recently did the same trip (Andrea, your hints were really precious!), but in any case there are many web sites or guides you can look at. I used the following:
- Web sites: http://www.historic66.com
- EZ66 Guide For Travelers by Jerry McClanahan published by National Historic Route 66 Federation (in my opinion the best available guide in the market. Maybe “a bit too much complicated” to follow, but definitely you will find all you need there. You can easily buy it at Amazon)
- Lonely Planet Western USA Travel Guide (useful for hotels and restaurants across the States you will visit)
- Maps: Here It Is! The Route 66 Map Series by Jerry McClanahan (same author as above), that I found even more practical than EZ66 Guide
- Complement the Route with some “tactical detour” is a must: along the 2.278 miles (3.666 Km) of the original Route you will pass relatively not too much far from some (in my opinion) remarkable places (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Las Vegas, Death Valley, ecc…). It would be a real shame to miss them once you are in their surroundings…and who cares if this will mean to “leave” the Route for a few days…of course the above point 1 will always lead your choice…up to you! I did it and I think it was a great idea that I will do again all the time. This “inflated” my overall mileage (when we arrived to Santa Monica Pier, my odometer claimed 3.754 miles (over 6000 Km !!!), but was worth it, no doubt.
- When you arrive at the Santa Monica Pier, don’t forget to ask for your “Certificate of completion” at the kiosk dedicated to the Route. It’s a nice souvenir for such an epic journey.
Our Route 66 Trip
August 8-10: Chicago
Snapshots from Chicago: walking around downtown, cruising Chicago River and Michigan Lake…
…visting Oak Park and Frank Lloyd Wright‘s masterpieces with a jump to United Center (for basketball fans)
Gastronomy take aways from Chicago
I already extensively talked about the amazing experience at Alinea Restaurant, definitely one of the best restaurants in the world. Less gourmand but a must for foodies I think there are at least three places worth mentioning in Chicago: Lou Malnati’s and its famous Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza, Portillo’s Hot Dogs if you want to try another Chicago typical street food: the Chicago-style Hot Dog, and last but not least, Lou Mitchell’s with its superb breakfast, an authentic must do rite before starting your Route 66 trip!
And for the night…
…I think that if you go to Chicago you must go to one of the many blues or jazz bars and listen to some good music whilst drinking a beer. We opted for Green Mill. This is really a great place. An authentic former “speakeasy” (a secret bar during the prohibition time, with still the original interiors or at least that is what we have been told) where you feel really catapulted into old times imagining the same place full of smoke and forbidden drinks. The place now is one of the best places in town to listen a good jazz concert.
August 11: From Chicago to St.Louis
This can be considered the real first day of our Route 66. The official “begin” of the route is located where Adams Street crosses Michigan Avenue, in the Loop, just in front of the The Art Institute of Chicago.
This first part of our journey has been not really challenging (there are many signs of the historic route and you can cover the entire length in 6-8 hours including all the stops and POIs you wish) but I found it quite boring from the landscape-related point of view (basically corn and soy beans fields everywhere). Nevertheless you will have the chance to see some of the most famous POIs of the entire route like 3 of the 4 Giants of the Route, some of the best restored old gas stations (Odell and Dwight), a historic site (well, historic for the american standards…) like Springfield and Abraham Lincoln’s house, the probably oldest chunk of the Route with still the red bricks pavement and, just approaching St.Louis, the intriguing Chains of Rocks Bridge (now only crossable by walk or bike, definitely worth to see, walking at least till the midpoint in the middle of Mississippi River.
August 12: St. Louis
Walking around St.Loius…
Gastronomy take aways from St Louis
We heard a lot about the famous St-Louis-Style Pizza and as great pizza-fans we decided to try one in what is considered the reference place in town: IMO’S. Well, let’s say that we were a bit disappointed. Of course no pizza in the US can even be compared to the genuine italian pizza, but if in Chicago we found interesting the idea of the Deep Dish Pizza, we cannot say the same thing for this tiny pizza surrogate.
One place worth remembering is Tucker’s Place Soulard where we had the best Hot & Spicy Chicken Wings of the entire trip.
August 13: From St.Louis to Oklahoma City
Definitely the most challenging day in terms of driving (14 hours!..including all the stops of course, but still 14 hours …) and with a great “final surprise”: realizing that in Oklahoma City almost the totality of the restaurants close at 8-8.30 pm (and 1pm at lunch…just in case) so the only chance to eat something is to hope in the hotel’s room service…and here an even more astonishing surprise: ordering a dish called “Ultimate Fries” and receiving a plate with fried potatoes mixed to bacon, cheddar, parmesan, and finally the ice on the cake: truffle oil…We thought to have found the real meaning of what is generically called “junk food”…from now on will be “Oklahoma City’s Ultimate Fries!”
As far as the Points of Interest of the Route 66 along this piece of road we had the chance to see quite an extravagant set of places like the Hot & Cold Water Towers, the world’s largest rocking chair, the Blue Whale, the gas station that inspired the computer-animated movie Cars with the original Tom Mater (the tow truck) and the Milk Bottle Grocery entering Oklahoma City. We also passed through other two famous bridges of the Route (Devil’s Elbow Bridge and Marsh Arch Bridge), stopped to take some photo of the Murals city of Cuba and, approaching Oklahoma City, stopped at the iconic POP’s service station with its giant stylized bottle outside and one of the largest selection of soft drinks in the US (probably in the world).
Gastronomy take aways from Oklahoma City
Well, I already expressed my opinion at the beginning of this paragraph. I simply didn’t have any chance to try a single restaurant (excluded that nightmare dinner at the hotel) because when we arrived everything was closed already. To tell the truth we headed to the famous Ann’s Chicken Fry House (pictures below) where is said you can try the best fried chicken and fried okra in Oklahoma…we arrived at around 8.20 pm, but in a very unwelcoming and impolite way the owner (not sure was the owner, was a lady anyway) literally shut the door in our face saying that kitchen was closed (no way to convince her that the opening time claimed still 10 minute to go…). Really bad.
August 14: From Oklahoma City to Amarillo
This was the day when we really started to feel to be inside the “old wild west”, the one you imagine when you are kid (cowboys, native americans, endless roads in the middle of the desert, ghost towns), this feeling will be maintained till our arrival in California…in other words in Oklahoma we felt that our trip really started.
From Oklahoma City to Amarillo is an easy drive (no longer than 4-5 hours) so we spent large part of the morning to visit bit of OKC (worth mentioning is definitey the Oklahoma City National Memorial dedicated to the terrible bombing that destroyed the Federal Building on April 19, 1995).
Along the road to Amarillo we passed by a few intriguing so called “points of interest” like other well restored Gas Stations (Lucille’s, maybe this was so well restored that now looks almost brand-new loosing a bit of charme, and U-Drop Inn, famous because this was also taken in Cars movie), probably the most bizzare store of the entire route like the City Meat Market at Erick, OK (in Erick is also interesting to see the abandoned rusty vehicles here and there), the first (almost) Ghost Town of the Route (Texola, OK), the “leaning water tower” and the “Giant Cross” in Groom, TX, and the super famous Cadillac Ranch at our arrival in Amarillo, where we fully respected the tradition to make our own graffiti.
Gastronomy take aways from Amarillo
No doubt: the steak of Big Texan Steak Ranch. If you stay at the motel (recommended) it’s easy; just walk to the restaurant in front of your room. If you wish you can also accept the “Challenge“: eating 72 oz (2 Kg!) steak in less than one hour and you don’t pay. At the entrance you find also the Winners list. We of course had a normal steak (and it was challenging to eat too!)
August 15: From Amarillo to Albuquerque
This was a very important day. First of all it was the day when we passed the Midpoint (therefore we were over 50% of our Route). This happened in Adrian, TX. Secondly we decided to take the oldest trail of the Route the one that goes through Santa Fe and then down to Albuquerque. Santa Fe is simply amazing and missing it would have been a real shame. We saw our second Ghost Town, Glenrio (and differently form Texola, this was really ghost) and one of the most famous motel of the route, the Blue Swallow Motel at Tucumcari. Last but not least we had the chance to see some interesting spot like the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa (unfortunately we did not have enough time to stop and take a dive!)
Gastronomy take aways from Albuquerque
In the New Mexico, especially if you like the Tex-Mex style, food is delicious. We had a great new mexican dinner at El Patio. Burritos, tacos, stuffed green or red chili and the specialty of the house: the “sopapillas” with honey.
August 16: From Albuquerque to Flagstaff
The piece of Route from Albuquerque to Flagstaff is probably the most beautiful of entire trail. In this part you enter Arizona and you pass by some of the most breathtaking places in the US like the astonishing Petrified Forest National Park and its Painted Desert or the impressive Meteor Crater. It is important to know that to see well the Petrified Forest National Park it will require at least 3 hours, therefore it’s important to plan well the day trip in order to be able to see at the end of the day the Meteor Crater (just before Flagstaff). Goes without saying that Old Town of Albuquerque deserves a quick walk.
In this part of the route there are also three typical Route 66-related locations: the famous Wigwam Motel at Holbrock with its “tee-pee rooms”, the Jack Rabbit Trading Post with the famous big rabbit and the billboard saying “Here it is!” and another ghost town with an intriguing name: Two Guns
Gastronomy take aways from Flagstaff
In Flagstaff there is a very nice place where you can eat “latin fusion” food where all dishes are prepared with local organic ingredients. Its name is Criollo. We had a very good dinner, but the place is also popular for its brunch on sunday. Worth mentioning in my opinion are the fresh smashed avocado and the Criollo Tamale.
August 17: Grand Canyon
This was our first detour from the Route…impossible to miss!
August 18: Canyon de Chelly & Monument Valley
Using Flagstaff as our base, the second day we decided to make a big tour visiting the Canyon de Chelly (the heart of the Navajo Nation, with still Navajo families living there) and go even further to the north in Utah to see the fascinating Monument Valley. This was a memorable day.
August 19: From Flagstaff to Las Vegas
Our detour from the Route continued deciding to go to Las Vegas. In reality this day we drove along a good piece of the route (from Flagstaff to Kingman where there is an interesting museum of the Route), but before we couldn’t miss to complete our collection of Giants. In Flagstaff there is in fact the fourth and last Giant of the Route 66: Giant Lumberjack.
August 20: Las Vegas & Death Valley
Snapshots from Vegas…
…and from the Death Valley
Gastronomy take aways from Las Vegas
Las Vegas is really plenty of restaurants, a real jungle. We decided to rely on the offer of our Hotel (The Venetian) and in particular two places are worth mentioning: Pizzeria Otto (established by a partnership between Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich) where you can eat a pizza quite close to the italian standards (maybe to much thin for our tastes but the single ingredients were very good) and the excellent Bouchon (Chef Thomas Keller), a traditional French bistro where you can have not only superb dinners but also excellent breakfasts
August 21: From Las Vegas to Santa Monica Pier (End of Route 66 Trail)
After 10 days we finally made it: this day was the day of our arrival to Santa Monica and official completion of our Route 66! We in fact returned from Las Vegas to the Route, taking the I15, where we accidentally at some point we believed to be drunk when we saw bizarre road signs like Zzyzx Rd (but it’s a real road…I always appreciated the clarity of the american toponymy…just kidding) and we passed by our last ghost town (Calico)…in reality it is far to be ghost…it’s a sort of entertainment and touristic facility for kids…in my opinion not worth stopping by. When we arrived to the I40 we went back quite a bit because we wanted to cover one of the most fascinating pieces of the Route 66 (from Needles to Barstow in the middle of Mojave Desert) where the road is really bad preserved and you have the chance to pass by a few iconic places like the Amboy Crater and the Bagdad Cafe where the famous Percy Adlon‘s movie was played. Finally there are two seriously recommended POIs to see in the last chunk before arriving to Santa Monica: the weird Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch and the genuine first McDonald’s Restaurant in San Bernardino (the one where the McDonald brothers used to sell hamburgers before meeting Ray Kroc who developed the idea of franchising all around the US). This was our last stop before reaching the Santa Monica Pier, exhausted but happy.
August 22-25: Los Angeles & San Diego
The last 3 days of our trip we relaxed visiting LA and San Diego, here below a few snapshots
Laguna Beach-La Jolla-San Diego
Gastronomy take aways from Los Angeles and San Diego
In Los Angeles we had a really great lunch at the Ivy (an absolute must go trendy place in North Robertson Boulevard) where you cannot miss the desserts (the Ivy Sundae is umbelievable, but afterwards you need to work out for days) and we were so satisfied that also tried the dinner at the Ivy at the shore in Santa Monica (here we had a superb Mesquite Grilled Natural Pork Back Ribs with Ricky’s Homemade Barbecue Sauce). Another great place was Lawry’s at Beverly Hills where we tried its famous prime rib roast steak. Interesting that you can choose your preferred cut from thin to extra-thick (California, Lawry, English, Diamond,…).
In San Diego we had a good dinner at Roy’s, located at the Marriott Hotel in the nice area of Seaport Village. Food is Fusion Hawaiian, quite interesting. We had the Roy’s Trio (Hibachi Grilled Salmon; Misoyaki “Butterfish”; Roasted Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi).