Well…I made it.
I got to California on November 1st and LA on the 4th. on Sunday, I drove out to the Santa Monica Pier.
The end of the Route.
It will be another week and a half before the trip is over, but my ride down the Mother Road is done.
Cars was not exaggerating. I passed SO many towns that had died because I-40 overlooked them. But there’s a certain camaraderie on 66 that you don’t find on the new interstates. I don’t know how it was in the heyday but, ironically, this comraderie today is borne of the isolation. There are so few people left on the old roads that you feel a connection to the few you do meet.
Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it was the perfect blend of solitude and companionship for me. It was just the right blend of speed and easy-riding.
There’s a certain nostalgia on Route 66 as well. The most celebrated establishments are the ones that have been around since the 40s or earlier.
And yet…talking to Fran of the Sunflower Station, it’s not the same road it was 90 years ago. “Oh yes,” she said, when I asked if she’d actually taken the Route. “Several times and it’s different every time.”
She’s right. Between the detours and the businesses opening and closing, it changes all the time. My Route 66 does not match anyone else’s, which is part of the magic of it all. All Route 66 travelers see most of the same sights, but they each have their own experience.
If you’re planning your Route 66 experience, here are my 6 (see what I did there?) top must-dos on Route 66.
- Lou Mitchell’s. I almost didn’t stop here, but I am SO glad I did. Best pancakes EVER.
- Luna Cafe. The neon sign is one of the oldest on the Route and, if you show up at the right time, they’ll easily make you feel like a regular. This is the most socializing I did on the whole Route and it was pretty fantastic.
- The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. You have to pay for it, but the view is SO worth it. The view is beautiful and, halfway through, you get to the only place the old Route intersected a National Park. Take this road. It’ll be worth it.
- The Midpoint Cafe/Sunflower Station. Classic Route 66. First of all, if you make it during the On season, you will have the best pie and coffee of your life. It’s delicious. But the best part is the people. Fran, who owns the Sunflower Station, is an incredibly sweet person who also knows a lot about the old road. And the family at the Midpoint Cafe is hospitable and kind. Make sure you stop in.
- Black Mountains. The drive between Kingman, AZ and Oatman, AZ was the hardest I’ve ever done, but it was also the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken, so make sure you don’t bypass this one with I-40. Though also make sure you don’t take it at night. It’s pretty dangerous.
- Santa Monica. I love beaches, and there is something magical about seeing the sunset there, but the pier itself is also amazing. Between the people and the neon, it’s everything the Mother Road itself promises. It’s the last stop on the Route, so make sure you spend some time there.
Now, this isn’t my master list of things I’ve done on this road trip, or my list of “road trip tips,” because I’m not done yet. But these were my favorite spots on Route 66, the places where I felt the spirit of the old road and its people.
Keep on cruising. It may be old, but there’s life in these places still.