Whether or not you’re planning an east-to-west road trip (or vice versa), these roadside attractions are worth the trip on their own. Here are some of the best sights to see along that famous Route 66, sandwiched between Lou Mitchell’s diner in Chicago (the famous ‘First Stop on the Mother Road’) and the beaches of Santa Monica.
Note: We’ve opted to not include Cadillac Ranch. While spectacular, it almost needs no mention anymore due to it’s fame. We wanted to call out some lesser-known attractions.
Illinois: Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, IL
This attraction has it all: Its own mini Cadillac Ranch, fuzzy bunnies, a vintage gas station, and collection of trailers proudly ‘Humpin’ to Please’, as they say on the side. Sure, you can wave to the Gemini Giant, World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, and World’s Largest Covered Wagon from your car as you head to and from the rabbit ranch, but only this attraction allows you to do the very best thing: Gently squish adorable bunnies to your heart’s content.
Missouri: Jesse James Wax Museum in Stanton, MO
Picking Six Flags seemed like a bit of a cop out—you can ride roller coasters in a lot of places, but only this quiet stretch of Route 66 offers up the Jesse James Wax Museum. Here, you’ll see lifelike wax figures (obviously), a vintage gun collection, and exclusive film footage of the famous outlaw. But if you’re hoping to find out whether or he was actually shot by Bob Ford, you’re out of luck—that still remains a fascinating mystery. On your way out, swing by our runner-up, the nearby Meramec Caverns, to see some incredible rock formations underground—which are, of course, where Jesse James himself used to hide out.
Kansas: The Galena Murder Bordello in Galena, KS
This odd attraction is every bit as salacious as the name implies. During the late 1800s, it may have been* a brothel operated by a madam who robbed and murdered upwards of 30 people, customers and staff alike. Today, it’s a living museum…or maybe an undead one? Visitors have reported witnessing apparitions, moving objects, disembodied voices, and that horror film classic, the traditional opening and closing of doors when no people are around. It’s also across the street from Cars on the Route, home to an old-timey, diner-style snack bar and the mining boom truck that inspired the character “Tow Mater” from the movie Cars.
*Some historians believe that the family in question, the Stefflebacks, never lived here, nor is there evidence that the murders took place in this house. And yet…spooky stuff apparently happens here all the time.
Oklahoma: Totem Pole Park in Foyil, OK
Nathan Edward Galloway never really retired. Inspired by Native American art and National Geographic, he began building giant totem poles in 1937 instead. His first was 90-feet tall, and it still stands today. Also on the property are a handful of other equally impressive totems, as well as the Fiddle House. This museum houses Galloway’s other creations, and is decorated with Native American portraits and other totems.
Texas: Glenrio Ghost Town in Glenrio, TX
This small Texas town lived a short life: From 1903 to the 1950s, it grew and thrived. But by 1985, only two residents remained. Today, you’ll see an abandoned cafe, motel, gas station, and post office, dusty testaments to the former glory of Route 66 and the communities it created.
New Mexico: Musical Road in Tijeras, NM
If you don’t drive exactly the speed limit for this one, you’ll miss it altogether. This may be the one time you’ll want to aim directly for the rumble strip—it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, but drive over it at exactly 45 mph and you’ll be treated to a strange version of “America, the Beautiful”. Next stop? The fascinating Pueblo of Laguna.
Arizona: Meteor Crater near Winslow, AZ
This gigantic crater is more than 550 feet deep and nearly one mile across. You can also do more than stand in the the middle of the crater’s 2.4-mile circumference. There’s also a movie theater, interactive museum center, gift shop, and astronaut memorial park along the rim. Afterwards, if you’re hungry, swing by Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, AZ for some burgers and shakes—a worthy roadside attraction in its own right. Oh, and make sure you snap photos of the Wigwam Motel‘s misrepresented tipis as you drive past.
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t just one roadside attraction, but as it turns out, Arizona is pretty darn cool.
California: Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, CA
Yes, bottle trees. This attraction is literally a forest of manmade trees, comprised of metal trunks and branches covered in bottles. Among the ‘trees’, you’ll discover vintage sewing machines, part of a windmill, and other oddities. If you’re kind enough to donate (admission is free), you’ll be given a piece of souvenir glass as a reward.
Next up: The Original McDonalds Site and Museum in San Bernardino, CA.
And more importantly, if you’re heading west like they do in the movies, you can’t get any further than the bitter end: That glorious Santa Monica pier.