It’s road trip time! For the ultimate classic American road trip head down Route 66. Did you know that Route 66 starts in Chicago? My family and I drove through Route 66 in Illinois during Spring Break and had a blast. We found tons of roadside attractions (many that top the World’s Largest!), museums and attractions dedicated to the love of the Mother Road, lots of good food (and plenty of ice cream), and an overall fun time. And guess what? The kids NEVER once asked, “Are we there yet?” Ready to go on your own adventure! Read on and find out where you need to go for your Illinois Route 66 road trip.
The Mother Road starts in Chicago by The Art Institute of Chicago. Look for the “Route 66 Begins” sign.
Originally opened in 1946 on Route 66, the restaurant has been serving their famous fried chicken to Mother Road travellers. A definite classic. Besides the fried chicken, definitely try their corn fritters (included in buffet) or mac n cheese balls.
Tip: Head here Monday to Friday from 11:15 a.m. – 2 p.m. for their All You Can Eat Buffet for only $15.99. A pretty fabulous deal considering a chicken meal is about the same. The kids buffet is super affordable at around $6 per person.
Rialto Square Theater
102 N. Joliet Street
Did you know that Route 66 opened up the same year the Rialto opened? Snap a photo by the marquee or better yet take a tour or see a show.
Joliet Area Historical Museum
204 N. Ottawa Street
If you have time, the Joliet Area Historical Museum is well worth a visit but if you want to make a quick stop they have the Route 66 Visitors Center.
Rich and Creamy
920 N. Broadway Street
Need a spot to stretch and get ice cream? Head to Route 66 Park where you’ll find neat statues, a playground, and the Blue Bros dancing atop Rich and Creamy. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a could picture from my angle.) Make sure to cool off with an ice cream.
Side trip: Elwood Children’s Garden (Stay tuned for a post!)
Gemini Giant Muffler Man at Launching Pad Drive-in
810 E. Baltimore Street
This is a must stop on your Route 66 road trip in Illinois! True story: We visited the Launching Pad twice since it was closed the first time we visited. The second time around we brought the grandparents and even ate here. Highly recommend their food. We tried the bacon cheeseburger, pizza burger, and Italian Beef. All great choices. If anything, you MUST get the Dole Whip -the watermelon is so refreshing! Whatever you do a stop to see the Gemini Giant, a 30-foot Muffler Man statue is a must! (Psst. They have bobble heads of him at the gift shop which makes such a great souvenir!)
140 Bridge Street
Looking for another spot to eat? I heard rave reviews about Nelly’s so placed an order for pulled pork and hand cut fries. The verdict? Definitely a winner.
Polk-A-Dot Drive In
222 N. Front Street
The cute drive in is worth a stop to see the statues outside the building. Pose with Superman, The Blues Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean,Elvis, and Betty Boop. Inside the kids were entertained with the funway mirrors. The bathrooms are fun with a Marilyn Monroe theme for the guys bathroom and Elvis for the gals bathroom. The kids enjoyed their chili cheeseburger and mini tacos. (The fries were pretty good, but I liked Nelly’s hand cut fries better.) I also heard the milk shakes and floats are good. Will have to try next time! If you’re eager to hit the next stop there is a drive thru.
Although you can’t go inside, peek through the windows of the streetcar diner to see the wooden benches and stools where people once dined.
(next to Streetcar Diner)
A jail cell with two cells? It was built in the 1906 and was operational until the 50s. My kids were super excited to see it, but found it was closed. Darn!
On the way to find these two attractions we passed by this house all decked out in Route 66 decorations. We mistakenly thought it was an attraction but found out it was just the home of a Route 66 fan!
Ambler’s Texaco Gas station and Welcome Center
417 W. Waupansie St.
Although we saw quite a few restored gas stations on our Route 66 road trip in Illinois, this was special to us since it was the first one.
Old Route 66 Family Restaurant
105 S. Old Route 66
The murals outside made us stop, but if you’re looking for another spot to eat here you go. It looked pretty busy so it must be good!
Once again, we found another random gas station while driving. Always keep your eyes peeled – you never know what you’ll find.
Standard Oil Gas Station
400 S West
Surprise! Another restored gas station on Route 66 in Illinois. This one was in service until the 1960s and then operated as a body shop until 1975. Today, it serves as a relic and Welcome Center.
Plan to stay a few hours in Pontiac This small town offers so much to do on your Illinois Route 66 road trip! Want to see what else you can do in this charming town? Read all about it here!
110 W. Howard Street
No Route 66 journey is complete without a visit to one (or all) of the Mother Road’s classic museums. A must-see is the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum is packed full of Route 66 memorabilia but a highlight for kids may be seeing the Bob Waldmire van which was modeled for Fillmore from Disney’s Cars.
Go around back for a photo op with the mural of World’s Largest Route 66 shield. Notice the bricks in front of the mural that were once part of the original Route 66 alignment through town. Here you will also find Bob Waldmire’s bus.
Tip: See those footprints on the sidewalks? The footprints lead to either the murals or attractions.
Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum
205 N. Mill Street
Car aficionados will adore the Pontiac Museum. Cool cars and very well presented. A thumbs up from the family! Free entrance.
Tip: For a fun souvenir, have the kids pick out a Pontiac Hot Wheels car.
1 Holiday Road
Need gas? Need food? Need cool souvenirs? Or just want to see an awesome gas station/market? Wally’s is so so fun! Besides all the fun shopping opportunities, Wally’s has Kemp’s ice cream, baked goods, a grill, “sloosh,” aka slushy machines,homemade beef jerky, a coffee bar with Intelligentsia coffee, and kombucha on tap (ginger lemon is so good!) We spent waaay too long here and it was just about dinner time so we grabbed some food. The pre-packaged salads are delicious and fresh. (We figured we needed salads and wraps to offset the fried foods that we ate earlier.)
Other things to see in Pontiac:
- Seasons of Life Statues made of steel plates
- Step foot on the swinging bridges.
- On a quest to find Honest Abe? There are 9 Looking for Lincoln sites here!
Ryburn Place at Sprague’s Super Service
305 E. Pine Street
As one of the five two-story gas stations left on Route 66, visiting Sprague’s was a must. Unfortunately, the gift shop JUST closed and it was pouring. Despite the rain, it was a cool stop though.
Cruisin’ with Lincoln
200 N Main St, Bloomington
Although closed when we visited, it was worth a stop at to see the hang out and sit on the bench with Lincoln. Also, downtown Bloomington is too darn cute! Our early Sunday visit meant everything was still closed except Coffeehounds and Ivy Lane Bakery. Let me tell you what a wonderful duo (and next to each other too!) Make sure to grab Susan’s sugar cookie and if available the white brownie.
Young Lincoln Mural
104 W. Monroe Street
You know we love our murals. Downtown Bloomington has a cool one of a younger Abraham Lincoln along with other historical figures.
Other things to do in Bloomington:
- Beer Nut Factory
- Miller Park Zoo
- Gene’s Ice Cream
- Carl’s Drive In
- David Davis Mansion
- McLean County Museum of HIstory
- Lucca Grill
Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup
5257 Old Route 66, Shirley
I really wanted to grab some maple sirup (yes, with an “i”) but the timing was bad.
Sugar Grove Nature Center
4532 N. 725 East Road
This paired with Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup would be the perfect trip. I heard the children’s area was fun here!
Paul Bunyan Muffler Man
(Across the street from Palm Grills Cafe,110 SW Arch Street)
Park on the street and take a few minutes to peruse the area. First up, time to meet another muffler man! (And more pictures!) You’ll find this 19-foot giant holding a hot dog and bun.
Across the street is the famed Palms Grill Cafe which unfortunately was permanently closed at the time of our visit.
Atlanta Public Library + Seth Thomas Clock
100 S E Race Street
Walk a few feet to find a library in the shape of an octagon. Though closed (again Sunday) it was pretty cool to see. In front of the Atlanta Library is the Seth Thomas Clock, a hand cranked clock.
Atlanta Route 66 Park
Need a breather? Across the street from the Atlanta Library is the Route 66 Park. Worth a peek and a photo in front of the Atlanta mural. A picnic table is available.
Smiley Face Tower
Head back in the car but first stop to see the smiley face tower off the road. Guaranteed to elicit smiles.
Other things in Atlanta:
- Atlanta Route 66 Arcade Museum
Large Railsplitter Wagon
1750 5th Street
Another “world’s largest” to cross off your list: find the “World’s Largest Covered Wagon” in Lincoln. Hang out with Abe as he sits on a wagon reading a law book.
Tip: Plug in the address for the Best Western. It’s basically located in their parking lot.
Other things to see in Lincoln:
Unfortunately, we were running out of time but would have loved to see the following.
- Stroll down Downtown Lincoln with a cute tea shop Sir Renna Tea (they have bubble tea here)
- Mill on 66
- Lincoln watermelon station
- Penny mural
Oh my, our visit to Springfield amazed us! Not only was it educational learning about Lincoln, but we also found many Route 66 activities. Highly recommend staying here and exploring for a day or two.
1569 Wabash Avenue
Cross another muffler man off our list. We met the Lauterbach Man at Lauterbach Tire and Auto Service.
2935 S. Sixth Street
Love corn dogs? Head to this Route 66 institution where Ed Waldmire invented the corn dog during WWII.
600 Toronto Road
Originally built as a Stuckey’s gas station in 1971, Motorheads’ ties to Route 66 goes way back. Head to the free museum out back to see all the memorabilia. Or better yet, stay awhile and enjoy the food and beer. Whatever you do, don’t forget to get the giant pretzel. (Psst. I heard the horseshoes were great here too!)
Other things to do in Springfield:
- Route 66 Drive-In Theater Originally called the Green Meadows Drive-in Theater when it first opened in 1978, this twin drive-in offer good old-fashioned fun featuring double features. The same family that brought back the theater also provides fun at Knights Action Park, water park filled with plenty of slides, splashes, and swirls for people of all ages. Open seasonally.
Historic Route 66 Brick Road
Curran Road and Snell Road
Located just south of Springfield is a 1.4 mile long restored brick road of Route 66. Definitely worth it to drive over a piece of the Mother Road.
Litchfield Museum Route 66 Welcome Center
334 Old Route 66
See how Route 66 impacted this small town at this great museum.
Henry’s Rabbit Ranch
1107 Historic Old Route 66
I heard this was one of quirkiest attractions on Route 66. As their name suggests, yes they have rabbits, but when we visited it was closed. Boo! We did peruse the outside to find a bunch of Volkwagon cars (one of which is Bob Waldmire’s), some Volkswagon Rabbits in the ground, a pet cemetery (missed this), Route 66 memorabilia, and a giant jackrabbit.
Pink Elephant Antique Mall
908 Veterans Memorial Dr., (Off I-55 Exit #37)
Located in a former school gymnasium, the Pink Elephant Antique Mall is such a fun stop. Although kids and antiques don’t always mix, tons of fun outside with all the photo ops. Some of the photo ops include the pink elephant, of course, a UFO, a dinosaur, Sinclair dinosaur, Big Boy, and surprisingly a Donald Trump. If more sweet treats are your thing, there is a fudge shop and candy shop attached to the antique mall.
Hungry? Grab food at Twistee Treat Diner, a 50s restaurant with a pink and teal color scheme. The burgers are pretty good! Whatever you do, don’t miss their soft serve! It’s the perfect road trip treat!
Side trip: Take the side trip Cahokia Mounds and nearby “World’s Largest Catsup Bottle,” a water tower.
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