7 great Route 66 family attractions
From the sense of adventure to the flexibility of having your own wheels, it’s hard to beat a road trip when you’re travelling with kids. And for a great family road trip, there’s nowhere quite like the US.
We loved the beaches and cities of the Pacific Coast Highway – but the granddaddy of all road trips has to be the historic Route 66 that runs from Chicago to Santa Monica. Passing through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, you can discover amazing scenery as well as plenty of great Route 66 family attractions.
Before you start planning a family-friendly itinerary, you need to prepare for your trip by getting the practicalities sorted. My husband might insist a Dodge Charger is essential (he did when we picked up our hire car in San Francisco) – but I’d say start with the planning and the paperwork.
Check out car rental insurance options from a site like this to ensure you’re covered wherever the road takes you, make a note of my tips on surviving family car journeys and pack your bags. Then the open road is waiting. Don’t miss these 7 Route 66 family attractions along the way.
Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum in Illinois
If you’re starting your Route 66 adventure in Illinois, stop in at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago before you leave. It may no longer be the largest aquarium in the world, but it held that title for years and is still one of the most impressive with 32,000 animals within the aquarium walls. You won’t just see fish, there are exhibits with birds, snakes, amphibians, along with sharks.
Check out the Field Museum of Natural History while you’re in the city too. The permanent exhibitions here range from findings on astronomy, culture and geology to animal behaviour, not to mention Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is the most complete T-Rex exhibit in the world.
Meramec Caverns in Missouri
When you pass through the Ozarks, travel back in time at Missouri’s Meramec caverns. This series of underground caves formed over 400 million years ago, and is one of the biggest attractions along this stretch of Route 66. Parts of the caverns were discovered in 1720, but it wasn’t until two centuries later that the entire 4.6 miles was explored, including artefacts from when outlaw Jesse James hid here.
Meramec was even the set of a musical film in the 70s. There are daily tours throughout the caves, giving you a chance to learn about its long history. And back above ground, there’s also canoeing and ziplining in the area, if your kids are old enough – as well as plenty campsites if you’re planning to camp along Route 66.
Cars on the Route in Kansas
Watching Cars is the perfect way to get excited for a US family road trip, with its nods to Route 66 and its love of the glory days of the American road – so what better stop than to visit the inspiration behind one of the main characters.
Along with snacks and memorabilia from the film, you can see several vehicles including the mining boom truck that inspired Tow Mater in Radiator Springs for a photo op. Even the toilets have a Route 66 theme…
Blue Whale of Catoosa in Oklahoma
Road trippers travel from near and far to visit the Blue Whale of Catoosa in Oklahoma, one of the most iconic stops along Route 66. This unique landmark was built in 1972 by Hugh Davis as an anniversary gift for his wife, who collected whale figures, and features a huge whale stretching over Davis pond.
Once open to the public to swim in, you can still take photos of the 80ft sculpture and there’s a picnic area nearby, even if you can no longer enjoy jumping off the whale’s tail into the water.
Cadillac Ranch in Texas
It’s up to you whether you want to sing ‘Is this the way to Amarillo’ as you head towards the historic town in Texas. But whether you do or not, you shouldn’t miss Cadillac Ranch nearby. The 1974 art project features 10 Cadillacs which are half buried in the ground at the same angle as the Great Pyramid at Giza.
And as well as wandering around – and enjoying yet another Cars reference – you’re allowed (encouraged) to spray paint the cars. So make sure you save room for a few cans in the boot to leave your own mark. The cars are periodically painted over, so there’s always a slightly different Cadillac canvas to decorate.
Central Avenue in New Mexico
Central Avenue in Albuquerque is another Route 66 hotspot, with motels, diners and filling stations galore catering to the travellers passing through in its heyday – there are still Route 66-era buildings to be spotted as you drive along.
And passing through the city’s historic area known as Old Town, you’ll find several family attractions to explore too, including the Explora Children’s Museum, New Mexico Museum of History and Science, and the Albuquerque BioPark. If your trip takes place in October, there’s also the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot air balloon event, with hundreds dotting the skies.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
Who could imagine driving Route 66 and missing one of the country’s biggest attractions? The Grand Canyon is the second most visited American national park, and tops plenty of US bucket lists. Whether you plan to stand and marvel at the views, the colour of the rocks and the impressive canyon itself, or get more active (especially with older kids), there’s something for every family.
Check out the ranger activities, while teens will love white water trips on the Colorado River – there are calm water floats for younger ones too. But most memorable of all, is taking a trip down Bright Angel Trail by mule with a tour guide; suitable for children aged nine or 10 and up, depending whether you’re visiting the South or North Rim.
PIN FOR LATER: ROUTE 66 FAMILY ATTRACTIONS
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