“People don’t take trips, trips take people.”
Two years ago almost to the day, I packed my car and moved to California. I had just gotten back from living in Europe, and my heart was not ready to settle in the East Coast just yet. I was fortunate to have my sister and her then boyfriend moving at the same time, so we took the scenic route and fit in as many sites as we could into our road trip.
In my journey to San Diego, we travelled the northerly route. Moving back to Philadelphia two years later, I decided to see everything the southern part of the U.S. had to offer. In total, we stopped at a total of 32 roadside attractions, slept in 16 different cities and drank approximately 3084857 alcoholic beverages along the way. No matter where you are starting on the east and ending in the west, what follows are my favorite sites in between.
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, goes the old nursery rhyme. In the case of Haines Shoe House, an old shoe salesman had it built as a form of advertisement. There he lived while he sold shoes and rented the bedrooms to travelers. Today, you can take a tour of the kitschy attraction from the new owners who also have a café on the ground floor.
Foamhenge (get it, like Stonehenge) is probably one of my favorite sites on the trip. Partly because the owner and creator, M. Cline, is hilarious with the semi-threatening signs he has left around the property. Also because he constructed a giant foam Merlin wizard to watch over it.
Brother Joseph, a Benedictine monk who carved miniature buildings as a hobby, created these tiny masterpieces on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey. There are 125 miniature reproductions of some of the most famous religious structures of the world including the Great Wall of China, Leaning Tower of Pisa and scenes from ancient Jerusalem.
I visited downtown Nashville during a wild bachelorette weekend and stopped again on my first road trip across the country. Every single bar on Broadway has wannabe country music stars singing karaoke, great live music playing, and reasonably priced drinks. My favorite bar was Tootsie’s, and even though I can’t deal with country music usually, the atmosphere makes it so much more tolerable. Nashville is a town with so many friendly people and a lively bar scene, during your first night on the road, make Broadway a stop.
Located in Memphis, Elvis’ famous mansion Graceland is now used as a museum and ode to the King of Rock n’ Roll. It isn’t extremely impressive, but it’s just enough that if you are an Elvis fan you can appreciate the history of the grounds. It’s on Elvis Presley boulevard, which I also respect because when you live on a street named after yourself you know you’re legit. Elvis is interred in the Meditation Garden at Graceland, so you can view the King’s final resting place during the tour.
Remember that amazing movie of love and loss from your teenage years, A Walk to Remember? As soon as Landon granted Jamie’s wish to visit in two places at once, I knew I one day had to do the same thing. Cut scene to me making us stop in the one-horse-town of Texarkana during our road trip. You can literally stand on the border of both Texas and Arkansas and take a great picture, then grab lunch across the street at Joe’s. It is a fun stop to stretch your legs during a part of the trip where there is not much to see.
Welcome to Route 66, yo. Sand Hills Curiosity Shop is our first stop along the Route, and the owner and objects in this establishment shout Curious. Take some time to talk to the owner Harley, as he has some great stories and may even sing for you if you talk him into it. Buy postcards, take some pics, and appreciate the first of many unique sights that Route 66 has to offer.
This station cafe was inspiration for the Disney movie Cars, and in person you can see why. Shamrock, TX is very famous along Route 66 for its attractions, and this café has everything you would expect. There are now Tesla charging stations at the old gas station, and make sure to take some pictures at the Route 66 stamps on the road around it. Night-time here is especially noteworthy, as the whole place is lit up by fluorescent lights.
Cadillac Ranch is definitely one of the most iconic stops along Route 66. It is a 40-year-old art installation that features old Cadillacs nose-down where visitors spray-paint on the cars. Spray paint cans can be found on the walk to the Ranch left for the next patrons. Cadillac Ranch is one of my favorite stops on the way to California, and tagging old cars and seeing the names of people whose footsteps you are following in is part of the magic of traveling on Route 66.
Tucumcari is a small town along Route 66 between Amarillo and Albuquerque with a population of about 5,000 people. But it also has one of the largest collections of neon signs, retro motels, and amazing landscapes. There is an ostrich ranch here (lol), a dinosaur museum from the artifacts discovered in the area, and recently a large Route 66 sign was constructed at the edge of town. Grab dinner at Del’s (don’t forget to get a picture of the neon cow on top of their sign), and settle in to one of the many fun motels. My recommendation would be The Blue Swallow Motel, considered “the last, best, and friendliest of the old-time motels” thanks to the hospitality of longtime owner Lillian Redman.
Also in Tucumcari along the town’s Main Street, there are art installations dedicated to the history of the town and the wonder of Route 66. The artist and former resident of Tucumcari Doug Quarles painted the Murals as an ode to his town. Most of the 50 murals are easily spotted, but make sure to journey down side-streets and in alleyways to discover them all. Mural tour maps are also available at the Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce if you are interested in discovering them all.
My fascination with this natural oasis in the middle of the desert made it a must-stop sight during my first road trip. It also kind of creeps me the fuck out because it is basically a natural sinkhole that filled up with water and has a network of underground caves that link to it. What lives down there? Idk but The Blue Hole has water that is consistently 64 degrees, and elite SCUBA divers come from miles to explore the underwater caverns. If you are like me and would rather jump in than go all the way down, that option is there. There is a ledge that allows visitors to plunge into the pristine water and is a welcome reprieve from the hot New Mexico sun.
I have never been to the Grand Canyon even though it is on the top of my bucket list. It was too out-of-the-way during both of my road trips, and every time I have been to Vegas there was no way my hung over self was driving 3 hours to see a friggin’ canyon. Cue, the Petrified Forest National Park. In the canyon competition of life, The Grand Canyon is Michael Jordan and the Petrified Forest is Lebron James. Really cool to see but just not the same. Although you can drive through the National Park while viewing all of the beautiful mountains, natural colored woods, and wonders from the comfort of your car.
Not far from the Petrified Forest lies the small town of Holbrook, Arizona. Holbrook is another quintessential Route 66 town, with quaint and kitschy sights like the Wigwam Motel. Classic cars are parked outside this popular tourist stop, and it was another inspiration along Route 66 for the movie Cars.
The Neon Museum, or Neon Boneyard, is a 6 acre property just outside of Las Vegas with a wide variety of neon signs on display. I have a distinct fascination with neon signs, so 150 of them all together is like my dream. Think of the Instagram photos! The history of Vegas is really told through the signs, although you must book a tour as it is not open to the public. I definitely think it is worth it because this attraction is something you can’t find anywhere else, like many of the other sites along Route 66.
One of the last stops along Route 66 is literally a forest of bottles, created by the artist Elmer Long. It is free to enter, even though he accepts donations in the form of glass (?).. or money. Visitors are also welcome to take a piece of glass as a souvenir and a thank you for visiting. There are hundreds of bottles on over 200 metal trees that Elmer has been working on for the past 17 years. Elmer is usually at the attraction and loves talking to guests. When I visited he told me the story of how he started the Bottle Tree Ranch. As a kid, Elmer used to travel through the desert with his dad, who would collect any object he could find and keep extensive notes about the location. After Elmer’s dad died, he was left with a sizable collection of colorful bottles, but he had no idea what to do with it. Cue Bottle Tree Ranch, and the rest is Route 66 history.
The Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles is the official stopping point of Route 66. I am a huge fan of Los Angeles, even though many people are not, and Santa Monica could not be a better place to end your journey. The last stop is identified by a sign on the corners of Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave, marked “End of the Trail.” The surrounding streets are definitely among the liveliest in LA with trendy bars and restaurants, street performers, cafés, and bookshops.
Facing the beautiful Pacific Ocean, take time to reminisce on past 3,000+ miles you traveled to get here. I hope you really took your time, stopped everywhere that something interesting caught your eye, and appreciated the majesty of America.
I have used the app and website Roadtrippers many times in my planning of my cross-country road trips. It is an amazing resource, allowing you to plan out your route, see attractions along the way, and it gives suggestions from other travelers who have taken a similar journey. I have plotted out my suggestions below, so make sure to check out my map to help you along the way!