Often referred to as the Mother Road U.S Route 66 is the most famous road in the United States. At its peak driving down Route 66 was the experience of a lifetime, motorists would travel some 2400 miles from Chicago, IL, to Santa Monica, California. Today the highway has been largely replaced by interstate but in some parts, Route 66 still forms the main street of small towns, and several extended sections of the original road have survived.
Traveling on Route 66 is a dream for many. While we didn't travel the entire length of the road, we were able to drive the best preserved and most atmospheric section in Arizona. The journey from Topock, AZ to Williams, AZ is about 165 miles, factor in a few fun stops and you have a great day seeing the best of Route 66.
The starting point of our journey on Route 66 was along I-40 just past the California-Arizona. If you wish to stay nearby, you'll want to look at hotels in Needles, CA. It is in a somewhat isolated area, and accommodations are scarce, especially if you're looking for something more than campgrounds or a cheap motel. We started our day in Barstow, CA, as we were coming from southern California, but you could also drive to this point from Las Vegas, both locations will add about 2-hours to your journey. An early start will be integral to seeing the most in one day.
Once you enter Arizona from California, on Interstate 40, exit 1 is where Historic Route 66 begins. At first, you'll pass by the tiny town of Topock, quite literally an oasis in the desert, the few homes here overlook Topock Bay and the marshes of the Colorado River. Continue north, and you'll quickly feel like your in the southwest again. The land gradually rises and cacti start to appear, rusty cars and abandoned mines serve as an eerie reminder of days done by.
Stop ONE: OATMAN, AZ
About 45 minutes into our drive on Route 66 we arrived in Oatman. An authentic old west mining town dating back to 1863. Amongst the old wood buildings, you'll find the Oatman Hotel, a historic landmark especially famous for being the honeymoon location of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Today Oatman is a tourist town, with shops and restaurants lining the main street.
The most popular attraction is the “wild” burros that roam the streets. Oatman residents are quite proud and protective of their wild burro population. The burros are descendants of those brought by long ago miners, turned loose when their owners gave up mining and left the area. The burros wander freely through town; you'll find numerous stalls selling burro food, we purchased a couple of bags and the kids really enjoyed feeding the friendly four-legged natives of Oatman.
Back on the road, we continued north, winding our way through the Black Mountains, at the top Route 66 crosses the mountains via Sitgreaves Pass, a ridge that has some great views, shortly after we started the steep and twisting descent towards Kingman.
STOP TWO: KINGMAN, AZ
Kingman, known as the "Heart of Route 66", anchors the longest stretch of Historic Route 66 still in existence. While the town didn't feel quite as historic as some of the other stops, the downtown area was charming with various museums, shops and eateries. If you have time the Route 66 Museum is a great way to learn more about the evolution of travel along Route 66. I wish we had more time to explore, but with rumbling tummies, our stop in Kingman was all about lunch.
There are several places to eat here, but we couldn't pass-by the eye-catching pink and turquoise color scheme of Mr. D'z. The cruiser-era decor and old-school music evoke a fun retro vibe, with burgers and shakes on the menu; it was the perfect throwback. With our bellies filled, we were on the road again, headed towards Seligman.
Since we'd read that sections of Route 66 between Kingman and Seligman were a bit rough, and would add another hour to our already long day, we opted to travel on I-40 for this portion. If you have the time you may wish to continue on Route 66 and pass through the small towns of Hackberry, Valentine, Truxton, Peach Springs, and Yampai on the way.
STOP THREE: SELIGMAN, AZ
About an hour on the road and we arrived in Seligman. With a population of just over 450, it would have been easy for this small town to shutter when I-40 opened, but locals refused to give up. Today Seligman's Main Street is lined with locally-owned businesses that, against all the odds, have withstood the test of time.
Seligman has been referred to as delightful, eclectic, quirky and "a step back in time". With its neon signs, old-school motels and quirky shops, I would have to agree with all of the above; it's one unique little town that is definitely worth a stop on your Route 66 adventure. While in town be sure to stop by historic eatery and roadside attraction Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In.
STOP FOUR: WILLIAMS, AZ
Finishing out our day of driving, we traveled the last 40 miles to Williams, AZ. While Williams is primarily known as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, it isn't shy about its Route 66 history. The last Route 66 community to be by-passed by I-40, travelers motored through the main street of Williams until 1984.
After checking in to our hotel, we stretched out legs with a stroll down Main Street, a preserved National Historic District. The downtown district has an abundance of kitschy shops and roadside diners. We ate dinner at Cruisers Cafe, while the theming here drew us in, the food was underwhelming especially for the price. If you happen to be in town during the early evening hours be sure to check out the gunflight that happens nightly.
We really enjoyed our drive on Route 66, it was a classic American experience filled with nostalgia, vibrant community spirit and priceless memories. So go, head out on the highway and get your kicks on Route 66!