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Growing up on Route 66

27th April 2016

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Few things are as quintessentially American as Route 66. Starting from Los Angeles, California and ending in Chicago, Illinois it spans roughly 3945 km and eight states.

Having grown up in Southern California only a few minutes away from Route 66 it was always instilled in me, seemingly from birth, the iconicity of this particular highway. 

Imagining Route 66 seems to conjure up images of 1950s Americana: diners with red barstools, gas stations lit up with neon, and a bevy of Chevys and Mustangs littering the highway. While this is certainly a romanticized version, making this road trip today is still something many Americans, amongst others, aspire to do. And for good reason - it's the ultimate celebration of the American roadtrip tradition; in turn, the ultimate expression of freedom. 

A few summers back my family and I decided to visit the Grand Canyon and along the way we drove through Route 66. We started at the very beginning, the Santa Monica Pier, and made our way through the palm trees of Los Angeles to the blistering sunshine of the Mojave Desert, eventually making our way to the flat terrain of Arizona. The stops we made included a WigWam motel, the first ever McDonald’s (cooler than it sounds), and a seemingly endless number of roadside diners.

The writer visiting the first ever McDonalds, located at 1835 E, Route 66

The Wigwam Motel, 

Attractions ranged from kitschy (really, how much Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia does one person need?) to the downright weird - picture a Batman clown figurine. And even though approximately seven hours of driving sounds like an absolute nightmare (and I have two brothers so I would know) it actually turned out to be one of my favourite trips.

And the wonderful thing about Route 66 is that the portion I personally drove on is only a fraction of it. You can take it for as little or as long as you would like to depending on where you start. And as much as I would love to say the best bits are in California, there are actually quirky roadside attractions and stunning landscapes throughout the entirety of the drive. Ranging from Cadillac Ranch (a public art installation in Amarillo, Texas - look it up) in the south to the world’s largest catsup bottle in Illinois, there are hundreds of quirky sites along the way.

It should be noted that due to the overall age of the road, as well as the induction of more convenient freeways over the years, several stretches of the route have fallen into disuse or have merged with other highways.  While you may have to go out of your way or literally take the road less travelled, it’s worth it just to truly experience the all-American road trip.

The fact that Route 66 turns 90 this year is just another reason to plan a trip out there. Many stops will highlight this fact as well as offer some cool celebratory goodies. As well, several tourism boards across the eight states covered by the route have been hyping up the celebrations not only in the states but overseas as well. I recently went to a Route 66 event in London hosted by the Illinois Tourism Board, and it was actually quite nostalgic.

The writer taking part in a graffiti masterclass when Route 66 briefly diverted to Clerkenwell 

Regardless of where you’re from this is definitely a trip for the ages.  So if you’re considering going, take it from a local: it’s been there for almost a century, and it’s as worth it now as it ever was. Rent a car, pack some sunscreen, and blast the music. As a famous musician once said, “Get your kicks on Route 66”. You won’t regret it.

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