RATING THE TOP ATTRACTIONS, MOTELS, AND RESTAURANTS ON ROUTE 66

For the past several years we have launched into the dawning of a new era with our ratings of sites and attractions along Route 66. So, without further introduction …
BEST ORIGINAL RESTAURANT
On our road trip in October we tried out quite a number of restaurants, cafes, and diners along Route 66. Most were very good, some were absolutely excellent, but there was only one Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, Illinois, a living time capsule in most every sense of the term.
The food was excellent, the prices were acceptable, and the service was very professional. But it was the authenticity and the very subdued Route 66 hype that rounded out the perfect package.
BEST ORIGINAL MOTEL
We have not tried every motel along Route 66 but among those we have tried there is only one that stands out for its originality. As a bonus, the owners are quite amicable, the rooms are exceptionally clean with but the thinnest veneer of modern amenities to provide comfort without distracting from the sense of stepping back in time, and the rates are more than reasonable.
So, if you are looking for a real time capsule for lodging, our vote is for the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri.
THE PHOENIX
The mythical Phoenix rose from the ashes, a symbol of renewal. On Route 66 in 2011 there are two properties that exemplify the very meaning of renewal.
Both of these properties reflect the passionate hard work of the owners in their effort to provide a sense of time travel without the sacrifice of any modern amenities. Both of these properties have risen from the ashes of obscurity and decay to become destinations.
These properties, the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, California, and the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, make it quite clear that mom and pop enterprises are alive and well on Route 66.
A hearty thank you to Kumar Patel and Connie Echols for your hard work, your dedication, and inspiration.
MOST ENTHUSIASTIC NEWCOMERS
Without the people that make it something truly special, Route 66 would merely be another dusty road with an important and colorful history. Without the people it would never have been transformed from highway into icon, and without the people it would never have survived into the modern era with such a promising future.
Ensuring this promising future are the newcomers, those people who have recently discovered the highways charms, that have been entranced by it, that have been transformed by it, and that are passionate spokesmen for it. For 2011, I would have to recognize the Mueller’s, the new owners of the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, as the highway’s most enthusiastic newcomers.  
MOST ENTHUSIASTIC COMMUNITIES
On rare occasions entire communities can be swept up by the history, the color, and the magic of Route 66. Those that due are often transformed from drab, dusty, colorless modern communities with historic districts into thriving, colorful, vibrant towns that exude excitement and promise.
For 2011, this category is shared by two communities, Pontiac, Illinois, and Cuba, Missouri. I also have two to nominate that are nipping at their heels – Tucumcari, New Mexico, and Atlanta, Illinois.
BEST MUSEUM
This was really a difficult choice to make as there are so many excellent ones including the Devil’s Rope Museum, McLean, Texas, the National Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma, Route 66 Mother Road Museum, Barstow, California, Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum, Pontiac, Illinois, the Route 66 Museum in the Powerhouse Visitor Center, Kingman, Arizona, and the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma. However, it was the Route 66 Museum in the Lebanon-Laclede County Library in Lebanon, Missouri that really grabbed my attention on this last years travels.
I really can’t explain what made this museum such a standout. I am unsure if it was the friendly staff, the fascinating exhibits, or the incredible Route 66 dioramas gifted by the Bor family of Holland that reflect the international passion for this amazing highway.
MOST HOSPITABLE
This was another tough call and I hope no one is offended by my selection as we found hospitality most everywhere on Route 66. Still, for us there were two exceptional standouts in 2011, Cuba, Missouri, and Amarillo, Texas.
At the Route 66 Festival in Amarillo, we, and everyone else who participated received the red carpet treatment. In Cuba, at an event with Joe Sonderman at the Wagon Wheel Motel, we were treated as family in town for a visit.
MOST OVERLOOKED ATTRACTIONS
With our trip to Amboy Crater this past weekend, the list of most overlooked attractions just got a bit longer. In addition to the crater, I would add Memory Lane in Lexington, Illinois, Walnut Canyon National Monument just to the east of Flagstaff, Arizona, Hualapai Mountain Park, 12 miles south of Kingman, Arizona, the schoolhouse museum in Goffs, California, Palo Duron Canyon south of Amarillo, Abraham Lincoln’s home and neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois, and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on both sides of the Colorado River near Needles, California.
BEST KID FRIENDLY STOP
If I were limited to just one stop on Route 66 for the kids it would be Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Stuanton, Illinois. Simple, old fashioned fun just as it was when Route 66 was the Main Street of America is at the very heart of what makes this my favorite kid friendly stop.
BEST GUIDE BOOK
Published the National Historic Route 66 Federation, the EZ 66 Guide by acclaimed author Jerry McClanhan has yet to be beat. It and the Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide, also published by the federation, are the two guides we travel with.
BEST ROUTE 66 BOOK FOR 2011
My favorite acquisition in 2011 was the latest title by Joe Sonderman and Jim Ross, Route 66 in Oklahoma. This is the first joint effort between Sonderman and Ross, but I have been adding the latest Sonderman release as soon as they become available.
A very close runner up would be Route 66 Sightings by Jim Ross, Shellee Graham, and Jerry McClanahan.
It is never easy to compile our annual “Best of List.” There is always the concern we will present the wrong impression about attractions or businesses (such as 4 Women on the Route, Afton Station, or Angela’s Cafe) because they were not included.
Simply put, there just isn’t enough time to list all of the amazing places awaiting discovery along Route 66. And if there were, by the time I finished the list it would be old news as some of our favorites, such as Zeno’s, are gone, and we have discovered new ones, such as the Palms in Atlanta, Illinois.
Would you care to share your list of favorite places on Route 66?

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jimhinckleysamerica

Jim Hinckley's America is a grand adventure on the back roads and two lane highways. It is an odyssey seasoned with fascinating people, and memory making discoveries. As made evident by the publication of fourteen books on subjects as diverse as diverse as Ghost Towns of the Southwest, The Illustrated History of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Travel Route 66, Backroads of Arizona, and The Route 66 Encyclopedia, I enjoy sharing adventures and helping people plan for their own memory making journeys.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jim, very nice work and effort put out on your Route 66 Chronicles.

  2. Thanks for the kind words for Cuba. We are small–but trying.

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