Amarillo by mornin’…that was pretty much the extent of my familiarity with the Texas panhandle’s biggest town. But when I started planning my Route 66 road trip across the Texas panhandle, it became clear that while I’ve always thought of Amarillo in terms of oil, cows, and windmills (of which it has plenty), there’s something else going on.
Besides the usual Route 66 standbys (I know you’ve seen those Cadillacs and the signs for the 72 oz steak at the Big Texan), I was pleased to find out that Amarillo has a great luxury boutique hotel downtown, some top notch antique and local artisan shopping, and a don’t miss canyon just south of town.
Route 66 in Amarillo
Keep reading for the lowdown on how I spent a weekend in Amarillo doing all the Route 66 things…
Driving into Amarillo on Route 66
Coming into the east side of Amarillo, Route 66 forks off onto the business loop which ends up parallelling I-40 to the north.
I flew by it all pretty fast, but I spotted some good neon on this stretch. It’s not really a part of town that attracts the tourists (and a lot of the old motels look more like long term residences now), but keep your eyes peeled as you go past.
Things to See & Do in Amarillo (Route 66 Related)
Let’s start this off with a bang. It’s what everybody associates Amarillo with and easily a top 10 Route 66 stop.
Commissioned in 1974 by Texas billionaire Stanley Marsh III (and created by a group of art hippies called “The Ant Farm,” Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation that highlights the spirit of the Mother Road.
The 10 Cadillacs that are buried nose first in the dirt are models spanning from 1949-1963 (the years when travel down Route 66 was at its peak). The cadillacs are buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza and most have been graffitied so much over the years that they’re almost unrecognizable under the gobbs of paint.
Bring your own spray paint, buy some at one of the trailers near the entrance, or find a half used can on the ground near the trash cans that visitors leave behind to share. ALSO, if it’s rained recently, the field can be super muddy so bring a pair of rubber boots to wade through the mud.
Dinner at the Big Texan
You’ve got to love it when a restaurant becomes a roadside attraction. People driving by on I-40 must crane their necks and say “what is that place!!?” because it definitely looks like something. Except you’re not exactly surprised because you’ve been seeing signs about it for 100 miles in either direction.
Besides the enormous cowboy on the sign out front and the huge steer in the parking lot, this just looks like a place where you should eat a steak.
They’re famous for their 72 oz steak challenge. Here are the rules: if you can eat a 72 oz steak (plus shrimp cocktail, salad, roll, and baked potato) in ONE hour, it’s free. If you can’t…it’s $72. There are actually a lot of other rules too about what you can and can’t do (hey, this is a serious business), but you get this gist.
We showed up about 5:30 and it was already a 40 minute wait but there’s a bar and a gift shop and a shooting arcade (hey this is Texas) so there’s plenty to keep you busy.
The time flew by and before we knew it they called to seat us in the dining room. Wow. This has to be exactly what people from elsewhere must think Texas is like.
Animal heads mounted on the walls. Guns used as decoration. Cowboys performing songs on request at your table, and more meat on the menu than you can possibly imagine.
Being from Oklahoma, this is the type of place that I would normally avoid as it’s a total tourist trap BUT since I try to travel with perspective I have to say…if you’re not from Oklahoma or Texas, this is a pretty wild experience with a VERY strong sense of place. And that’s what travel’s all about, right?
There’s a lot going on and a lot to look at so it almost feels like entertainment. And here’s the thing…the food is good y’all. Good steaks, good sides, good desserts, good ROLLS.
This is the ultimate “Everything is bigger in Texas” experience. And, when in Rome…
Antique Shopping on 6th St
This was my most unexpected surprise in Amarillo. When I think Amarillo I usually think “west Texas oil town” and not “best girls trip for antique shopping” but…now I’m planning a girls trip to go back for antique shopping.
6th Street west of downtown is historic Route 66 and between Georgia St and Western St it is absolutely positively PACKED with antique, vintage, and junk stores. Mix in some high end boutiques, a yummy bakery and coffee shop, some art studios, and restaurants ranging from dive bars to ladies who lunch and you’ve got the makings of a great day.
You’ve got to poke around the Natatorium (“The Nat”) on the corner of 6th and Georgia. In its former life it was a swimming pool rec center and then a dance hall and now it’s a HUGE antique market. Spend an hour or two getting lost inside and there’s no telling what you’ll find. If you go in the summer, you’re in for a real Texas treat…there’s no air conditioning ; )
My personal FAVORITE shop is Evermore. Unlike a lot of shops on this street that have multiple vendors, Evermore has a single owner and she’s an absolute goddess at display and merchandising. There’s no rummaging around, everything is displayed in vignettes and collections and it makes you want to buy absolutely everything in the store.
If shopping wears you out, stop by the Blue Crane Bakery for a pick me up. They have all kind of vegan and gluten free and keto options which I know nothing about but I can tell you…the cookie sandwiches with max sugar and butter and flour where absolutely delicious ; )
Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum
There are a LOT of little niche museums in the towns along Route 66, but this one really caught my eye. You see plenty of classic car museums, but this is the only one I’ve come across that specializes in old campers and RVs.
Full disclosure, it’s not on Route 66 and it’s actually south of Amarillo (on the way to Palo Duro Canyon if you’re going that way), but I think it’s worth the detour.
Another disclosure…it is not air conditioned which makes it fun in the summer, but it’s FREE and pretty fun to poke around.
You can go inside all of the campers and they’re all set up with accessories from the time period. There are some cars, motorcycles, and plenty of memorabilia in the warehouse too.
Chow Down at the Goldenlight Cafe
Touted as the longest continuously operated restaurant (in one location!) on Route 66, if you love greasy burgers then you’re going to LOVE this place.
It’s on 6th Street in the area with all of the antique stores and yes, from the outside it looks kind of like a sketchy dive bar, but it’s really just a restaurant inside and there’s a patio out back.
Once we were seated it was funny watching the steady stream of people poking their heads inside to scope it out (a lot of them asking if it was okay to bring kids inside).
The burgers are perfect and the fries are hand cut. A lot of people were ordering the chili cheese fries so that must be a big crowd pleaser.
Bottom line…don’t be scared away from the outside…come on in and chow down!
Stop by the From 6th Collective
This was by far my best discovery from this trip and it was a total accident. Flying down the interstate near Cadillac Ranch, I saw a sign about From 6th Collective and looked it up later. It sounded like the kind of place I would like so I planned to drive back out on my last morning in Amarillo. And holy cow I’m glad I did!
This huge property just west of Amarillo (near the Cadillac Ranch) is a retail space featuring over 50 different local artists, designers and small business owners. They call it a “cultural and design hub in the Texas panhandle” and boy is it.
A lot of the business owners from 6th Street have a space out here and it’s just indescribably cool.
Now whenever we’re in a different city and wanting to look around and do some shopping my mom always says “I wish we could find a spot like that place in Amarillo.”
Seriously, you need to check it out.
Side Trip to Palo Duro Canyon
This truly is a side trip worth taking. 25 miles from downtown Amarillo, the Palo Duro Canyon is the 2nd largest canyon in the US (yep, the Grand Canyon is #1) and the scenery is unmatched.
What I especially love about this place is how accessible it is. Yes, you can spend a week camping and hiking and mountain biking, but you can also drive through in your car in about 30 minutes (without stopping) and see a lot.
During the summer, they put on the musical Texas in the park’s amphitheater which would be a really cool way to see the park.
The park is open every day 7AM-10PM.
Where to Stay in Amarillo
Drive down I-40 and it feels like there are 65,000 hotels in Amarillo. There are. But they’re mostly your interstate variety. If you want something a little more upscale (but still completely historic with local flair), I’ve got just the place for you:
The Barfield: This new luxury hotel in downtown Amarillo recently opened in the historic Barfield building – Amarillo’s first skyscraper!
The vibe is very “Texas.” A little bit cowboy and a little bit oil town with a lot of polish, it’s by far the most upscale property you’ll find in Amarillo (but still at Amarillo prices ; ) And it’s part of Marriott Bonvoy’s Autograph Collection.
It’s a great place to stay that’s high on personality and higher on amenities than most places you’ll find in the area. And it could be a welcome break if you’re been staying in vintage roadside motels.
Find out more about the Barfield here.
Where to Eat in Amarillo
I’ve already mentioned the two big Route 66 spots in town (the Big Texan and Goldenlight Cafe), but just in case you’re staying longer, or you just can’t handle one more greasy diner meal, here are some spots that were recommended to me from a local:
Spicy Mike’s BBQ Haven
The Lost Cajun
OHMS Cafe (Upscale)
The Plaza (Mexican)
Los Braceros (Mexican)
Coyote Bluff Cafe (Burgers)
Crush (Wine Bar & Grill – Upscale)
Blue Sky (Burgers)
Lazy Gator (Seafood)
Planning a Route 66 road trip? I’ve got all of the info you need!
I’ve broken down each segment driving westbound so you know exactly what to expect: Chicago IL to St. Louis MO, St. Louis MO to Springfield MO, Springfield MO to Tulsa OK, Tulsa OK to Oklahoma City OK, Oklahoma City OK to Amarillo TX, Amarillo TX to Albuquerque NM.