*Part 5* Route 66 in Springfield, MO: The Birthplace of Route 66, Classic Cars, & a Hotel Where Elvis Stayed
This post is part of a series I’ve done on Route 66. In 2022, I drove the entirety of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. 2500 miles, 8 states, countless stories, and an endless stretch of small towns, neon, diners, motels, and roadside attractions. Read through all of my Route 66 posts here. They’re also linked at the end of this post. If you’re planning your own Route 66 road trip, either the whole thing or just a part, I hope these help you out. Enjoy the drive!
Springfield, Missouri (not to be confused with the 33 other Springfields around the country) is often called the birthplace of Route 66.
On April 30, 1926, a telegram was sent from Springfield businessman John T. Woodruff and Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery to the Bureau of Public Roads in Washington DC that formally proposed the name “66” for the new road from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The telegram was sent from the Colonial Hotel in Springfield, MO and VOILA…Springfield became the birthplace of Route 66.
So as you would expect, Springfield has a pretty big Route 66 presence.
Route 66 in Springfield, MO
I’ve spent a LOT of time in Springfield because it’s where most of my mother’s family lives, but once I decided to officially drive all of Route 66, I spent a bit more time checking out some of the local spots and attractions.
Route 66 Attractions in Springfield, MO
Route 66 Car Museum
I’ve been to most of the bigger classic car museums on Route 66, and I think this one is my favorite.
A lot of the better car museums on Route 66 have nice collections of vintage cars (this one has 60+), but this museum does a better job of giving context than most places.
Unless you’re a classic car super fanatic that knows everything there is to know about cars, you probably appreciate somebody telling you why what you’re looking at is special. I know I do.
And besides having an INCREDIBLE collection of cars and memorabilia, the Route 66 Car Museum in Springfield does a great job of telling the stories behind much of the collection.
My favorite part of the collection is the 1939 Packard Safari that was personally used by Winston Churchill on a big game hunt in Africa.
This is definitely worth a stop in Springfield.
Admission to the museum is $15/adult and $10/child (2 and under are free).
Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center
Springfield’s Visitor Center really plays up their Route 66 connections and it’s a great place to stop if you want more local Route 66 info. Besides all of the usual regional travel brochures, they have a tear away map that lays out all of the Route 66 attractions in the area.
Giant Chef Muffler Man
There are only a handful of the giant muffler men left along Route 66, and this is definitely one you don’t want to miss. It currently sits at the Route 66 Food Truck Park, which looks like it’s for sale so TBD on its longterm status. Maybe keep an eye out for more info before your trip.
Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque
Built in 1923, the Shrine Mosque has been hosting some of Springfield’s most notable events for almost 100 years now. From the annual circus to presidential visits to an Elvis concert, the Shrine Mosque is a huge piece of Springfield history.
Originally built in 1926, the Gillioz Theater was completely restored in 2008 and it’s really something to see. The theater hosts concerts, theater performances, and movie showings plus usually has a few tours every month.
History Museum on the Square
I had every intention of checking out the History Museum on the Square last time I was in Springfield, but I didn’t make it. First of all, it was closed on the day I went. BUT I decided not to go back the next day. Here’s the deal…like a lot of the bigger towns that Route 66 traverses, it’s not always in the nicest part of town.
Well, the part of downtown Springfield around the square is probably the worst part of town. I kind of knew that from family members that live in town, but when I went to check it out myself, it was pretty bad. There are a LOT of homeless people that camp out in the square kind of in gangs and it’s not a great environment.
If you do decide to go (it’s supposed to be a great museum), you’ll want to plot out where you’re going to park beforehand (there’s a lot off the square behind the building the museum is in) and make a beeline to get inside. And I personally would NOT plan to walk across the square at all.
Where to Stay in Springfield, MO
Besides some solid neon and a lot of Route 66 homage, the Rail Haven Motel’s big claim to fame is that Elvis Presley once stayed here.
The hotel is now part of the Best Western brand, but it still feels pretty local. It’s a large property with a lot of rooms.
Rockwood Motor Court
Recently restored, this is probably the best place to stay if you want an iconic mom and pop vintage Route 66 experience. It’s a small place and it’s located in a quieter part of town than the Rail Haven. Find out more here.
If vintage motels aren’t your thing, the Vandevort downtown is Springfield’s best high(ish) end boutique hotel option. Find out more here.
If you want the full Bass Pro experience while you’re in town (hey, it’s pretty much what Springfield is known for), check out the Angler’s Lodge which is right across the street from the whole complex. Find out more here.
Where to Eat on Route 66
Red’s Giant Hamburg
Reds is the most famous Route 66 spot in Springfield, even though it’s no longer on Route 66. The original place opened in the 1940s and was possibly the first drive-thru restaurant in the US. It closed in 1984, but it reopened (with new owners) in 2019 in a new location. And they go all in with the nostalgia.
It’s a fun place, but honestly the food is way better at the next place…
Steak n Shake
Yes, I know it’s a chain, but the Steak n Shake at St Louis St and National Ave is pretty iconic. It opened on Route 66 in 1962, but the family who owned the franchise (until very recently) had ties to Steak n Shake going back as far as the 1930s (the first Steak n Shake opened on Route 66 in Normal, IL in 1934).
The location on Route 66 in Springfield really razzle dazzles with all of the neon and chrome and I’ll flat out say it…I’ve eaten at sooooo many “historic diners” along Route 66 and none of them come close to Steak n Shake’s burger, fries, and shakes.
College Street Cafe
I haven’t eaten here yet, but it’s CUTE AS A BUTTON. And it’s pretty much in the parking lot of the Route 66 Car Museum if you’re looking for a meal nearby.
Planning a Route 66 road trip? I’ve got all of the info you need!
I’ve written about my cross country road trip pretty extensively section by section. Read them all here: Part 1 (Chicago), Part 2 (Chicago to St. Louis), Part 3 (St. Louis), Part 4 (St. Louis to Springfield MO), Part 5 (Springfield, MO), Part 6 (Springfield, MO to Tulsa), Part 7 (Tulsa), Part 8 (Tulsa to OKC), Part 9 (OKC), Part 10 (OKC to Amarillo), Part 11 (Amarillo), Part 12 (Amarillo to Albuquerque), Part 13 (Albuquerque), Part 14 (Albuquerque to Flagstaff), Part 15 (Flagstaff), Part 16 (Flagstaff to San Bernardino), Part 17 (Los Angeles).
Plus I’ve done roundups by state: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California.
I’ve got the scoop on where to stay including the best Route 66 motels recommendations.
And finally, my final trip recap where I spill the beans on how many days you need, the best itinerary, my favorite don’t miss spots, and other tips.