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Chilis & Pueblos…The Best Route 66 NEW MEXICO Attractions

There’s something to love about every state that Route 66 passes through, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think New Mexico is my favorite. 

First of all, New Mexico undoubtedly has the best neon on Route 66…by a longshot. And for me, Route 66 is all about the neon. 

It also has some of the most sweeping landscapes and that real “western” imagery that I know a lot of people are looking for. The leg of the drive out around Gallup is pretty dreamy. 

And add in all of the Native American culture that’s so highly concentrated in New Mexico and it’s a recipe for a FANTASTIC stretch of Route 66. 

Read through all of my Route 66 posts here (including stop by stop itineraries for the Amarillo to Albuquerque and Albuquerque to Flagstaff portions plus more in depth posts about Tucumcari and Albuquerque). 

New Mexico Route 66 Attractions

This post is a rundown of my absolute favorite Route 66 attractions in New Mexico including things to see and do, places to eat, places to stay, and of course…the neon. 

Glenrio Ghost Town: Glenrio, NM

Glenrio straddles the Texas New Mexico border so it gets claimed by both states. If you’re driving westbound, Glenrio will be your first intro to New Mexico. 

Glenrio is probably the best preserved ghost town along the route that I’ve seen so far. 

There’s a motel, diner, and service station all in various stages of decay. They look frozen in time but also about the crumble and it perfectly represents what happened to so many little Route 66 towns that got bypassed by the interstate. 

Teepee Curios: Tucumcari, NM

The first time I showed up in Tucumcari it was after dark and we just popped off the interstate real quick because I’d heard about the neon in town. Well we drove into town on the end of town where Teepee Curios and the Blue Swallow are (they’re pretty much across the street from each other), and I’m not going to lie, it felt like I was at Disneyland (Carsland is spectacular if you’ve never been). 

I knew then that I had to come back when I had more time (and things were open), but the neon at Teepee Curios is just so stunning. 

It’s a cute gift shop too with everything Route 66 themed you could imagine. There aren’t many places like this left along the route.

KiMo Theater: Albuquerque, NM

Architecturally speaking, the KiMo Theater is probably the most recognizable and distinct spot in Albuquerque. Opened in 1927, the “Pueblo Deco” picture palace combined the wildly popular art deco architecture style with Native American and Southwest culture. Built during an era when popular movie theaters were experimenting with Chinese and Egyptian styles (don’t miss those when you make it to Hollywood!), only a few theaters used the Native American style and the KiMo is considered the best. 

The theater fell into disrepair in the 1960s and was badly damaged by a fire, but the city ended up purchasing the theater to try and restore and save it. The final round of renovations were completed in 2000 and today the theater hosts many events besides just movies. 

Old Town: Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhood is home to 300 years of architecture and culture and if you’re not going to make it to Santa Fe on your Route 66 road trip, then you NEED to spend a little time in Old Town. 

While Albuquerque has some really great Route 66 holdovers (neon, diners, and vintage motels galore!), part of what’s so great about driving the route is seeing how diverse America is. And Old Town is where you’ll get the best feel for what’s so special about New Mexico. 

One of my favorites was Luna and Luz. It’s upstairs in the Plaza Don Luis so you probably won’t stumble upon it but they call themselves “modern west goods” and that’s usually a hit in my book. 

Continental Divide: Between Grants & Gallup, NM

The Continental Divide: an imaginary line down the middle of the US where all of the rainfall west of it flows to the Pacific Ocean and all the rainfall to the east of it flows to the Atlantic. And it crosses Route 66!

It’s not like you can tell it’s the Continental Divide if it weren’t for the sign, but there’s something so “classic American road trip” about taking your picture at a sign that designates something important. And it’s a very good views. 

Route 66 Auto Museum: Santa Rosa, NM

I’m not really much of a car person, but I’d read good things about the auto museum in Santa Rosa and there wasn’t much else in the area so I decided to stop and check it out. 

It’s $5 per person and IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT. It’s one man’s private collection and I seriously couldn’t have been more impressed. Besides the cars (of which there are around 30), there’s a ton of vintage memorabilia in the warehouse and it’s well air conditioned. 

I’ll drop a bunch of photos here because I couldn’t even describe what I saw very well, but I will say that there were some teenage boys that came in with their parents while I was there and they were pretty thrilled. It’s definitely a place that the whole family can enjoy.

Old Gas Stations

Besides neon, old gas stations are probably among my most photographed spots along Route 66. There’s something about the chipped paint on the old gas pumps, faded signs, and the inevitable classic cars or fire trucks (there’s always a firetruck) parked out front. 

Now I’ll be honest, New Mexico doesn’t seem to have as many old gas stations (restored or otherwise) as other states on Route 66, but there are some to watch out for:

Glenrio: One of the buildings in this old ghost town was a service station in another life. 

Tucumceri: Tucumcari is pretty much lined with old service stations although none that have necessarily been restored.

Budville: Just west of Albuquerque near Cubero there’s an old trading post and Whiting Bros station.

Moriarity: The Whiting Bros. were based out of Holbrook and had many, many service stations along Route 66. The last remaining one is in Moriarity (just east of Albuquerque). 

Best Places to Eat (Diners, Drive Ins, Food Stands, etc.)

Del’s Restaurant: Tucumcari, NM 

We had dinner here and went back for breakfast the next day because we like it so much. There are several restaurants on the route in Tucumcari, but this one seemed the most “alive” and was full of locals and I think that’s always a good sign. There’s a fresh salad bar at dinner and everything from diner and home cooked favorites to New Mexican specials. 

Breakfast was really solid…try the pancakes!

The Dog House: Albuquerque, NM

Route 66 is chock full of diners, dives, and drive-ins (hey somebody should make a show about that ; ) but the Dog House in Albuquerque is on my short list of best places on the entire route. 

For starters, have you ever seen a BETTER neon sign? I don’t think so. 

Next up, any place that serves burgers, fries, chili dogs, milkshakes, etc. to me in my car is a winner. The food was VERY good here and the car hops were friendly and speedy. There just aren’t many places anymore that have carhops so it’s more fun than a drive thru or a walk up window. 

Frontier Cafe: Albuquerque, NM

After reading about all of the Route 66 famous breakfast spots in Albuquerque, I decided to go with the Frontier Cafe. It’s newer than some (opened in the 70s) so it doesn’t get as much talk as other spots, but it’s the place that looked most interesting to me. It’s right across from the University of New Mexico campus so it’s always hopping and it’s got a diverse clientele…students, old men with newspapers under their arms, families, etc. 

Order at the counter and wait until they call your number. The breakfast burrito and pancakes were a solid combo.

El Rancho Hotel: Gallup, NM

This is a don’t miss for the history of this place alone and if you’re not spending the night you 100% need to at least stop and have a meal here. Also, I love that while they do have burgers and some diner food, the menu and specials focus on New Mexican classics so it’s a nice break. 

This place really plays up its hollywood heritage so take a few minutes to wander around and look at all of the old photos. 

And I highly recommend the “Rita Moreno” enchiladas. 

Motels & Hotels (Where to Stay & Where to Skip)

Blue Swallow Inn: Tucumcari, NM

Staying overnight at the Blue Swallow Inn should be at the tippy top of every Route 66 traveler’s bucket list. It’s been so pristinely preserved that it feels like it could be a movie set or in a museum or theme park (hello ever been to Carsland at Disneyland??), but it has such a great community atmosphere. Make reservations well in advance because it only has a dozen or so rooms and regularly sells out during peak travel seasons. 

I’ve got a full review of my stay at the Blue Swallow in this post

Motel Safari: Tucumcari, NM

Looks super cute and very well maintained! Mid century modern vibes (which I love) and the rooms look a bit more modern than the Blue Swallow. 

El Vado Motel: Albuquerque, NM

Built in 1937, El Vado was one of New Mexico’s first motels and an absolute Route 66 icon. Like many of its day, the motel fell into disrepair (although it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993) until it was purchased by the city in 2010. 

The property was completely renovated in 2018 (to stay true to the Spanish Revival style with Pueblo detailing) but modernized to combine elements of boutique hotels, gathering spaces, food pods, local shops, etc. and it’s pretty much perfect. 

I think this is the perfect place to stay if you’re visiting Albuquerque (whether on a Route 66 trip or not). The rooms are well designed and modern, it has a fun vintage motel feel, there’s good dining and shopping onsite, you’re close to top attractions like Old Town and the ABQ BioPark, there’s a pool which is important because Albuquerque often feels like the surface of the sun, AND it’s pretty reasonably priced. 

I’ve got a full review of my stay at El Vado in this post

El Rancho Hotel: Gallup, NM

At the far western end of New Mexico where you see all those wide vistas made famous by Hollywood’s westerns, El Rancho Hotel opened in 1937 to serve Hollywood’s booming film operations in New Mexico. It was built by Griff Griffith (brother of director D.W. Griffith), and 85 years later it’s still a site to see. 

I haven’t stayed here, but I stopped by for lunch and IT IS SO COOL. 

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. 

And don’t miss the Ortega’s Indian Store in the lobby. The Ortega Family (who now owns the hotel) has had a high end Native American jewelry store on the Plaza in Santa Fe for many years. 

Great Neon (Day or Night)

Now let’s cap it off with Route 66 New Mexico’s crown jewel…the neon! This isn’t even all of it folks, just some of my favorites!

Blue Swallow Motel: Tucumcari, NM

Teepee Curios: Tucumcari, NM

Palomino Motel: Tucumcari, NM

Pow Wow Restaurant: Tucumcari, NM

Buckaroo Motel: Tucumcari, NM

Del’s Restaurant: Tucumcari, NM

Sun & Sand Motel: Santa Rosa, NM

La Mesa Motel: Santa Rosa, NM

Tewa Lodge: Albuquerque, NM

Hiland Theater: Albuquerque, NM

KiMo Theater: Albuquerque, NM

Dog House: Albuquerque, NM

Garcia’s Cafe: Albuquerque, NM

Maisel’s Indian Jewelry: Albuquerque, NM

El Don Motel: Albuquerque, NM

Monterey Motel: Albuquerque, NM

El Vado Motel: Albuquerque, NM

Westward Ho Motel: Albuquerque, NM

Sands Motel: Grants, NM

Canton Cafe: Grants, NM

West Theater: Grants, NM

Roarin’ 20s: Grants, NM

Pat’s Lounge: Grants, NM

Blue Spruce Lodge: Gallup, NM

El Rancho Hotel: Gallup, NM

***I’m not even going to attempt to cover Santa Fe in this post (which was actually included in an earlier alignment of the route in favor of bypassing Albuquerque) because that’s a whole other beast, but I feel like I need to say SOMETHING. Santa Fe is one of my favorite places in the country and if you’re visiting from a long ways away, or driving Route 66 is likely to be your only trip to New Mexico, then you MUST MUST MUST spend a couple of days in Santa Fe.

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

Plus I’ve rounded up my absolute favorite experiences (things to do, where to eat, where to stay, etc.) by state here: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico

And I’ve got more in-depth posts on certain cities: Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Tucumcari, and Albuquerque.