Is there anything more American than cruising down Route 66? The open road, small towns, local diners, mom and pop motels, roadside attractions, and so much neon. It’s an adventure people travel all over the world to experience, and for many Americans, a portion of it runs right through our backyard.
The legendary highway crosses 8 different states winding from Chicago to LA (over 2000 miles along the way…you know the song). Driving Route 66 is a window into a time gone by and its cultural impact is still significant, even now over 35 years since the highway was officially decommissioned.
Dubbed the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his poignant Grapes of Wrath which described one Oklahoma family’s escape from the Dust Bowl to California in search of a better life, perhaps nowhere is the spirit of Route 66 (adventure! possibility! freedom! escape!) still felt more than Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has the longest stretch of Route 66 in the country (over 400 miles) and while the road is a little piecemeal in some places where interstates are paved over old sections of the highway, it’s much more intact than in other states.
So roll the windows down, turn the radio up, and just enjoy the drive.
Here are some of the best Route 66 stops in Oklahoma (keep an eye on this post in the future, I have a feeling it will be always changing, always growing as I spend more time in different areas and discover new places to stop on Route 66 in Oklahoma):
The Best Route 66 Oklahoma Attractions
Route 66 Stops from Commerce to Tulsa
If you’re coming into Oklahoma on Route 66 from Kansas (most likely from Baxter Springs), Quapaw is the first “town” you come to. You can drive Route 66 from the Kansas border all the way into Tulsa (Catoosa really) in one continuous stretch. It’s a great portion of the road and feels really special since in so many places Route 66 is really chopped up. Start in Quapaw and you’ll pass Commerce, Miami (my-am-uh), Afton, Vinita, Foyil, Claremore, and Catoosa. The road is pretty well marked, but know your route just in case because there are a few turns required when you’re coming through some of the small towns to stay on track.
Dairy King: Commerce, OK
This first stop on Route 66 in Oklahoma is one of my favorites. Originally a gas station in the late 1920s, the Dairy King is now a little treasure trove of Route 66 history where you can also get a tasty roadside meal. Most people stop for a photo op at the filling station across the street (it’s a fairly famous spot), but it’s actually a “faux” station and you can tell once you look at it. The Dairy King is the real deal and the owners are a GEM. While they’re whipping up your burgers or fixing your shakes, they’ll tell you story after story about their little spot on Route 66. They’re particularly proud of their homemade sugar cookies in the shape of the Route 66 shield.
For being such a small town, Commerce has a few claims to fame including being the birthplace of baseball legend Mickey Mantle and the home of a shootout with Bonnie and Clyde that left the local constable dead. This is a must stop for sure!
Coleman Theater: Miami, OK
This historic theater built in 1929 is on the National Register of Historic Places and if you’re into old fashioned theaters (there aren’t many left anymore!) then you’ll definitely want to check this one out. The exterior is done in the Spanish Colonial Revival style while the inside is about as ornate as they come (think Versaille). Check out their schedule to see a movie or call ahead about scheduling a tour.
Waylan’s KuKu: Miami, OK
I can’t resist a good burger stand, and this is a classic. Yummy burgers, fries, and dipped cones plus their neon sign is incredible.
Hi Way Cafe: Vinita, OK
If you want more of a full service cafe style home cooked meal (wow, that’s a lot of adjectives), stop at Hi Way Cafe just down the road in Vinita.
Totem Pole Park: Foyil, OK
This is another DON’T MISS for me on Route 66. It’s as “roadside attraction” as they come. It’s located a few miles off Route 66 so you’ll have to seek it out, but it’s worth the detour. Built by folk artist Ed Galloway between 1937 and 1948 as a tribute to Native Americans, the main totem pole has 200 carvings.
When I visited, they had been in the process of repainting the main totem pole for 5 YEARS as they could raise the funds. There’s no admission to the park, but there’s a small gift shop and the money goes towards keeping the park maintained. If you enjoy your stop, definitely think about making a purchase or a donation.
Will Rogers Memorial Museum: Claremore, OK
Will Rogers just might be the most famous Oklahoman of all time. He was certainly beloved.
The internationally acclaimed entertainer (cowboy, actor, humorist) passed away in a plane crash in 1935 when Route 66 was in its heyday. Route 66 was unofficially nicknamed the “Will Rogers Highway” in 1952 by the US Highway 66 Association. Route 66 runs right through Will Rogers’ hometown, Claremore, and it’s where you’ll find the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. It’s a fantastic museum and definitely worth your time.
Blue Whale: Catoosa, OK
The Blue Whale is probably the most iconic attraction on Route 66 in Oklahoma. Sitting on a little lake in Catoosa, the whale was completed in 1972 and almost instantly became a beloved family attraction where children could jump off the whale and swim and fish in the pond. You can’t swim in the area anymore (and quite frankly I can’t imagine you’d want to-it seems like snake city!), but it’s well maintained as a little roadside attraction and there’s a nice picnic area.
Route 66 Stops in Tulsa
Route 66 pretty much has one primary drag through Tulsa (in some big cities it’s pretty chopped up from different routes throughout the years) right down 11th street. While the road more or less went into oblivion after the highway was officially decommissioned in the 1980s (not so much the actual road, but the spirit of the businesses and communities that lined it), the last decade or so has seen a HUGE resurgence in interest in restoring the culture and history. Major efforts have been made by both the City of Tulsa and local businesses to make Route 66 through Tulsa a major attraction for visitors and locals alike.
From Catoosa, Route 66 follows I-44 into town until it gets to Garnett. From Garnett all the way west to the Arkansas River, Route 66 follows 11th St. From Yale west to the river is where you’ll see most of the restoration and new construction with the wealth of it concentrated between Lewis and the river.
I’ve written a full post about Route 66 in Tulsa here (so many details and recommendations), but here’s a quick list of some must see places:
Rose Bowl: An iconic pink bowling alley.
Desert Inn: Tulsa’s best roadside motel. Don’t miss the neon sign and classic car out front!
Tally’s Cafe: Tulsa’s favorite retro diner.
Golden Driller: Tulsa’s best roadside attraction.
Campbell Hotel: Renovated historic hotel with modern amenities.
Mother Road Market: Oklahoma’s first food hall plus local retail shops.
El Rancho Grande: Tex-Mex joint serving up enchiladas and margaritas since 1953. Also famous for their neon sign!
Buck Atom’s: Recently built but 100% vintage roadside attraction and curio shop.
Meadow Gold Sign: The famous Meadow Gold neon sign was recently restored and sits on the rooftop at 11th and Peoria.
Cyrus Avery Plaza: A small park on the banks of the Arkansas river featuring both a commemorative statue and a neon sign park.
Route 66 Stops from Tulsa to OKC
This stretch of Route 66 is arguably one of the best in the country. It’s almost 100 miles of uninterrupted road through small towns and countryside leaving you with the feeling of how it might have been to travel across country along Route 66.
While so many sections of the old Route 66 are just small fragments here and there or merely highway access roads (if not completely paved over), it’s nice to get a taste for a longer drive.
As you’re going west towards Sapulpa on I-44, there’s a clear exit for US-66 and it’s a very well marked road all the way to Edmond (a suburb north of Oklahoma City).
Roller Dome: Sapulpa, OK
I would have loved to see this neon sign back in its day. It’s only a shell now, but this place seems fun (I can’t skate to save my life so I haven’t been) and definitely harkens back to the kind of fun that today you’ll only find in small, rural towns.
I don’t have a particular stop for you here, but the small town of Bristow is definitely worth a stop. Poke around in a few shops on Mainstreet or just admire the concept of a mainstreet in general that only exists in small town America.
Rock Cafe: Stroud, OK
Having a meal at this roadside cafe is at the top of my Route 66 Oklahoma bucket list (I always seem to pass through when it’s closed). It has a long history, but it’s current proprietor (Dawn Welch) is notable for being the inspiration behind the “Sally Carrera” character from the Pixar movie Cars. You know…the little blue Porsche who wasn’t from Radiator Springs, but loved the town and the road and the people so much that she relocated and dedicated her life to trying to revive it? There are some fun Cars cutouts out front to take a picture with and a great neon sign. A must go…just don’t go on Sunday or Monday ; )
Skyline Motel: Stroud, OK
I can’t say much as to whether or not it’s a great place to stay (I would say probably meh?), but their neon sign sure is cool!
66 Bowl: Chandler, OK
Gosh, this place looks fun! I was drawn in by their neon sign, but want to go back for bowling and some dive food soon. It’s definitely a place that celebrates the Route 66 heritage.
Lincoln Motel: Chandler, OK
Another roadside motel that I’m not quite sure about staying at (???), but they’ve got a fun neon sign.
Chandler Route 66 Interpretive Center: Chandler, OK
I haven’t stopped in here yet, but it looks nice and well run from the outside.
Ioway Casino: Chandler, OK
As a tribal member, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about (maybe?) the only casino on historic Route 66 ; )
Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum: Warwick, OK
This former filling station turned motorcycle museum is a fun place to check out if you have a few minutes. The original Seaba Station was built in the early 1920s (before Route 66 was an official road!) and houses an impressive collection of vintage motorcycles.
Round Barn: Arcadia, OK
Built by a local farmer way back in 1898, the Round Barn (yes, it’s actually a round barn) is one of the most popular roadside attractions on Oklahoma’s Route 66. The barn is on the National Register of Historic Places (added in 1977) so it’s been fully restored and it’s kept up really well. It’s only 7 days a week (unless it gets too hot in the summer…and yes it was actually closed due to heat when I went last summer) and admission is free. There’s also a small gift shop.
Pops 66 Soda Ranch: Arcadia, OK
Pops is a primetime example of renewed interest in Route 66 in Oklahoma. Just east of Edmond, this newly built roadside diner features a gas station, and over 100 kinds of bottled soda! You can’t miss the 66-foot tall (heh, get it?) LED soda bottle out front. It’s a perfect modern attraction that pays tribute to the old diners and filling stations.
Pops is always hopping so if you go around mealtime (there’s also a convenience store set up where you can buy bottles of pop and other goodies) expect a wait (especially in the summer). Now you just have to decide if you want to try a new soda or go with an old favorite.
Route 66 Stops in Oklahoma City
I can’t for the life of me figure out Route 66 in Oklahoma City. It’s all over the place. Once you pass Pops and get into Edmond, the road just seems to kind of die out and picks back up on the other side of town (near Bethany), but then there’s also a north/south portion of old Route 66 that goes right through the middle of town too. Anyways, there’s a few sites to see in OKC itself.
Built in 1958, this geodesic gold dome in the heart of OKC is a great example of mid century architecture. It was originally opened as a bank, but it’s been vacant and in disrepair for quite some time. There are talks of a developer buying it to turn it into some sort of unconventional concert venue.
Milk Bottle Grocery
A tiny triangle shaped grocery store with a milk bottle on top. Things you only see in Oklahoma?
Winchester Drive In Theater
The Winchester is not technically on Route 66, but it’s been around forever and it SEEMS like the kind of place that would’ve been on Route 66. There aren’t too many drive-in movie theaters left in the country, but this one still operates on the weekends and 7 days a week during the summer. It’s on my Route 66 bucket list to visit when the neon sign is lit up because it’s truly legendary.
I spotted the neon sign for this joint last time I was flying down Route 66 in OKC, and I’ll definitely be back to try it. They’ve been open since 1963 so it must be good!
Western Motel: Bethany, OK
Another roadside motel with a great neon sign!
Route 66 Stops from Oklahoma City to Sayre
From Bethany (just west of OKC), you can drive Route 66 all the way through Yukon to the western side of El Reno where it hooks up with I-40. You can catch a spur at the Cherokee Trading Post/Travel Mart west of El Reo and follow it to Hydro (where it becomes more of a service road), through Weatherford and into Clinton. From Clinton it’s mostly a service road along I-40 (although it does detour through Canute) until you get to Elk City where it runs through town. From there it mostly follows I-40 until you get to Sayre where it kind of branches off until you get to the Texas border.
Lucille’s Historic Highway Gas Station: Hydro, OK
This old filling station has been really well preserved and it’s worth a stop, but there’s not really anything else there. Head on down the road towards Weatherford and stop at Lucille’s Roadhouse Diner for a fun, retro Route 66 experience.
Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Clinton
Oklahoma’s official museum pertaining to all things Route 66 is extremely well done and really conveys the spirit and culture of traveling Route 66 throughout the decades. From the migrations during the Dust Bowl, through the classic American experience of the 50s to the hippy years of the 60s and 70s until the road finally fell out of use, this museum gives you the perspective of what life was like on the Mother Road.
The museum is most focused on the pop culture aspects of Route 66 and does its job by recreating sets and experiences that let you feel like you were there. This isn’t the type of museum where you’ll spend hours looking at artifacts and objects and reading tiny captions. It feels more like an experience.
The museum is currently open 7 days a week (more limited hours on Sundays) and admission is $7/adult, $5/senior (62+), $4/student (6-18), 6 and under are free (as well as Oklahoma Historical Society members, veterans, and active military).
McLain Rogers Park: Clinton, OK
Built in 1934, this 15 acre park has some art deco architecture, some WPA projects (some of the rock buildings), and some fun original neon. But the most fun is probably the Route 66 themed mini golf course!
National Route 66 & Transportation Museum: Elk City, OK
This is everything a Route 66 museum should be. It’s well done, but parts of it still manage to feel more like a roadside attraction than a museum (in the best way possible). It’s the NATIONAL Route 66 Museum so instead of just focusing on Oklahoma, it covers all 8 states that Route 66 traverses. The museum is in multiple buildings (get a map so you don’t miss the good stuff) and there’s also an entire town recreated (soda fountain, theater, barn, etc.).
Don’t miss getting to drive the pink Cadillac!
Besides the main museum and town setup, there’s a complex of other Elk City mini-museums on the property. I think the Old Town Museum is a real small town treasure. In a way it feels more like you’re walking through your great aunt’s house than a museum. There’s also the Farm and Ranch Museum, Blacksmith Museum, and a field of windmills.
Closed on Sundays.
Western Motel, Sayre
I LOVE this neon sign (and I haven’t even seen it at night yet!). Also, practically speaking…there’s not much past Sayre if you’re heading on towards Amarillo and there’s a really nice Hutch’s Convenience Store/Gas Station in between the Western Motel and i-40 if you need a place to get gas, go to the bathroom, and get snacks.
Heading on to Texas?
I haven’t done much of Route 66 in Texas, but I do have a couple of recommendations:
The Big Texan Steak Ranch: Amarillo, TX
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. 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.
Cadillac Ranch: Amarillo, TX
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 angel 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.
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