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Route 66 Stops in Tulsa, OK

My hometown! I grew up with Route 66 running right through my backyard, but I’ll be honest…when I was younger it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. It went through what you could call the “seedy” part of town and it was pretty rundown. But Route 66 through Tulsa is HOPPING now! 

I can’t imagine there are many cities out there that are celebrating their Route 66 history with the kind of restoration and innovation projects that Tulsa has going on so I’ve been up and down the Mother Road in Tulsa putting together a list of historic sites and new builds that you need to add to your Route 66 bucket list. 

But first up, here’s a quick rundown of the history of Route 66 in Tulsa…

During the early days of Route 66’s planning and construction, Tulsa was the city that seemed to be at the hub of the highway’s very existence. The idea for the roadway between Chicago and LA can be traced back to two entrepreneurs: John Woodruff of Springfield, MO and Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, OK. 

Taking advantage of legislation for public highways and with a plan to connect the mainstreets of major cities and rural towns, these two master planners dreamed up a route that allowed local businesses to flourish as travel became increasingly accessible and popular. 

Officially commissioned in 1926, Route 66 was a symbol of Americana (freedom, adventure, and the open road) until its decommissioning in 1985. 

Because of Cyrus Avery’s involvement in the establishment of the route and influence in the local business community, Route 66 always thrived in Tulsa. Lined with motels, diners, and attractions, Tulsa beckoned travelers on the Mother Road. It still does. 

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. 

Route 66 pretty much has one primary drag through Tulsa….right down 11th street. 

From Catoosa (home of the big Blue Whale), 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. 

Route 66 Stops in Tulsa, OK

I’ve written a full post about Route 66 through Oklahoma here (so many details and recommendations), so if you’re driving the Mother Road through the whole length of the state (or even just parts of it), you won’t want to miss this post

In this post, I’m going to list places and stops in the order you’ll come to them traveling from east to west. 

Route 66 East Gateway Arch, Interpretive Center & Route 66 Rising

As you come into Tulsa on Route 66 from the east, there are a few tributes to the historic road. 

They’re not necessarily big attractions, but more markers to let you know you’ve arrived in Tulsa and you’re on the Mother Road. After decades of decline along the route, for me, the recent signage says “Welcome to Tulsa. We know we have something special here. We appreciate it. And we hope you will too.” 

You’ll pass the Route 66 East Gateway Arch right about I-44 and 11th St (it’s right in front of the Daylight Donuts factory). 

At 11th & Mingo there’s a sign that will direct you to a few places: 

Interpretive Plaza: To get to the Interpretive Plaza, take a left into a little park area. There are a few plaques to read, but it’s kind of a sketchy area. Last time I was there it was covered with trash. Definitely don’t let this spot be your first impression of Route 66 in Tulsa

If you keep going straight down 11th Street, you’ll be on the 1932-1973 route (considered the “main route.”)

Route 66 Rising: Take a right onto Mingo and a mile north you’ll find the Route 66 Rising sculpture in the middle of a traffic circle at Admiral and Mingo. It stands where Cyrus Avery once owned a service station. Go around the traffic circle and drive west on Admiral to drive the 1926-1932 route. 

I’ll mention a few places on the original route here and there, but most of the Route 66 sites in Tulsa are on 11th Street. 

Rose Bowl

This iconic bowling alley operated from 1962 to 2005 and for a brief time fell into disrepair until it was given a second life as a sports facility for a non profit serving kids in the community. There’s not much to see, but it’s worth a quick stop for a better look at the unique architecture (said to be reminiscent of a German WWII bomb shelter). 

Admiral Twin

Not right on Route 66, but it’s super close and there’s nothing that says “old Route 66” more than a drive-in movie theater. There are so few drive-in theaters remaining in the US that it really makes you appreciate each one. Open weekends March through October (7 days a week in the summer). 

Desert Inn

Roadside motels are a staple of Route 66 culture, and the Desert Inn is Tulsa’s finest. And by finest, I mean finest neon sign and vintage vibes. To be clear, I would NOT stay here, but I sure wish someone would buy it and commit to a full restoration. 

Tally’s Cafe

The roadside diner was a staple of any Route 66 trip and it still is! Tally’s isn’t original to the road (it opened in 1987), but it’s a Tulsa institution and it embraces the Route 66 culture while serving up classic diner food. They have multiple locations in Tulsa now, but you want the one at 11th and Yale. 

Golden Driller

Another brief detour from the original route, but this is a classic roadside attraction. The 75 foot tall statue (the 6th tallest in the US??) has been on watch in front of the Expo Center (home of the Tulsa State Fair) since 1966. 

Campbell Hotel

Originally built in 1927 as the Casa Loma Hotel, the Campbell Hotel reopened in 2011 after an EXTENSIVE restoration project. If you’re on a Route 66 road trip, this is where you want to stay in Tulsa. Jane’s Delicatessen lays claim to the west end of the building and it’s a great food stop if you’re wanting something a little more than a diner. 

Mother Road Market

Oklahoma’s first food hall pays tribute to the Mother Road and it is a MUST STOP in Tulsa. I would say this is the backbone of the revitalization efforts along Route 66 and the non-profit has provided amazing opportunities for local kitchen concepts to bring their food to the people. My favorites are Howdy Burger (modeled after an old Route 66 burger stand-they actually just opened a stand alone joint down the street) and Chicken and the Wolf. There’s plenty of seating inside, but there’s also a large covered patio (it gets enclosed during the winter) that usually has a Route 66 themed mini golf course set up (it’s been pushed aside since COVID but you can still see it on the patio). Also don’t miss Eleanor’s Bookshop in the shopping area out front. It’s a great childrens and young adult bookstore. 

Circle Cinema

Another detour to the 1926-1932 route, but a venue worth seeing. Originally built in 1928 in historic Whittier Square, the Circle Theater was slated for demolition by the 1990s. Taking advantage of a grant through the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, the Circle Cinema was fully restored and reopened in 2013 and is now a beloved indie movie theater in Tulsa.

El Rancho Grande

If you’re only going to eat one meal in Tulsa on Route 66, this is probably going to be it. El Rancho Grande has been serving enchiladas and margaritas to weary travelers and Tulsans alike since 1950 and their neon sign is absolutely legendary. 

Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios

The stretch of road from Utica to Peoria (half a mile) has seen so much innovation over the last couple of years and uck Atom’s is at the heart of it. This place will make you wish you could’ve seen Route 66 in its prime. This little shop (it’s super tiny!) pays homage to the curio shops that lined Route 66. Buck Atom himself is an amazing roadside attraction and the neon sign is one of the best around. 

Decopolis 66

To call it a bookstore is selling this place short. They do sell books, but it’s more of a novelty shop really. But the inside is like another world. It’s hard to explain, but you should definitely stop and go inside. 

Meadow Gold Sign

This classic neon sign advertising the Meadow Gold Dairy was set atop a building on 11th street from the 1934 to the 1970s when it went dark. The Tulsa Foundation for Architecture was awarded a grant from the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor to restore the sign and worked with several organizations to finally get the sign restored. It sits on top of a plaza with quite a few plaques that are worth stopping to read. 

The Blue Dome

Another detour to the 1926-1932 route, the Blue Dome was built in 1924 and was Tulsa’s first 24 hour gas station (oh, it was QT? ; ) The building is still a site to see and the area has become one of Tulsa’s trendiest neighborhoods. So many amazing dining options nearby. 

Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza & Bridge

Spanning both sides of the Arkansas River, this is Tulsa’s big Route 66 showpiece, and….I have mixed feelings about it. The bronze sculptures, the bridge, and the neon sign park are all fabulous, but they’re not super accessible. This park is built around the Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge (an historic art deco style bridge built in 1916) which has an incredible history and is a Route 66 landmark, but like most bridges, the area is a little rough. It’s on the edge of downtown and there are two new bridges built right next to it (one an interstate and one Southwest Blvd/Route 66) which often attracts a certain kind of atmosphere if you know what I mean. 

So, the logistics…there’s a good sized parking lot at 11th/Southwest Blvd and Riverside Drive. From there there’s a nice pedestrian bridge that will take you over to the bronze sculptures and the edge of the bridge. That’s all fine. To actually see the bridge (from the side so you can see the architecture), you have to go down some stairs and hook around to a walking path that takes you down under the interstate bridge. There’s usually a few people hanging out/living up under the bridge. It’s not necessarily dangerous, but definitely something to be aware of. You can get a good view of the bridge without getting too far off the beaten path.

BUT, to get to the other side of the river to see the neon park, you have to go down under the interstate and walk across a pedestrian bridge (which looks very well designed and expensive) but which is 100% isolated from any site lines (you can’t see it from the road). If it’s daylight and you’re with a group of people, it’s probably fine. But at night (when you’re usually interested in seeing neon), it’s a no go. If you do decide to walk across the bridge to the neon park, I 100% recommend walking across the main bridge instead of the pedestrian one (there’s a bike/walk path and you’ll be in sight the whole time). 

If you drive across the bridge, there’s NOWHERE to pull over to see the neon signs on the other side so you can only do a drive by. If it’s daytime, you can pull under the interstate by the railroad tracks (gosh this sounds so sketchy haha!) and park (there’s usually dozens of cars parked there-people must work nearby) and walk over to the neon park, but I wouldn’t do this after dark or if it’s been raining (it’s a mudpit). Also…and this is a big one…I’ve yet to see the neon park actually lit up at night. Not sure what’s going on with that. 

So I’m hoping this is all so new that they haven’t gotten it all figured out yet and the logistics of this park will improve because there’s some really great stuff here. But for now, just be aware of your surroundings. 

Route 66 Historical Village

Further down on Southwest Blvd (11th Street turns into Southwest Blvd when you cross the river), you’ll come to the Route 66 Historical Village. There’s been an old fashioned filling station and some trains set up there for awhile, but it looks like they’re building a large scale visitors center/interpretive center. It’s still under construction, but it looks amazing. I’ll report back with the details when it opens up.

If your trip is still down the road (or you’re a local) check back here often as I’ll keep this post updated with the latest Tulsa Route 66 info!

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