Everything’s Bigger in Texas…The Best Route 66 TEXAS Attractions
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!
Texas has the second smallest stretch of Route 66 among the eight states that it crosses coming in at just under 180 miles, but it has some of the most iconic Route 66 attractions and if you’ve never crossed the Great Plains…it’s really something. Miles and miles of nothing, windmills as far as you can see, and the sky goes on forever.
The weather gets extreme in the Texas panhandle with the wind whipping around…summers are hot and winters are cold so plan accordingly.
Some states have so many miles of Route 66 and so many attractions, sites, historic spots, etc that it feels overwhelming, but I think Texas is a pretty manageable stretch. Enough to be interesting, but it’s also a good place to make up the miles if you’ve gotten bogged down in other places.
I’ve written pretty extensively about my Route 66 trip and you can read my play by play posts on the OKC to Amarillo stretch, Amarillo, and the Amarillo to Albuquerque stretch, but this post is more of a postmortem or a post game wrap up, if you will. I’m writing these state by state posts to recap what I liked, what I loved, what I wasn’t very impressed with, etc.
I’ve got notes on what turned out to be my favorite spots and favorite restaurants plus recommendations of what I’d do differently next time. And I’ll also make recommendations on places that I would actually stay (because I’m not usually a $79/night motel kind of gal).
Route 66 Texas
Okay, here we go…
Route 66 Towns in Texas
Let’s start off with a list of towns that Route 66 passes through in Texas so you can lay it out on a map. This is NOT every single town, there are just the ones that I personally found to be the most noteworthy.
My Favorite Texas Route 66 Attractions
Cadillac Ranch: Amarillo, TX
Let’s start off with the big one. Cadillac Ranch has to be among the top 5 most iconic sites along Route 66.
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.
Here’s the scoop on visiting: Cadillac Ranch is right off I-40 just west of Amarillo. You’ll park on the access road and walk through a gate into the middle of a field with a hundred or so other people. Yes, it’s Amarillo’s most popular attraction (one of Route 66’s most popular attractions), and it’s right off the interstate so there’s always a steady stream of people.
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.
It’s a fun stop although I find that the “public art” part of it is often lost on the older crowd. Driving I-40 out to New Mexico for vacation, I’ve stopped here with different family members before and my dad was less than impressed. We always tease him now that if he doesn’t behave we’re going to stop at the Cadillac Ranch ; )
U-Drop Inn Cafe & Tower Station: Shamrock, TX
If Cadillac Ranch is the most well known Texas Route 66 attraction, then the U-Drop Inn Cafe is the hidden gem. I mean, it’s not exactly hidden (it gets a lot of love and attention from Route 66 travelers), but it’s not as overran as the Cadillac Ranch.
And it is COOL.
I always say there’s no way you can see and do everything along Route 66, but this is one stop that you want to plan your trip around. It is a GEM and it’s easily on my top 10 Route 66 list if not top 5.
This old art deco service station and cafe has been near perfectly preserved and it still welcomes visitors. Part of the building houses the Shamrock Texas Visitor Information Center (and gift shop!) and the other half is a little cafe.
The cafe has VERY limited hours, so it takes some planning to hit it just right. But the visitor center has more reliable 9-5 hours. And you don’t want to miss the maps! Put a push pin where you’re from and just marvel at how many people from ALL OVER THE WORLD have ended up in this tiny little town in the Texas panhandle.
And yes, you Cars fans, the U-Drop Inn Cafe was the direct inspiration for Ramone’s Body Shop in the Pixar movie.
Route 66 Midpoint: Adrian, TX
Adrian is a don’t miss town in the Texas panhandle. It’s the official midpoint of Route 66 (1,139 miles from both Chicago and Los Angeles) and because of that it’s usually pretty hopping.
Stop for an official photo op on the midpoint line.
Glenrio Ghost Town: Glenrio, TX
Route 66 is littered with ghost towns…once thriving communities that just shriveled up when they were bypassed (or in many places cut in two) by the interstate. And so far, Glenrio is probably the one that’s been the most interesting to me.
You’ll cross back over the interstate to the south side and the road feels a little more remote. There’s a motel, diner, and service station all in various stages of decay that straddle the Texas New Mexico border.
Where I Ate, What I Liked & Where I Would Go Next Time
U Drop Inn Cafe: Shamrock, TX
The cafe has VERY limited hours, so it takes some planning to hit it just right. When I visited in June, they were open from 11AM to 2PM for lunch and then 2PM to 5PM for ice cream. And I believe they were closed on Sundays and Mondays, but you should call ahead to verify their hours during your dates.
If at all possible, I would make an effort to visit when the cafe is open. It’s such a cute little, well kept place and they’ll even point out the booth WHERE ELVIS SAT. I seriously can’t tell you how thrilled I always am when I inadvertently find out that I’m somewhere Elvis has been. How fun.
It’s tricked out like a diner, but it’s really just a small cafe. They don’t serve anything that requires much cooking. It’s mostly just sandwiches, paninis, etc. So don’t expect burgers and onion rings. Although they do make a great shake!
Midpoint Cafe: Adrian, TX
Of course there’s a retro diner that sits right on the Route 66 midpoint! We didn’t do a full meal here, but their pie was very, very good (the chocolate was probably my favorite I’ve had anywhere).
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.
Goldenlight Cafe: Amarillo, TX
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.
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.
Places I Would Actually Stay
I’ve mentioned before, but most of those $79/night roadside motels just aren’t for me. It has to be something pretty special to peak my interest and mostly I prefer something a little nicer.
Ok, honestly there are not a ton of small vintage motels along the Texas stretch. You’re pretty much going to want to stay in Amarillo. And Amarillo is mostly small chain motels and hotels (think Courtyard, Hampton Inn, etc.).
Barfield: Amarillo, TX
But I really recommend the Barfield in downtown Amarillo. It’s not a Route 66 hotel, but it’s in a historic building (Amarillo’s first skyscraper…all 10 floors ; ) and it’s really well done.
It has more amenities than you’ll find anywhere else in the area (they call it a luxury hotel), but it’s still Amarillo prices.
Also it’s part of Marriott Bonvoy’s Autograph Collection so you can use points!
Cactus Inn: McLean, TX
Not sure I would stay here (I mean I can certainly never see myself spending the night in McLean, TX and I’m not even sure how nice the rooms are), but the signs are pretty cute.
Other Things to See & Do in Texas BESIDES Route 66
This section is really important to me, because the whole point of driving Route 66 recreationally was to See America so besides all of the vintage, kitchy, and historic attractions on Route 66, I like to spend a little time focusing on what you might be able to see and experience in each state that’s unique to that part of the country.
Now the thing is…since Amarillo is in the panhandle and Texas is a BIG state, most other places you should visit in Texas really should be a separate trip, but here are a couple of suggestions:
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.
Fort Worth Stockyards
Okay, this is a bit of a stretch, but I at least want to tell you about it. The Fort Worth Stockyards are pretty much what everyone thinks Texas is like. Or at least what it was like 100 years ago. But in the last few years, they’ve done a lot of development in a high end way and now Fort Worth is on my short list of best towns/cities in the US.
I’ve written an entire post about the Fort Worth Stockyards here.
But I will add that if you’re interested in visiting Fort Worth on this trip, that you would actually detour south from OKC instead of Amarillo.
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.