|

Tucumcari Tonight! The Neon Capital of Route 66 (& a Blue Swallow Motel Review)

Travelers along Route 66 are on the lookout for signs of vintage Americana at every turn…wacky roadside attractions, diners with homestyle cooking, and my personal favorite…sooooo much neon. 

Well, if you’re a neon gazer like me, you’re going to want to spend some time in Tucumcari, New Mexico. 

It’s got to be the #1 small town on the route that’s most heavily concentrated with old Route 66 gems. Mostly motels, but plenty of restored gas stations, restaurants, and soooooooo much neon.

If you’re doing the full cross country road trip, it surely warrants an overnight stop, and even if you’re committed to overnight in Albuquerque you’ll want to stick around Tucumcari until dusk before you scoot on down the road. 

Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Tucumcari, New Mexico:

Where to Stay in Tucumcari

Blue Swallow Inn

I’m going to make a big statement here…if you’re only going to pick ONE vintage motel to stay in on your entire Route 66 road trip, make it the Blue Swallow. 

Open since 1939, the Blue Swallow has been a long time gem along the mother road and as other places have closed down through the years, it’s made this place feel like a time capsule. 

It’s been lovingly maintained, renovated, and restored over the last 80 years, but it still feels like the original motel offering travelers a glimpse into what it would’ve been like to travel along Route 66 all those years ago. 

I’ll level with you…I am not really a roadside motel kind of gal. I don’t need the Ritz, but something like a Courtyard Marriott is usually my standard. So a lot of old motels along the route are cute but not a place that I would personally want to stay. 

But the Blue Swallow is a GEM. I’d stopped by and seen in person in passing before and knew I had to go back for an overnight stay. 

Here are the details from my stay:

Check in time at the Blue Swallow is 3 PM (mountain time) and when we pulled up out front we were greeted warmly by Robert. 

Robert and Dawn Federico are the current owners of the Blue Swallow, but they’ll tell you that they’re merely custodians for the legacy of this great place that longtime owner Lillian Redman poured her heart into. 

They’re exactly the kind of folks you think would operate a vintage motel on Route 66…super friendly, welcoming, and willing to sit and spin a story with anybody. 

Robert got us checked in, gave us the rundown of the place, a little tour of the property and showed us to our room. 

I mean really…when was the last time you checked into a hotel and the owner showed you to your room? 

The rooms are quaint and charming and pretty much exactly like they would’ve been in 1939. Small and with a lot of the original furnishings, but very clean. 

Most rooms come with access to a little garage, but you’re just supposed to pull your front wheels inside (it would be quite a cozy fit!). 

There’s a little hospitality room with a vintage communal fridge (it’s the mama fridge to the baby fridge in the gift shop) and a washer and dryer.

And there are all kinds of board games you can play as well. 

Also just in case you’re like me and wandering about the mattress…it was very comfortable and one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. 

The overall experience: Staying at the Blue Swallow really did feel like a whole experience. 

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.

There are plenty of chairs outside so everyone sits outside their rooms in the evenings and listens to music and watches the neon. 

And Robert and Dawn live on the property in the back of the office so there’s a real social component to the place which a lot of hotels don’t have anymore. 

In the mornings, there’s coffee, tea and snacks in the lobby and my mom (who is super picky in the coffee department) thought it was VERY good. 

There are only about a dozen rooms at the Blue Swallow and it’s so famous that it often sells out so you’ll definitely want to make your reservations well in advance. 

Book your room at the Blue Swallow here

Something else to know: The Blue Swallow’s neon is so famous that it attracts a lot of looky lous, but it is an actual hotel not a theme park attraction, so if you’re not staying there you need to be sensitive about just driving up and walking around the take photos (there isn’t a ton of parking out front). It’s best to go inside to chat with the owners (super friendly!) and they usually don’t have a problem with people taking photos as long as you don’t intrude on the guests. Also, there’s a gift shop in the lobby and it takes a lot to maintain neon like this so if you stop to gawk, I would definitely recommend making a purchase to offer support because there just aren’t many places like this left. 

If the Blue Swallow is full, try these places:

Motel Safari: 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. 

Historic Route 66 Motel: A good option if you need a bigger room…they have mini suites available. 

Roadrunner Lodge: One of the few places that allows pets. 

Don’t Miss Attraction

Teepee Curios: 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. And I’ll say it again…it takes a lot to maintain places like this so if you stop by, take pictures of the place, and enjoy it, make sure to buy something inside. There aren’t many places like this left along the route. 

If you have time:

New Mexico Route 66 Museum: The museum has really limited hours so I haven’t been able to catch it open yet, but it’s supposed to be worth a stop. It’s located in the back of the convention center on the far end of town.

Don’t miss the Route 66 Monument out front. 

Mesalands Dinosaur Museum: This place was closed for a private event when I was in town so I didn’t get to check it out, but it supposedly has the biggest collection of lifesize bronze dinosaur skeletons…in the world. Because they’re bronze castings, you can touch them and I guess climb around on them…try doing that at the Natural Museum of History in New York City ! ; ) 

Tucumcari Historical Museum: I was 0/3 on museums when I was in Tucumcari, but this one sits in a 1900s schoolhouse and has a lot outside on the grounds to look at (train cars, etc.). 

Tucumcari Mountain

Where to Eat in Tucumcari

Del’s Restaurant: 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!

Watson’s BBQ: Being from Oklahoma I love to try BBQ different places, but it can be hit or miss. The brisket was a miss for me here, the pork ribs were good and their sides (coleslaw, potato salad, they were out of mac and cheese) were exactly how I like them. If I went back, I think I’d try the burger or one of their grill specials. 

But it’s a REALLY cool place and definitely worth a visit. 

Kix on 66: Didn’t have time to try it, but it gets great reviews. 

Loretta’s Burrito Hut: This place didn’t look like much from the outside, but it was HOPPING so it’s probably a great place for New Mexican cuisine. 

El Cita: Famous for their giant sombrero out front. 

Other Things to See in Tucumcari

You could spend a while just driving up and down the route to see all of the signs and cool sites. Here are some of my favorites: 

Head over to “downtown” too. It’s a bit crumbly, but has a lot of character and the train station is a big reminder that the railroad is what originally put Tucumcari on the map. 

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.