The Middle of Route 66 in Illinois

Where the past and the present intersect

Classic car on a vintage small town road along Route 66. Photo courtesy of Illinois Office of Tourism

Route 66 begins right in the middle of downtown Chicago. A “Historic Route 66 Begins” sign at the intersection of Wabash Ave. & Adams St. commemorates this starting point and it’s the perfect spot for you to snap a pic celebrating the start of your trip. Because no journey should begin on an empty stomach, grab breakfast at nearby Lou Mitchell's, a classic diner that opened before Route 66 did. 

A couple of hours from Chicago, you’ll find Pontiac, Illinois, home of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum and the middle of Mother Road nostalgia. Packed with cars, artwork, and memorabilia, it’s a living time capsule honoring the legends of Route 66. Downtown Pontiac also features a series of murals dedicated to the history of roadside advertising. 

A little over halfway across Route 66 in Illinois, you’ll find Springfield, the middle of history. Retrace President Lincoln’s footsteps at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Then, grab a bite at Cozy Dog Drive-In, the place that invented the corndog on a stick in 1946, or at Motorheads, a restaurant that epitomizes Route 66’s spirit of adventure. 

One of the most fun things to do on Route 66 is making pit stops for the larger-than-life photo ops. The Muffler Men, 30-foot fiberglass sculptures, are big favorites for selfies, as is the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville. To get the most giant roadside statue photos in a single stop, pull over in Livingston at the Pink Elephant Mall for giant elephants, flying saucers, and more. 

Route 66 in Illinois ends right at the Mississippi River. But if you want to continue exploring, you can switch over to the Great River Road. This 550-mile National Scenic Byway treats travelers to striking vistas and quaint river towns that offer unique experiences. Be sure to stop by Galena, where you can spend the day doing everything from relaxing at a spa to hot-air ballooning. 

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