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Eight Ways to Enjoy Route 66 in Missouri

The talk of passersby only momentarily broke my concentration. The big board was hypnotizing, with its interesting names and random assortment of numbers. Concentration was essential. Selecting the right destination was going to impact my entire day. No, this wasn’t an airport experience. It was my first time at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand, a must-see for Route 66 travelers visiting St. Louis, Missouri

Gateway Arch

A Tasty (and Iconic) Stop

Located about 15 minutes from the Gateway Arch, Ted Drewes specializes in concretes – custard treats so thick, you can turn them upside down and they don’t spill. The specialty creations at Ted Drewes come in a wide variety of flavours and boast interesting names – including All Shook Up, Cardinal Sin and Crater Copernicus – thus my intense deliberations at the big board (a large outdoor menu).

Ted Drewes

Ted Drewes

As somewhat of a traditionalist, I took the easy way out with cookie-dough concrete, which was exceptional. (The All Shook Up, a delightful melding of Reese’s peanut butter cups and bananas has, on subsequent visits, become my go-to selection.) Stopping for a treat at Ted Drewes is a communal experience for those who live, work and play in the St. Louis area, especially when the St. Louis Cardinals are at home!

Chippewa Street

Chippewa Street

The custard stand’s history dates to 1930, when Ted Drewes opened his first store in Missouri. The Chippewa Street has been open since 1941 and is ideal for folks traveling along Route 66. It’s a short drive to some of the area’s other popular attractions, including Forest Park, which is home to the Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri History Museum, Muny outdoor theater, Saint Louis Science Center and Saint Louis Art Museum.

Route 66

Route 66

While Ted Drewes might be the first Route 66 attraction you enjoy in Missouri when traveling in from the east, it certainly won’t be the last. The Show-Me State offers a variety of interesting experiences along the stretch of Route 66 that’s contained within its borders. Here’s a look at a few more Route 66 attractions and side trips to consider the next time The Mother Road beckons you for adventure…

Meramec Caves

Plenty of Sights to See

Situated just off Route 66 in Stanton, Meramec Caverns has been drawing visitors for decades, thanks to the innovative idea of advertising on the sides and roofs of barns that dot the landscape of the Midwest. Your tour begins in what’s known as The Ballroom, a huge entryway that leads into the cavern’s seven layers. It is simply amazing, as are the formations and small bodies of water you see on the tour. While the show cave is the focal point of your visit, the property includes a zipline ride, canoe rentals, lodging, camping and some of the best homemade fudge in Missouri!

Big Red Rocker

Cuba, Missouri

Dubbed as Missouri’s Route 66 Mural City, the charming community of Cuba has 12 outdoor murals that highlight important events and regional history. This artistic journey includes depictions of Civil War events, famed aviator Amelia Earhart’s emergency landing in Cuba, and a somewhat scandalous 1948 visit by actress Bette Davis. The Wagon Wheel Motel is a favorite lodging spot for Route 66 travelers, while Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q serves up flavoursome smoked meats and sides. Just outside of Cuba, don’t miss a photo opportunity at The Big Red Rocker - a 42 foot tall rocking chair!

Devils Elbow Route 66

Pulaski County, Missouri

There’s a lot of Route 66 history in Pulaski County, Missouri, where you find the cities of St. Robert and Waynesville, along with Fort Leonard Wood. Perhaps no place is more closely associated with Route 66 than Devil's Elbow – so named for a particularly sharp bend in the nearby Big Piney River – which is home to the renowned Elbow Inn Bar & BBQ, a spot that originally was established in the 1930s as the Munger-Moss Sandwich Shop. People from all over the globe visit this biker-friendly bar. It’s near a lovely stretch of the aforementioned river and serves up savory snacks and cold drinks.

Best Western Springfield

Springfield, Missouri

When it comes to Route 66 history, it’s hard to top Springfield, Missouri. After all, it was in this city the highway officially was named during an April 30, 1926, meeting to discuss the new Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway. Today, Springfield boasts several Route 66 sights, ranging from the Route 66 Car Museum to the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven, a hotel with 1950s and 1960s period décor. Don’t miss the chance to grab a burger at the Steak ’n Shake on St. Louis Street (old Route 66); it opened in 1962 and was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Gary’s Gay Parita

Gary’s Gay Parita

Gary’s Gay Parita is a can’t-miss stop on your Route 66 adventure across Missouri. Located about 25 miles west of Springfield, near Halltown, this recreation of a Sinclair gas station is a wildly popular stop for travelers. Vintage signs, fuel pumps and vehicles are the top draws. Visitors who have done their research in advance know to bring markers so they can sign their name on the wooden fence adjacent to the station. Former owner and operator Gary Turner, a friend to many in the Route 66 community has passed, but family members are carrying on his legacy.

Drive in Route 66

Carthage, Missouri

Known for its classic Route 66 Drive-In theater and an assortment of road-trip worthy stops, Carthage is an excellent example of mid-sized towns located across the famous highway. Along with the theater, Route 66 travelers may be particularly interested in Whisler’s Drive Up, a casual joint where you buy burgers by the bag, and the circa 1939 Boots Court Motel, which made its name by enticing visitors with the promise of “a radio in every room.” No visit to Carthage is complete without seeing Red Oak II, a recreation of an early 20th century village designed by Missouri artist Lowell Davis.

Grand Falls

Joplin, Missouri

The proverbial last stop in Missouri along Route 66, Joplin has more than six miles of the original route running through town. As you travel through Joplin, take time to explore the Joplin Museum Complex, which focuses on the region’s rich mining heritage, and to see homes in the Historic Murphysburg District, noted as the city’s oldest neighborhood and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Outdoor enthusiasts won’t want to miss Grand Falls, Missouri’s largest flowing waterfall. Art lovers will want to stop by Joplin’s City Hall, which houses renowned Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton’s last signed mural.

Missouri River

Sensational Side Trips

One of the best parts of any road trip is putting more “road” in your trip. If you’re travelling across Route 66 in Missouri, here are two destinations to consider: Hermann and Branson. Route 66 (Interstate 44) intersects with Highway 19 in Cuba. Take Highway 19 north for about one hour and you’ll find Hermann, a historic German settlement on the banks of the Missouri River – be sure to grab your camera to take advantage of the bluff-top views of the Missouri River and its surrounding valley.

Hermann

Hermann, Missouri

Best known as the home of several award-winning wineries Hermann is a classic example of small-town Missouri. The population stands at about 3,100 full-time residents, but Hermann draws tens of thousands of people for its annual Maifest and Oktoberfest celebrations. Sample wine at stops such as Adam Puchta and Stone Hill wineries. Grab a sandwich or savory bratwurst at the Hermann Wurst Haus.

Hermann

Hermann Farm & Museum

At the 200-acre Hermann Farm and Museum (opened in May 2016), visitors can see the restored circa 1850 Husmann House, and take tram tours through the farm. Along the way, visitors can see a variety of farm animals including Shire draft horses, a huge and gentle breed. The oldest building on the farm is a log trading post, the year 1771 is scrawled on one of its beams, but it could date back to 1744!

Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri

In southwest Missouri, Branson makes for an exciting Route 66 stop. From Springfield, take Highway 65 south for about 45 minutes to the “The Live Music Show Capital of the World.” With more than 40 theaters, dozens of live shows and hundreds of performers, Branson is most famous for its live-entertainment options.

Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City

Also in Branson are Silver Dollar City, an 1880s theme park with outstanding rides such as the Outlaw Run roller coaster – the world’s only wooden roller coaster ride that includes a double barrel roll – and Titanic Museum Attraction, which takes a fascinating look at and has items recovered from the sunken vessel.

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Further south, about 10 minutes from downtown Branson, is Top of the Rock, one of those “you have to see it to believe it” type places that turns road trips into memorable adventures. While a par-3 course designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus is perhaps Top of the Rock's signature attraction, the entire area is a playground of sorts, catering to those who enjoy natural beauty, history, great food and outstanding views.

Grand Falls

Table Rock Lake

Situated high above Table Rock Lake, Top of the Rock offers several distinct experiences for guests. Sights on the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail tour include many table rock formations for which the nearby lake is named. At the Ancient Ozark Natural History Museum, you find an extensive collection of American Indian artifacts, along with galleries and exhibits focusing on prehistoric animals that roamed the Ozarks.


Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the places to explore when you travel Route 66 in Missouri. Learn more about the Show-Me State and start planning your getaway at VisitMO.com


Written by Stephen Foutes

Missouri Division of Tourism

 
 
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