We recommend that you plan to spend 10 days to two weeks to travel through and explore the landscape, attractions, cuisine and rich culture of this vast stretch of Route 66. From Glenrio on the Texas state line to Manuelito on the border of Arizona, the road runs right through the center of New Mexico. Technically, you have to exit Amarillo on the I-40 then join 66 at Hereford.
Arguably, more than anywhere on the journey, New Mexico is reminiscent of ‘how the west was won’. Rich in Native American history and culture with a backdrop of famous mountain ranges; The Rockies and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains east of Santa Fe, and the Sandia and Zuni Mountains flanking Albuquerque on either side - not to mention the famed Rio Grande River flowing right past Albuquerque itself.
There’s a huge number of ‘must sees' on this stretch of the Route, so arm yourself with local guidebooks to maximise what you can squeeze in.
Our pick of the stops:
Best get your shades at the ready as you hit Albuquerque – the neon glow is pretty startling! The town is a mass of iconic Route 66 memorabilia, quirky motels, hotels, and diners, making for a lively stop-over to experience the epitome of New Mexico hospitality.
Route 66 takes you right the way through Albuquerque, past the Rio Grande Botanical Garden and the Albuquerque Aquarium, through historic Old Town and the Downtown business district and on to the spectacular drama of the volcanoes on the city's far west side.
From the city’s famed green chilli cheeseburgers to authentic Mexican bakeries and true Southwestern cuisine, try some of our pick of the eats:
The Golden Crown Panaderia Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque – It’s a bakery, Jim, but not as we know it!
Sophia’s Place 4th Street, NW Albuquerque – truly authentic New Mexico food serving, arguably, the best breakfast burritos in Albuquerque.
Marble Brewery – There’s three of these in Albuquerque (not hard to find), specialising in hand-crafted ales and lagers produced exclusively for New Mexico. It’s a popular live music dive, and if you’re hungry, some of Albuquerque’s best food trucks are parked just outside.
Sandia Peak Tramway – get a bird’s
Los Poblano – an extraordinary hotel set in among 25 acres of lavender fields, enormous cottonwood trees, and lush formal gardens
Adobe Garden at Los Ranchos Chavez Road - Spanish style hacienda packed with strange and charming portals and courtyards
At some 400 miles, Arizona makes up the longest stretch of the historic Route that’s still in use today. As you approach the end game, fight the urge to speed past the outstanding scenery with its multicoloured landscapes and tumbleweed-strewn ghost towns.
The last 160 miles of the old road in Arizona take you through historic towns like Seligman, Kingman, and Oatman before opening out onto a startling stretch of open desert.
Be sure to swing through Kingman, the biggest city in North West Arizona. Still boasting a thriving community today, Kingman bursts with memorabilia of a pioneering ‘Wild West’ township. The historic city center is only about a mere mile across, enclosed on all sides by steep, scenic hills.
Route 66 still forms most the main street and leads you out into the breath-taking countryside, home to the Black Mountains to the west and the Hualapai Indian Reservation and Peach Springs to the east.
See and stay
Get yourself to Holbrook, home to the wild ‘n crazy Wigwam Motel (be sure and book ahead!) Quirky rock shops and cement dinosaurs decorate the main drag in town, and there are several great diners serving up tasty but messy Tex-Mex. Take time to visit Petrified Forest National Park for stunning views of the ‘Painted Desert’.
Roadkill Cafe - “You kill it, we’ll grill it” runs this crazy joint’s slogan. And they’re as good as their word, although these days you don’t have to bring your own carrion!
Welcome to the ‘Golden State’! This last stretch of Route 66 crosses the southern part of California taking you through the magnificent Mojave Desert and the Cajon Pass (the last high peak of the Route) and past the Colorado River by Needles (the hottest town in the US; temperatures exceed 40°C in high summer).
After more than 2,000 miles of virtually straight roadway, as your the markedly different curvy road, you'll experience a physical change in the journey and the overwhelming anticipation of your final destination - Los Angeles and Santa Monica!
Before you rush towards the bright beaches of the Pacific coast, be sure to explore the drama of the Mojave Desert: The ghost town of Calico, about 5 km off Route 66, The Amboy Crater, a dramatic volcanic crater in Amboy, and make your mark on the Graffiti Corridor around Chambless where passers-by are invited to contribute to an eclectic art installation. Visitors hang shoes and tag their names or slogans along the corridor which stretches for several miles between Essex and Amboy.
McDonald's Route 66 Museum -the first McDonald’s restaurant was located on the Route in San Bernardino, California 1945; now home to the museum of the ‘Big Mac’!
Happily, the Los Angeles section of Route 66 still exists almost intact. Stretching west from Pasadena deep into downtown L.A. For its last few miles, the Route follows Sunset Boulevard, then Santa Monica Boulevard all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where it ends at Santa Monica Pier.
Be prepared to slow down as the LA traffic is notorious and best keep your GPS to hand for any attempt to take a shortcut!
In stark contrast to much of the Route 66 to which you’ve become familiar by now, in ever-changing Los Angeles, there’s little sign of the ‘good ol’ days’. Aside from the obvious glitz of LA; Hollywood Boulevard etc., as you head to the coast you'll pass a handful of 19th Century businesses, hotels, and landmarks of times past. Look out for Barney's Beanery, on Santa Monica Boulevard, The Peterson Automotive Museum on Wilshire Blvd and The Museum of Neon Art in Glendale.
Well if you’ve gotten this far, congratulations, you’ve done Route 66, and have some amazing stories to tell!