My son and I drove along a section of Route 66 in Illinois a few years ago and had a blast.
I was surprised to learn that many people don’t know the Illinois Route 66 as well as the areas through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.
But, Route 66 does, in fact, start in Chicago. You might even want to spend a couple days in the Windy City before you head off on your trek!
Route 66 in Illinois travels southwest through places like Bloomington and Springfield before crossing the Mississippi River into St. Louis.
Illinoisans are proud of their road and have gone to great lengths to preserve it.
Table of Contents
- Welcome to Route 66 Illinois
- Illinois Route 66 Attractions
- Route 66 Springfield, IL attractions
- Route 66 Festival
- More great Road Trips In The United States!
Welcome to Route 66 Illinois
As you can see in this photo, Route 66 in Illinois is celebrated as a cultural throwback.
Maps and signs along Illinois Route 66 highlight iconic landmarks along the route.
Route 66 is one of the original U.S. highways, dating back to the 1920s. It provided an “easy” roadway from Chicago, Illinois to the west coast, passing through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Towns sprang up all along the route, providing travelers with places to eat, sleep and visit along the journey.
Once the interstate system was established in the 1950s, much of Route 66 became “obsolete.” But, the communities along Route 66 work together to keep the charm, the memory and the communities along “the Mother Road” alive.
Today, Route 66 Illinois is designated a scenic byway, preserving some of the nostalgia of life before the superhighway.
Illinois Route 66 Attractions
Some of the best Route 66 attractions in Illinois have been here for decades. People return to the area time and time again to enjoy the nostalgic and quirky attractions they remember from simpler times.
Some of the best Illinois Route 66 attractions are:
- Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac
- Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center in Litchfield
- Cozy Dog Drive In
- Route 66 Drive In Theater in Springfield
- Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum
Probably the best of the Illinois Route 66 attractions is the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac, Illinois. The museum’s exhibits include shield murals, photos, license plates and more.
For a can’t miss photo op, take a selfie with the giant Route 66 mural on the wall out back.
And don’t miss Bob Waldmire’s van! It’s open daily, but hours vary.
The Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum preserves and promotes historic Illinois Route 66.
By preserving sections of Route 66 as it was in its heyday, generations of future road trippers can see what a special route this is. Learn the history, purpose, significance and cultural appeal of Route 66 in Illinois and throughout the country through museum exhibits.
And, the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum promotes attractions throughout the year that celebrate “the Mother Road.”
- Address: 110 W Howard St, Pontiac, Illinois
- Hours: Daily from 9:00-5:00 Spring-Fall, and 10:00-4:00 in winter. Closed: Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
- Admission: FREE, donations welcome.
- Learn More: Visit the Route 66 Museum website to learn more about hours and special events!
Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center
The Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center sits on Old Route 66, the official Mother Road, one block east of the new Route 66, aka Columbian Road. The town sits about halfway between Springfield, IL and St. Louis, MO.
Though the museum is small, it gets rave reviews for its displays that celebrate the town’s history, Route 66 in Illinois and the region’s influence on the world.
Exhibits include Bob Waldmire maps and drawings, an original Route 66 road sign, an antique car, a historic, hand-drawn fire wagon, and lots of historical information and exhibits about the region and businesses that supported Route 66 in Illinios in its heyday.
- Address: 334 North Historic Route 66, Litchfield, IL
- Hours: April to October, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. (1-4 on Sundays); November-March, Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00-4:00.
- Admission: FREE, donations welcome.
- Learn More: Visit the Litchfield Route 66 Museum website to learn more about the exhibits and special events in the area.
Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge was once a vehicle bridge on Route 66 from Illinois to Missouri, crossing over the Mississippi River.
For decades, the bridge acted as a bypass for Route 66 around St. Louis, but a larger bridge was built for Interstate 270 as part of the interstate expansion across the United States making Chain of Rocks Bridge obsolete for car traffic.
The bridge was ultimately preserved and improved by local trails groups for use as a pedestrian and bike bridge.
Today, signs and fun benches made of old Route 66 road signs make this a great stop along historic Route 66 in Illinois.
Cozy Dog Drive In
Home of the original “cozy dog,” a hot dog on a stick, dipped in batter and deep fried, Cozy Dog Drive In has been serving guests on Old Route 66 in Illinois since 1949.
In an interesting twist, Bob Waldmire’s dad created the Cozy Dog! The Cozy Dog is still family owned, now run by Bob’s son, Josh. Route 66 in Illinois is alive and well!
Restaurants, like the Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield, preserve the fun of the golden era of road trips.
The restaurant has a Happy Days feel, suitable for this roadway known for fast cars and casual dining. As to the cozy dogs, I understand why they haven’t changed the recipe. The sweet corn coating is a nice contrast to the salty dog. Perfect with mustard and a soda!
As Illinois Route 66 attractions go, the Cozy Dog tops our list of “must see” places!
- Address: Cozy Dog Drive In, 2935 S. 6th St. Springfield, IL (NOTE: The Cozy Dog changed locations in 1996, but its connection to historic Route 66 in Illinois has not changed)
- Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., closed Sundays. Closed on the following holidays: Memorial Day Weekend (Saturday-Monday), Labor Day Weekend (Thursday-Monday), July 4th, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. BUT, you can always take a selfie outside!
- Restaurant Menu: Check the Cozy Dog website for the current menu.
Route 66 Springfield, IL attractions
When planning a Route 66 Illinois road trip, plan on spending extra time in Springfield, Illinois.
The number of historic attractions near Route 66 in Springfield, IL includes both Route 66 attractions and Abraham Lincoln attractions.
Lincoln attractions near Route 66 in Springfield, IL
Lincoln Presidential Library
The Lincoln Presidential Library is thoughtfully designed to help visitors understand the real Abraham Lincoln, not just the hero we’ve built up in our minds.
From left to right around a central rotunda, visitors step into the various times of Lincoln’s life starting with his childhood cabin in Kentucky. Guests are encouraged to consider how difficult it must have been to share such a small space with a family.
The White House Years, depicted on the opposite side draw guests into the politics of the time. We were surprised to discover that Lincoln was very unpopular throughout his years in office. Personal tragedies weighed as heavily as the nation’s internal strife.
I gained new respect for Lincoln, the man, from visiting the Lincoln Presidential Library.
- Address: 212 N 6th St, Springfield, IL
- Hours: Daily, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (last admission at 4:00 p.m.). Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day.
- Admission: 2023 ticket prices are adults, $15; seniors, $12; students (5-15), $6, and under 5 free. The museum offers special promotions and special entry days for those with sensory issues. Check the website for up to date prices, discounts and special promotions.
- PRO TIPS: Allow a minimum of two hours to visit. Check the daily show schedule to plan your day.
Route 66 Springfield, IL attractions
Of course, a post about Route 66 Illinois would be incomplete without a list of Route 66 Springfield attractions!
One of those, the Cozy Dog Drive In, was included above in the MUST SEE Illinois Route 66 attractions. With its heritage, related to Route 66 favorite Bob Waldmire, and its dedication to preserving the Route 66 history, it needs to be included both places.
Route 66 Drive In Theater
The original Route 66 Drive In Theater in Springfield opened in 1952, and was one of the largest drive in theaters at the time. The original theater burned down in 1991, and it was redeveloped in its new location at 1700 Knights Recreation Dr. Springfield, Illinois. This throwback theater has two large screens and is open late spring through October.
When visiting Springfield, spend the night and enjoy the drive in theater, just like in the heyday of historic Route 66 in Illinois!
CHECK THE WEBSITE for show listings and more information about the Springfield Route 66 Drive In Theater.
The Lauterbach Giant
An article on Illinois Route 66 attractions would not be complete without some kitschy spots for a fun photo op!
And, the Lauterbach Giant, one of the most well-known Route 66 Springfield, IL attractions, is easy to see. His history dates back to 1961 when fiberglass muffler men were common across the country. The shop that first claimed him didn’t last long, but he was rescued by a local motel. Eventually, he made his way back to car care at Lauterbach Tires and Car Care. Despite being beheaded in a tornado, the giant has survived and is available for fun photos every day of the year!
For historic Illinois Route 66 fans, this guy is worth a detour to see!
- ADDRESS: 1569 Wabash Avenue, Springfield, IL
- LEARN MORE: For fun tips and insight, visit Roadside America to learn more.
Historic Brick Road
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s a 1.4 mile stretch of the ORIGINAL, restored, Route 66 that was completed back in 1931.
This section of Illinois Route 66 was created with hand-laid bricks placed over a concrete roadbed.
This protected section of road was restored and makes a GREAT selfie backdrop for road trip fans.
Look at that road! Can you picture car travel back in the 1930s? I cannot imagine (though I try) how slow travel would have been back when “the Mother Road” was first completed.
Part of me wishes we could slow down and enjoy the journey more, though!
You can still drive on this road today! It’s located just south of Springfield, near Auburn, Illinois.
Route 66 Festival
Of course, a road worthy of a Disney feature film deserves festivals and celebrations in its honor. Springfield hosts a great Route 66 car show every September!
International Route 66 Mother Road Festival
The premier Route 66 festival is the “International Route 66 Mother Road Festival” in Springfield, IL. This festival is part Route 66 car show and part festival. It is held the third weekend in September each year and draws more than 100,000 guests.
The Route 66 car show portion features classic cars celebrating the heyday of Route 66. As a Route 66 festival, it features live bands and a classic Route 66 film festival. For the kids, there are bounce houses and other activities. And, there are plenty of food trucks to fuel the family.
This popular Route 66 car show and festival draws a crowd, so book hotel rooms early. Admission is free.
More great Road Trips In The United States!
It’s hard to beat a historic Route 66 road trip, but there are other exciting road trips in the United States worth taking! Here are a few of our favorite road trips. When you get off the highway to travel older routes, there’s so much to discover!
- Discover Ohio: A road trip from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati. Discover history, sports, big cities and small towns on this road trip through Ohio.
- Hwy 301 through North Carolina. Discover the small towns, tobacco farms, whirligigs and delicious foods that make North Carolina the place it is today.