We’ve wanted to travel along the entire length of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica for several years but it hasn’t worked out until now. So finally – our first day on Route 66!
The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921 was responsible for establishing Route 66 and many of the other numbered highways that are still in existence today. The act provided federal money to the states to help create a coherent highway network, using number routes rather than names which were confusing since they often changed as the roads passed through different states. East to west roads use even numbers, north to south use odd numbers. The act also marked the beginning of standards for road construction and road signage.
Besides connecting two major cities, Route 66 provided an easy route through the Rocky Mountains attracting truckers, job seekers, and families on vacation. As it’s popularity grew, small towns along the way vied for the tourist traffic by building fancy motor courts, restaurants of all kinds, and unusual attractions. By 1953 four lane, limited access roads began bypassing towns along Route 66 and in 1985 the route was decommissioned. It may have disappeared altogether if it weren’t for a few people dedicated to it’s preservation. It’s still possible to drive on 85% of the original route and many of the old iconic gas stations, restaurants, bridges and motels are being restored or are finding new life as more travelers chose to go back in time and travel slowly along the two lanes.
Travelers on Route 66 need to do some research and have a good guide book. We bought EZ 66 Guide for Travelers which has very detailed, easy to follow directions. These websites are good too - Historic Route 66, National Park Service Route 66 Corridor, and Road Trip USA.
So (after that little history lesson) Route 66 from Chicago to Joliet!
The beginning of Route 66. Route 66 originally followed Jackson Blvd. but by the 1950s Jackson was one way eastbound and Adams St. became the westbound route.
Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant and Bakery, a family business since 1923, is a favorite with both locals and tourists. Breakfast seems to be the most popular meal but we arrived in mid afternoon and weren’t hungry so we had pie and a small salad. Mediocre at best so maybe stick to breakfast?
The Cindy Lou Motel, once billed as “the last motel before the city”, is a relative newcomer - opened in 1960. It looks a bit rundown and seedy but I like the primitive, homemade sign.
Apparently Chicagoans put fries on top of their hot dogs. Henry’s Drive-In has been in business since the 1950s and has a very cool sign. Large lot with room for RVs.
The Berwyn Rt 66 Museum is a tiny gift shop and museum. Not much to see but the volunteers are very friendly. On the street parking.
Side trip to the Chicago Portage National Historic Site. The portage, which provided an easy connection between the Atlantic
and the Gulf of Mexico by linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, allowed Chicago to become an important port. The site has a large statue, interpretive signs, a short paved trail and a longer gravel loop trail. Large lot with room for RVs.
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket has been frying up chicken since 1946. Unfortunately the opening of I-55 cut off easy access to the restaurant and it takes some effort to find it. RVs will fit on the edge of the lot.
White Fence Farm which opened in the early 1920s is more than a restaurant. It’s also a museum with antique cars, clocks, motorcycles, dolls and other memorabilia, plus a petting zoo and quarter games. We didn’t get to see any of that or taste the chicken to decide if it is wonderful or flavorless ( differing internet reviews) because the restaurant is closed on Mondays. Large lot with room for RVs.
Kicks on 66 Park is a great photo stop. Look for the ice cream stand with the Blues Brothers dancing on the roof (Jake Blues was released from Joliet Prison in The Blues Brothers movie) and pull into the parking lot. Across the street is Dick’s Towing with old cars on display. Follow the paved trail to a big Kicks on 66 sign. The park also has two nice sculptures. Large lot with room for RVs.
It’s only about 40 miles from Chicago to Joliet but if you stop for everything it’ll take a few hours. We drove through downtown Chicago at about 10:30 on Monday morning and had no problems with traffic or finding our way. It’s actually marked pretty well with Route 66 directional signs. Unless you’re determined to drive every inch of the original road the first eight or so miles can be bypassed by taking I-55. Very little of the original character is left on this section of road. Map