The stretch of Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri, is home to aluminum-and-chrome diners, historic, family-owned cafes, bizarre attractions, and other reminders of the route’s charming past. You’ll also see plenty of cornfields and flat prairie land between the bustling cities and sleepy towns along this first leg.
Start your epic journey at the route’s original 1937 terminus at Lake Shore Drive and E. Jackson Drive in downtown Chicago.
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Don’t miss the Route 66 Starts Here sign at the corner of S Michigan Avenue and E Adams Street. The sign (along with a handful of replica signs on the same block) is located in a busy section, so you may need to find parking elsewhere and walk to the sign for a photo.
Lou Mitchell’s is the perfect place to get breakfast—and a cup of the “world’s finest coffee”—before you leave the Windy City. The restaurant has been serving home-cooked comfort food to travelers since 1923, predating the designation of Route 66 by 3 years. Before sitting down, diners are handed a freshly-made donut hole and a miniature box of candy. And because one donut hole is never enough, you can order some to-go.
It's one of the first stops Ferris Bueller makes on his day off, so you know it's an essential Chicago icon. The Skydeck really does offer great views when the weather is good, plus the glass-floored "ledge" is an unforgettable experience for those brave enough to step on to it.
On a balmy August evening in 2004, Chicago residents reported seeing a series of red or white lights that formed a triangle shape. Several videos captured the light show, and it was even reported by local news outlets. The phenomenon occurred about 45 miles from O’Hare International Airport, but the lights moved too slowly to be a commercial plane. What makes this one of the more significant UFO sightings is that it was investigated by the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a non-profit with thousands of civilian volunteers. The mysterious occurrence was also featured on the History Channel’s UFO Hunters.
Tinley Park, Illinois, United States
Route 66 is renowned for its classic American cuisine. If you’re not still full of donut holes (or even if you are), visit Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, just outside Chicago, for some of the best fried chicken you'll ever taste. The roadhouse has been serving its home-cooked goodness since 1946, and even if you’re not ready to eat just yet, the neon sign is a classic photo op.
The Illinois stretch of Route 66 is home to several great roadside attractions, but nothing shouts "retro kitsch" louder than a massive Muffler Man. Snap a picture with the Gemini Giant the newly-reopened Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington. Named for the Gemini space program, he’s one of many similar statues made by International Fiberglass. The giant stands guard over the Launching Pad Drive-in, which also houses a gift shop, a restaurant, and the Mini Americana Museum.
You did it—one leg down, five more to go. As you travel further southwest, the weather will get warmer, the road will get flatter, and the views will only get better. While it’s true that you never forget your first, so much of Route 66 is still in front of you—so keep going and let the Show-Me State show you why almost 100 years after its creation, the Mother Road is still the best place to get your kicks.