The Route 66 centennial in 2026 will mark 100 years since the iconic highway was established. It will be a momentous occasion to celebrate the cultural significance of this legendary road. In Illinois, Route 66 weaves its way through various towns and cities, each with its own unique charm.
CHICAGO – The starting point of Route 66 in Illinois is none other than the vibrant city of Chicago, a metropolis brimming with cultural, culinary, and architectural wonders. While the original Route 66 may have changed over the years, Chicago's legacy as the birthplace of this historical highway is still very much alive. Visitors can explore Millennium Park and marvel at the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, located near the Route 66 Begin sign.
OAK PARK – Located just outside of Chicago, Oak Park was a significant stop along this famous highway. Travelers passing through Oak Park were greeted by charming suburban streets lined with historical homes and landmarks. From Frank Lloyd Wright's renowned architecture to the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, Oak Park offered a glimpse into American culture and history along the iconic Route 66.
WILLOWBROOK – Continuing west along Route 66, DuPage County offers a scenic and diverse landscape to travelers. A well-known Route 66 eatery is Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket. A destination in itself, located in the charming community of Willowbrook, this original 1940s roadhouse has been featured in countless documentaries and travel books. It is popular with both locals and international visitors and a wonderful spot to sample American favorites like fried chicken and baked macaroni.
PONTIAC – Travelers will then venture into the Heritage Corridor, a picturesque region known for its scenic beauty and towns. One such town is Pontiac, which boasts a rich automotive history and houses the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. Visitors can immerse themselves in the nostalgia of vintage cars, neon signs, and artifacts that depict the heyday of Route 66.
BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL – Continuing south, the next stop is Bloomington-Normal, a vibrant community that offers a delightful blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Visitors can stop at Ryburn Place at Sprague’s Super Service, a Tudor Revival building that opened in 1931. Today, restorations have been made and an information center and gift shop welcome visitors. History buffs can explore the story of Abraham Lincoln and Route 66 at the Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center. Travelers can also stop at the VisitBN Gift Shop for Route 66 novelties.
LINCOLN – Further along the route lies the town of Lincoln, named after the 16th U.S. president. Here, visitors can explore the charming downtown area and discover the historic Logan County Courthouse. The Railsplitter Covered Wagon, a symbol of the pioneer spirit, stands proudly in the heart of the town, paying homage to Lincoln's frontier roots. Near Lincoln in Atlanta, Illinois, be on the lookout for the 19-foot Bunyon giant holding his famous hotdog.
SPRINGFIELD – As Route 66 winds its way through the state capital of Springfield, visitors are greeted with a wealth of historical attractions and landmarks, including the Route 66 Experience at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Springfield served as the home of Abraham Lincoln, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum offers an immersive journey into the life and times of the revered president. The annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival is a can’t-miss event each September.
COLLINSVILLE – Continuing southwest into the Great Rivers and Routes area, travelers arrive in Collinsville, a town steeped in Route 66 history. Make sure to see Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also home to the World's Largest Catsup Bottle, an endearing Route 66 landmark that pays homage to the road's quirky attractions.
GRANITE CITY – The final stop in Illinois along Route 66 is the Chain of Rocks bridge, which once stood as a noteworthy landmark. This unique bridge spanned the Mississippi River and became a symbol of the famed route, captivating travelers with its distinctive bend in the middle.
As travelers bid farewell to Illinois, they carry with them the memories of a journey along Route 66 that encapsulates the essence of America's heartland. From the bustling streets of Chicago to the quaint towns along the way, this iconic highway continues to captivate and inspire, reminding us of the spirit of adventure and the enduring allure of the open road.
More information: visitbn.org/IllinoisRoute66
Funding provided in whole or in part by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Top photo: Ryburn Place in Normal, Illinois
Photos by Bloomington-Normal Area Convention & Visitors Bureau