If you’re travelling Route 66 from east to west then Illinois will be the first state to offer up it’s many delights. Illinois was the first state to boast having Route 66 paved from end to end, and boasts many wonderful museums, roadside attractions and historic gas stations.
This is just a small sample of some of the many things to see on Route 66 in Illinois, and is by no means a definitive list – think of it as a “flavor” of Illinois! You can find a more extensive list of things to see along the whole length of Route 66 by clicking here.
So, in no particular order, here are my 10 things to see on Route 66 in Illinois…
1. 360 Chicago, Chicago
360 Chicago (formerly The John Hancock Observatory) is a 100-floor skyscraper in the commercial district of Chicago. It’s 94th floor observation deck displays exhibits about the city of Chicago while maps explain the view in each direction. A special meshed-in area allows visitors to feel the winds 1,030 feet above ground level. In addition to that you have TILT – an exhilarating downward view of Chicago – for those feeling brave!
2. Lincoln’s Home, Springfield
The house, purchased by Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln in 1844, was the only home that Lincoln ever owned. During the time he lived here, Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives in 1846, and elected President in 1860. Lincoln’s home in downtown Springfield has been restored to it’s 1860 appearance and opened to the public. Access to the house is by ticket only – tickets are free but on a first-come first-served basis.
3. Country Classic Cars, Staunton
Country Classic Cars started as a weekend hobby for a Midwest farmer. When a piece of land along Interstate 55, just off the path of Historic Route 66, became available, Country Classic Cars acquired the land for not only a large display of classic cars and trucks, but also a garage/service area, inside showroom, and a historic gift shop.
4. Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, Pontiac
The Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum features thousands of artifacts and memorabilia related to Route 66, including Route 66 Artist and Icon, Bob Waldmire’s bus and van! There’s also a great photo op with the largest Route 66 shield mural, painted on the museum’s back wall. Learn the history of Route 66 in Illinois when Route 66 was the most important highway in the nation.
5. Odell Station, Odell
This Standard Oil gas station opened in 1932 and stopped serving gas in the mid 1960’s. Subsequently a body shop it finally closed it’s doors in 1975. It’s since been lovingly restored by the Illinois Route 66 Association and their Preservation Committee, and is now staffed by volunteers happy to welcome Route 66 travelers. It no longer serves gas but you can walk around this beautiful building and the friendly volunteers are happy to answer any questions.
6. Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, Staunton
Henry’s Rabbit Ranch is a Route 66 tourist center that is based in a replica old gas station with rusted pumps all around, surrounded by dozens of Volkswagen Rabbits in various states of dilapidation. When you enter the center you find about a dozen rabbits – of the live kind – living amid the Route 66 memorabilia!
7. Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station, Dwight
The Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station has been identified as the longest operating gas station along Route 66, dispensing fuel for 66 continuous years until 1999! Ambler’s was the subject of major restoration work from 2005–2007, and reopened as a Route 66 visitor’s center in May 2007. The local community have really done a great job in restoring this to it’s former glory and staffing the site with knowledgeable and welcoming volunteers.
8. Navy Pier, Chicago
Navy Pier is a 1000m-long pier on the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan. It’s attractions include sightseeing tours, dinner cruises, an IMAX theatre, restaurants, shops and fairground rides such as 150-foot-tall Ferris Wheel. The pier has fireworks on Wednesday and Saturday nights during the summer, and Friday and Saturday nights during the fall.
9. Illinois State Capitol building, Springfield
Springfield is a pilgrimage site for anyone wanting to celebrate the life of Abraham Lincoln. Aside from the location of his home and tomb Springfield is also the site of the State Capitol building with no small thanks to Abraham Lincoln. It’s a beautiful building found in the heart of Springfield; entry to the state capitol building is free to the public.
10. The Muffler Men – Wilmington, Atlanta & Springfield
These characters were 3 of many “giants” that were once used by businesses for promotional purposes. They are now icons of Route 66 in their own right and all 3 found in Illinois! Tall Paul is located alongside Route 66 in Atlanta and cannot be missed as you drive past. The Gemini Giant stands alongside the Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington, while the Lauterbach Tire Man is found outside Lauterbach Tires on Wabash Avenue in Springfield.