A Good Ole’ Fashion Road Trip on Route 66
A road trip is the way to explore right now! There’s something about packing up your car, hitting the wide open road, and finding a new adventure with family or friends. What better road to explore than good ole’ Route 66! It’s filled with so much American history, hidden gems, and nostalgia.
When most people think of Route 66, neon signs, diners and convertibles come to mind. While all of these features are true, there is a whole other aspect to the Mother Road that most people tend to overlook: its historical significance in American culture. Constructed in 1926, it was the first road that made travel from the Midwest to the West Coast faster and a more realistic possibility than ever before. Officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985, portions of the road that passed through Illinois, Missouri and New Mexico have been designated a National Scenic Byway with the official name of “Historic Route 66.” The Mother Road runs through both Bloomington and Normal which makes us home to many major Route 66 attractions!
Enjoy the beautiful fall weather, head out on a Route 66 road trip and come check out these historic Route 66 attractions in our area:
Kelly’s on 66
Kelly’s on 66 is a family-friendly restaurant located in the historic building that was originally home to Skelley’s Service Station and Toby’s Mesa Café. This restaurant features homemade pizza, pies and cakes made from scratch.
Geographical Journey Parkway
The Geographical Journey Parkway is a 1.6 mile stretch of Route 66 is lined with educational kiosks that interpret each state along the Mother Road. The walking tour has fliers printed in several languages for international tourists and a collection of Burma Shave signs. Close to the parkway is Dead Man’s Curve, a dangerous curve on the original road that caused many passenger accidents. Just 18 feet wide for two-way traffic, travelers unaccustomed with the curve regularly misjudged its sharpness and narrow width.
Miller Park Zoo
Take a walk on the wild side and visit the only active Zoo on Route 66! Miller Park Zoo began to house exotic animals after a circus left behind a lion cub in the early 1900s. The Zoo offers many exhibits and zookeeper interaction opportunities that are enjoyed by the whole family. Zoo inhabitants include a Sumatran tiger, river otter, Galapagos tortoise, Amur leopard, sun bears, reindeer, sea lion, red pandas, lemurs, bald eagles, pallas cats and red wolves. Throughout your relaxing stroll, you are sure to be surprised by the mammals, reptiles, and beautiful free flying birds spotted along the way!
Ryburn Place at Sprague’s Super Service
Fill up on history at Ryburn Place at Sprague’s Super Service! While you currently can’t go into Ryburn Place Gift shop, visitors can still explore the history of the historic building outside. This Tudor-Revival building opened in 1931 by William Sprague to serve travelers on Route 66. It housed a service station, restaurant, garage, and two second-floor apartments for the owner and station attendant. It’s the largest of three remaining two-story fuel stations on the historic Route 66!
Just off of the original Route 66 near Downtown Bloomington, you will find an American classic just like the Mother Road. In 1937, Edward Shirk founded Beer Nuts, which produces different types of nuts covered with a sweet and salty glaze. Bloomington is still the only city in the world to make this product, and they now ship to all 50 states even some foreign countries. Although the store is currently closed, visitors can still place an order for pickup and get Beer Nuts straight from the source!
Sugar Grove Nature Center
Sugar Grove Nature Center is located in beautiful, historic Funks Grove among over 1,000 acres of forest and prairie. Funks Grove is the largest remaining intact prairie grove in the state of Illinois and is a designated National Natural Landmark. While the Nature Center Building is currently closed, the trails, grounds, Imagination Grove are open from dusk to dawn!
Dixie Truck Stop
The Dixie Truck Stop in McLean opened in 1928. J.P. Walters and John Geske rented part of a mechanic’s garage here to sell sandwiches to Route 66 travelers and truckers. By the 1930s, the operation had grown to a full-fledged restaurant, cabins, and a cattle pen. The truck stop has changed hands, but still serves travelers along Route 66 and I-55, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! It’s the perfect stop for delicious comfort food!
McLean County Route 66 Mural & Bench
In August 2016 the nonprofit community group CORE of McLean commissioned local artists to paint a mural commemorating Wesley “Shorty” Ruble, a beloved McLean barber for more than 50 years. The artists also built and painted the bench, which features cutouts of a man, child, and dog waiting patiently for their turn with the barber and providing a great photo opportunity! In addition, on the front of the same historic building, the artists refreshed some of the painting that had been done in the 1930s for a recreation club (pool hall) and Holohan’s Drug Store. A must-see for Route 66 and local history buffs alike!