Route 66: Illinois #TrippinWithFamily

Historic Route 66 goes by many names: Will Rogers Highway, Main Street of America, or the Mother Road. It was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway became one of the most famous roads in the United States and originally ran from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica, California covering a total of 2,448 miles. It’s recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” and I saw my fair share of magnets, shirts, cups, and postcards alerting my friends and family that I indeed got my kicks.

Route 66 served as a primary route for those who traveled west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System, which then President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sometime in the last year, I decided that I wanted to travel the entire route with family in tow, but several circumstances prevented my immediate family from being able to go. Then I was supposed to trek across the nation with my dad and three littles like we did for North Dakota. That didn’t happen either. Shomari’s job had him on lockdown for the last quarter of the year (make that money honey) and Nate happened to be in his very first semester of undergrad. I knew I didn’t want to do it in the height of the summer. Traveling through the desert with the sun beaming down on me isn’t my idea of fun. I like the cooler weather and wanted to actually ENJOY myself. So October it was. Well, you know after waffling between late September and early November. We left out on our journey Monday, October 15th and didn’t get back until this month, so I think we did fairly well. Our first state was – Illinois. Easy enough for us since we live where the route starts. But we cheated a bit. We only stopped at locations that were not as time-consuming because of the large age gap – but no worries, I’m already planning a longer and more sight intensive trip with the husband and kids. That one will probably take a month or so, but who’s counting. 

Route 66 starts in Chicago - why not check out the attractions all through Illinois.
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Where We Stopped 

Given that I live in Chicago, it wasn’t really on the docket to explore. I mean, I’ll update this post with photos as I take them, but I’ve been to most of the spots on Route 66 in my beloved city. Including Lou Mitchell’s to celebrate the Masters degree that my friend Jessica obtained when we were in our early 20’s. I’ve hit the Art Institute where the “official” start sign is, and driven down Ogden Avenue for countless church functions. We always seem to celebrate big milestones in banquet halls off of Ogden Avenue.

Wilmington, IL 

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The Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Il sets the tone for a nice lunch at the Launchpad Restaurant – when it’s open. 

Illinois however, holds the record for several of the Route’s largest statues including the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, the Bunyon Giant in Atlanta, and the Lauterbach Giant in Springfield. 

Pontiac, IL

Traveling Route 66 - Pontiac, IL #trippinwithfamily
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Famous Route 66 mural in Pontiac, IL 

If you remember though, we started our “unofficial” tour of the Route when I went down to Pontiac, Illinois for a Lipton Iced Tea event. We visited quite a bit around the town and got photos of the kids on the classic Cadillac cars that were sprinkled around the square. We visited the car museum and even got a chance to see how gold gilding works. It was a great day, and full of whimsy that would only be matched by doing the entire route. Pontiac is also known for having the most murals on the Route in Illinois, and they are all great to stop and get a photo in front of. 

Traveling Route 66 - Pontiac, IL
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Pontiac, IL’s 28th mural went up in 2018 

Atlanta, Il 

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Bunyon Giant – Atlanta, IL 

Altanta, Il holds quite a few hidden gems if you take the time to head off the road. Fun fact, back when I took a trip down to Branson, MO – we ran out of gas at exit 140 and I had to walk up the ramp with Nathaniel to find a way to get our car some fuel to make it to Bloomington-Normal. The entire city measures a quaint 1.3 square miles, but you could easily spend a couple of hours exploring the area. We did. 

The Bunyon Giant picture above is one of three Muffler Man statues that has been customized along the route. It stands 19 feet talk and was relocated from Bunyon’s in Cicero, Illinois. 

A couple of the places we toured or just stopped for a photo op are: 
J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum. Open only on Sundays, and only during the months of June, July & August. It’s the only wooden grain elevator in the state of Illinois and was built in 1904 with a complete restoration in 1993. 

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Taking a break at the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum 
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The J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum

The Atlanta Route 66 Park is a great little spot to stretch your legs or rest after visiting the Atlanta Museum or The Palms Grill Cafe. After eating and stretching our legs, we stopped by the local gift shops and purchased a couple of souvenirs, including a yard of Route 66 fabric I can’t wait to make something from! Those stores are Route 66 Memories and 

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Springfield, Il 

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Lauterbach Giant – Springfield, IL 

We didn’t get to explore Springfield in the manner that it deserved, but we did make sure to find the last of the Muffler Man giants in the city. The Lauterbach Giant which is normally holding a tire. Fun fact, his head was ripped off  by a tornado back in the day, found down the street, and was reattached because, why not? 

Where to Eat

Lou Mitchell’s
565 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60661

If you’re starting in Chicago,  Lou Mitchell’s is the place for breakfast. They open at 5:30 in the morning during the week and at 7 am on weekends. A Chicago staple since 1923, they were here BEFORE Route 66 came to be. While waiting in line, you’ll be offered milk duds while standing in line, and the omelettes are so fluffy! And remember, this is coming from memories more than a decade ago.  

Dell Rhea Chicken Basket 
645 Joliet Rd, Willowbrook, IL 60527

Open in its current form, in Willowbrook, IL since the summer of 1946, the chicken basket has been the perfect lunch stop coming from or going to Chicago. It’s stated to have the best fried chicken in the Chicagoland area, but I’m going to invite you to be the judge of that. We may go and showcase some of it for you all this weekend. 

Bernardi’s 
123 North Mill St. – Pontiac, IL 61764

Speaking of fried chicken, I don’t think that I’ve ever tried fried chicken like I had from Bernardi’s. I’m still having flashbacks about how delicious I found that chicken, and I feel like I know chicken. 

Where to stay

While we couldn’t stay in any of the kitschy hotels or motels along the route this time around, because of the number of people and medical needs that we had, we did stay comfortably. I’m a member of IHG and used rewards points for a large majority of our sleeping arrangements. We stayed in O’Fallon, IL coming home and St. Louis, MO going west, and both spaces were great! 

Candlewood Suites – 1332 Park Plaza Drive Ofallon, Illinois 62269 
Holiday Inn Route 66 – 10709 Watson Road, St. Louis, Missouri 63127 

Remember, our trip doesn’t even scratch the surface of all there is to do in Illinois on Route 66. If you take a bit of time to research – and there’s a LOT to research – you can find more hidden gems, and share them with us when you go! 

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    K. Elizabeth
    November 7, 2018 at 7:40 am

    I would love to explore Route 66 in the future with my family. Your pics of downtown Atlanta, IL remind me a lot of my hometown. I always enjoy looking at the historic buildings when I’m there. Glad you all had a great trip and got to experience this as a family.

  • Reply
    Route 66 in Missouri: #TrippinWithFamily
    November 9, 2018 at 12:01 am

    […] Missouri is the next state along our Route 66 journey and the state right after trekking through Illinois’ 301 miles. You enter the city through St. Louis, and of course, the symbol of St. Louis sprawls across the […]

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