From recently opened swimming pools to budding tomatoes, all the signs point to the time-old conclusion: summer is finally here. Whether you have out-of-school kids to entertain or just want to plan a warm weather escape on your own, there’s no better solution to the summer vacation conundrum than taking to the highway. And there’s no better highway to take to than the legendary Route 66, the Mother Road. Even though the original highway is long-gone, you can easily recreate the quintessential American road trip on your own path from Chicago to LA. Rent a set of vintage wheels for extra old-fashioned fun.
Your journey begins in the Windy City. Indulge in the great American pastime with a hot dog in hand at one of the Chicago Cubs’ home games, or swing your trip a more artistic direction – the Art Institute of Chicago has one of the best collections in the country. Make sure you take advantage of the chance to get down to some iconic Chicago blues at one of the city’s clubs, but don’t waste any time getting on the road. You’ve got nearly 2,500 miles of road to cover on Main Street, USA.
Schedule a pit stop in St. Louis. The Gateway Arch isn’t just an impressive feat of architecture or an iconic postcard view; the 630-foot arch symbolizes Missouri’s status as the starting point for countless westward migrations, from Lewis and Clark’s historic exploration to the Oregon Trail. While you’re here, pick up one of this Midwestern city’s culinary specialties, like toasted ravioli or gooey butter cake.
As enjoyable as your metropolitan jaunts on this early leg of the trip will be, the real draw of Route 66 is its intimate connection to small-town America. After leaving St. Louis, your path will cut through the heart of Oklahoma, northern Texas, and the full width of New Mexico. Punctuate your days driving through the scenic plains of the America’s heartland with mouthwatering diner burgers and drive-in movies.
As much fun as you might have at Texas rodeos or the Taos Pueblo, the pinnacle of your trip is sure to be the Grand Canyon. This national park is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Mother Road’s trail through Arizona. Join a guided tour from Flagstaff or drive yourself to this national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pitch a tent on the South Rim and watch the sunrise over the natural wonder. There are plenty of ways to fill your day afterward: hike the Rim Trail, join a whitewater rafting tour of the Colorado River, or help the kids become junior park rangers.
From the Grand Canyon, it’s only seven hours to your trip’s end in Los Angeles. Celebrate your journey’s capstone with an ocean view from one of the bars in Venice Beach or Santa Monica. If you have an extra day or two, work in a little shopping on Rodeo Drive or a tour of top Tinsel Town sights before heading back home. Turn in your rental car, catch a flight out of LAX, and enjoy the birds-eye-view of the country you’ve just covered overland.