From the desert to the surf, these three stretches of the old Mother Road have outdoor adventure, high culture, and some of the West’s best road food
Photo by David Fenton
Start on Old Santa Fe Trail near Paseo de Peralta, head north past the state capitol building into town, west on E. Water Street, then southwest on Cerrillos Road.
Joe Wade Fine Art. A former Route 66 gas station, it now fuels visitors with regional contemporary art. El Centro, 102 E. Water St.; joewadefineart.com
Bandelier National Monument (pictured). Fifty miles northwest of town, Bandelier National Monument (nps.gov/band) is justly celebrated as one of the Southwest’s most significant archaeological sites. In May, you can explore the monument’s 33,000 acres—and 700-year-old ruins—without summer’s crowds or soaring temperatures. $12/vehicle.
Photo by Jeff Caven
Cafe Pasqual’s. A onetime fueling station, this spot now dishes up some of the meanest huevos in town. The hordes line up before 8 for smoked-trout hash with poached eggs, gruyère potato cake, and tomatillo salsa, served in a cozy room decorated with hand-painted tiles and murals. $$; 121 Don Gaspar Ave.; 505/983-9340.
Hotel St. Francis (hotelstfrancis.com). The updated rooms are a study in gorgeous simplicity, with stone walls and unfinished wood furniture, but the place is not all about restraint—brush off the road dust and try the Agave Way (tequila, New Mexico green chile, lime, red grapes, and agave nectar) and the chile relleno at the hotel’s Tabla de los Santos Restaurant (pictured; $$$). From $119.
Photo by Andrea Gómez Romero
New Mexico Jeep Tours (pictured). Take a spin through the state’s most surreal landscapes (think ancient Puebloan ruins, petroglyphs, and ghost towns). From $105/3 hours; nmjeeptours.com
Quiet Waters Paddling Adventures. Ditch the wheels and explore the Rio Grande by kayak. This outfitter in nearby Bernalillo offers guided tours on mellow class I waters. From $49; quietwaterspaddling.com
The Standard Diner. Fuel up along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue, part of historic Route 66 and now home to some of the best food in town. The Standard Diner, another converted gas station, serves classics like green chile mac ’n’ cheese. $$; 320 Central S.E.; 505/243-1440.
Hotel Parq Central (hotelparqcentral.com). Winding paths link the hotel's 1926 buildings, and the charm extends to the high-ceilinged, desert-toned rooms and cottages. Pop into the rooftop Apothecary Lounge, which serves Prohibition-era cocktails. From $150.
Photo by Car Culture / Corbis
Petrified Forest. The only national park that contains a section of historic Route 66. On the edge of the mesa at the northern end of the park, the Painted Desert Inn—it’s a landmark but no longer an inn—overlooks the colorful badlands; take in the panoramic views with a half-mile one-way hike along the Painted Desert’s rim. $10/vehicle; nps.gov/pefo
Wigwam Motel (pictured; galerie-kokopelli.com/wigwam). Bedding down in one of the 15 tipi rooms is a quintessential Route 66 experience. From $58.
Photo by David Fenton
Standin’ on the Corner Park. Pay a visit to this park, a nod to the Eagles song “Take It Easy.” Kinsley Ave. at Second St.; standinonthecorner.com
Little Painted Desert overlook (pictured). Don’t miss the sunset from this spot, about 15 miles north of town. As the light fades, the badlands turn electric—a sea of orange, crimson, indigo, and teal. Off State 87.
La Posada (laposada.org). At Winslow’s grand 1930s railway hotel designed by architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the most vibrant colors hang on the walls. Artist and co-owner Tina Mion’s bright pop-arty pieces include a series devoted to U.S. presidents’ wives. The hotel’s Turquoise Room ($$$) serves fresh regional cuisine like locally raised Churro lamb. From $109.
Photo by Tom Taylor
Lowell Observatory. Flagstaff is the world’s first International Dark Sky City, and the Lowell Observatory is one of the country’s oldest (founded in 1894). Weather permitting, there’s often nighttime telescope viewing. $11; lowell.edu
Tinderbox Kitchen. Delivers clever riffs on American comfort food like Dr Pepper–braised hog jowls and jalapeño mac ’n’ cheese. $$$; closed Sun; 34 S. San Francisco St.; 928/226-8400.
Flagstaff Ale Trail. Follow this self-guided walking tour of downtown’s breweries, including the Mother Road Brewing Company. flagstaffaletrail.com
Shooting Star Inn (pictured; shootingstarinn.com). Just 20 miles from Flagstaff, the solar-powered Shooting Star Inn is smack in the heart of dark-sky country. Guided by innkeeper Tom Taylor, guests use the telescopes or binoculars, then take home photos from his astrophotography cameras. $225, including breakfast and astronomy session.
Photo by David Fenton
Grand Canyon Railway. The train departs daily from Williams and drops you near El Tovar Hotel on the canyon’s South Rim. From $75 round-trip; 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.; thetrain.com
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness (pictured). Most people pass right by Sycamore Canyon Wilderness on their way to the Grand Canyon, overlooking this less-crowded gem. The 12-mile round-trip rim trail winds through a ponderosa forest along the canyon’s edge. Keep an eye out for the remnants of past occupants: 800-year-old Native American pottery shards and sagging cabins left over from a logging camp. In Williams Ranger District, 928/635-5600.
The Cataract Creek Gang. A cowboy posse of local actors wreaks havoc in town at 9 a.m. daily (a second show, at 7 p.m., begins May 28). Free; williamschamber.com
Red Garter (redgarter.com). Former bordello and saloon has gone legit as a B&B, with a bakery on the ground floor. From $135.
Photo by doug_wertman on Flickr Creative Commons
Route 66 Mother Road Museum (pictured). Make a pit stop at this shrine to all things Route 66. Housed in a former railroad depot, the small museum shows off old road signs, a retired gas pump, vintage photos, and a ’60s-era, cherry red Mustang. Open Fri–Sun and by appointment; free; 681 N. First Ave.; route66museum.org
McDonald’s Famous Bar-B-Que (juanpollo.com/route-66-attractions/mcdonalds-museum). This is where that king of road food got its start in 1940 (the founders narrowed their focus to burgers eight years later). The former restaurant site now houses a museum packed with Ronald McDonald sculptures and tchotchkes covered in the iconic golden arches. Free; 1398 N. E St.
Photo by John Hicks / Corbis
To drive the final stretch of the Mother Road, start in Los Angeles at Sunset Junction (W. Sunset and Santa Monica Blvds.). Go west on Santa Monica Blvd. through Hollywood, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Turn left on Ocean Ave., then right to reach the Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica Pier (pictured). The L.A. icon stretches 1,650 feet over sand and into the Pacific, and was designated the symbolic end of Route 66 in 2009 (check out the End of the Trail sign halfway down the pier). Explore the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel, trapeze lessons, bumper cars, and funnel cakes. santamonicapier.org
Annenberg Community Beach House. This isn’t your typical town pool. It’s more chic beach club, but without the steep fee or attitude. Go early (day passes go on sale at 9:30; pool opens at 10) to nab a chair under one of the orange umbrellas. Opens May 26; $10; passes also available at annenbergbeachhouse.com
South Bay Bicycle Trail. Rent a cruiser and pedal along the South Bay Bicycle Trail, 22 sunny miles of palm trees, golden sand beaches, and super-fun stops like the Venice Beach BoardWalk. santamonica.com
Blue Plate Oysterette. Look for its blue-and-white-striped awning above the Santa Monica Pier—the shellfish-slugging crowds at tables out front are a dead giveaway. There can be a wait during peak times, but it’s worth it for the oysters on the half-shell, oysters Rockefeller, and fish and chips. Take a piece of saltwater taffy from the fish-shaped bowl on your way out. $$$; 1355 Ocean Ave.; 310/576-3474.
Hotel Shangri-La (pictured; shangrila-hotel.com). This places oozes Old Hollywood art deco details. Even the building has curves! Grab an era-inspired drink from the rooftop bar, which looks out to the Pacific Ocean. Or stay the night in an ocean-facing room and savor the view from the in-room soaking tub. From $350.