Route 66 is often referred to as “The Main Street of America.” This scenic byway winds its way through eight different states. Along the route, you can visit small towns, classic hotels, retro diners, and roadside attractions.
You can find the most interesting sights on the New Mexico portion of the road. Albuquerque, Tucumcari, and Gallup are just some of the bigger cities that you can explore on your Route 66 trip. Here are some places (from east to west) that you must see on “The Mother Road.”
Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari
The iconic pink-shaped hotel is only 2.5 hours from Albuquerque. The Blue Swallow Motel was originally built in 1939. This iconic motel has been a mainstay on the road for many years. After the Route 66 became decommissioned in 1985, the hotel fell into disrepair. The new owners restored the Blue Swallow Motel with all new lighting, vintage style furniture, and restored the all-important “100% refrigerated air” neon sign.
The Blue Swallow Motel is one of the most photographed stops on Route 66. In fact, this hotel is the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie, Cars. You cannot miss this property in Tucumcari. The blue and pink neon sign beckons visitors off the main road. When you stay for the night, you can even park your car in its own garage. Even if you can’t secure a room, it is a must-see stop in town.
Mesalands Dinosaur Museum, Tucumcari
The roadside attractions are some of the best things about Route 66. All along the route, you can see marvels like “The Biggest Bottle of Catsup” or “Live Baby Rattlers.” Another stop in Tucumcari is the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum. This 10,000 square foot attraction displays bones, fossils, and replicas of the prehistoric creatures that once roamed the land. You can even see some of the artist’s renditions of the dinosaurs in the main hall’s display gallery. The bronze exhibits allow anyone to go up and touch these representations of the giant lizards. A sandpit is an excellent place for the kids to excavate some dinosaur remains.
Tee Pee Curios, Tucumcari
Any great road trip needs some souvenirs of the experience. Tee Pee Curios is one of the best in the business. This old Gulf station failed as a gas station but became a curio landmark on the old route.
The teepee-shaped building has a wide selection of Route 66 merchandise to commemorate the trip. Knick-knacks of all shapes and sizes, even a grow-a-cowboy kit, all line the shelves. You cannot miss the teepee and cactus neon sign from the side of the road. Make sure you take time and chat with the owners. They’ll give you a full history of the area and the Tee Pee Curios location.
The Blue Hole, Santa Rosa
The history of the Blue Hole dates back to the days when cowboys herded cattle across the desert landscape. This geological phenomenon sticks out among the red mesa rocks of the desert. In the early 1930s, this lake was home to a fish hatchery, but that idea was quickly scrapped. It became a popular tourist destination in the early days of the route.
The bell-shaped pool is one of the top spots for certified divers in the United States. The crystal clear water allows visitors to see down around 100 feet. The water in the Blue Hole renews itself every six hours. The natural wonder’s lake temperature stays at a constant 62 degrees throughout the year. Whether you want to jump in the water or take a peek at the blue waters, this is a must-see natural landmark on your trip.
The Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa
Cars have played an important part in the history of the road. During its heyday, these big-finned and chrome automobiles drove up and down the main streets. You can revisit some of these cars at the Route 66 Auto Museum.
When you see the bright yellow hot rod on a pole, you know it is time to make your turn off the route. This classic car museum is located in the heart of Santa Rosa. The building houses over 30 different styles of cars from street rods to race cars. Classic road signs and other insignia that marked the highway of the Mother Road adorn the museum’s walls.
KiMo Theater, Albuquerque
The KiMo Theater has been hosting variety shows and film screenings since 1927. If you are looking for a great example of the Art Deco-Pueblo Revival style found in New Mexico, you cannot miss this theater. Indigenous symbols decorate the exterior of the Art Deco-styled building. It is truly one of the most unique buildings on the route.
When you are in town, make sure to sign up for a backstage tour of the historic theater. There are several ghostly legends that haunt the interior of the building. Book a spot on the History & Ghost Tours of Old Town for a detailed look at the city’s paranormal activity. The tour stops at the KiMo Theater for a brief look at its colorful history.
66 Diner, Albuquerque
Get your kicks and fill your tummy at this old school diner. The Route 66 Diner started out as a Phillips mechanic shop and gas station. In 1987, the owners decided to convert it into a restaurant (you can still see the working hydraulic lift). When you walk in, you will find yourself transported back to the heyday of the road.
The diner has a checkered black and white interior complete with teal stools. The red and blue neon lures drivers off the road for a delicious meal. Their menu serves all your diner favorites like burgers, milkshakes, and chicken fried steak (smothered in a New Mexico favorite, green chiles). Don’t forget to take a picture in front of the “Fender Bender” or “Pile Up” wall filled with Route 66 memorabilia.
Richardson’s Trading Post, Gallup
The town of Gallup has one of the oldest Route 66 stops. Richardson’s has been selling Native American crafts and artwork since 1913. You can find all types of treasures from woven Navajo rugs to handcrafted jewelry. This is a perfect spot to pick up a necklace or bracelet made with turquoise (the state gem) and silver from the southwestern part of the United States.