7 Can’t Miss Photo Ops on Missouri’s Route 66
Missouri’s Route 66 is comprised of over 300 miles with picturesque scenery. It is often referred to as The Mother Road, Will Rogers Highway, or the Main Street of America. This beloved slice of Americana continues to bring millions of visitors, both domestic and international, annual to drive the retro highway, originally commissioned in the 1920’s. From motels decked out with all sorts of fun neon signs to quirky restaurants and roadside attractions, Route 66 is sure to convey a sense of nostalgia and fun.
This spring, I took a road trip through Springfield, Missouri the “Birthplace of Route 66”. Springfield is a major player in the international business market so it feels sophisticated and trendy though maintains a major foothold in the Route 66 nostalgia factor.
Those wanting the ultimate road-trip experience should drop by the Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center for literature and maps about the area’s attractions. This can help in planning your trip or seeing things that you might have missed when researching your travels online. The Visitor Center is also a fun photo-op in itself.
Be sure to have your camera ready for these 7 can’t miss photo ops along the way and by all means, put yourself in the photos as well!
#1 Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Motel
Enjoy sleeping in the vintage Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Motel, bursting with whimsical memorabilia. Check in at the traditional motorlodge front desk and receive your key to the Rail Haven Motel rooms and have your complimentary continental breakfast. You can even book the Rail Haven Motel room where Elvis Presley once slept!
Tasteful and comfortable furnishings decorate the clean, modernized rooms of the Rail Haven Motel. Outside is a swimming pool, spa, and a treasure trove of neon and other cool signage. Car enthusiasts, as well as travelers and Route 66 chasers, flock to this popular motel that has been in business for over 75 years.
Tip: Ask for a souvenir card with the original logo. Hold the key card in front of the vintage automobile parked outside for a great Instagram-worthy photo. You may also want a photo underneath the Missouri’s Route 66 birthplace sign near the highway as you see I’ve done below. The vintage cars on the property are also great photo opportunities.
Fun Fact: Missouri’s Route 66 Rail Haven is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
#2 Route 66 Museum
The Springfield History Museum on the Square (66 Museum) is a great place to familiarize yourself with how big of a deal road trip travel was after being established on November 11, 1926. Admission price is a mere $5. Things in the museum I enjoyed were the drive-in restaurant menus, gas station attendants uniforms, log books from travelers, and very cool signs. Missouri’s Route 66 actually went right through the Springfield square where the museum is located. To help understand why this road was so important, here is a noteworthy thing I learned at the Route 66 Museum.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, people were driving for the vacation. The journey of the drive WAS the vacation. Because of this, gravel roads became paved and businesses sprang up to meet the demands of the influx of motorists. Years later, when the interstate came thorugh, many of those businesses closed up since they lost so much traffic.
Tip: Take wicked cool pictures in front of the lovely, neon-clad Route 66 Museum.
Fun Fact: Only steps away is where “Wild Bill” Hickok and Davis K. Tutt had the first one-on-one quick draw duel in 1865. The spot is marked, making it another great historical photo-op.
#3 Boots Court
Completed in the 1940’s, the Boots Court lies where Old Route 66 and Highway 71 intersect in Carthage, Missouri. This area is referred to as the “Crossroads of America”. It was a popular place for motorists to stay during the heyday of family vacations in the 1940’s and 50’s with an art deco/modern look to it, much different than other existing motor lodges.
Today, Boots Court is recently renovated yet still holds on to the charm and allure of the motel from back in the day. The outside remains almost identical to when it originally opened, with the recognizable black Carrara glass acecnting the structure. From the chenille bedspreads to the radios, needlepoint chairs and pillows to monogrammed towels, the Boots Court has done a great job of preserving the past for us all to enjoy. Each room still comes with its own covered carport.
Tip: Come visit Boots Court at night for photos of the neon sign in action. Whether you are staying there or not, the owners may still let you see the inside of the rooms, great for classic Missouri’s Route 66 photographs.
Fun Fact: Clark Gable stayed at Boots Court twice.
#4 Red Oak II
Dubbed an open-air museum in Carthage, Missouri, Red Oak II is a huge complex with houses, art installments, buildings just for touring, and lots of whimsy created by the artist and Carthage resident Lowell Davis. Dubbed the “Norman Rockwell of Rural Art”, Lowell’s collection makes everything photogenic, from the vintage cars to the hand-painted birdhouses. Strolling through the Red Oak II village is a walk through the past, with items salvaged coming to life in a rebirth of incredible art displays.
Tips: The coolest photo-op is the jail, complete with calaboose and a real jail cell. Another fun structure is the Hooker Tavern from Oklahoma that was moved to Red Oak II while there is also an 1884 schoolhouse, general store, 1920’s Phillips 66 gas station, blacksmith shop, town hall, and diner. Honestly, everything about Red Oak II makes amazing backdrops and interesting shots.
#5 Gary’s Gay Parita
Gary’s Gay Parita is a spruced up and reworked 1930’s Sinclair Gas station in Ash Grove, Missouri. It features original gas pumps and memorabilia from the height of iconic Route 66’s popularity. The signage alone is enough reason to stop by and have a look while the souvenirs, ice cold drinks, and snacks are other great offerings. Don’t miss the eclectic vintage car collection and the whimsical postcard selection.
Tip: The gas station with dinosaur sign are really great photo-ops, plus it mentioned Route 66 in the sign attached. There are also a plethora of cars and jalopies that scream “Take my picture!”.
#6 Steak ‘n Shake
The Route 66 Steak ‘n Shake restaurant has been a Springfield tradition since the heyday of Route 66’s popularlity. People come to not only enjoy the famous steakburgers, fries, and yummy hand-dipped milkshakes, but also to relive the historic times of driving Route 66 that made it famous. Steak ‘n Shake’s diner like feel and retro look make it an easy place to reminisce the good ole days.
Tip: Steak ‘n Shake is amazing lit up at night! You can see it from blocks away. This is when you will want to hit this Route 66 location and might as well have dinner while you are there.
Fun Fact: Today there are 544 Steak ‘n Shake locations but the one in Springfield has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2012.
#7 Route 66 Car Museum
For the ultimate Missouri Route 66 experience, take a look at the amazing vintage vehicles that used to cruise up and down these legendary roads. The best place to do this is at the 20,000 square foot Route 66 Car Museum in Springfield. Here, you will find over 70 cars: some from famous movies, some extremely expensive sports cars, and some that are just plain fun. Guy Mace, owner of the Route 66 Car Museum, has been adding to his American and European car collection for years and finally decided to display them back in 2016.
During my Route 66 trip, Guy and his beautiful daughter, Dacy, drove my friends and I along Springfield’s Route 66 in two of their fabulous cars; a 1967 metallic golden beige Austin Healey and Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Sedan. I will say that being driven on Route 66 in a fantastic Rolls Royce was an amazing thing! Later we went to the car museum to see the 70b vehicles on display and learn a bit about them. Allow plenty of time at this stop; you’re going to love it!
Tip: Get a stunning retro photo of yourself in front of one of these timeless automobiles. Warning, it is hard to choose a favorite ride for your photo-op!
Start Getting Your Kicks on Missouri’s Route 66 in Springfield
Springfield proved to be a wonderful city for my first Route 66 experiences. I learned so much; the way of life for road tripping families during the Mother Road’s heyday is fascinating. America was truly built around these iconic highways. I hope you will have a fantastic time exploring the area and capturing awesome photo-ops along the way.
You seriously didn’t think I could write about the infamous Route 66 without making a reference to one of my all-time favorite songs, did you?
Missouri’s Route 66 Photo Gallery
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Thanks to the Missouri Division of Tourism, NATJA, and the Springfield, MO CVB for hosting my Route 66 trip. As with all of my posts, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased. To learn more about Missouri, see the Missouri state tourism website.
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