When it comes to choosing a self guided tour vacation, a trip along the route of Historic Route 66 is hard to beat. The Eastern Terminus of U.S Route 66 is in Chicago. The Western Terminus is in Santa Monica, California at the Pacific coast. The distance between them is 2448 miles. Along the way, it traverses eight States of the Union, meandering through towns and cities packed with nostalgic reminders of how life used to be in the United States, before the Interstates changed everything.
There is a monument at Grant Park that serves to mark the Eastern Terminus. A day at this particular park offers an excellent way for travelers to submerge themselves in Americana, before departing on the great trek west down America´s Main Street. This would generally be considered the “starting” point of the road, since general migration in the United States was progressing to the west, at the time the road was built. From 1926 through 1980, this road carried everyone who was seeking fortune on their westward trek. Families and commerce both traveled along this route to the Great Lakes from out of the Southwest, laden with precious cargo.
Grant Park is an important Chicago icon, combining a city park with a suite of museums. Originally built as part of the 1893 World Exposition held in Chicago that year, the park represents an anchor point of Chicago´s history. The Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Chicago Art Institute are all located at Grant Park. These beautiful grounds are lushly treed and feature a large number of statues depicting important historical figures. Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain offers a relaxed gathering point for the local community. Chicago´s Art Institute houses a museum with galleries and an art school. The aquarium enjoys close proximity to Lake Michigan and is highly respected in the field. Likewise, the Field Museum enjoys a reputation as one of the finest natural history museums in the entire world.
Stay the night in one of the many high quality downtown hotels, enjoy Chicago´s famous nightlife, then depart from Grant Park in the morning, following the sun into America´s past. The address is 337 East Randolph Street on the western shore of Lake Michigan. There is a sign that reads, “End Historic Route 66” on Jackson Boulevard at Michigan Avenue. Jackson at this point is strictly one way eastbound, but it does offer the original alignment of Route 66 for those purists who insist on traveling the original route as much as possible.
All-American Road Trip
Route 66 leaves Chicago going west on Adams Street beginning at Michigan Avenue. You can drive around the park beginning on Jackson Boulevard going east to the end sign, north on Michigan Avenue, then west on Adams Street to start your run from the very beginning of the Old Road.
Not far down Route 66, you will come across Lou Mitchell´s breakfast restaurant. Lou´s is older than Route 66 itself. The highway was officially opened on this eastern end in 1926. Lou Mitchell´s was already in business a full three years beforehand in 1923. Stop in and have a hearty breakfast as you soak in the period atmosphere to get you in the right mood. You are likely to run into more than a few old timers that can recall the heyday of Route 66 along this stretch of road.
The route from there is well marked for most of the rest of Illinois. As you start to leave Chicago and pass Joliet, the landscape opens up and there are literally dozens of old towns that seem lost in time all along old Route 66. Much of the road is no longer drivable except in and around these towns. You are going to need to follow a parallel route on the Interstate that replaced it as you hop from town to town, seeing the United States with a new understanding.
Your start in Grant Park at the very beginning of this iconic highway will mark a defined departure point on your trip down the Mother Road. Once you finish the trip to Santa Monica, you will have gained a legitimate road veteran´s claim on a legendary run to the coast. Grant Park and Chicago will provide a treasure trove of great memories to mull over, on your long trip down the ghost highway into American history.