“Don’t forget Winona,” says the song, but honestly, when I drove into Winona, there wasn’t a whole lot there to forget.
I mean, I saw the sign that said “Winona” and the old iron bridge, but the rest of the town seemed more like a spacious and sleepy suburb of Flagstaff (Sorry, Winona). Had I actually made a stop, I would have been stopping in someone’s backyard.
That said, Arizona’s other stops on historic Route 66 are all pretty outstanding and not to be sped past. Exactly 401 miles of Route 66 pass through the Grand Canyon State and if you follow the original road, it will take you through some curious corners. It’s no surprise to me that so many foreign tourists skip straight to Arizona’s rainbow-colored landscapes and tumbleweed ghost towns for the authentic Route 66 experience.
So, whether you’re driving the long haul from Chicago, or just exploring a hundred clicks of the old road, these six spots are all worth a stop:
1. Holbrook, AZ
Holbrook is home to the must-not-miss Wigwam Motel (be sure and book ahead!) Quirky rock shops and cement dinosaurs decorate the main drag in town, and there’s several great diners serving up messy good Tex-Mex. Take time to visit Petrified Forest National Park for amazing views of the Painted Desert.
2. Winslow, AZ
I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona—no really, I was—just a week or so ago. Yes, the lyrics from “Take it Easy” by The Eagles is a real place, and it’s right on Route 66. Take time to explore Standin’ On The Corner Park. If you don’t stay at La Posada Hotel, then you should at least eat dinner at the Turquoise Room. Old-school Arizona elegance meets contemporary southwestern cuisine, offering travelers one of the best dining experiences on Route 66 (get the duck tacos!).
3. Williams, AZ
Long after the mines were shut and Route 66 erased from the map, Williams is still humming with people, good music, and good food. Packed with bakeries, coffee shops, bars, and open-air restaurants, Williams is a restful stop in the high desert, as well as the kickoff point for the one-of-a-kind Grand Canyon Railway. It’s also the only place on Route 66 where I found genuine antique Route 66 signs for sale (Be prepared to pay–if you want the real thing, prices can range from $1,000 to $5,000). For a taste of the old west, stay at the Red Garter Bed & Bakery.
4. Seligman, AZ
“You Kill It, We Grill It” is the mantra of the unforgettable Roadkill Cafe in Seligman, Arizona, and though some might think it’s all a bit insensitive, this bar and restaurant on old Route 66 is a lot of fun (no wild animals were ever harmed, nor are they actually part of the menu). I can recommend the bison burger, as well as the pie. For something even crazier, dine in at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, built from Route 66 flotsam dating back to the 1950′s. Also, don’t miss the Route 66 Gift Shop, which comes with its own very long and special history.
Well off the beaten path, Cool Springs sits west of Kingman and marks the starting point for the craziest section of Route 66 in which the road turns 122 times in just 9 miles. Stop by for groovy souvenirs, and a great view of the desert. Enjoy a refreshing Route 66 lime soda, peruse some of the historic cars and then set off for the wild ride up and over Sitgreaves Pass and through the Black Mountains.
6. Oatman, AZ
By definition, Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town, and yet when I was there, everybody looked pretty human, except the burros, which are wild donkeys that roam the street all day and all night. Once a gold-mining village nestled away in the hills, Oatman is now a borderline tourist trap, with twice-daily shootouts in the street by some dried-up cowboy lookalikes.
But it’s all worth checking out, especially the roaming burros that you can feed and pet in the streets while your roam from souvenir to candy shop to saloon. The drive from Oatman to the California border is by far one of the most scenic on the entire Mother Road.