Get at the heart of Route 66: Start from the start!
The first 160-kilometer stretch of Route 66 – from Chicago through Joliet to Pontiac, Illinois – is packed with nostalgia, fun and great food. It’s the perfect start to a journey along the USA’s “Mother Road.”
Joliet: The City of Excitement
Begin your journey with a day and night in Chicago to see the sights, including the historic starting point of Route 66 at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. Get an early-morning start for the 90-minute drive to Joliet. Enjoy breakfast at the Joliet Route 66 Diner before heading to the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center. Pose with statues of The Blues Brothers and learn more about the city and its attractions. Pick up a tour ticket for the Old Joliet Prison, which housed notorious real-life criminals and some fictitious ones, including Joliet Jake Blues from “The Blues Brothers” and Michael Scofield from “Prison Break.”
Shop in downtown Joliet’s unique shops, then grab lunch at Jitters or Chévere Latin Café before visiting the Old Joliet Prison. If your schedule doesn’t allow for the full tour, Old Joliet Prison Park features information exhibits about the historic site. You will be able to get some great photos for Instagram.
Order an ice cream treat at Rich & Creamy, then follow Route 66 to two neighboring racetracks just south of Joliet. Check out NASCAR racing at Chicagoland Speedway or NHRA and other drag racing at the Route 66 Raceway.
Posing with the Blues Brothers at the Joliet Historical Museum
Quick Detour Along the I&M Canal
Take a short jaunt west off Route 66 to several places in the I&M Heritage Corridor. Towns such as Morris, Marseilles and Ottawa that are clustered along the I&M Canal offer trendy boutiques, antique shops and a range of dining options. Pose next to Starved Rock State Park’s amazing waterfalls and rocky cliffs in Oglesby. Head to LaSalle, St. Louis, French, Ottawa and Tonti canyons for the best views in spring or winter, when the waterfalls freeze into icefalls, and check out the dramatic sandstone bluffs. After taking in the sights, head back to Route 66 and resume your drive south.
Marveling as the massive rock formations of Starved Rock State Park
Between Joliet and Pontiac
The stops between Joliet and Pontiac are truly entertaining. The Launching Pad restaurant in Wilmington is home to the Gemini Giant, a 9-meter-tall fiberglass statue harkening back to the unique advertising along Route 66. Thirsty for a craft beer? Rt. 66 Old School Brewing is a perfect stop to grab a pint.
You can also get some great shots at Braidwood’s Polk-a-Dot Drive In, home to several 2-meter-tall statues, including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Boop. Gardner’s Two-Cell Jail is also worth a quick stop; get locked up for a great selfie.
The Gemini Giant, a can’t-miss landmark outside the Launching Pad in Wilmington
Pontiac: A Town That Truly Embraces Route 66
Main Street in downtown Pontiac is adorned with over 25 outdoor murals painted by the internationally known Walldogs. The most-snapped photo is behind the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum; the mural is the world’s largest outdoor Route 66 painted shield. Go inside the museum to learn more about top attractions and locations along Route 66 in Illinois. Don’t miss the chance to take a photo of famous artist Bob Waldmire’s van, which was the inspiration for the Fillmore character in the Walt Disney Pictures movie “Cars.”
Around the corner is the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum, which pays homage to the Pontiac and Oakland automobile brands. Don’t miss touring the Museum of Guilding Arts or Living County War Museum as well. Great dining stops in Pontiac include Edinger’s Filling Station and the Old Log Cabin. Both locations serve food that is reminiscent of the mom-and-pop diners of the past. Save room for dessert.
Classic cars on display among other memorabilia in the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum
Fly in to Chicago’s international airports O’Hare (ORD) or Midway (MDW), where you can rent a car and drive about 90 minutes to get to Joliet. Trains, buses and ride-share services also are available at the airports.