You may recall that my older son, Grayson is a little obsessed with Disney Cars and Lightning McQueen (see this blog post on his Cars themed birthday party for evidence). So when we had the opportunity last summer to make a drive back to my home state of California, we thought it would be fun to add a little time to the road trip back to Texas from California by driving Route 66 and seeing some of the real places that inspired the Disney movie. It was a lot of fun, and Grayson still refers to the various Route 66 roadside attractions we saw. Driving the Mother Road was a cool experience that my husband and I will never forget! I’m sharing our Route 66 road trip itinerary today, including the stops that inspired Radiator Springs in the Disney Cars movie, some cool Route 66 roadside attractions, and other fun things to see on Route 66 with kids. If you’re looking for an alternate or shorter road trip from California to Texas (or the other way around), check out this other post: Family Road Trip from Texas to California.
At the time of our family’s Route 66 road trip, Grayson was 3 1/2 years old and Sawyer was about 15 months old. Both boys did really well. Some pieces of advice for a long road trip with kids this age is to bring lots of toys and activities (an iPad or tablet really helps, as they can even watch cartoons on the Netflix app), and to stop as often as you need to for the little ones to stretch their legs and burn some energy. Fast food “play places” are great playgrounds that you will often find pretty often on a road trip. See all my tips for having the best, low-stress family road trip (including lots of car activities for toddlers and young kids) here.
To help with your own Route 66 road trip planning, here are some of the places we stopped and the Route 66 roadside attractions we saw along the way, with an emphasis on the real places that inspired the Disney Cars movie. Whether you are planning a Cars-inspired road trip or not, these are some great spots that would be enjoyable by people of all ages!
Route 66 road trip planning resources
When planning your Route 66 road trip stops, I recommend checking out my favorite website for roadside attractions, Roadside America. They have fun road trip stops along Route 66 broken down by CA-AZ, NM-OK, and MO-IL (if you’re going that far).
The other things I found helpful in my planning were these articles on the real places and people of Route 66 that inspired Disney’s Cars (though we noticed that you can also learn a lot more by talking to the employees at some of these places along the way, as they had great stories to tell about their relation to the movie). The first article is The real Route 66 inspirations behind Disney’s Cars Land, and A Route 66 guide to the “Cars” movie was really helpful as well.
Route 66 road trip itinerary
Note that while I am mainly focusing on the Cars-related landmarks in this article, but there are many other great things to see on Route 66 with so much history. There are so many cool old businesses and ghost towns, as well as a lot of cool old neon signs. This will be a lifetime memory, and a bucket list experience driving Route 66 with kids.
The Route 66 road trip itinerary I’m sharing is ordered from California to Texas (the order we drove it), but you can easily do it in reverse by starting at the end of the article and working your way through the stops back to California.
The total number of miles you’ll drive if you started at the beginning of Route 66 in Santa Monica, CA through to the last stop in Shamrock, TX is 1,388 miles. Sometimes Route 66 is the main interstate highway 40, or follows alongside it, but many times, you are on a separate road altogether, the old Route 66. Keep in mind that the speed limits are lower on Route 66 than they would be if you stayed on 40, and the roads are less maintained and have less driving lanes. To me, this is all part of the fun experience, but it is good to know so that you can account for increased driving time with the lower speed limits. The good news is that Route 66 runs close to I-40, so if you need to pick up some time at any point during your drive, you can always hop on the interstate for a bit.
Route 66 stops: Shoe Tree in Amboy, CA
Shoe tree in Amboy, California. This Route 66 roadside attraction is actually not Cars-related, but a cool sight to see, nonetheless. For me it was also a great opportunity to ditch a pair of boots that absolutely tore up my feet in Dublin during our trip to Ireland.
Route 66 stops: Hackberry General Store
Hackberry General Store in Hackberry, Arizona (the inspiration for Lizzie’s curio shop in the movie). Hackberry General Store has lots of cool curios and souvenirs, and lots of old cars similar to movie characters to see and take photos with, like the Tow Mater-looking truck pictured above.
Route 66 stops: Seligman, AZ
Seligman, Arizona (a very Radiator Springs-esque town). Here you can see lots of old cars reminiscent of Cars characters on display. Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman is a fun historic diner that’s a great place to have lunch during your drive.
Route 66 stops: Jackrabbit Trading Post
Jackrabbit Trading Post in Joseph City, Arizona (inspiration behind some of Lizzie’s store and other signs in Radiator Springs). You must stop for a photo of the iconic Here It Is sign, a 70+ year-old Route 66 landmark, and the shop has a lot of fun souvenirs.
Route 66 stops: Wigwam Village
Wigwam Village in Holbrook, Arizona (inspiration for the “Cozy Cone”). If you can get a reservation, this is a kitschy and cost-effective motel for a night’s stay during your Route 66 road trip itinerary.
Route 66 stops: Joe and Aggie’s Café
Joe and Aggie’s Café in Holbrook, Arizona. We stopped here despite the word “Aggie” in the name (Longhorns for life in our fam!), and are glad we did. The cafe has a fun amount of unique Cars memorabilia, and was a delicious stop for dinner. The restaurant has been in the same family for generations, and they seemed happy to share Route 66 and Cars history with us (apparently the restaurant was a favorite stop for John Lasseter and others while planning the film).
Route 66 stops: Ortega’s Indian Market
Ortega’s Indian Market in Lupton, Arizona (inspiration for “Filmore’s Taste In”). We didn’t get a good photo since we drove by it at night, but the area now includes a lot of great shopping and dining options in the surrounding Stagecoach Village area.
Route 66 stops: 66 Diner
66 Diner in Albuquerque, New Mexico (one of the places that inspired “Flo’s V8 Café”). Since we stayed the night in Albuquerque, we had breakfast at 66 Diner and definitely recommend it.
Route 66 stops: Tucumcari Mountain
Tucumcari Mountain in Tucumcari, New Mexico (inspiration for some of the scenery around Radiator Springs in the movie). Unfortunately, we didn’t get a photo of this one, but fans of the movie wouldn’t miss the iconic shape of the mesa.
Route 66 monument sign in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Not Cars-related, but a cool Route 66 photo opp in Tucumcari that you should see. The monument to the Mother Road is located in front of the Tucumcari Convention Center at W. Hines Avenue on Route 66.
Route 66 stops: Midpoint Café
Midpoint Café in Adrian, Texas (another place that inspired “Flo’s V8 Café” for the movie). Also worth noting, this diner sits at the halfway point on Route 66 between Los Angeles and Chicago. Midpoint Cafe is a great place to grab some lunch, pickup some Cars or Route 66 souvenirs, and talk to the staff about Route 66 history.
Route 66 stops: Cadillac Ranch
Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas (inspiration for the “Cadillac Range” in the movie). If you have a can of spray paint you can add your own mark to this iconic art installation, and one of the most photographed things to see on Route 66.
Route 66 stops: Leaning Water Tower near Groom, TX
Leaning water tower near Groom, Texas (the inspiration for the “leaning tower of tires” at “Luigi’s Casa Della Tires”). This Route 66 roadside attraction is located just east of Groom, TX.
Route 66 stops: U-Drop Inn
U-Drop Inn gas station and restaurant in Shamrock, Texas (the inspiration for “Ramone’s House of Body Art”). Built in 1936, this historic Route 66 structure has been renovated in recent years and is a nice place to have a soda with the kids.
One day the #FabFam hopes to drive the rest of Route 66 from Oklahoma to Illinois, but until then we will cherish the memory of this special road trip.
More family road trip resources and itineraries
Interested in planning more family road trip itineraries? Check out these resources.
- Big Sur Coastal Drive Stops
- Road Trip from Austin to New Orleans
- Family Road Trip from Texas to California
- Southern USA Road Trip Driving Playlist
- Southern USA Family Road Trip Route and Recommendations
- Route and Recommendations for a Road Trip Through the U.S. Southwest
- Itinerary and Recommendations for a Family Road Trip from Texas to Washington, DC
- Route and recommendations for planning the ultimate Midwest baseball road trip
- Connecting with my family and personal history in the U.K. with Kia
- One-Day Road Trip Through Wales – Seeking Ancient Ruins, Dragons, and Castles
- The Ultimate UK Road Trip Itinerary – Driving Around England, Scotland, and Wales with the Family
- Family Road Trip Packing List
- Tips for having the best, low-stress family road trip (including lots of car activities for toddlers and young kids)
- Super Easy DIY Hanging Organizer for Your Next Family Road Trip
- DIY road trip activities folder for toddlers and young kids