Cruising Through Time: Route 66 Springfield, MO Things to See and Do

Last updated on September 2nd, 2023 at 09:44 am.

Step into a time capsule of American history as we embark on a journey through Springfield, Missouri—a city that holds the distinction of being the official birthplace of Route 66. This iconic stretch of highway, known as the “Main Street of America,” has woven its way into the fabric of the nation’s identity, symbolizing the spirit of exploration, adventure, and the open road.

Join me as we uncover the rich tapestry of Route 66’s heritage in Springfield, exploring its markers, murals, attractions, museums, and historic sites from an era when the journey was just as significant as the destination.

Birthplace of Route 66

As you travel around Springfield, you’ll encounter not only markers and memorials commemorating Route 66’s inception but also one of the last remaining original stretches of this iconic highway—an asphalt ribbon of memory that has witnessed generations of travelers.

Route 66’s Historical Significance and Impact on Springfield, Missouri

Springfield, Missouri, plays a pivotal role in the narrative of Route 66’s evolution. In 1992, the city was officially designated as the birthplace of this historic highway—a recognition that underscores Springfield’s deep-rooted ties to the road’s legacy.

Springfield, Missouri, is designated as the birthplace of Route 66 due to its historical role in the establishment and planning of the iconic highway. While the idea for Route 66 itself wasn’t created in Springfield, the city holds this distinction because of the pivotal meeting that took place there, which played a significant role in shaping the route and it’s name.

Historic Missouri US route 66 sign

In April 1926, representatives from various states and communities gathered in Springfield for the first ever planning conference for a national highway system. This meeting, held at the Colonial Hotel (now the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven), brought together advocates for improved roads and highways, including Cy Avery, a prominent figure in the development of Route 66.

During this conference, discussions centered around creating a national highway that would connect Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California. The outcome of the conference led to the establishment of the U.S. Highway 66, which eventually became known as Route 66. This highway played a vital role in connecting urban and rural communities, facilitating commerce, and enabling travel and tourism across the United States.

Route 66 Cap sign

While Springfield’s claim as the birthplace of Route 66 doesn’t mean that the road physically started there, the city’s hosting of this conference marked a pivotal moment in the highway’s inception and planning. This historical event solidified Springfield’s role in the creation of Route 66 and its significance in the highway’s narrative.

As a result, Springfield has embraced this legacy and uses it as a point of pride, preserving Route 66 heritage through various landmarks, festivals, and attractions that celebrate the road’s history.

Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center

The first place to stop in Springfield is the Route 66 Visitors Center. They have free maps, guides, driving directions, and loads of information on all the fun things to see, do and experience in and around the Springfield area.

Address: 815 E St Louis St, Springfield, MO 65806

Route 66 Springfield, MO Markers and Landmarks

Stretching across 8 states, Route 66 weaves its way through various cities, with Springfield as one of the Missouri destinations on the iconic path. Below are some of the best places to find Route 66 murals, plaques, art, and attractions.

“66 Drive-In” Neon Sign

Route 66 Neon Sign

Keep an eye out for the “66 Drive-In” neon sign, an old-school beacon that still shines with a touch of nostalgia.

This sign is located on one of the last remaining original stretches of Route 66 at Glenstone Avenue and Kearney Street. It’s now the site of a Route 66-themed Kum & Go Fresh Market and the paved road is still accessible to motorists.

Route 66 Marker at Kum & Go

Also at Kum and Go, is a Route 66 marker with a fun depiction of some of the most iconic Springfield locations.

Kum & Go route 66 marker

Historic Route 66 Shields

And then there are the Historic Route 66 Shields; reminders of a time when roads had stories to tell and miles to share.

Historic route 66 byway sign in Springfield, Missouri

You know how your GPS guides you? Well, back in the day, Route 66 markers did the same thing for travelers. Springfield proudly displays these signs that led drivers on a cross-country journey.

This particular sign can also be found at the crossroads of Glenstone Avenue and Kearney Street.

Route 66 Murals

Springfield, MO route 66 mural

Explore the world of Route 66-themed murals in Springfield. Some of the most iconic murals are the “Route 66 Caravan” mural and “Main Street USA” Mural.

Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven

Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven
Photo Credit: Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven

The Rail Haven Motor Court was a classic hotel pit stop that’s seen generations of travelers. The hotel was originally built in 1938 and has been part of the Best Western family since 1946. The best thing is you can still stay the night at this classic motel.

Location: 203 S Glenstone Ave, Springfield, MO 65802

Red’s Giant Hamburg Original Location Plaque & Sculpture

Red's Giant Hamburg plaque

And speaking of pit stops, there’s the quirky Red’s Giant Hamburg sculpture—a reminder of a time when hamburgers were the stuff of legends. At this spot you’ll also find a plaque sharing information about Red’s that shares it is the world’s first drive-thru restaurant.

Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park & College Street

Route 66 old gas station

The Route 66 Roadside Park is located at 1200 W College St, Springfield, MO 65806. The above Red’s plaque and sculpture are located there as well as additional information about Route 66.

route 66 sculpture made out of hubcaps

Nearby at the corner of College Street and Broadway Ave. are several other route 66 items to check out including an old gas station and a sculpture made out of hubcaps.

Gillioz Theatre

Gillioz Theatre

The Gillioz Theatre is a historic theater built in 1926 and located on the original Route 66. The theatre was originally a hybrid theatre; hosting both vaudeville and film presentations. Today it shows mostly classic movies as well as live performances.

Address: 325 Park Central E, Springfield, MO 65806

Museums Celebrating Route 66 Legacy

Springfield has two great museums that focus on Route 66.

History Museum on the Square

History Museum on the Square

You can find the History Museum on the Square situated directly along the historic Route 66. Within its walls, six permanent galleries weave the tales of pivotal moments in Springfield’s history, encompassing topics like American Indian Tribes, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and even Wild West icons such as Wild Bill Hickok.

The Route 66 exhibit is not only engaging but also brimming with nostalgia. Spanning across both the first and top levels of the museum, it captures the essence of this iconic highway with displays, neon signs, music from the time period, and even a mock diner booth.

Address: 154 Park Central Square, Springfield, MO 65806

Route 66 Car Museum

Route 66 Car Museum

The Route 66 Car Museum is perfect for car enthusiasts. The collection of automobiles dating back to 1900 takes center stage. Among them, you’ll encounter a number of rare vehicles and several that have won classic car awards.

Overflowing with vintage cars, classic signs, and nostalgic mementos adorning the walls, the museum creates an ambiance that whisks you back in time. The cars on display encompass a wide range of automobiles and aren’t solely tied to Route 66, but all are impeccably maintained and showcase the epitome of vintage elegance. As you stroll through, expect to see gems like a DeLorean, a 1936 Horch, and even a safari car that once chauffeured the likes of FDR, Winston Churchill, and Queen Elizabeth II.

The museum also houses a couple of famous movie cars, including the iconic Batmobile and the Ghostbusters station wagon.

Address: 1634 W College St, Springfield, MO 65806

Birthplace Of Route 66 Festival

pre-civil war cars at The Birthplace of Route 66 Festival parade

Embrace Route 66 Nostalgia at the annual the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival! The festival is a fun three-day celebration, and the best part? It’s absolutely free!

The festival revolves around an amazing cast of vintage cars, which take center stage during this event.

The Birthplace of Route 66 Festival car parade

One of the major highlights is the car parade featuring a diverse range of vehicles. From the early 1900s to the late 1920s, vintage cars roll down the street. Then, pre-war and post-war cars from the 1930s to the 1950s take their turn. Classic cars from 1955 to 1963 join the party, followed by muscle cars that bridge eras all the way to cool, modern rides.

But the car parade is just the beginning. As you stroll along College Street and Park Central Square, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an amazing array of vintage cars. Curious minds get the chance to chat with the car owners and soak in the history and passion that these vehicles exude.

Beyond the revving engines and gleaming exteriors, the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival offers music on multiple stages and plenty of food vendors.

The festival isn’t just about cars and music. It’s a treasure trove for Route 66 enthusiasts. Vendors from all across the United States set up shop, showcasing an impressive array of Route 66-themed items that cater to every imaginable taste. From souvenirs to keepsakes, the Route 66 vendors have you covered.

Where to Eat with a Route 66 Vibe

Red's Giant Hamburg new location

Red’s Giant Hamburg made a comeback in 2019. While it’s not situated on Route 66 anymore, its roots trace back to the 1940s when the original establishment opened along Route 66, pioneering the concept of the drive-thru restaurant. These days, the place is adorned with vintage photos that whisk you back in time, all while exuding the timeless charm of a 1950s diner.

They serve hot dogs, hamburgers, frito pie, milkshakes and other diner favorites.

Address: 2301 W Sunshine St, Springfield, MO 65807

College Street Cafe

College Street Cafe

Located in the same parking lot as the Route 66 Car Museum is the College Street Café.

The small café offers is a great place to enjoy a delicious breakfast or lunch. This petite gem feels like a portal to the past, almost as if time stood still around 1955.

Venture to the back, and you’ll discover a wall where you can leave your mark, adding your signature to the café wall. Plus, throughout the restaurant, you’ll find traces of Route 66 history, a fitting tribute to the road that’s synonymous with timeless journeys.

Address: 1622 W College St, Springfield, MO 65806

Where to Stay in Springfield

Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven

Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Elvis Room

If you want to stay on Route 66 and in a vintage motel, the Rail Haven Motor Court is the spot. Plus, another cool bit of trivia, is that Elvis and his mom stayed at the hotel in 1956. You can book the Elvis room (409) which is very iconic…and you’ll love the ‘Pink Cadillac’ bed.

Check out the Rail Haven Motor Court reviews on TripAdvisor or find best rates at Hotels.com and Booking.com.

Tru by Hilton Springfield Downtown

Tru by Hilton Springfield Downtown

This is where I stayed during our most recent trip to Springfield. It’s an easy walk to downtown, restaurants, pubs, an arcade and the History Museum on the Square. The hotel had some fun elements, with a cool Springfield mural in the lobby as well as a pool table and giant Jenga game. It also has a heated pool, free breakfast and free parking. Our room was clean and spacious.

Check out the Tru by Hilton reviews on TripAdvisor or find best rates at Hotels.com and Booking.com.

Wrapping it Up

Get Your Kicks on Route 66 Sign

And that’s the Route 66 journey through Springfield, Missouri, in a nutshell. It’s like a time capsule that’s still open for exploration. The markers, murals, attractions, museums, and historic spots—they’re all pieces of a puzzle that tell the story of the open road. So, fellow travelers, it’s time to hit Route 66 and see where the adventure takes you.

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment