By Madeline Dillner, Brownfield Program Project Coordinator & GIS Specialist, Oklahoma Corporation Commission
Photo by VisitOKC
Oklahoma is home to 426 miles of Historic Route 66—more than any other state along the 2,400-mile historic highway. Whether you love food, museums, kitsch, or cars, you will not be disappointed if you choose to add a little extra time to your stay in Oklahoma to drive Steinbeck’s “Mother Road.” However, because Oklahoma has the most miles of Route 66, that also means we have an overwhelming amount of roadside attractions and eateries. For your convenience, an itinerary that lets you make the most of your rental car time, and hit all the major Route 66 attractions, has been provided to you in this post.
The itinerary below assumes that interested attendees will fly in to OKC on Friday, September 24, and spend the following Saturday and Sunday exploring Oklahoma’s favorite road. However, If you are able to tack on a couple days at the end of your trip, instead, you may be able to catch the Totem Pole BBQ & Music Fest in Chelsea, which is held the first Saturday in October—COVID permitting. (Unfortunately for our more adventurous guests, the World’s Largest Calf Fry Festival & Cook-Off in Vinita is usually held in June, so eating massive quantities of this interesting delicacy is probably off the table.)
The routes and stops in this itinerary are all viewable in this Google Map.
Saturday, September 24, 2021:
8:00 AM – You’ll start your day early. Don’t eat a big breakfast, because lunch will be in about 3 hours. Head out from the Omni Hotel and head east on Route 66, towards Arcadia.
8:30 AM – First you’ll stop at Pops (opens at 6 AM every day) and grab some soda and snacks for the road. Then, head up the road to take pictures with the Round Barn.
9:00 AM – 9:30 AM – Browse John Hargrove’s OK County 66 property of oddities (“open sun up to sun down”). Then, you’ll keep driving east, heading for the Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler. Motorcycle enthusiasts can make a pit stop at the Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum, and film buffs can snap a picture at the H & S Theater on the way there.
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM – Get into the Interpretive Center nice and early (it opens at 10:00 AM on Saturdays) and check out the “Mother Road” Video Experience.
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM – For lunch, you’ll stop at the Rock Café in Stroud for the diner’s world-famous alligator burger, Reuben sandwich, or German jaegerschnitzel. Who knows… you may even sit in the same seat that Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) or Matt Groening (The Simpsons) once graced!
12:00 PM – After lunch, hop back on the road and keep heading east to see Oklahoma’s famous landlocked cerulean cetacean—the Blue Whale of Catoosa. On the way there, take care to get onto the Ozark Trail in Sapulpa so you can see the steel-truss Rock Creek Bridge. Auto and moto enthusiasts can take pit stops at the Waite Phillips-Barnsdall Filling Station Museum and Route 66 Harley-Davidson, respectively. You can also take a side trip into Tulsa to get pictures at the Blue Dome, and then meet up with the Golden Driller at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Note: Fans of the movie “The Outsiders” may want to do a longer detour in Tulsa to check out The Outsiders House Museum, and the iconic Outsiders DX station in Sperry (which is going through the OCC’s Brownfield Program), but it will throw off your timing for the rest of this itinerary.
2:00 PM – Arrive at the Blue Whale of Catoosa! It may be a hot day (September in Oklahoma can be toasty), but don’t jump in the Whale’s pond—it’s not allowed. Purchase some souvenirs, take pictures, and hop back on the road, because you aren’t done yet. Try to leave the Blue Whale no later than 2:30 PM. Head east on Route 66, making sure to turn right in Foyil at OK-28 A E to make a pit stop at Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park. Then, get back on Route 66, snag a photo at the Pryor Creek Bridge, and head on in to Vinita.
3:30 PM – Arrive in Vinita. If you’re getting a little snacky by this time, drop in to Clanton’s Café (featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) for a slice of made-from-scratch pie. When you leave, drive around the corner to see what the historic Center Theater is playing, and maybe take a picture in front of its marquee. Try to leave no later than 4:00 for Picher. Note: Gearheads may prefer to spend the next block of time exploring Darryl Starbird’s National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum in Afton, instead of exploring Picher.
5:00 PM – Arrive in the Ghost Town of Picher, OK, home of the Tar Creek Superfund site. Some links have been provided in the Google Map for those of you interested in the story of this historic mining town. Feel free to drive the streets and take in the sights, but do not get out to explore, as lead-dusted chat piles and sinkholes haunt this town, and most of it is private property. Bonus: Drive a couple miles north on Connell street to cross the state line into Kansas!
5:30 PM – Start to head back. Go south through the town of Commerce. If you would like to top the pie in your stomach off with some ice cream, or snag an appetizer of onion rings before your upcoming dinner, a stop at the Dairy King may be in order – but hurry, they close at 6:00 PM! (And don’t eat too much, because you’ll be having dinner in a cuckoo clock soon.) Be sure to grab a picture of you and your ice cream cone in front of the historic Cottage Conoco Gas Station across the street. Baseball fans may also want to get a picture of Mickey Mantle’s childhood home, just down the street and to the left.
6:00 PM – Head south in Miami, and pull up at the Coleman Theatre – “Oklahoma’s premier historic vaudeville theatre.” It will be too late in the day to take a tour (they end at 3:30), but you can take some beautiful pictures. You may be able to go inside and admire the beautifully restored interior, but that will depend on the state of the pandemic. Still, it can’t hurt to call – (918) 540-2425.
7:00 PM – When you’ve gotten your fill of the Coleman’s “Spanish Colonial Mission-style exterior and Louis XV interior,” hop back in the car and head north back up the street to Waylan’s KuKu Burger. Give a wave to the cuckoo bird on your way in, and be sure to try the ku-ku fries. Note: feel free to go through the drive-through if you’re getting tired—it’s a three-hour drive home!
10:00 PM – 11:00 PM – Arrive back at the Omni and get a good night’s sleep—because tomorrow, you’re going west.
Sunday, September 25, 2021:
9:00 AM – Start your adventure by driving north up N. Classen Blvd until you get to 23rd Street. Park and get a picture with the iconic Gold Dome building. Then, walk a short distance up the street and get another picture with the Milk Bottle Grocery. Then, it’s back to the car to get up to Route 66.
9:30 AM – Take a picture with the pink Cadillac at Ann’s Chicken Fry House (now closed). Then, hop back on I-44/Route 66. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled just as you get into Yukon to get a picture of “Yukon’s Best Flour Mill” – a giant flour mill with a hard-to-miss mural.
10:30 AM – Arrive at Indian Trading Post and Art! If you have trouble finding it, look for the giant Native American man waving stoically at you from the parking lot. Shop the many Native American gifts and instruments and pick up a souvenir for this leg of the trip. Leave around 11:30 AM, and head up Business 281 so you can loop back down to Route 66 via the Pony Bridge—famous for its appearance in the 1939 film Grapes of Wrath.
12:00 PM – In 22 minutes of driving, just past the turn-off for Hydro, you’ll see Lucille’s Historic Highway Gas Station. It’s closed now, but worth a photo op due to its unique two-story design that dates back to 1927, when Lucille and Carl Hamons both lived and worked in the station. When you drive west for about 5 more minutes, you’ll reach your lunch destination: Lucille’s Roadhouse Diner. If you’re a fan of chicken-fried steak (or have never heard of it), you can get your fill here.
While you’re at Lucille’s, you can take a moment and think about how you’d like to spend the next few hours in Weatherford. You can either…
- …visit the Stafford Air & Space Museum (open 1PM to 5PM on Sundays), named for test pilot and astronaut Lt. General Thomas P. Stafford, who grew up in Weatherford, and flew four space missions (Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo-Soyuz), three of them as mission Commander. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his command of the Apollo-Soyuz mission—a joint mission with the Soviet Union. The museum has worked closely with NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Air Force Museum to assemble a world-class collection of aerospace artifacts, making them one of Oklahoma’s best educational attractions.
- …visit the Heartland of America Museum, which focuses less on Route 66 and more on Oklahoma history from the 1800s to the 1950s. It contains 32 major historical exhibits and nearly 40 aisle cabinet exhibits. The most Americana exhibit: a diner that fed Elvis Presley three times back when it was in business. Please note – Sunday museum tours are by appointment only.
3:30 PM – Whichever museum you chose, you’ll want to be hitting the dusty trail again by around 3:30 PM. Head west towards Clinton, and after about 15 minutes, make a stop at the Cherokee Trading Post & Boot Outlet. Note: the nearby Mohawk Lodge Indian Store is another go-to place for authentic Native American crafts, clothing, and Pendleton blankets, BUT they are not open on Sundays. If you want to visit here, you may want to rearrange these tour days so you can visit. They are open 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM Monday-Saturday.
4:15 PM – Time to leave Clinton! At this point, you are faced with another decision:
- Die-hard Route 66 fans can keep driving for 1 hour and 19 minutes out to the very western edge of the state. You will be met along the way by a giant kachina doll and old-timey storefronts at Elk City’s National Route 66 and Transportation Museum (closed on Sundays but open for outside photo ops), the Beckham County Courthouse in Sayre that was featured in Grapes of Wrath, and a tiny one-room jail in Texola, at which you should arrive around 5:30. **At this point, even more hardcore fans of Route 66 can keep driving on I-40 and make it to Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo in another 1 hour and 45 minutes—just in time for sunset around 7:30 PM. It’s worth it if you’ve always wanted to see it (bring your own spray paint!), but the 4-hour drive back to OKC is tedious at night.** In Texola, you can grab a bite to eat at the Tumbleweed Grill (0.25 miles from the Texas border), pop over into Texas to say you did it, and then head back to OKC (about a 2-hour drive from Texola) if you don’t want to go on to Cadillac Ranch. On your way home, be sure to make a detour through Clinton to get a picture with the big neon and glass front of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum. Assuming it takes you an hour to eat, you should be back in your hotel room between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM.
- People who are looking for an earlier evening can turn around and head back after shopping at the Trading Post. After about an hour of eastwardly travel, you’ll make it to El Reno around 5:30 PM, where you will see many delicious onion burger restaurants, most notably: Johnnie’s Grill, Sid’s Diner, and Robert’s Grill. Go for dine in or takeout, whichever you prefer. From El Reno, it’s only a half hour drive back to OKC, and the comfort of your hotel room.
Author’s note: Interested in taking this trip? Let me know at email@example.com. I’d love road trip buddies, or a carpool (COVID permitting).
For further reading about Route 66 and its attractions:
“Historic Route 66” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/listings/view.profile/id.11255
Oklahoma’s Route 66 Association – https://oklahomaroute66.com/
“Roadside Oddities Along Route 66” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/roadside-oddities-along-route-66
“Route 66 Road Trip: Oklahoma City to Weatherford” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/road-trip-okc-to-weatherford
“Oklahoma’s Rockin’ Route 66 Festivals” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/oklahomas-rockin-route-66-festivals
“Motoring West on Route 66” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/motoring-west
“Chicks on Route 66” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/chicks-on-route-66
“Way Out West: Cruising Route 66 from Weatherford to Texola” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/way-out-west-cruising-route-66-from-weatherford-to-texola
“Off the Beaten Path on Route 66” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/off-the-beaten-path
“Pass the Gravy: Best Chicken-Fried Steaks on Route 66” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/article_page/pass-the-gravy-chicken-fried-steak-on-route-66
“Town-by-Town Tour of Route 66” – Oklahoma Route 66 Association, https://oklahomaroute66.com/towns/
“This Old Gas Station-Turned-Dairy King Is A Must-Visit Stop On The Mother Road in Oklahoma” – “Only in Your State”, https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/oklahoma/dairy-king-ok/?fbclid=IwAR3vVWwTUm9WlabiTUhDCFP4CBq7-ly5bKnwIkCgPpFzA5sf_kypj0oEDa8
“The Coleman Theatre Beautiful” – Coleman Theater website, http://www.colemantheatre.org/opening-weekend
“Totem Pole BBQ and Music Fest” – TravelOK, https://www.travelok.com/listings/view.profile/id.18370