Travel Associates

A Tale of Two Roads: Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway

13 May 2017

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Sometimes the road is a destination in itself, and never is this more the case than in the USA. Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway are on most lists of must-sees in the country, and there are an abundance of reasons why. Read on to discover the highlights of a journey down these two epic roads. 

Route 66

It’s the mother of all road trips and the most famous stretch of road in the USA. With nearly 4000km of highway separating Chicago and Los Angeles, Route 66 is the shortest and most scenic route. The spirit of the Mother Road lives on through the tireless restoration and preservation efforts of countless iconic attractions along the way, creating a pure nostalgic American experience for every sense. Thirty years after the original Route

66 was decommissioned, it’s not just the Americana that lures travellers, but the scenery of the old road, which has to be experienced once in a lifetime. For the most authentic experience, look for the Route 66 signposts starting in Chicago and ending in Santa Monica. There is unique beauty to be discovered around every corner, with each state along the way providing an abundance of natural beauty and a sample of the diverse American landscape.

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aerial view of cars in chicago
Route 66 begins in Chicago, a bustling metropolis of 2.7 million, quite the contrast to some of the long, desolate roads ahead.

Destination one: Illinois

Start your engine in Chicago – This cosmopolitan city is the launch pad of your Route 66 adventure. Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant has been here for an eternity, welcoming travellers with big ‘Chicagostyle’ breakfasts and American flare; just the fuel you need for a journey through time. Take in the atmosphere of big city driving, surrounded by towering office buildings and neon lights. It won’t be long before you’re cruising through the cornfields and historic towns of Illinois.

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road leading through green trees
Route 66 winds through Missouri's dense farmland and beautiful Ozark Mountains before reaching the open plains it's famous for in Texas.

Destination two: Missouri

Crossing the Mississippi River via The Chain of Rocks Bridge marks your entry into Missouri. Discover the scenic beauty of the Ozark Mountains as you drive through central USA towards Springfield – an iconic town and birthplace of the annual Route 66 Festival. Visit Springfield Visitor Centre to experience a replica 50s era diner and gas station, learn about the town’s history or purchase a souvenir as a memento of your journey.

Destination three: Texas

Freedom is the resounding feeling as you follow Route 66 across the Texas Panhandle Region – nearly 300kms of flat plains reaching out as far as your eyes can see. Located in Amarillo, a city which retains its cowboy origins, Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation involving junkyard Cadillac cars. Wander through countless country stores, selling clothing or antiques and hit the Texan Steak Ranch to try it’s Big Texan Steak Challenge. You’ll see everything really is bigger in Texas.

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route 66 in new mexico
Route 66 stretches across some 300kms of flat, straight road, so there are plenty of opportunities for photos.

Destination four: New Mexico

Behind the wheel or handlebars is the best way to explore the sandstone deserts, lush pine forests and ghastly ghost towns of New Mexico. Bright neon signs reflect the deep roots this region has with Route 66. Blue Swallow Motel, one of the original motels, has been restored and continues to operate. New Mexico is also home to Santa Rosa’s Blue Hole – a sparkling swimming hole that appears in the centre of the desert like some enchanted blue mirage.

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santa monica pier at sunset
Winding through the Mojave Desert in Arizona, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.

Destination five: Arizona

Be prepared for some of the most captivating sections of Route 66 – the overwhelming beauty of the vast mesa lands of Arizona and the canyon filled Mojave Desert. Hues of brown, orange and yellow landscapes drenched in natural sunlight are an attraction on its own as you drive through the arid desert along the Colorado River. Halfway through Arizona, catch a glimpse of the mighty Grand Canyon as your GPS guides you along the forested Kaibab Plateau.

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santa monica pier at sunset
Route 66 ends in Santa Monica, where you can walk along the iconic Santa Monica Pier, which was opened in 1909.

Destination six: California

Experience every type of Southern California landscape on this thrilling stretch of Route 66. From the Mojave Desert, mountains and valleys, to the breathtaking beaches of Santa Monica. Amboy, once a major stop along the route, is now a ghost town but it’s most noticeable landmark Roy’s Motel and Cafe still stands. Park your car and celebrate the end of the trail on Santa Monica Pier, the official end point of Route 66.

Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway through California is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. Starting in San Diego, this incredible all-American drive provides panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, winding all the way north to San Francisco. Considered a dream drive, be inspired by over 1000km of stunning coastal views, quaint seaside villages, shady redwood forests and curving mountain roads. There is nothing more exhilarating than feeling the crisp sea breeze against your skin being warmed by gentle rays of Californian sunshine as you cruise up the Pacific Coast.

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Balboa park san diego
Built in 1868, Balboa Park is home to a multitude of gardens, parks, museums, several theatres and the renowned San Diego Zoo.

Destination one: San Diego

Start dreaming in sun-filled San Diego, the oldest town in California. Balboa Park filled with its Spanish Colonial-style architecture provides an interesting glance into the city’s history. Highlights of the 1400 acre park include the Botanical Gardens, Museums and world famous San Diego Zoo. A short drive from the zoo, treat yourself with a visit to the trendy Gaslamp Quarter and its many boutique shops, fine dining and art galleries.

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car driving through vineyards santa barbara
Nicknamed the American Riverina, Santa Barbara has seaside swagger a stone's throw from these Santa Ynez vineyards.

Destination two: Santa Barbara

Drive through Santa Barbara for a European Riviera experience on the California coast. White washed Spanish-style architecture covered in colourful climbing bougainvillea plants creates a romantic backdrop in this seaside city. True to its Mediterranean influence, Santa Barbara is surrounded by countless vineyards producing world class wine and cuisine. Just north, Santa Ynez provides one of the best wine and dine settings, surrounded by rolling hills, towering oak forests and endless vines.

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bridge on big sur coastline california
One of the most famous roadways along this coastline, Bixby Creek Bridge was opened in 1932 and is 218 metres long.

Destination three: Big Sur

Just over 140km of rugged coastline between Carmel and San Simeon, is known as Big Sur and definitely big on beauty and breathtaking views. Bordered by the Santa Lucia Mountains and Pacific Ocean, this misty stretch of highway creates feelings of inspiration and awe. While you follow the winding highway with amazing panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, California condors circle the sky, while sea otters play and whales migrate off the remote beaches below.

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tram with steep hill behind san francisco
When you reach San Francisco, ditch the driver's seat and hop on board one of these iconic trams that weave through the hilly city.

Destination four: San Francisco

As you continue, the grand San Francisco skyline appears over the horizon, and the wide open spaces of the highway slowly transform into vibrant city streets. San Francisco is a collection of eclectic and artsy neighbourhoods with a surplus of activities and places to visit. Try Union Square for a selection of high-end shopping and boutique cafes, catch a show in a theatre district or stroll down Valencia Street for a trendy collection of restaurants and bars.

Nicole Cook

Nicole is the content magician at DriveAway Holidays, Australia's leading self-drive specialists with over 25 years of experience. DriveAway Holidays offers international car and motorhome hire, prestige and luxury services, plus motorcycle hire in the USA.