In the USA, the 4,000-kilometer stretch of Route 66 is the premier destination for world travelers seeking to experience a slice of classic Americana.
And with more than 480 kilometers of “The Mother Road” located in Missouri, the “Show Me State” is home to more than one-tenth of this historic highway. So, buckle up and explore everything from this Ozark region’s rich history to its metropolitan hubs.
Pulaski County: A Welcome Stop in America’s Heartland
Located in south-central Missouri and full of original Mother Road sites and buildings that have been preserved to this day, Pulaski County is a great place to soak up the history and culture of Route 66. The Pulaski County Visitors Center is a great place to start: Find inspiration from one of the 800 available brochures, or check out the calendar of events and send an electronic postcard from the center’s computer.
Tucked away along Old Route 66, you’ll find the Elbow Inn Bar & BBQ Pit in Devils Elbow, which has been a staple in these parts since its opening in 1929. You might think it’s a biker bar because of its eclectic decor – including brassieres hanging from the ceiling – but when you walk into this unassuming wood building, you’ll find patrons who have come from all over to enjoy the beer, barbecue and atmosphere.
Literally around the bend, the Devils Elbow scenic bridge overlooks Big Piney River. The bridge gets its name from the river’s eddy, where logs would often get stuck, hence the loggers’ name “Devils Elbow.”
Elbow Inn & BBQ Pit biker bar along Historic Route 66, Pulaski County
Springfield: City Life in the Midwest
Springfield’s mix of small-town charm and cosmopolitan attractions makes “The Birthplace of Route 66” a necessary stop on your road trip. From the bustling downtown area with its trendy restaurants and microbreweries, to the unique businesses along Historic C-Street, you’ll have a multitude of activities from which to choose. The Route 66 Springfield Visitors Center is a great place to get acquainted with the city before you start exploring.
You have your choice of accommodations in Springfield, including the colorful Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Motel, which features nostalgic, Route 66 memorabilia inside and out. You can even sleep in a pink Cadillac in the Elvis Presley Room!
Downtown, the 1926 Gillioz Theatre is a beacon for Springfield’s cultural scene. The majesty of this theater is undeniable when you stand under its bright marquee, and inside, carved pillars and original detail add character to this expansive venue. Imagine the number of performances that this venue has hosted over its long history – it even served as a hideout for Elvis Presley, who was playing hooky from a nearby show.
Elvis Presley-themed room at the Best Western Route 66 Railhaven Hotel in Springfield
Joplin: Art and History Along Main Street
My next stop along Missouri’s Route 66 was Joplin’s Main Street, where every few blocks, you’ll notice an intricate mural painted on the side of a building or spread across a billboard. Joplin has many such murals celebrating its unique character and Route 66 heritage, which draw visitors to this cultural crossroads.
While here, it’s worth visiting City Hall’s Thomas Hart Benton mural, titled “Turn of the Century, Joplin.” This painting depicts Joplin as the artist remembered it from his youth – when he was a teenager, he was the local newspaper’s cartoonist. Benton even incorporated lead and zinc into the pigment, the minerals that brought the mining boom to Joplin.
You can’t leave without stocking up at the Candy House Chocolate Factory downtown, which features all sorts of hand-made confections. Offering year-round, seasonal and Route 66-inspired treats, this chocolate-lover’s dream does not disappoint.
Pulaski County, Springfield and Joplin offer activities and attractions that embody the heart and soul of the Midwest. I left with heartfelt gratitude to the generous people and fascinating places along Missouri’s Route 66. I hope you will experience it, too.
The Candy House Chocolate Factory’s retail showroom in downtown Joplin