This holiday season, take the family to experience a few of the jaw-dropping museums and historical attractions along The First Hundred Miles of Route 66. Ranging from world-renowned art galleries to vast vintage automobile collections, these exhibits offer more than just a warm indoor activity this winter – these institutions also provide a crucial look at the lasting legacy of the Mother Road. Join us as we explore six can’t-miss museums along the route.
The Art Institute Of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Before you start your trip on the Mother Road, pay a visit to the mother of all art museums: the Art Institute of Chicago. Conveniently located near the historic starting point of Route 66, this bucket list-worthy museum boasts thrilling special exhibits and a fantastically large permanent collection, featuring such significant works as Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Georges Seurat’s masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”
1400 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Want to come face to face with the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex? Plan a visit to Chicago’s own Field Museum, where you can see the legendary dinosaur known as “Sue.” Kids of all ages will cherish a chance to experience the museum’s stunning, life-sized natural history exhibits, and explore a revolving selection of special displays. Conveniently situated on Chicago’s Museum Campus, it’s easy to add a trip to this world-renowned museum to your family’s Route 66 itinerary.
Joliet Area Historical Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center
204 N. Ottawa St., Joliet
Get up close and personal with artifacts from the Mother Road at the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center. Located in a historic structure that once housed the Ottawa Street Episcopal Methodist Church, a grand example of neoclassical architecture, the building now hosts a plethora of themed selfie spots and exhibits dedicated to the significance of both Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway. Explore the museum’s brand-new exhibit dedicated to “The Blues Brothers,” the seminal comedy that was filmed in Joliet. You’ll also find other photo-worthy exhibits, like a replica I&M Canal lock, a turn-of-the-last-century streetscape, an Old Joliet Prison guard tower and a recently added 3D Route 66 selfie sign, set near the entrance of the museum.
Illinois Route 66 Mining Museum
150 Kankakee Road, Godley
The Illinois Route 66 Mining Museum is a hidden gem of pure Americana, located in the small village of Godley. With only 600 residents, Godley was put on the map in 1864 by the discovery of “black diamonds,” which sparked the central Illinois coal rush. A tragedy in 1883 resulted in the death of 74 men and boys, an event that played a major part in the formation of the United Mine Workers union in 1890. The small, but fascinating, micro-museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Pontiac-Oakland Auto Museum
201 N. Mill St., Pontiac
Visitors are astonished at the quality of the cars on display and the extent of the collection at Pontiac-Oakland Museum. You’ll need about an hour or so to tour the vast array of vintage cars and memorabilia, along with the Pontiac research library, housed in a sprawling downtown museum just a short walk away from the Route 66 Association of Illinois Museum. Admission is free, however, you can opt for a behind-the-scenes tour for just $5 a person. This special tour will give you the inside scoop on the history of these astounding automobiles and stories from knowledgeable guides. The site is open every day, and auto enthusiasts won’t want to miss a chance to see the fine collection.
Route 66 Association of Illinois Museum
110 W. Howard St., Pontiac
At the end of your First Hundred Miles trek, you’ll find yourself in the small, but bustling community of Pontiac. Home to one of the best Route 66 museums along the entire Mother Road, this expansive archive of Route 66 artifacts and ephemera is widely regarded for its extensive collection of historical photos. At this fan-favorite museum, you’ll find nostalgic relics from days gone by, vintage license plates, a VW bus with a connection to Disney’s hit film “Cars” and a spectacular two-story-tall mural of a Route 66 shield, perfect for photo-ops. This is a can’t-miss location for travelers spending any time along The First Hundred Miles.