The motor hotel, or motel, was created as the perfect place for auto lovers and road trippers to stay. Nowhere on Earth is the motel more celebrated than along historic Route 66. Motels here appeared as mom and pop establishments with unique themes and dazzling neon signs. Though the interstate system helped to bring the downfall of Route 66 as the major transcontinental highway, a few of the classic motel gems remain. As 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the route, there is no better time to relive history with a road trip. Here is a look at five of the best motels to discover on a journey:
Wagon Wheel Motel, Cuba, MOThis classic renovation of a traditional 1936 mom and pop motel and gas station has been painstakingly restored. Behind the main office, three Tudor-style multi-unit buildings made from Ozark sandstone sit along a green grass lawn. The stone buildings, along with the original wood, windows and floors have remained intact. However, the motel units have otherwise been modernized to fit the comfort that today’s guests expect, including ADA accessible rooms and Wi-Fi. Today, it is owned and run by the national park service as part of the Route 66 corridor preservation effort. Rooms are reasonably priced, from $60 for a single bed to $120 for a suite, and pets are allowed with an additional fee.
Cuba is a wonderful glimpse into a bygone era. Known as mural city, there are over a dozen building murals depicting times past. A large history museum, several antique malls, and a vintage streetcar accompany a number of historic local buildings to give the city historic flair. The world’s largest rocking chair is also here and functions as a memento of the crazy road trip attractions that Route 66 was known for.
Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, AZ and Rialto, CA“Do it in a teepee” was the original motto for this southwest motel chain that got up to about ten motels. Two remain along Route 66, and both continue to have the classic teepee shaped units that made them famous. The franchise was created by a man named Chester Lewis who saw the idea in Kentucky, with motels run by a man named Frank Redford. Redford was more excited about sharing his idea than profiting, so he set up a deal with Lewis to have pay radios installed in each teepee. The radio would play for an hour on a dime, and the dimes were given to Redford as a commission.
This motel was the inspiration for the fictional Cozy Cone Motel in the Pixar movie Cars, which, set in the fictional Route 66 town of Radiator Springs, had traffic cones as hotel rooms instead of teepees. Rooms run between $56 for a single bed to $62 for a double. The rooms are rather simple and feature an air conditioning unit, a simple bathroom with a shower, and a television. The motel is listed on the national register of historic places.
While in Holbrook, discover the amazing tree fossils from the Petrified Forest national park. This 150-acre park straddles Apache and Navajo country and features 200 million-year-old relics dating back to the Mesozoic era. Bask in the multicolored sandstone and peer into the window of a time without a desert.
Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven, Springfield, MOSpringfield is known as the birthplace of Route 66 and features eight sandstone cottages that have been restored to keep the historic charm of their 1938 design while adding the modern amenities that today’s travelers like to see. The main lobby has been decorated to celebrate a 1950’s theme from the heyday of route 66. In addition to the eight vintage suites, there are 93 modern motel rooms. Since the motel has been brought into the Best Western family, it has gained many of the features common in a modern motel chain, while maintaining its architectural charm.
Free Wi-Fi, continental breakfast, laundry and business services, cable television, pool and hot tub, in-room coffee makers, toiletries, hair dryers and DVDs are all available to customers. There are a few themed suites with spas inside for those who want to go highbrow. These rooms cost a bit more than some of the other motels along the route but they still remain competitively priced for the Springfield area.
Local attractions include the home of Bass Pro Shops and the Ozark Empire fairgrounds. There are a number of museums and attractions that are family friendly, including the fantastic caverns, the Dickerson Park Zoo, the Discovery Museum and the Springfield Cardinals baseball team. For history and culture, try the tour of Pythian Home, or a play or concert at the 1920’s restored performing arts venue. Springfield is less than an hour from Branson, which is much like the Las Vegas of country music and is full of performing opry theaters and amusement parks.
Trade Winds Inn, Clinton, OK
This is a great chance to experience the heyday of Route 66 in the same place that one of the icons of the time, Elvis Presley, loved. Elvis fans will want to stay in room 215, his favorite. The Trade Winds Inn is now owned by the Magnuson hotel chain, but they have worked hard to maintain the vintage look and feel of this icon from the 1950s.
The town of Clinton is designed to appeal to people from all walks of life. The activities here range from cultural activities like the Western Oklahoma Ballet, the Cheyenne Cultural Center, The Southwest Playhouse Fine Arts Center and the Route 66 Historical Museum. For those who would prefer something a little different, there is also a water zoo, casino, country jamboree, waterslide and speedway. Those who want to see some of the wilder portions of Oklahoma should try the Washita National Wildlife Refuge for a day of watersports, boating or fishing before continuing on their journey.
Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, NMIn the shadow of majestic Mount Tucumcari sits the iconic Blue Swallow Motel, arguably the best motel on the entire route. The place dates back to 1939 and features a vintage neon sign and historic, refurbished rooms. The rooms have fun throwbacks to another time like vintage rotary phones in the room, real fluffy towels like at home, and classic decor. As a bonus, there are actual carports for each customer’s car, many with beautiful, classic murals inside. The friendly owners will treat both customer and automobile like royalty. For those who are interested, they are also avid history buffs who can share the many stories from both the motel as well as Route 66 in general. On a road trip around Route 66, nothing can beat that.
There are a number of things to do in Tucumcari, including a tour of the classic fifties-themed murals that grace the vintage buildings. The town has a number of the quirky curio shops that are traditionally associated with road trips from the vintage era. There are also a few different museums in the area, including the local historical museum, the Route 66 Railroad Museum and the Mesalands College Dinosaur Museum. A romantic road trip can also include a stop and tie the knot at the Route 66 Wedding Chapel.
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