Road Trip of the Week: The Real Route 66

Driving Route 66 has become something of a cliche that never seems to live up to the hype of “America’s Highway” — but that’s because most people don’t drive it through Oklahoma. Almost 400 miles of the classic road run through the state (more than any other), and while the rest of the highway has undergone drastic changes over the years, there’s a two-hour stretch between Tulsa and El Reno that is still the US 66 of modern legend.

The drive begins in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city. Sandwiched between the Great Plains and the Ozark Mountains on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma’s northeast corner, the city is a pleasantly surprising cultural center, housing two world-renowned art museums, full-time professional opera and ballet companies, and more than 130 parks. The Blue Dome district, usually known for its nightlife, is also a great place to start your day off right: Warm up with breakfast at the quirky-yet-comfortable Blue Dome Diner (311 E. 2nd St.), whose chefs revamp old-fashioned favorites with an upscale twist, offering something for everyone — from grilled cheese to pancakes, from quiche to chicken-fried steak ‘n’ eggs. Bringing along your laptop? Enjoy the complementary wi-fi.

Tulsa also hosts one of the largest concentrations of art deco architecture in the country — don’t miss the Mid-Continent Tower (401 S. Boston Ave.), a 36-floor office building whose original structure was built by Joshua Cosden in 1918 or the Philtower Building (427 S. Boston. Ave.), which was finished just ten years later around the corner. For museums, your best bets are the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium (3624 N. 74th E. Ave.), art at the Gilcrease Museum (1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Rd.) or Philbrook Museum (2727 S. Rockford Rd.), or the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (111 E. 1st St.).

Once you’re done exploring Tulsa, head half an hour west on Route 66 to brick-paved Bristow, founded in 1897 as a trading post when the Indian Territory was first opened to white settlers. By the ‘20s, Bristow was an oil-boom town that continued to grow with the mineral-production industry — but those days are long gone. Today, it’s a place of museums, memorials, churches, and even wineries, with the Mother Road the main drag through town. Hopefully, you’re ready to eat again: Russ’s Ribs (223 S. Main St.) is the best around; just $3 gets you a BBQ sandwich or you can carry out a “family pack” with all the fixings for a roadside picnic.

There’s plenty to do nearby:  The more daring can take flight at the state’s largest location for skydiving, Oklahoma Skydiving Center (at Cushing Regional Airport) or, if you just want to relax, take a mid-afternoon break at StableRidge Vineyards or Tidal School Vineyards to sample local wines.

Continuing west, don’t miss the Rock Café (114 W. Main Street) near Stroud. It’s a relic built in 1939 out of paving stones from the original highway. If your stomach’s rumbling, stop in for great fried shrimp, buffalo burgers, or jagerschnitzel — or just pick up a peach cobbler for dessert.

Nat King Cole had it right: Oklahoma City looks so pretty. Located in the heart of the state, it’s a spirited metropolis where you’ll never run out of activities. The downtown Bricktown arts and entertainment district is filled with great museums, galleries, and shops. A kitschy must-see is the unique American Banjo Museum (9 E. Sheridan Ave.), which houses the world’s most complete collection of manufacture banjos. Or brush up on Native American history at the Red Earth Festival and Museum (2100 NE. 52nd St.) — the annual festival, in June, features more than 100 tribes sharing their traditions and culture. Before hopping back in your car, stretch your legs with a quick hike through Route 66 Park (9901 NW. 23rd St.) on the west side of Lake Overholser.

On to Yukon! The hometown of Garth Brooks has been around a little over 100 years and has grown quite a bit since its original 25 residents. You can’t miss the “Yukon’s Best Flour” grain mill’s giant sign that lights up the night, drawing clouds of bugs from the highway.

About four miles outside of El Reno, you’ll run into the camp that the city grew around. Fort Reno (7107 W. Cheyenne St.), first established as a military effort to subdue the Cheyenne, boasts 15 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After a quick tour, learn a little more about the area at the Canadian County Historical Museum (300 S. Grand Ave.) and then catch the famous Heritage Express Trolley downtown for shopping and food. Johnnie’s Grill (301 S. Rock Island) is famous for its onion-fried burgers. (The secret is to mash ribbons of onions deep into the top of a ground-beef patty as it cooks.) Also popular is their take on the Coney Island dog — chili and sweet ‘n’ soupy ‘slaw give the frank its local flavor. Add crispy fries and a slice of coconut pie to the meaty mix, and if you haven’t filled up by then, you never will!


  • Posted January 28, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad you enjoyed El Reno and the onion burger. Come back on the first Saturday in May (May 1, 2010) for Fried Onion Burger Day. We make a 750lb burger right in the middle of the street! There’s also live music, festival food, a classic car show, and much more.

    Safe Travels!

  • RLD
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Geoff: A 750-lb. burger? Sounds wild!

  • John Rogers
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Did all of Route 66 in Oklahoma for a magazine that went belly up before I could submit my article. Route 66 in Oklahoma driving a black 2009 Challenger SRT8…can’t wait for the spring thaw to do it again!

  • pat caley
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    take3 the dakota and use j8 frame and suspension with commander bod. use at least 33 in tires , call it the dakota badlander, raise 3 inches . see how many you sell

  • 2010 Avenger RT
    Posted October 10, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Well i must say it sounds like everyone has a pretty good time on these road trips… How does one find or get in touch with other groups in my area? Or does anyone know if there are groups in Springfield, IL?

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