A cruise along Oklahoma's stretch of Route 66 during the winter months is a surefire way to cure cabin fever and warm up your winter with the nostalgia and friendly faces of the Mother Road.
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Route 66, the iconic highway that tells the story of the American heartland, is jam packed with history and culture. Offering adventure around every curve, Route 66 welcomes travelers throughout the year, even in the depths of winter when the highway is less traveled. Winter can be a wonderful time to travel the Mother Road, when its popular attractions, shops and diners dust the snow off their welcome mats, encouraging Route 66 adventurers to come in, warm up and learn the lessons in Americana that only Route 66 can teach – lessons that are best learned through a steaming bowl of chili, an unexpected roadside oddity or a chat with a diner waitress. So leave winter doldrums behind for the warmth of hand-rolled pie crust, the aroma of roasted native pecans and all the charm of the open road.
The earliest visitors to Clanton’s Café stopped off at the Vinita diner before the Mother Road was even paved. Today, the same family that opened the restaurant in 1927 still serves homestyle favorites to Route 66 travelers. Settle into a well-worn leather booth and enjoy a legendary chicken fried steak made with tenderized Tulsa cube steak. Warm up while you savor your favorite comfort foods with antique stained-glass diner light fixtures hanging overhead. The most adventurous visitors to this Vinita diner will try the hand-breaded and deep-fried calf fries, made special at Clanton’s with a dollop of horseradish sauce.
Any traveler on Oklahoma’s stretch of Route 66 must stop in Claremore to get acquainted with Will Rogers, the famous vaudeville performer, humorist and 1920s movie star at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. Discover what made this cherished actor so special with a tour of the 12 exhibits constructed in his honor at this sprawling Claremore museum. Spend a toasty afternoon watching silent films featuring the famous actor in the on-site theater and see for yourself why Rogers is called “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” as you explore the many facets of his life.
Nothing sounds better on a brisk winter day than chili, and there’s no better place to experience it along Route 66 than Ike’s Chili House in Tulsa. For more than a century, family members of original owner Ike Johnson have been combining ground beef, tomatoes and a top-secret blend of spices to create Ike’s Chili. The chili is so good that it has attracted famous fans over the years including Will Rogers and Martha Stewart. Savor this piece of history piled high atop fries, smothering a burger or served plain with crackers and a sprinkling of cheese. There is a good deal of mystery surrounding the super-secret recipe of Ike’s chili, but you don’t have to know what goes into it to know it’s exceptional.
A hint of spicy, mouthwatering food from El Rancho Grande is sure to warm up the chilliest of taste buds. This family-owned restaurant has been serving up authentic Tex Mex for more than 60 years, raking in awards along the way. Stop by to snap a selfie in front of the restaurant's well-known neon sign before heading inside to give the timeless entrees a try. Newcomers are encouraged to place an order for Tulsa's Best Cheese Enchiladas, which pairs well with Tulsa's Best Margarita. After starting with chile con queso for the table, dive into a classic Route 66 experience with a plate of Pancho's bean nachos covered in jalapeños, beef tamales, fajita chimichangas or green chile chicken burritos.
Route 66 is known as the place to get your kicks and The Nut House in Claremore guarantees an extra kick with unique spicy offerings to put the heat in your winter road trip. Delight in fiery peanuts flavored with jalapenos or enjoy more than just nuts with Hot Momma’s Red Hot Jelly made from Red Hot candies. Enjoy sweet flavors, too, with a taste of homemade candy or fudge. While you’re there, be sure to sit back and relax in a rocking chair as you breathe in the scent of the pecan logs that were used to construct The Nut House.
There’s no better place on Route 66 to celebrate the evolution of American music than Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. The venue boasts all music genres from honky tonk to hard rock and the space has a storied past as the home of Bob Wills. Originally built as a garage, it morphed into a dance academy before it was refurbished in 1976 as the Cain’s Ballroom you see today. Get lost in the venue’s rich history as you wander the sprawling dance floor and soak in the high ceilings. On any given night, visitors may find boot scooting or crowd surfing as performances range from country classics to heavy metal anthems.
Weary travelers have countless options when it comes to overnight lodging along Route 66. However, it’s unlikely any are as accommodating as the Route 66 Suite at Tulsa’s Campbell Hotel, decorated and designed around a variety of Route 66 memorabilia. Stretch out and relax your muscles in the soaking tub and relish the opulent features in your Campbell Hotel suite like natural stone countertops, hardwood floors and the suite’s two decorative fireplaces. Venture outside the Route 66 Suite to indulge at the on-site spa or order up a nightcap at the Campbell Lounge.
Countless cars have traversed Route 66 through Oklahoma, so what better way to share the history of the roadway than from behind the wheel of a car? The Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler gives visitors a one-of-a-kind museum experience as it drives them through the earliest days of the road. Hop aboard a Model A Ford, a Willeys Jeep and finally a 1965 Mustang to see and hear the history of the roadway told at the Chandler Route 66 Interpretive Center.
Driving down Route 66, make sure not to miss out on the Luther's iconic Chicken Shack. This fried chicken dive offers a small but mighty menu boasting crispy chicken wings, savory barbecue and Southern-style sides like fried okra and coleslaw. Take a seat inside the restaurant's cozy interior, or bundle up, gather around a fire pit on the outdoor patio and stay awhile – diners here enjoy live music from local bands several nights a week. Pair your meal with an Oklahoma beer, then sit back and take in all the charms of this welcoming Mother Road joint.
Quench your thirst for adventure on Route 66 with a pit stop at POPS in Arcadia, a specialty soda shop that marries modern surroundings with a favorite Mother Road pastime - a visit to the soda fountain. Take a break from the traditional diner booth you’ve seen on most other Route 66 stops and settle into a window table at POPS. Shop more than 650 soda varieties, which can be served plain or over ice cream. Soda flavors range from traditional to strange, including s’mores, espresso, sweet corn and pumpkin. At night, this Route 66 landmark truly dazzles. A four-ton soda bottle sculpture out front stands 66 feet tall and glows with multi-colored LED lights.
As you traverse Route 66, stop off in Oklahoma City to join the 10 million people who already have visited the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Stroll through 8,000 square feet of the most extensive working cowboy exhibit in the nation, featuring authentic clothing and equipment once used by the central character of the nation’s ranching heritage - the cowboy. You'll encounter a world-class collection of Western art including works by Remington, Russell, Moran and Bierstadt as well as intricate designs by Native American craftsmen in a gallery boasting almost 200 individual cultural items.
The smell of onions melding with ground hamburger on the griddle is one you won’t soon forget if your Route 66 travels take you to Robert’s Grill in El Reno. Onion burgers are a diner staple in the region and Robert’s Grill has been serving them longer than anyone else. Since 1926, the cooks at Robert’s have struggled to keep up with the onion burger demand from their small lunch counter – the burgers are that good. Watch Route 66 traffic pass by while sinking your teeth into a steaming hot savory sandwich like no other.
Celebrated astronaut General Thomas P Stafford was born and raised along Route 66 in Weatherford. Today, the Stafford Air & Space Museum in his hometown honors the famous Oklahoman and pays homage to mankind's history of flight and space exploration. Check out a replica of the Wright brother's glider that took its first flight in 1902 or get up close and personal with equipment from Apollo missions as well as monumental rocket engines.
Mohawk Lodge Indian Store in Clinton has been selling authentic Indian crafts and trading with local Native Americans for decades. Feast your eyes on the wall-to-wall native art and artifacts and discover the beadwork, tanned hides and hand woven treasures indicative of these early Oklahomans. Make sure to peek into the glass cases containing items not for sale, like an autograph from Sitting Bull scrawled on a ticket stub for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Stay warm indoors while you experience Route 66's reputation for adventure decade by decade at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton. Visitors will take a step back in time and sashay through the decades as they walk past interactive displays revealing Route 66 lore. Themed rooms highlight artifacts, graphics, videos and audio interviews that paint the picture of the Mother Road, from emotional encounters with the highway during the Dust Bowl, to cheerful memories of family vacations and soldiers returning home from war.