SANTA MONICA, Cal. (CNN/Money) -
Like the song says, you can still get your kicks on Route 66, although it's a little tougher to do that now than it used to be. Route 66 is no longer "the Main Street of America," as it used to be called -- large sections of it have been replaced by superhighways, and many of 66's old roadside businesses have shut down as a result.
But a good number of them still survive, and a burgeoning Route 66 preservation movement has made the Mother Road into a sort of living museum of Americana. "Historic Route 66" road signs will help keep you on track as the route switches from two-lane blacktop to superhighway and back again. It's a great drive, with dozens of quirky, fun attractions along the way. Here are a few of my favorites:
Cozy Dog Drive-In
2935 S. 6th St, Springfield, Illinois
This classic eatery, which has been operating on Route 66 since 1949, holds a special distinction in hot dog history. According to the eatery's lore, it was here that the corn dog -- or "cozy dog," as they call it around these parts -- was invented by Ed Waldmire, who founded the place and whose family still runs it. The decor is pricelessly retro, the people are friendly, and the cozy dogs taste great.
Exit 230 on I-44 West, Stanton, Missouri
This set of natural limestone caves features beautifully sculpted patterns of stalactites and stalagmites, and is one of the best such attractions in the country. Once used as a hideout by Jesse James, the site became a commercial tourist draw in 1935 and has been going strong ever since. Guided tours conclude with a hokey but irresistible light show, which culminates with a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" while an image of the American flag is projected on the wall.
The Praying Hands
Oral Roberts University, 7777 S. Lewis Ave., Tulsa, Oklahoma
Whether you consider it a stirring testament to religious faith or one of those uniquely American examples of Christian kitsch, this 80-foot-high statue of two hands joined in prayer, located at the entrance to Oral Roberts University, has to be seen to be believed. The campus's six-story Prayer Tower, whose futuristic design makes it look sort of like Seattle's Space Needle, is also worth a look.
Oklahoma Route 66 Museum
2229 Gary Blvd., Clinton, Oklahoma
As various sections of Route 66 have been bypassed by Interstate highways, the old road has become the subject of a lively preservation movement, the best example of which is this wonderful museum, which tells the story of Route 66's role in American history. An essential stop for any 66 aficionado, and a great way to learn more about the route as you traverse it.
State Highway 536, Sandia Park, New Mexico
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Located about twenty minutes outside of Albuquerque (whose main drag, incidentally, is a carnival of neon signage -- if possible cruise by at night), Tinkertown is a charming and seemingly endless assortment of homemade figurines and dioramas, many of them mechanized, depicting scenes of circuses and the Old West, plus lots of little mini-sculptures just about everywhere you look. The overall effect is like a penny arcade mixed with a carnival, and the whole thing is housed in a bizarre structure made in part from old glass bottles and bicycle wheels. Tinkertown's incredible torrent of good cheer flows from Ross and Carla Ward, who've been working on the facility for over 40 years, and whose motto aptly sums up the spirit of the place: "We did all this while you were watching TV!"
Snow Cap Drive-In
Main Street, Seligman, Arizona
A bizarre lunch stand run by a bizarre man, the Snow Cap is the brainchild of Juan Delgadillo. If you ask for a straw, he's likely to give you some straw (i.e., hay). If you ask for mustard, he'll squirt some on you (well, not really, but it's a very convincing trick). The menu features things like "Hamburgers without ham" and "Dead chicken with all the trimmings," and Delgadillo has even put doorknobs on the wrong sides of doors, just so he can watch his customers struggle. It's all in good fun, and the food hits the spot. A sign on the door says, "Sorry -- We're Open," but you'll only be sorry when it's time to say goodbye and drive on.