New Mexico claims 465 miles of Route 66’s Chicago to Los Angeles journey. The Mother Road nearly bisects the state as it cruises past sweeping plains, urban centers, and colorful buttes. In many places, Interstate 40 has eclipsed Route 66 in the minds of travelers, and physically, too. The interstate runs over top of the old highway in many places. However, there are still numerous places to get your kicks. Here are 12 of the best Route 66 stops in New Mexico.
Tee Pee Curios, Tucumcari
The first major Route 66 destination in New Mexico entering from the east, Tucumcari is a throwback town that relishes its connections to The Mother Road. The old road travels through the town center, where it's known as Tucumcari Boulevard. There are several retro locales to stop for a photo op, shop, explore, or stay and TeePee Curios is one of the most photogenic stops on the entire route. Inside, the shop owners will stamp travelers’ Route 66 passports, and visitors can pick up T-shirts and other souvenirs to remember their travels.
Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari
Road trippers can lay their heads at several hotels preserved from Route 66’s heyday in Tucumcari, including the Blue Swallow Motel, where the glowing neon sign is as iconic as the drive-in rooms. The hotel dates to 1939 and continues to be family-owned and operated today. Many of the hotel rooms’ carports include murals—a common sight in Tucumcari—with themes reflecting the Mother Road. Inside, the rooms have decor from the halcyon days of American road trips, including rotary phones and magazines from the time period. The most coveted suite is dedicated to and named after the long-time owner Lillian Redman. The two-room suite features the original 1940s hardwood floor in the parlor and a claw-foot bathtub in the bathroom.
Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa
This mom-and-pop museum is a must-visit for its sprawling collection of classic and vintage cars. The owner, James Cordova, has been in the vehicle restoration business for more than 40 years and the small museum has a variety of gorgeous cars including street rods and, of course, restored classics and vintage cars. The warehouse-like space is also covered in Route 66 memorabilia, including gas station signs and pumps.
Route 66 Diner, Albuquerque
Albuquerque has 17 miles of Route 66 running through the heart of the city from the Sandia Mountain foothills in the east to the volcanic West Mesa. The route travels through some of the city’s most popular neighborhoods including the indie Nob Hill shopping and dining district and the university area. 66 Diner is a traditional soda fountain that dishes out burgers, shakes, and malts on the edge of Nob Hill. A wall adjacent to the diner is covered with classic road signs and is a must-have Instagram photo for many visitors.
Intersection of Route 66 and Route 66, Albuquerque
Route 66’s original 1926 path through New Mexico looped north from around Santa Rosa through Santa Fe, then dropped back to Albuquerque. In 1937, the government re-aligned the highway’s path to cut directly west from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque. That change in alignment created one of the most unusual places along the whole of the Mother Road: Route 66 intersects itself at a 90-degree angle at Fourth Street and Central Avenue in downtown Albuquerque. It’s a quick stop, but a unique one.
Old Town Plaza, Albuquerque
Albuquerque’s founding neighborhood is at the center of many things in the city—including a Route 66 road trip. Just off the road, travelers can explore a shady square anchored by San Felipe de Neri, a more than 300-year-old parish. Some 150 restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and museums cluster around the plaza. Many of the attractions are housed in historic adobe homes dating to the 1700s that have evolved over the centuries. The plaza houses several outfitting companies, including Old Town History & Ghost Tours, which lead walking tours through the historic neighborhood.
El Vado Motel, Albuquerque
In 1937, El Vado Motel opened as one of the state’s first motels welcoming Route 66 travelers. After an extensive renovation and reimagining, the historic hotel has gotten a second wind. It reopened in 2018 as a combination hotel, shopping center, and dining destination. The striking white and blue exterior make it feel more like Santorini than Albuquerque, however, the hotel’s interior exudes modern Southwestern style. Half of the previous hotel rooms have been given over to shops and restaurants. Shops include those devoted to Route 66 T-shirts, cactus, and crystals. Visitors can grab burgers, fried chicken, and even ice cream sandwiches from the motel's restaurant and enjoy them in an outdoor dining area.
Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post, Albuquerque
Sitting on a plateau overlooking the Duke City, this RV park roughly marks the end of Albuquerque’s long urban stretch of Route 66. People who are getting their kicks on Route 66 in RVs can park here, but even travelers who aren’t may want to stop. First, it’s the second of two destinations in New Mexico where visitors can get their Route 66 passports stamped. Second, the park rents vintage trailers to travelers. They can choose between a half-dozen trailers, which include the likes of a ’59 Spartan, a ’69 Airstream, and a '56 teardrop. The trailers capture all the style and joy of classic Americana, without having to do any of the work to pull one cross country.
Route 66 Neon Drive Thru, Grants
Pull off the highway for a quick photo op at the Route 66 Neon Drive-Thru in Grants. It’s best visited at night, when the archway shaped like a Route 66 highway shield sign is illuminated with neon. If travelers happen to drive by during the day, the sign is also painted with flames.
The Continental Divide is a geological spine running through much of North and South America. It marks the dividing point between water running toward the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. And the original (1929-1937) alignment of Route 66 crosses it at a non-descript point between Albuquerque and Gallup. The point has been a significant landmark for indigenous peoples, Spanish explorers, the railroad, and Route 66 travelers. Those enthusiasts can visit the remains of a Whiting Brothers Service Station and Motel, dating to the Mother Road’s prime time. Today, a trading post and a sign mark this significant spot.
El Rancho Hotel, Gallup
Gallup is the last significant town in New Mexico before Route 66 exits into Arizona. Although it doesn’t have the latest upgrade, El Rancho Hotel remains an icon within the state and the whole of Route 66. The style recalls national park lodges with a grand lobby, detailed with exposed wooden beams, a stone fireplace, and a wishbone style red-carpeted staircase. The hotel literally and figuratively rolled out the red carpet for Hollywood stars of yesteryear, who came to the area to film Westerns. The names of the rooms recall the hotel’s former guest, including Ronald Regan, Katherine Hepburn, and others.
Native American Trading Posts, Gallup
Gallup sits on the edge of the Navajo Nation and nearby Zuni Pueblo, so it has become a hub for Native American art. Native American trading posts, including Richardson Trading Co., dot the town. At Richardson, Navajo weavings stack five thick and stand floor-to-ceiling in a sprawling room devoted to one of the tribe’s many signature art forms. Turquoise-and-silver jewelry line glass cases along every wall, including the delicate inlays and petit-point designs Zuni artisans have mastered. It’s a perfect place to purchase a souvenir to remember a Route 66 road trip through New Mexico.