The most famous road in the world has to begin and end somewhere. So where does Route 66 start and end in the USA?
I’m currently listening to the famous song ‘Route 66’ by Chuck Berry and even he’s not being very specific about it! And if you’re currently planning a trip on the Mother Road it’s quite an important question to get figured out.
Going from East to West: Route 66 begins in Chicago, Illinois and ends in Santa Monica, California. This is the traditional direction that most people drive.
Of course if you’re travelling in the opposite direction, going from West to East, then you’ll start in Santa Monica and end in Chicago.
Route 66 can be picked up at any point along the 8 states that it travels through on its long journey west. If you want to do the road trip as faithfully as possible from beginning to end, and have the time to drive it, then this post will help you get started and end in the right way.
Where does Route 66 begin?
Route 66 begins in the city of Chicago on the intersection between Adams Street and Michigan Avenue and there’s a sign there to confirm you’re in the right place!
If you’re ending your Route 66 trip in Chicago after driving eastward then the sign is on the corner of Jackson and Michigan. The fact you don’t begin and end at the same place is due to changes in the roads over the years and it becoming a one way street as you’ll see below.
Many people think that the sign is a little bit of a let down – it’s just a small brown sign that’s quite high up. Get creative with your angles for the perfect selfie there!
History of the beginning of Route 66 in Chicago
The actual beginning of where Route 66 started has changed a little since the beginning of the highway so if you read about different start points this is probably why. Here are the changes:
1926 – Route 66 is formed and the original beginning point is at the corner of Jackson Drive and Michigan Avenue (where the official end is now). Michigan Avenue was US Route 41.
1938 – US Route 41 was moved to Lake Shore Drive and so the official beginning of Route 66 also changed to the corner of Jackson Drive and Lake Shore Drive right on the shores of Lake Michigan
1955 – Jackson Drive became a one way street at the corner of Michigan so drivers had to drive two blocks and then head up Michigan for one block before continuing along Adams Street (where the official begin sign is now)
If you’re starting in Chicago you might want to explore the beginning of the road on foot so you don’t miss anything. It’s not so easy to park up when you want to so if you have time then I highly recommend just exploring the wonderful historic area.
Where does Route 66 finish?
Route 66 ends in Santa Monica in California. The official end point is at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard but most people head to Santa Monica Pier for the more ceremonial end point.
For purists you’ll want to end your trip by sampling Mel’s Diner, a 50s style diner that’s right at the end point with a fun mural for the photo opportunities. It’s a restored diner from the 50s and a great place to finish 2000+ miles on the road.
You’ll also see brown ‘Route 66 begin’ and ‘Route 66 End’ signs just like in Chicago but be aware that the roads are very busy here!
You have to head a mile down the road to the ocean for that final push to the more ceremonial end of the road – there’s also a gift shop here for any last minute purchases too!
History of the end of Route 66 in California
Just like the beginning of the road, the finish line has also changed a little over the years.
1926 – Originally the finish point of Route 66 was in downtown Los Angeles at 7th and Broadway Avenue
1935 – Route 66 was extended to Santa Monica and ended at Lincoln and Ocean Blvd.
2009 – Sign erected on Santa Monica Pier – The Route 66 Alliance and Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation got together to erect the ‘End of the Trail’ sign.
The reason why the Santa Monica Pier end point isn’t official is because when roads were commissioned was because of a rule by the Highways Commission. The rule stated that the end of the road couldn’t be a dead end and it must connect to another existing highway or road. This is why the official Route 66 beginning and end points feel a little less than exciting!
How long is Route 66 from beginning to end?
Officially, Route 66 is 2,448 miles from start to finish – that’s 3,940km for those who like the metric system.
Although Route 66 still exists in a form, it’s no longer an official highway so this figure is from the original 1926 alignment. With the many different alignments taking over and alternative routes that Route 66 went past over the years this figure also isn’t totally accurate at all times however it’s generally accepted as the length of the road now.
So which length is right? I guess there will never be a concrete answer and it really doesn’t matter too much. If you drive from the beginning in Chicago to the end in California then you’ll have driven well over 2000 miles at the very least! My tips for anyone driving are not to get too hung up on the details and enjoy the journey!