Start your journey along Route 66 at one of the most iconic American symbols. “Get your kicks, on Route 66” – Nat King Cole. Once immortalized in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as “the mother road, the road of flight”, in Nat King Cole’s 1946 hit, and even in an eponymous 60s TV show, Route 66 has long been a symbol of freedom and adventure along the open road. And everything starts at Route 66 Begin Sign in Chicago.
A historic landmark
But where to begin? The Route 66 Begin Sign is an iconic emblem that marks the starting point of one of the most famous highways in the world. The sign has become a historic landmark. It signifies the beginning of a journey through the heart of America: from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. It is a symbol of the American dream, representing the freedom and opportunity that the open road provides. It’s located on the northwestern corner of Adams St and Michigan Ave. Across from the Art Institute, this original sign location was erected in 1926. And has since started off every great road trip along the Mother Road.
The beginning of the trip
Originally, it was a simple white-and-black metal sign with the words “Route 66” in large letters. Today, the copper-brown Historic Route – Illinois U.S. 66 sign hangs above the BEGIN sign. This typically shows some love from visitors with stickers and other images to memorialize their time there. This sticker love only enhances the Americana feeling it evokes and the knowledge that this is it: The beginning of a trip of a lifetime. Placed at the corner to mark the beginning of the 2,448-mile journey westward. Or to end your journey from the west, it can be easy to overlook. But don’t worry, every few minutes a group of tourists will likely take a picture in front of the sign. This is an essential photo op for any road tripper on this premiere drive which once ran through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
Parts of the route are still drivable today with a nostalgia surrounding it. Evoking old-school diners, roadside attractions, motels, and kitschy road signs. Road trippers from around the world still feel the call to follow the path that decades of travelers have taken. And they all start right here, in downtown Chicago, at the Historic Route 66 Begin Sign.
There are actually three Route 66 start signs to visit. They draw visitors from around the world who want to experience a piece of US history. And to take a photo next to the iconic symbol: the original on the northwest corner of Adams and Michigan. There is one mid-block on the other side of the street in front of a Panda Express, and another with a more artistic take in a small park at the corner of Adams and Wabash.
Not just a starting point
Once you take your pre-road trip selfie at one (or even all three signs), why not head down the road for an iconic breakfast? And enjoy what many call the world’s best coffee at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant before starting the rest of your epic journey to see the best attractions on Illinois Route 66 and beyond.
The Route 66 Begin Sign represents more than just a starting point for a long drive. It embodies the pioneering spirit of America and the idea of the road trip as a quintessential American experience. It is a reminder of a simpler time when the open road held infinite possibilities and a symbol of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people.
As Nat King Cole sang in his famous song, “If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks, on Route 66.”