Route 66 road trip - traveling to downtown Atlanta, IL

ROUTE 66, USA: Reality vs. Expectations

In my Expectations post I laid out what I expected (duh) from this abbreviated Route 66 road trip. It’s my dream to one day drive the full Route 66. Until then, this adventure satisfied that craving even though we only did the route through Illinois. There was still random sites from the road, small towns, and cute diners full of Americana.

Getting There

EXPECTATIONS: I’ll be cruising down the highway in my little Ford Focus. Is there really another way to travel Route 66, except with the windows rolled down, classic rock on the radio, and the wind blowing through your hair? I don’t think it’s authentically exploring Route 66 unless you are in a car or traveling by motorcycle.

REALITY: It was pretty easy traveling along this historic road in my little Ford Focus. At one point Route 66 is part of Highway 55, which was news to me. Traveling along the Illinois portion of Route 66 only took us about 3 hours one way, but we took our time hanging out in small towns like – Wilmington and Atlanta.  Yes, there was classic rock on the radio!

Route 66 road map Illinois
Route along Highway 55 from Chicago, IL to Atlanta, IL


EXPECTATIONS: I imagine there will be many kitschy stops along the way. I’m thinking this will be like National Lampoon’s Vacation.

REALITY: This was 100% true. Let’s take the two statues of the Gemini Giant and Paul Bunyan with a hot dog for example. We also passed by other kitschy places like “the two cell prison.” It was crazy how rural the landscape became in just 2.5 hours outside of Chicago. There were also some antique and resale shops filled with very random antiques and locally made crafts.

Antiques set up like an apartment - complete with mannequin.
Antiques set up like an apartment – complete with mannequin.


EXPECTATIONS: All American food served in ma and pa diners.

We ate at the Launching Pad in Wilmington, IL. This was less of a ma and pa diner and more of a kitschy rest stop. We got a soft pretzel and mango ice cream — yes, it was 10:30 in the morning. We sat in a booth eating our unhealthy breakfast and gazing at the Gemini Giant out the window. There was a whole area of the diner with Route 66 memorabilia for sale. Naturally, I bought some pins and stickers. There was also a penny press! This was real exciting for me since, I’ve been using penny presses since I was little and have the jar full of pressed pennies to prove it. I always carry around some quarters and shiny pennies because you never know when there might be a penny press. 

Launching Pad in Wilmington, IL
Launching Pad in Wilmington, IL

Lastly, we went to Palms Grill Cafe in Atlanta, IL, which originally opened in 1934. This had more of a ma and pa feel to it. They had home cooked meals on the menu, rather than hot dogs and soft pretzels like at the Launching Pad. We both ordered a BLT with fries and split a slice of cherry pie. It felt very “American” to have a slice of pie in a small town diner. Right across the street from the diner is the real draw for the area — a statue of Paul Bunyan holding a hot dog. 

Paul Bunyan holding a hot dog
Paul Bunyan holding a hot dog

Overall this was a really fun short road trip. It’s always nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and explore a small town.

Happy Travels,


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