Coming from the UK we were very excited to be doing our first road trip in the USA and it was a huge one – a Texas to California road trip! If you’re thinking of doing a similar drive and you’re looking for an itinerary that also encompasses Route 66 then I’ve got you – today I’m sharing all about our trip, our stops and things to see along the way.
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Our starting point was Dallas TX where I’d been to a conference and we were flying home from Las Vegas NV. Yes we could have gone from Arizona up to Las Vegas but we really, really wanted to set foot in Calfornia, even if only for a bit.
According to Google Maps it is about 1250 miles from Dallas TX to Needles CA although I imagine we did slightly more miles than that with the few detours and sites we saw. If we’d gone all the way to Los Angeles we’d have done just short of 1,500 miles on our drive but I’m sad to say we just didn’t have time for that and we wanted to concentrate on small town America this time.
1000 miles of our road trip from Texas to California was on Route 66 so we got to see a lot of the sites that so many people look for on this iconic drive. Here’s what we did and where we stayed – I hope you find it helpful!
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Our Texas to California road trip – day by day
We did look into the best road trips from Dallas but really my heart was set on Route 66 which was around 300 miles away heading up to North Texas so we figured we should do that.
We’d planned to do this trip for years and had one cancelled trip so along with the fact that two of us were pretty crazy about old American cars and the other two appreciated the retro feeling of the era, it was actually a no-brainer.
Route 66 here we come!
This is pretty much the route we took although we stayed off the I-40 as much as possible to see all the little towns on the way.
Day 1 – Dallas TX to Wichita Falls TX
Distance – 140 miles
Our first leg of the road trip saw us driving through North Texas up to the part that is known as the panhandle. It was really nice to start to see more of the state outside of the city of Dallas which had mostly been our experience on the trip so far even if we really only experienced the highways.
We broke our journey with an overnight stop in a town called Wichita Falls. It was our first taste of Texan life outside of a city.
There’s lots to do in the town with plenty of museums, shops and restaurants. I wish we’d had more time in the area because we do love a museum!
As we only had a limited time before we set off again we decided to check out the waterfalls that the town is named after. It was on the Circle Trail, was easy to get to and an easy walk.
I really recommend going either early in the day or later on as it was incredibly hot there (we were there in August – probably not an optimal time!) There was so much nature to be seen there too with butterflies and really beautiful birds that we managed to spot.
I also learned that the waterfalls in Wichita Falls are actually rebuilt and not original – the town was obviously named after some, but they were destroyed in a flood. After lots of visitors came and were upset to not see the waterfalls the town restored their landmark!
Where to stay in Wichita Falls
There are quite a few options in the town although they are mostly chain hotels. We stayed in the Nature Inn and Suites when we stopped and it was nice for our needs and had a swimming pool which our kids enjoyed.
See more hotels in the town here on Booking.com or on Hotels.com
Day 2 – Wichita Falls TX – Shamrock TX
Distance – 164 miles
The following day we drove along the highway with what seemed like endless small oil fields alongisde. We spotted many of the ‘nodding donkeys’ and although there were lots of them, they definitely weren’t as big as I was imagining. Perhaps those were just smaller oil fields or perhaps I just had grand ideas from the TV. Either way, North Texas has a lot of them!
Finally, we arrived at almost the top of Texas and found the iconic Route 66, our dream destination and what we had wanted to see! We actually drove a little back to the border with Oklahoma just so we could say we’d been there too and so we could tick off another state.
Our first day on Route 66 saw us drive only about 15 miles on the road as our planned stop was Shamrock TX. James has Irish roots so when we heard about this town had it definitely appealed to us and we wanted to learn more about it.
Shamrock was amazing – we loved that tiny town and it was our first experience of seeing neon light up the road, just like we’d imagined.
The U Drop Inn is a must-see bit of architecture on Route 66 – don’t miss it lit up if you can!
We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express which was right next to the U Drop Inn garage and the centre of the small town so easy to walk around. Check for latest prices
We’ve written a bit more about our time in Shamrock here.
Day 3 – Shamrock TX to Tucumcari NM (via Amarillo)
Distance – 204 miles
The third day of our road trip, driving from Texas to California, saw us leave the lovely state of Texas behind.
We really did love that state. The people were so friendly and that has made us determined to return and explore more!
Before leaving we managed to catch quite a few of the Texas Route 66 attractions such as the giant cross and the church attached at Groom. This is one of the largest crosses in the western hemisphere and is quite a sight!
We also stopped at Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo – we’d seen this restaurant mentioned so many times as it’s one of those places you can try and eat their huge steaks and if you manage you get it for free.
There’s a gift shop and some photo opportunities around the restaurant so definitely worth catching if you can.
The iconic Cadillac Ranch is also at Amarillo but for some reason we managed to completely miss where to come off to find it! I don’t know how we missed it, but we did – I was very sad about this because it was such an iconic spot.
Anyway, we also explored a pretty cool service station on I-40 that was decorated in a nice Route 66 style and came across our first mention of tornados since it had a tornado shelter! Yikes, perhaps time to get on the road!
Texas – we will be back!
Tucumcari was just over the border in New Mexico and we celebrated this new state with tacos for dinner! It was Tuesday after all.
This was one of the towns I was most looking forward to on the trip – I’d seen images of old style motels with lots of neon, just what we were looking for.
We weren’t disappointed – we were treated to way more neon than I could have ever imagined as almost all the motels were lit up in the town. This really felt like a real Route 66 town as we wandered around at sunset listening to the crickets. It was a fairly quiet road I could just imagine Fillmore and Sarge (from the Disney Cars movie) watching the traffic lights there! There are loads of murals in the town too, it’s like everyone wanted to paint a scene of times gone by.
Even if you don’t stay overnight here I’d definitely recommend stopping and checking it out. As well as enjoying the neon and taking ALL the pictures there are some good museums in the town too if you want to learn a little bit more about the area and the history.
You can read alsomore about Tucumcari and the rest of the New Mexico Route 66 sites that we visited here.
Where to stay in Tucumcari
We stayed in the lovely Motel Safari, which was a little cheaper than the iconic Blue Swallow motel but we really liked it. It was quite basic but had that retro 50s motel feel with how it was decorated and was super clean. Fab.
Day 4 – Tucumcari NM to Gallup NM
Distance – 311 miles
This was our longest driving day and we drove pretty much the entire state of New Mexico, through Albuquerque and almost to the border with Arizona.
We saw lots and lots of signs for casinos on the road and there were also lots of for shops with authentic Native American goods which was interesting – to be honest it was the only aspect of their culture we saw on our trip and I know there’s so much to learn so that was a shame. I’d love to explore more of it one day through more than just see the tourist shops – again something for another road trip!
On the west side of Albuquerque was the Petroglyph National Monument which sounded like a really interesting place to visit so we took our supermarket lunch there (one of our many tips on keeping the budget down on our road trip) and ate that before having a walk around the trails there. It was a great stopping point for our day of driving, especially as we did quite a few miles this day.
There are a few trails to walk – we kept ours quite short but still got a great view of the surrounding area. It was so interesting to see how the scenery had changed in just a short drive.
The weather was still quite warm in New Mexico, but it was nothing like the stifling heat we’d experienced in Dallas and the rest of Texas. August definitely isn’t the best month for driving I don’t think, especially in Texas, but it did get better for us as we drove West.
Where to stay in Gallup, NM
We stopped overnight in Gallup which is another famous route 66 town (it’s even in the song) – we ended up choosing a motel on the outskirts which I wouldn’t recommend as it meant we didn’t get much time to explore the town which was a shame.
Day 5 – Gallup NM – Holbrook AZ
Distance – 95 miles
This was a nice short driving day so we took it easy. It saw us reach our 4th state – Arizona! We’d stay in Arizona for a few nights as we had lots to see and do in the area.
In between the two stops on this day was the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park which I’d seen beautiful pictures of and had to see.
It was a little overcast on our day there so it wasn’t as impressive as I imagine it would have been with some beautiful sunlight, but it was still a really good day out nonetheless and we had less worry about being out all day in the heat.
If you’re interested in going to this National Park you can read our post about the Petrified forest here and, most importantly, how I became a junior ranger (and the kids did too!).
Our friends at The Daily Adventures of Me also took a trip to the Petrified Forest and have some fab pics on their post about it too.
Where to stay in Holbrook
Our night time stop was the iconic wigwam motel in Holbrook which was only a short drive from the Petrified Forest!
We loved it there, and it was awesome walking around as the sun went down taking pictures of the old cars. Inside it was a little dated, but for the price, which was one of the cheapest on our route, it was definitely worth it.
You’ll need to book direct with them if you want to stay there (and it can get booked up early so definitely do that if you have your heart set on it) or you can see some other options in the town here on Booking.com and Hotels.com
Day 6 – Holbrook AZ to Williams AZ
Distance – 125 miles
Leaving Holbrook we stopped in Winslow which is featured in the famous Eagles song ‘Takin it Easy’ and made for a nice halfway stop and a perfect photo opportunity.
After Winslow we had a slight detour off Route 66 to find the meteor crater. It’s something that I felt we’d regret if we didn’t try and see it while we were in the area. It’s only about 6 miles or so from the road so not far at all.
I enjoyed the meteor crater and if you’re at all interested in space then you have to visit. You can have guided tours of the rim, learn about it all in the exhibitions and watch the 4D movie too. Definitely worth the short detour!
We then drove on to Williams where we spent the next two nights. Honestly, it was something we’d needed as we’d been travelling non stop for the last week. If you don’t want to burn out I recommend doing something similar.
One thing we couldn’t believe was the change in scenery as you approach Williams. I assumed that the entirety of Arizona would be all desert but there were parts when I could have completely believed we were back in Scotland! So lush and mountainous – I was very surprised!
Williams was a great town to wander around at night with shops and museums and of course it’s right on the doorstep of the Grand Canyon for an easy day trip there.
Day 7 – Side trip to the Grand Canyon
Distance – 60 miles each way
We knew we had to see the Grand Canyon on this drive but we also knew that paying extra for the privilege wasn’t our style, so we stayed two nights at the motel in Williams AZ and just did a day trip to the Grand Canyon. It was just a 60 mile trip so easily doable in a day from there and kept it within our budget.
You can read more about the Grand Canyon trip here – needless to say, it was awesome.
From Dallas to the Grand Canyon our road trip tipped into the over 1000 mile mark!
Day 8 – Williams AZ – Needles CA
Distance – 165 miles
The last day of our road trip – sadly, as I said not quite a full Dallas to Los Angeles road trip, but fairly close. I remember seeing signs for LA and thinking we should just go for it!!
The last day saw us go through lots of attractions though, the first being the town of Seligman, home of the barber Angel Degadillo. We’d watched his story on the extras of the Cars DVD and so were really pleased to chat with him. There are a lot of shops in Seligman and I think it’s a stop for many coach trips too.
Seligman is a classic Route 66 town – definitely stop off there if you can.
This stretch of the west end of Route 66 can be done a couple of ways. You can follow I-40 all the way or you can come off and go up through the mountains via a town called Oatman.
We heard lots of stories about it being a very twisty road, but since we’re used to that in the UK we thought we’d be fine – it still had me gripping hold of my door handle! Very twisty, very high roads, but a wonderful view.
Oatman is an old ghost town that is a bit more of a tourist attraction now with lots of tourist shops, shows and the burros (wild donkeys) that come into the town. I recommend the trip, but do be aware it’s very touristy.
You can read more about the towns in AZ and what we saw here.
The final night of our road trip was spent at the Rio Del Sol Inn Motel in Needles and I was so excited to have finally made it to California – the place we see so much on TV! I hope next time we can explore a bit more!
We had an amazing time on our Route 66 trip from Texas to California and encourage anyone thinking of doing a similar trip to go for it! If you need some guidebooks to inspire you have a look here and you can see all of my Route 66 posts here.
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