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Where does Route 66 Start and End

The start and end points of the Mother Road

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Actually, U.S. highways like Route 66 don't have a starting or an ending point, they have two "terminus" which serve as both as a starting and ending point.

In the case of Route 66, Chicago was its eastern terminus and Santa Monica its western one.
You could drive east to west, starting in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles (from 1926 to 1935) or Santa Monica (after 1935), or the other way round, starting in Los Angeles ⁄ Santa Monica and ending in Chicago.

Beginning in 1964, its start and end points were moved several times, as the old highway was gradually replaced by the growing interstate system.

Nevertheless, Chicago is considered Route 66's "Starting Point" because people headed west to seek new lives and jobs in California, or went on vacations in the "Wild West", from this point of view, Chicago was where the journey and the highway began.

Read on below to learn where the Mother Road began and ended over the course of the years.

The eastern and western terminus of Route 66

The "End of the Trail" sign on Santa Monica Pier

The end of the trail sign of Route 66 on the pier in Santa Monica
"End of the Trail" sign in Santa Monica, CA. The unofficial western end point of Route 66.

Index to this page - Contentsw

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Where does Route 66 Start and End?

The classic alignment of Route 66 from 1936 to 1974 ran between Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California.

However, before and after those dates the highway had other eastern and western starting and ending points, see below.

Maps showing the beginning and end of U.S. 66 over the years

1926-1927

East: Cicero, IL
West: Los Angeles, CA

Route 66 map showing start and endpoints from Cicero IL to Los Angeles CA

US 66 Scotland MO to Los Angeles CA (1926 to 1927)

1927-1935

East: Chicago, IL
West: Los Angeles, CA

Route 66 map showing start and endpoints from Chicago IL to Los Angeles CA

US 66 Chicago IL to Los Angeles CA (1927 to 1935)

1935-1964

East: Chicago, IL
West: Santa Monica, CA

Route 66 map showing start and endpoints from Chicago IL to Santa Monica CA

US 66 Chicago IL to Santa Monica CA (1935 to 1964)

1964-1972

East: Chicago, IL
West: Pasadena, CA

Route 66 map showing start and endpoints from Chicago IL to Pasadena CA

US 66 Chicago IL to Pasadena CA (1964 to 1972)

1972-1974

East: Chicago, IL
West: Needles, CA

Route 66 map showing start and endpoints from Chicago IL to Needles CA

US 66 Chicago IL to Needles CA (1972 to 1974)

1974-1979

East: Scotland, MO
West: Needles, CA

Route 66 map showing start and endpoints from Scotland MO to Needles CA

US 66 Scotland MO to Needles CA (1974 to 1979)

1979-1985

East: Scotland, MO
West: Sanders, AZ

Route 66 map showing start and endpoints from Scotland MO to Sanders AZ

US 66 Scotland MO to Sanders AZ (1979 to 1985)

So over the years the highway had quite a few eastern and western terminus. More details below.

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U.S. Highways start and end at both tips of their alignments

A U.S. highway linking town A with B, starts in A and ends in B for those driving from A to B. While for those driving from B to A, the highway starts in B and ends in A.

U.S. highways don't have a single starting point or ending point. Their terminus are both start and end points. The example below will help clarify this.

Someone driving east to west from Chicago along Route 66 will reach the intersection of Lincoln Blvd and Ocean Blvd. in Santa Monica California, endpoint of his or her journey, and see the following sign ahead, on the southwest corner: "HISTORIC California US 66 ROUTE - END," as shown in the image below.

Western "End" of Route 66, Santa Monica California

brown US 66 California sign with an END notice beneath it on a corner
Route 66 - End sign on Olympic and Lincoln Blvds, Santa Monica, CA. Western End of Route 66. Click for St. view

Across the street, on the eastbound lanes, on the northeast corner of this intersection, is a similar sign that reads: "HISTORIC California US 66 ROUTE - BEGIN." This is the start point for someone who will drive along Route 66 west-to-east, staring in Santa Monica and ending in Chicago. See the picture of this sign below.

Western "Begin" point of Route 66, Santa Monica California

brown US 66 California sign with a BEGIN notice beneath it on a corner
Route 66 - Begin sign on Olympic and Lincoln Blvds, Santa Monica, CA. Western starting point of Route 66. Click for St. view

So where the highway starts or ends depends on which direction you are going.

Start and End signs in Chicago

Route 66 'Begin' Sign

The sign is located at 99 E Adam St. (NW corner with Michigan Ave.), another sign is on the south side of the street, halfway down the block.

The image below shows the signs marking the eastern starting point of Route 66 in Chicago (there are two signs, marked with the red arrows), the Sears Building in the background.

Eastern "Begin" point of Route 66, Chicago Illinois

brown US 66 Illinois sign with a BEGIN notice above it, on a corner, second sign down the street
Route 66 - Begin signs on Adams St. and Michigan Ave, Chicago IL. Eastern starting point of Route 66. Click for St. view

Close up of the Route 66 "Begin" sign, in Chicago, Illinois

Route 66 "Begin" sign in Chicago
Route 66 "Begin" sign, in Chicago, Illinois. Click for St. view

Route 66 'End' Sign

But as we said before, Route 66 also "Ended" in Chicago -for those driving east, and the sign is on the next street, one block south, on E Jackson St. and Michigan Ave.

Route 66 "End" sign, in Chicago, Illinois

brown sign with white letters Route 66 "End"
Route 66 "End" sign, in Chicago, Illinois. Click for St. view

The Different Start and End points over the years

As mentioned further up, Route 66 had different terminus in the east and west over the course of its existence.

Cicero, the first eastern terminus

When U.S. highway 66 was created in 1926, in Illinois it was aligned along Route No. 4 created in 1918 when bond was issued to build decent surfaced roads in the state of Illinois. It was known as the SBI 4 (State Bond Issue) highway number 4.

text showing start point and alignment of IL state route 4

Creation of State Hwy. 4, Illinois. Credits

State Route 4 ran all the way to East St. Louis, but didn't start in Chicago. It began in Cicero, the first town west of Chicago.

The text (see image) gives us its starting point: "ROUTE No. 4. Beginning at the intersection of 48th and Ogden Avenues in the Town of Cicero, Cook County, and running in a general southwesterly direction to East St. Louis...."

Initally Route 66 and State Bond Issue (SBI) 4 overlapped until the signs of the old state higway were finally replaced by the U.S. 66 shields in 1927.

We haven't been able to find when the eastern terminus was moved to Grant Park in Chicago, but it surely took place in 1927, however, according to Russell A. Olsen in "The Complete Route 66 Lost & Found," the eastern terminus moved from Cicero into downtown Chicago in 1931.

Chicago Eastern Terminus of Route 66

Route 66 started and ended at the same spot, on Jackson and Michigan Ave from 1927 or 31 until the mid 1950s.

In mid 1950s Jackson became a one way street, heading (eastwards) and Adams St. carried the westbound traffic. Route 66 and U.S. Hwy 34 were both extended beyond Michigan Ave. to link with US 41 (which ran along Lake Shore Blvd.) the two highways followed Jackson Ave, a two way street east of Michigan Ave to meet U.S. 41 at the Outer Drive.

The 1956 Shell Oil Road map of Downtown Chicago, below, shows us a new Jackson Blvd. linking Michigan with Outer Drive (Route 66 ends at the red arrow on the right). Notice the east and westbound alignments of US 34 and 66 marked with their shields on the left side of the map.

1956 Shell Oil map of Downtown Chicago, Illinois

1956 Shell Oil map of Downtown Chicago Route 66
1956 Shell Oil map of Downtown Chicago, Illinois. Credits

And the following photograph taken in Grant Park, on Jackson Blvd. looking east towards Lake Shore Blvd, from the 1950s is more than eloquent with its white sign with black letters: "END OF ROUTE 34 -66":

End of US 66 and 34 1950s in Chicago, Illinois

cars next to End of US 66 and 34 sign in the park in a 1950s color photo
End of US 66 and 34 1950s in Chicago, Illinois. Credits

Los Angeles, the first western Terminus (1926-35)

Route 66 was originally created as a highway linking Chicago with Los Angeles, and its western terminus was in downtown LA. On the northwest corner at Ezat Delijani Square on Broadway and 7th. St. is the sign marking the point where Route 66 "ended", actually its "Western Terminus" from 1926, when it was created until 1936 when it was extended to Santa Monica.

The sign marking the 1926 Western Terminus of Route 66

The 1926 Terminus of Route 66 sign on a busy street corner in Los Angeles pedestrians, shops and neon signs
Corner with the sign marking the 1926 Terminus of Route 66 in Los Angeles, CA. Click for street view

The name on the other sign, "Ezat Delijani" remembers a philanthropist who helped revitalize four historic downtown movie palaces.

Western Terminus moved from Los Angeles to Santa Monica in 1935

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text showing the extension of Route 66 from Los Angeles to Santa Monica in 1925

Route 66 extended to Santa Monica (1935) Credits

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation (or AASHTO) announced on June 17, 1935 that "U.S. 66, extended from Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to Santa Monica via Santa Monica Boulevard," as shown in the image (page 19 of the State Sign Routes, California Highways and Public Works, Oct. 1935).

And where was the new western terminus located?

Official Terminus of US 66

Lincoln Blvd. and Olympic Blv., Santa Monica. Map showing the spot.

The Western Terminus of Route 66 from 1936 to 1964 was located on the intersection of Lincoln Blvd. with Olympic Blvd.

When the D.O.T. decided to extend Route 66 from downtown Los Angeles (The 1926-1936 Terminus of Route 66 in LA was

black and white photo with US66 shield and arrow in Santa Monica in the 195s

Route 66 western terminus in the 1950s, Santa Monica Credits

The AASHTO set it at "... Lincoln Boulevard to the terminus at Pennsylvania Avenue..." at that time, after Colorado Ave., were the tracks of the Pacific Electric Railway Company, a streetcar or tramway, followed by Pennsylvania Ave. But when the modern Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) was built along the old streetcar line right of way, it obliterated Pennsylvania Avenue which was replaced by what is now Olymipic Blvd. So the modern terminus is located on Olypmic Blvd.

The Mother road ended here and never reached Santa Monica Pier or Ocean Ave. This was the end of the road until 1964, when the highway was decommissioned in this area and moved east (more on this below).

The image shows the spot in the 1950s, notice the Penguin neon sign on the western side of Lincoln Blvd., which is still there.

Photo of Mel's Drive In and the End of the Road sign on Lincoln and Olympic Blvds.

neon sign at Mels Drive In and end of US66 sign in Sta Monica Ca
Mel's Drive In "penguin" neon sign and End of US 66 sign Santa Monica, CA

The many ending points of Route 66 in Santa Monica

However, most believe that Route 66 ends at Santa Monica Pier, and this is a very good example of excellent marketing by a Route 66 souvenir shop located on the pier.

Then there is the bronze marker on Santa Monica and Ocean Ave., a memorial to Will Rogers, which states that it is "The End of the Trail". Confusing isn't it?. Below is the true story of the western tip of Route 66.

Will Rogers Memorial Plaque

Despite its official ending point on Lincoln and Ocean Blvds., the U.S. Highway 66 Association campaigned from 1935 to 1950 to have the highway renamed as the Will Rogers Jr. Highway and to move its terminus to Palisades Park on Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Blvd. See this Map showing location.

The spot is 0.7 miles west of the "real" endpoint of Route 66; and there is a plaque on the sidewalk in Palisades Park, on the western side of Ocean Avenue, among the palm trees that reads:

WILL ROGERS HIGHWAY
Dedicated 1952 to WILL ROGERS
Humorist - World Traveler - Good Neighbor
This Main Street of America
HIGHWAY 66
Was the first road he traveled in a career that led him straight to the hearts of his countrymen

It was placed here in 1952 to promote a movie shot by Warner Brothers about the life of the famous star, "The Will Rogers Story". The U.S. 66 Highway Associaton and Ford Motor Company also took part of the promotion and a caravan drove along Route 66 from Saint Louis to Santa Monica placing memorial markers at each state line. They chose this spot -which is not the exact end of Route 66, but, a kind of "state line" (next to the Pacific Ocean) to place the final marker.

Will Rogers Memorial Plaque in Santa Monica

Will Rogers Memorial Plaque on the lawn, Route 66 Santa Monica
Will Rogers Memorial Plaque. Santa Monica, CA. . Click for St. view

Santa Monica Pier "End of the Trail"

people on the boardwalk with the End of Route 66 sign, and stalls and shops

End of Route 66 sign on Santa Monica pier. Click for St. view

The third and final marker is located on Santa Monica Pier, see this map showing where the sign is.

This is the last marker in Santa Monica, and it is 0.3 miles south of the Will Rogers Plaque.

It is a "modern" sign that was erected during the Pier's centennial year, on Veterans Day, 2009. The idea was concevied by the Route 66 Alliance, the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau, the non-profit Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp. and 66 to Cali Inc. (a Route 66 souvenir company)

They formalized the notion held by the general public that Route 66 actually ended on the Pier, and therefore designated Santa Monica Pier as the West Coast's end to Route 66.

Since the D.O.T. had no more say in the matter (U.S. 66 had been decommissioned long ago), this is a local "official" post-mortem relocation of the western end point of an "officially" defunct highway. Marketing and promotion are the prime movers of this new endpoint.

The "End" for Route 66

The demise of Route 66: its new start and end points

Route 66 shield being removed, Jan 1977 in Chicago US66

Route 66 shield being removed, Jan 1977, Chicago. Credits

The signs were all removed when U.S. 66 was decertified. The signs in Grant Park were taken down on January 17. 1977 and there is a great photograph of this event. The image shows two workers removing the US 66 Shield and the "End of Route 66" sign on a chilly January day. In the background you can make out the Aon Center skyscraper (in those days it was the Standard Oil Building, completed in 1974).

New Beginning and New End Signs

The 1992 "Route 66 Law" or "U.S. Route 66 Designation Act" designated the existing portion of Route 66 in Illinois as a State historic highway. In consequence the former US 66 was marked with the typical brown signs across the state of Illinois, signs that include those at its Eastern Terminus, the road effectively got a new "start", which are those that we mentioned further up (see Start and End signs in Chicago).

The Decommisioning of US 66 began in California in 1964

text informing new state higwhays replacing Route 66 in Los Angeles as its end point was moved to Pasadena

End of Route 66 moves to Pasadena, 1964. Source

From Santa Monica to Pasadena

The first segment of Route 66 to lose its certification was the one located in Los Angeles County in 1964, it was replaced by State highways Route 2 and Route 11.

The western terminus of Route 66 was moved from Santa Monica to the intersection of the Arroyo Seco Parkway and Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena in 1964.

From Pasadena to Needles

The remaining stretch of US 66 in California was decommissioned from Pasadena all the way to the Arizona border, to the "intersection of U.S. 95 near Needles, California" after I-40 was completed across the Bristol Mountains in 1972 ( Source) or 1973 (Source). This was completed on Jan 1, 1975. Route 66 now ended close to the Colorado River near Needles CA, at its junction with US 95.

Route 66 is Decertified in Illinois and Missouri - 1974

Following the completion of the interstate system in Missouri, on June 24, 1974, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation (or AASHTO) decided to move the eastern terminus of Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to western Missouri, placing it close to Joplin in Missouri.

This shortened Route 66 eliminating its designation in Illinois and most of Missouri.

The new eastern terminus was located at I-44's exit 15 east of Joplin, in the town of Scotland MO (see it on a map).

Decertified in Illinois and most of Missouri - 1974

official decertification of US 66 in Illinois and Missouri document
AASHTO eliminates Route 66 in Illinois and Missouri

It wasn't implemented immediately, but you can see it in this MO DOT map from 1978.

Arizona was next - 1979

The next step took place when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation (or AASHTO) decided to move its western terminus eastwards.

On June 29, 1979 the AASHTO moved the "end point" from Needles east, across most of arizona Arizona, to Sanders, close to its border with New Mexico, to its junction with U.S. 191 (see map).

Decertified in California and most of Arizona - 1979

official decertification of US 66 in California document
AASHTO eliminates Route 66 in California and most of AZ.

The Western Terminus of Route 66 remained in Sanders until the whole highway was eliminated in 1985.

US 66 Fully Decommissioned in 1985

It was finally completely eliminated when it was decommissioned on June 27, 1985.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials voted decertify it-

Elimination of U.S. Route 66 - APPROVED - Eliminate present U.S. Route 66 between the present beginning at Scotland, Missouri and the terminus at Sanders, Arizona. AASHTO (1985)

That was it, this act eliminated the last segment of US 66 that ran across Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and the two short segments that remained in Missouri and Arizona.

Route 66 had officially disappeared.

Decertification of U.S. 66 - 1985

official decertification of the whole of US 66 in a 1985 document
AASHTO eliminates the whole of Route 66 in 1985.
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Credits

Banner image: Hackberry General Store, Hackberry, Arizona by Perla Eichenblat
Illinois Highway Improvement Blue Book see p. 103
Route 66 in Illiniois, NPS
California Highways and Public Works, Mar-Apr. 1964. p.12
AASHTO meetings agenda 1967-2014

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