There’s nothing that amps up the joy of going to the movies more than Oscar season, which culminates on the last weekend of February with the annual telecast. Thanks to cable channels like Turner Classic Movies, we can take a trip through movie history with its yearly February celebration of Oscar-winning movies. Netflix and other streaming channels put recent releases at our fingertips, while airline entertainment apps catch us up on anything we may have missed. However, there is no substitute for seeing movies new or old play on the big screen when it comes to being immersed into the action.
If your family loves doing a day at the movies the old-fashioned way, author Amy Bizzarri details a Hollywood on 66 road trip itinerary in her new book, The Best Hits on Route 66: 100 Essential Stops on the Mother Road, that brings favorite movies alive through stops along the 2,500-mile historic highway that attained immortality along with the films’ directors and stars.
“Countless Hollywood hopefuls have traveled along Route 66 to reach the stars in Los Angeles, California,” says Bizzarri. “America’s byway has also played a leading role in several movies since it opened for business at the start of the Golden Age of the Silver Screen.”
Here are some of Bizzarri’s favorite family-friendly stops between Chicago and Hollywood (and Santa Monica, where the road ends).
- Pontiac, Illinois/Bob Waldmire’s 1972 VW Microbus at the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum: A 1962 family road trip to California inspired artist and cartographer Bob Waldmire to make Route 66 his lifelong home. He put roots down in Arizona, reopened the vintage 1934 Hackberry General Store as a tourist attraction, and cruised Route 66 aboard his orange 1972 Volkswagen Microbus, which provided the inspiration for the hippie character Fillmore from the 2006 Pixar film Cars.
- Galena, Kansas/ Kan-O-Tex Service Station: Further down the road, you’ll encounter Tow Mater, “the world’s best backwards driver,” Fillmore’s Cars co-star. The 1951 International Harvester L-170 truck is on view at this circa 1934 filling station and automobile repair shop. An interview with the Disney/Pixar crew and the station’s owners is featured on the DVD release of Cars 2.
- Tulsa, Oklahoma/Circle Cinema and the Walk of Fame: Hollywood officially arrived in Tulsa when the Circle Theatre opened its doors in 1928, and is today a renowned art house theater. Its Walk of Fame, just outside the theater, honors Oklahoma-born film legends including James Garner, Tony Randall, Gene Autry, Joan Crawford and Brad Pitt with circular, granite stepping stones. The theater also served as the setting for the opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of The Outsiders.
- Gallup, New Mexico/The El Rancho Hotel: Gallup remains an A-lister among shooting locations outside of California, with more than 100 Western movies shot there from the 30s through the 60s, including Billy the Kid (1930), Pursued (1947), The Sea of Grass (1947), Only the Valiant (1951), Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), and The Hallelujah Trail (1965). John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Katherine Hepburn and Mae West were among a who’s who of stars staying at the classic ranch-style hotel. Their autographed photos line the grand lobby’s second-floor balcony.
- Flagstaff, Arizona/Lumberjack Man (J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome): The motionless but memorable bystander in the 1969 cult classic Easy Rider guarded the Lumberjack Cafe Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) passed when cruising through Flagstaff. After the café closed, the lumberjack was later relocated, and now stands watch at the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University.
- Top Rock, Arizona/Old Trails Bridge: This 800-foot-long, steel-arched bridge was featured in the 1940 John Ford-directed classic The Grapes of Wrath, in pivotal scenes where the Joad family (including Henry Fonda) crossed the Colorado River into California as one of thousands of families that traveled westward along Route 66 hoping for a better future.
- San Bernardino County, California/Amboy Crater and Roy’s Gasoline: The 1,508-foot diameter Amboy Crater served as the dramatic backdrop for the 1959 sci-fi movie Journey to the Center of the Earth. Hollywood magic created the movie’s volcanic eruption by setting fires at the center of the crater. Roy’s Gasoline, located on Amboy’s main drag, was built in the 1950s but gained stardom as an evocative backdrop in such thrillers as The Hitcher,Kalifornia (starring Brad Pitt) and 2015’s Southbound.
The last segment of Route 66 delivers an epic Hollywood ending to the journey. As you enter Hollywood, Route 66 turns onto Santa Monica Boulevard, where you’ll encounter Hollywood Forever Cemetery and the celebrity watering hole/former trolley car, the Formosa Café, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (just steps from the Kodak Theater, where the Academy Awards Ceremony is staged) and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Griffith Observatory, a bit off the highway, was also the setting for many pivotal scenes in James Dean’s most memorable movie, Rebel Without a Cause, and worth a stop to get a good view of the Hollywood Sign and the real stars.