Amarillo is located along historic Route 66 and a busy area for travelers headed across America while passing through Texas. You can still travel along parts of the old highway here, though it’s certainly seen better days. However, that doesn’t mean you should blow through Amarillo without stopping. There are two iconic places in town that anyone driving Route 66 has to experience.
The first stop is the Big Texan Steak Ranch. I’ll admit, I had very low expectations for this one simply because it’s been a tourist stop in Amarillo for so long. Often, places that get foot traffic simply because they’ve always had it due to nostalgia tend to drop the ball on quality. The first test of my theory came in the form of a basket of hot rolls with fresh butter. That’s what arrived shortly after I placed my order for dinner.
I’ll let you be the judge – but just looking at this photo again makes me want to hop back in the car, drive to Texas, and shove as many as these down my throat as I can stand. They were so delicious! Moments later, my salad arrives – not as good as the bread but still pretty good. The steak arrives and it was really good. I definitely had to admit that I was wrong – and that The Big Texan still has it going on.
The current version of the restaurant opened in 1978. The previous restaurants had been destroyed by a fire, changed locations, or went through major refurbishments. The iconic location, now a staple of traveling Route 66, still offers a free meal to anyone that can finish a massive 72 ounce steak, in addition to the included sides. You have one hour to complete the task and the entire restaurant is notified that you’re starting the contest with timers on the wall and an announcement over loudspeakers. (Two gentleman attempted this as I was getting ready to leave.)
Inside the building you’ll find a large gift shop with Route 66 collectibles among many other trinkets, a bar, a “shooting” gallery for kids, and more. There’s also a motel and RV camping on-site. You’ll know you’re close by when you see the large cowboy peeking down at your car from the skyline if you’re driving along the old highway or traveling on Interstate 40.
The other must-do Amarillo experience is the Cadillac Ranch.
I was quite lucky to have the place to myself for all of about five minutes. Typically, travelers heading through Amarillo make a stop here to see the amusing art display that’s been a part of the Route 66 experience for decades. Cars park along the outer road, make their way through the turnstile, and walk up to see the ten half-buried Cadillacs in person.
You’re welcome to bring your own spray paint and leave your mark on one of the cars. (No telling how many layers of paint are on these things!)
You can also drive the original Route 66 business district in Amarillo, however nothing seemed to be open during my visit. I found a couple of cool murals and some Route 66 road signs but the street definitely needs some upgrading.
One other suggestion – Palo Duro Canyon State Park comes highly recommended for hiking and exploring. Billed as “the Grand Canyon of Texas”, it’s operated by Texas State Parks and looks amazing. I didn’t have the chance to visit on this trip, but would definitely add it to my list for a future visit.