New Mexico Route 66: 1-Day Road Trip Itinerary

Last updated on April 25th, 2024 at 10:11 am

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Buckle up, neon lovers and roadside enthusiasts! Dust off your vintage shades and crank up the classic tunes, because we’re hitting the open road on a whirlwind adventure through New Mexico’s legendary Route 66. This isn’t your average interstate cruise; this is a day trip jam-packed with quirky charms, retro vibes, and enough kitschy fun to fuel your Instagram for weeks. Get ready to dive into the heart of the Mother Road’s in just 24 hours. There’s so much to explore here that it would be easy to get lost among the attractions and fill a two-, three-, or even seven-day agenda with the plethora of things to see. But, if you have limited time, this New Mexico Route 66 1-Day road trip itinerary is for you.

If you only have 24-hours in your travel itinerary to drive all the way through New Mexico, from Tucumcari to Gallup, you might have to spend more time on the highway than the byway. At about 311 miles, it will take you around 4 hours and 30 minutes of pure driving time, and that is with taking the higher-speed highway! So plan to leave early, arrive late, and prioritize the stops and experiences that are most meaningful to you. Keep in mind that when you are traveling in the bigger cities on the route, like albuquerque, that rush hour traffic can add to your time on the road!

New Mexico actually has two diverging alignments with one taking a detour to Santa Fe. In the interest of making the most of our time on the road, we are skipping that Santa Fe alignment in favor of the more direct route, driving straight from Tucumcari to Albuquerque. We’ll save Santa Fe for our next road trip.

Buckle up and explore our New Mexico Route 66 1-Day road trip itinerary to make the most of your exploration along this historic highway.

New Mexico Route 66: 1-Day Road Trip Itinerary

There are plenty of New Mexico Route 66 attractions to see as you traverse the state from Tucumcari to Albuquerque to Gallup. So much so that you’ll wish you had more than 24 hours to make the journey. But if you only do have one day, you’ll want to make the most of it!

Below is an New Mexico Route 66 1-Day road trip itinerary that calls out some of the highlights worth pulling over for. Depending on when you leave in the morning, how bad traffic is, and how long you spend at each location, you might not have time to explore them all. But whether you love roadside attractions, history, museums, or food, there’s something here for everyone to love.

We’ll start off this New Mexico Route 66 1-day road trip itinerary in Tucumcari, New Mexico. If you’re spending the night here before, be sure to explore the city by night when the town comes alive with the soft glow of neon signs. Also be sure to spend that night in one of the best vintage motels in Tucumcari. It’s worth it!

Here are some Tucumcari to-dos to add to your road trip itinerary:

Route 66 Monument in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Route 66 Monument

The Route 66 Monument in Tucumcari, New Mexico was dedicated in 1997. Titled “The Mother Road,” it was commissioned from sculptor Tom Coffin and celebrates the town’s place on Route 66.

Tee Pee Curios

Tee Pee Curios is a tee pee-shaped building with an iconic neon sign that is full of fun both inside and out! Known for its unique design, this building serves as a fun Route 66 roadside attraction and a souvenir shop to pick up magnets, t-shirts, mugs, and postcards to commemorate your road trip. They also sell local New Mexican wares, like jewelry and pottery.

Tee Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico Route 66 Roadside Attraction and Souvenir Gift Shop
Neon sign at Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico Route 66 Motel

Blue Swallow Motel

Route 66 is famous for the bright neon signs that light up the way. And perhaps no neon sign on The Mother Road is more recognizable than the one at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Whether you spend the night here or not, you can’t miss checking out the Blue Swallow Motel on your New Mexico Route 66 road trip.

If you’re spending the night in Tucumcari before embarking on this New Mexico Route 66 1-day road trip be sure to get dinner at Del’s Restaurant (with the big cow on its sign) or La Cita Restaurant (with the giant sombrero entrance). You can’t go wrong with either! After checking out of your Tucumcari motel in the morning grab a breakfast at Kix On 66 before hitting the road!

Be sure to check out all the restaurants, shops, and motels at night, when all the iconic neon is lit up!

After leaving Tucumcari, you’ll start making your way towards Albuquerque. Here are some attractions to explore along the way:

Route 66 Auto Museum

This fun museum features over 30 classic cars and Route 66 memorabilia. It is the privately owned collection of Bozo Cordova, who owns the garage next door and does restorations.

Blue Hole

The Blue Hole of Santa Rosa is a small lake/natural pool located in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The attraction is open for swimming and is one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in the country.

Clines Corners

Clines Corners Travel Center in Clines Corners, New Mexico is a gas station, souvenir shop, and RV Park that has been serving travelers since 1934. If you need gas, snacks, or a bathroom it makes the perfect pit stop on New Mexico Route 66.

Clines Corners Travel Center in Clines Corners, New Mexico Route 66 Attraction
Route 66 Musical Highway in Tijeras, New Mexico

Musical Highway

The Route 66 Musical Highway is a stretch of road, just outside Albuquerque, that plays America the Beautiful, when your tires drive over the specially constructed rumble strips at 45 miles per hour. While this tourist attraction is no longer maintained, a small section of the song remains. So keep your eyes, and ears, open to find the tune!

Once you reach Albuquerque there is even more to explore. Take as much or as little time as you have in the city, just keep in mind that you still have a long drive ahead if you want to drive from Tucumcari to Gallup in one day. So, if there’s a lot you want to see in Albuquerque, consider splitting your trip into two-days and spending the night here. Here are some Albuquerque highlights:

Old Town Plaza

While in Albuquerque, be sure to stop by and explore the Old Town Plaza. Circling a park and gazebpo are hundreds of shops, restaurants, and galleries. Of particular note is the San Felipe de Neri Parish, the Rattlesnake Museum & Gift Shop, and even a Breaking Bad Gift Shop and Museum for fans of the TV show.

San Felipe de Neri Parish in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cruising San Mateo 1

Cruising San Mateo 1, otherwise known as “Chevy on a Stick,” was created in 1991 by artist Barbara Grygutis. The public artwork features a classic car perched on top of an arch and symbolizes the city’s car culture.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico is a world-class museum and cultural center that is dedicated to preserving and displaying Pueblo history and culture.

Kimo Theatre

The KiMo Theatre is a theatre and historic landmark located in Route 66 in Albuquerque. The Pueblo Deco picture palace originally opened on September 19, 1927.

Lunch in Albuquerque

Be sure to stop for lunch while visiting Albuquerque. There are plenty of Route 66 establishments to choose from, whether you’re hungry for classic diner fare, New Mexican favorites, and a fast food specialty. Here are our favorite recommendations:

Chile Relleno at Loyola's Family Restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico Route 66 restaurant and Breaking Bad filming location

After Albuquerque, it’s straight on to Gallup. You won’t have too much time to pull over in between, so enjoy the gorgeous vistas in front of you as you drive. Do be sure to pull over in Grants to drive through the Route 66 Neon Drive-Thru Sign and, if you want to see where water flows both ways, you can find the Continental Divide Marker.

Once you reach Gallup there’s even more to explore. Park your car in one of the Main Street lots and see what Gallup Route 66 has to offer:

“Dude Man” Cowboy Muffler man in Gallup, New Mexico Route 66 Roadside Attraction

Dude Man Cowboy Muffler Man

Known as “Dude Man” by locals, the Route 66 muffler man in Gallup stands on the roof of John’s Used Cars. The fiberglass giant wears blue pants, a red and white western button-up shirt, and a white stetson cowboy hat. Around his waist is a holster packed with a pistol. And, if you look closely, you’ll spot a few bullet holes he’s endured over the years.

Native American Trading Posts

You can find many trading posts across New Mexico Route 66. But one of the oldest, and most well-known, is Richardson Trading Post in Gallup, New Mexico.

Located right on the main street of historic Route 66, Richardson Trading Post opened in 1913, predating the Mother Road by more than a decade. Explore the largest selection of Navajo rugs in the region and peruse the wide selection of turquoise jewelry and other wares.

Richardson Trading Post in Gallup, New Mexico
Gallup Cultural Center in Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup Cultural Center

Housed in the historic Santa Fe Depot, the Gallup Cultural Center in Gallup, New Mexico offers programming, exhibits, and arts that celebrate Gallup’s history and the neighboring Native American cultures.

Rex Museum

Housed in a former brothel, this museum displays artifacts and photos from the town’s history. Exhibits explore the earliest inhabitants, mining and railroad activities, and local culture.

Rex Museum in Gallup, New Mexico

After driving across New Mexico in one day and exploring all the best attractions along the way, settle in for the night at one of the best motels on Route 66: the Historic El Rancho Hotel. For dinner try Jerry’s Cafe for excellent New Mexican food or take it easy and head down to the motel’s lobby to eat at The Silver Screen.

Where to Stay in Tucumcari, New Mexico

With roadside attractions, museums, and plenty of iconic neon signs, Tucumcari, New Mexico is a can’t miss stop on your Route 66 road trip. It’s also home to some of the most famous motels on Route 66. In fact, billboards once lined the roads leading into town with advertisements promoting the 2,000 motel rooms available in the area, earning its popular slogan, “Tucumcari Tonite!”

Two of our top picks for where to stay in Tucumcari, and, really, all of New Mexico, are the Blue Swallow Motel and Motel Safari. They both offer everything you could want in a modern motel: comfy beds, high-speed WiFi, flat screen TVs, and plush linens, while maintaining the vintage charm of Route 66’s heyday. Choose Blue Swallow if you want a motel with pure history, a more vintage feel, and one of the most recognizable neon signs on Route 66. Choose Motel Safari if you are looking for a more updated stay that still taps into the past (or if you’re planning to come in and out a lot, the parking lot is a lot easier to maneuver).

Whether you choose to spend the night at Motel Safari or Motel 6, you’ll certainly to get a good night’s sleep to prepare you for a long day on the road. Where will you stay in “Tucumcari Tonite?”

Blue Swallow Motel

Neon sign at Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico Route 66 Motel

With one of the most recognizable neon signs on Route 66, the Blue Swallow Motel is a must-add for your travel itinerary, whether you spend the night or not. The motel has been operating since 1939 and offers warm hospitality, comfy beds, a touch of nostalgia, and a convenient location near everything you’ll want to see in Tucumcari.

Motel Safari

Neon Sign at Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico Route 66 Motel

Motel Safari is a classic 1959 Route 66 motor inn. Look for its historic camel sign, Googie architecture, mid-century modern decor, custom furniture, memorabilia, murals, and vintage billboard ads. The hotel also features modern amenities like flat screen TVs, free wi-fi, and “the best beds on the Mother Road.”

Roadrunner Lodge Motel

For a blast from the past, Roadrunner Lodge Motel is a restored 1960s Route 66 hotel with mid-century style and modern comforts. Rooms feature flat-screen satellite TVs, seating areas, and free toiletries. Select rooms play the motel’s private radio station with 1960s music and commercials and a fire pit outside allows visitors to relax and meet other travelers.

Historic Route 66 Motel

This mid-century modern hotel opened in 1963 and provide comfortable overnight accommodations at a reasonable rate. With pet friendly rooms, this motel is perfect for those traveling with their four-legged friends or anyone wanting “the best bang for buck on the Mother Road.”

Palomino Motel

Palomino Motel is marked by a distinctive neon sign. While this motel might be a bit more dated than its counterparts down the road, it’s a good choice for those on a budget.

Want more Tucumcari Route 66 hotels? Explore more here and peruse reviews.

Where to Stay in Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup, New Mexico was established in 1881 as a railroad town, and later became a pivotal stop along the Mother Road. This southwestern city served as a vital trading post for Native American arts and crafts and became renowned for its vibrant Route 66 atmosphere.

In Gallup you’ll find murals, trading posts, diners, roadside attractions, and museums to explore. You’ll also find one of the best Route 66 motels in New Mexico, if not the entire Mother Road: the Historic El Rancho Hotel.

In its prime, El Rancho was a favorite overnight stop for celebrities and today it is a favorite for road trippers. Be sure to book a room at this iconic motel and add it to your Route 66 road trip itinerary.

Historic El Rancho Hotel

Historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico Route 66 Motel

One of the best motels on Route 66 is the Historic El Rancho Hotel. Sleep where the stars have at this 1940s hotel that has hosted some of Hollywood’s biggest movie movie stars and makers, including Robert Mitchum, Elia Kazan, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, William Holden, Billy Wilder, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Troy Donahue, and more. Photos of the stars are peppered throughout the intricately designed property and each room is themed with a star’s photo and information.

Want more Gallup Route 66 hotels? Explore more here and peruse reviews.

Route 66 New Mexico Map

Explore our full map of Route 66 in New Mexico below. For easy browsing it is categorized and color-coded by category: roadside attraction, dining, landmark, museum, outdoors, mural/sign, accommodation, shopping, and tour/excursion.

Plan Your Route 66 Road Trip

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Last modified: April 25, 2024
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