If you love to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you’ll be excited to know that there are eleven US Unesco World Heritage Sites and Tentative Sites that you can see on Route 66. Some are cultural sites while some are natural wonders, but they are each worth putting on your Route 66 itinerary!
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UNESCO Sites to See While Driving Route 66
These are listed in order from Chicago to Santa Monica.
Early Chicago Skyscrapers (Chicago, Illinois)
The Chicago skyline is quite impressive from afar, but every building tells their own unique story. This is especially true for the nine Chicago Skyscrapers which have been turned into one UNESCO tentative site called the “Early Chicago Skyscrapers.”
According to UNESCO, together these buildings demonstrate a:
“very early, technically innovative, and architecturally expressive examples of a new typology of construction, the modern tall buildings, or “skyscraper.”
The form’s emergence in significant numbers in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th century was spurred by a fortuitous convergence of the availability of new materials and technologies, rapid urban growth, and the opportunity to rebuild Chicago’s downtown following the Great Fire of 1871.”
You can set out to see all nine or just stop by one or two before you set out on your Route 66 road trip.
Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, Illinois)
If you love architecture, especially the architecture of Frank Llyod Wright, then you are in luck! The serial site referred to as “The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright” has eight buildings inscribed on it, and you can see four of them along the route.
The Frederick C. Robie House is the only one located in Chicago proper. It sits on the University of Chicago campus and is considered the greatest example of Wright’s Prarie School architecture.
Unity Temple (Oak Park, Illinois)
This is the first Frank Lloyd Wright building I saw in person, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. Situated in Oak Park, this is a great Chicago suburb to visit before leaving on your Route 66 road trip as there are several additional Wright buildings here. You can really make a day of it!
The Unity Temple was built at the beginning of the twentieth century. It serves the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, of which Wrights family were members.
The budget for the project was modest, so Wright used modern concrete and budget saving techniques to keep the project from bankrupting the church. The finished product is considered to be one of, if not the, first modern buildings in the world.
The inside is a tranquil space. If you find the bustle of Chicago to be a bit overwhelming, make sure to include a stop in Oak Park before setting out on your trip.
Cahokia Mounts (Collinsville, Illinois)
Cahokia Mounds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Illinois right over the border from St. Louis, Missouri.
According to UNESCO, this ancient pre-Columbian site is “is the pre-eminent example of a cultural, religious, and economic center of the Mississippian culture (800–1350), which extended throughout the Mississippi Valley and the south-eastern United States.”
While not directly on Route 66, you need to make sure to visit during your trip. You can see most of the site in an hour or two, or you can set aside more time to explore.
Chaco Culture (Chaco, New Mexico)
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located just ninety minutes off of Route 66. While it’s one of the least well-known American UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you should set aside time to visit.
The remoteness is what kept the former great houses of the Ancestral Puebloan people from being ruined by a century of tourists, though make sure to follow the instructions to get here carefully and don’t rely on GPS!
There’s a lot to do in Chaco Culture NHP if you have time, from biking to hiking to photography.
Taos Pueble (Taos, New Mexico)
One of the US’s most important UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Taos Pueblo is ninety minutes north of the Santa Fe loop. However, it’s worth the detour if you have time to dedicate for an afternoon or day.
Besides the scenic drive to get here, once in Taos Pueblo you’ll see over a thousand years of Indigenous American history. Tours are offered throughout the day so you can learn about the history of the site.
This Pueblo Indian settlement in northern New Mexico, consisting of ceremonial buildings and facilities, and multi-story adobe dwellings built in terraced tiers, exemplifies the living culture of a group of present-day Pueblo Indian people at Taos Pueblo.
As one of a series of settlements established in the late 13th and early 14th centuries in the valleys of the Rio Grande and its tributaries that have survived to the present day, Taos Pueblo represents a significant stage in the history of urban, community and cultural life and development in this region.
Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited and is the largest of these Pueblos that still exist, with its North and South Houses rising to heights of five stories. Taos Pueblo and the people of the Pueblo itself claim an aboriginal presence in the Taos Valley since time immemorial.
Mesa Verde (Mesa Verde, Colorado)
Most people don’t think of visiting Mesa Verde National Park from Route 66 since it’s a hop over the border into Colorado. However, don’t skip it since you can add another UNESCO Site and another state to your trip!
The site is an important one to understand the Pueblo culture who lived here for almost a millennium from the 500s BCE through to the 1300s BCE.
There are over six hundred cliff dwellings here, and it’s an awe-inspiring site.
Mesa Verde is a three hour drive off of Route 66 from Thoreau, New Mexico, so set aside one full day to get the most out of this fabulous historical detour.
Petrified Forest National Park (Adamana, Arizona)
The second tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site on this list is one of the most famous places to visit on Route 66. The Petrified Forest National Park is also the only US National Park that actually has a portion of US Route 66 running right through it!
You can spend hours or an entire day (or even longer) exploring this fascinating landscape of brightly-colored petrified wood and fossils from the Triassic age. Don’t forget your camera, as this is one of the most visually interesting places in the United States!
Taliesin West (Scottsdale, Arizona)
Another one of the Frank Llyod Wright buildings on this list, this entry on the serial list is located in Scottsdale. A two and a half-hour drive south of Flagstaff, you can devote a half or a full day to venturing south into Arizona before reconnecting with Route 66.
Wright lived here in the 1930s and is considered one of the most personal of his works. Referred to as his “desert laboratory,” Wright is quoted as saying
Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world.
You can visit during the week, but you should try to get your tour booked ahead fo time during the high season.
Grand Canyon (Tusayan, Arizona)
If you stop for just one UNESCO World Heritage Site on your route, make it the Grand Canyon!
You can leave from Flagstaff and enjoy a one day in the Grand Canyon on a tour or on your own.
The canyon is too big to truly conquer in one day, but this Grand Canyon one-day itinerary will help you see the highlights.
Hollyhock House (Los Angeles, California)
The final UNESCO Site on Route 66 if you’re driving from East to West (or the first if you’re going the other way), the Hollyhock House is located in Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood in Los Angeles.
The house has been nearly demolished or destroyed on a number of occasions, and the fact that it is still standing and inscribed to the UNESCO list is something of a minor miracle.
It has only been restored and opened to the public since 2015, so it’s likely that even if you’ve traveled LA extensively you might have missed this hidden gem!