When you think of two-lane highways, you probably imagine small towns, tidy little main streets, undulating ribbons of asphalt through forehead-high corn fields: the picture-perfect road trip.
Sure, some of the 3,205 miles of U.S. Route 6 that goes from Provincetown, Mass. to Bishop, Calif. (and then to Long Beach, Calif. on former Route 6) looks like that, but on the way, it does cut through some cities.
Herewith find a list of these Route 6 Cities and, should you plan to breeze through, do not neglect the "must see" in each.
Home to Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, Providence was proclaimed one of America's Coolest Small Cities by GQ magazine. With a trove of co-ed and corporate worthy restaurants and museums, you could hang out for weeks and be happy. But if in town for just one night, don't miss WaterFire, which describes itself as "a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of Providence's renaissance. WaterFire's over 80 sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river and the enchanting music from around the world engage all the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths of Waterplace Park."
Known as the "Insurance Capital of the World," Hartford may not be headquarters for most insurance companies these days, but it remains the capital of Connecticut, a New England State seemingly invisible to the wider world. (Pop quiz; with the exception of Mystic Seaport, name one other well-known attraction in Connecticut. I bet you can't.) It shouldn't be. I live here, I love it, and so did Kathleen Hepburn who, even at the height of her superstar-edness, lived in obscurity on the Connecticut Coast. So did Mark Twain, from 1874 to 1891, and his house and the attached museum is the "must-see" attraction here. Stand within inches of the great man's writing desk and you can see indentations and scratches in the wood made, quite possibly, when he was writing Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. A thrilling moment, indeed.
No longer the "Mistake on the Lake," Cleveland has recreated itself, overwhelmingly, as a rockin', cultural, epicurean destination, thanks in no small part to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and "The Chew's" Michael Symon whose restaurant, Lola, raised the bar for Midwestern cuisine. But back to Rock Hall, a structure that appears like glittering Pyramids of Giza rising on the shoreline, with Lake Erie reflected in its 150,000 square feet of glass. Architecturally stunning, what's inside will also bring anyone who's strummed a guitar and listened to Elvis Presley and Beatles LPs to tears. You can easily spend a whole weekend exploring seven floors of exhibits, but save time for the Hall of Fame Inductee Gallery where you'll come face to face with a looping film of Induction Ceremonies from 1986 to present. It cemented me to the spot for nearly two hours, and made my mascara run.
Des Moines, Iowa
Route 6 actually skirts downtown Des Moines, bringing you to the Western perimeter and a town called Urbandale. It's right here (on Route 6) you'll find one of Des Moines most popular attractions, the Living History Farms. On 500 acres, the past doesn't just echo, it's in full-throated magnificence at this 1875 prairie town, where docents remain in character right down to period dress. Enter the home of a typical middle class family of the day to a fragrant lunch cooking on the stove, converse with the town lawyer and a typesetter in the newspaper office (The Advocate) and interact with museum staff in the Pharmacy, General Store, Doctor's Office and other shops. Amble along a nice woodsy interpretive trail through 300 years of Iowa farming history, where you'll encounter three staffed settlements, a small Indian Village, an 1850 farm and a 1900 farm. Plan to spend the good part of a day or at the very least two hours.
Sure, there are steaks here. And Warren Buffet. And a pedestrian bridge (The Bob Kerrey S-Shaped Bridge) that some consider a boondoggle and others (like bicyclists, joggers, stroller-pushing moms and wedding photographers) can't do without. Of course, spend some time in Old Market -- Omaha's version of NYC's Meat Packing District -- to shop and eat. But my choice for that "can't miss" attraction here is the do-you-heart-good Boy's Town, just west of downtown on Route 6. Pick up an audio-tour at the visitor's center and be prepared to stop a few times at the Museum and Father Flanagan's house. With financial help from his Jewish friend, prominent Omaha lawyer Henry Monsky, Flannigan set up his first home for neglected, troubled boys in 1917. Boy's Town, made famous by the movie of the same name (which won an Academy Award for Spencer Tracey), has since changed thousands of lives and now houses 550 at-risk boys and girls in group homes. For those who have lost hope in humanity, a visit here will restore it in spades.
Lincoln is small as state capitals go, but the Nebraska State Capitol Building itself is a monumental achievement in Art Deco/Beaux-Arts design. You can see the humongous 19.5-foot sculpture, The Sower, topping the edifice from afar. Externally, the building is imposing, and a city statute mandates that no structure can be built higher than its 400-foot dome. Inside, it's a mosaic masterpiece, from the white Italian and black Belgian marble floors to the spectacular rotunda and walls blazing with abstract, full-color-spectrum depictions of work, agriculture, animals and history. Even the 750-pound chamber doors are festooned with Native American motifs in wild, saturated colors. I know I vowed to recommend just one attraction per city, but in Lincoln there are two: The state capital and Shoemaker's Travel Center and Truck Stop. Yep, a truck stop! West of Lincoln directly on Route 6, all Route 6 travelers must visit Shoemaker's Truck Stop and Travel Center if only for one special feature. Look up in the center room to see the only coast-to-coast U.S. Route 6 four-wall mural in existence. It is a phenomenal rendering, 206 feet long and nine feet tall, of all the Route 6 hotspots across the country -- starting in Massachusetts and ending in California. Have your camera ready!
Much of Route 6 is not marked in Colorado -- making it the only state that does not denote aligned secondary routes. But the cross-country highway does jut through Denver, paired with I-76 and I-25 before peeling off as Sixth Avenue into Lakewood. If you happen to hit Lakewood, Colorado on a weekday evening around sunset, you must make time to watch The Westernaires practice precision riding at break-neck speeds. These impressive nine- to 19-year-old equestrians will give you goose bumps, get you teary-eyed and make you proud of our country's youth. Excelling at precision riding, rough riding, authentic Cavalry Riding and Liberty Riding (no saddle or harness), the Westernaires are one of the best (if not the best) trick-riding teams in the United States, and they merit the slogan "Best At Speed." For a most sublime hour or so, watch these kids and steeds drill most summer weekdays around sunset -- with the Rocky Mountains as backdrop. You'll be swept away.
For a complete, mile by mile guide to all 3,652 miles of transcontinental U.S. Route 6, click here to order the book, Stay On Route 6.