Road trips are a mixed bag. On the one hand you have the freedom of the open road and the thrilling possibility that any stop could unearth a hidden gem that becomes your new favorite place. One the other hand there are the emergency bathroom breaks in the middle of nowhere and the moments when you realize that you have been together one mile too many. When those moments strike, you have no choice but to pull over at the next exit and hope for the best.
When the bathroom alarm from the backseat sounded somewhere between Chicago and Peoria, we pulled off in Pontiac, Illinois and hoped to find some activities to give us a break from the car for a while. As an admitted roadside attraction junkie, I first checked Roadtrippers to see if anything struck our fancy which led us to the Route 66 Museum.
The Route 66 museum has an extensive collection of memorabilia from the Mother Road through Illinois, but the row of senior center field trip vans out front should have been clue that the museum might be a little antiquated. Admittedly, we did find the exhibits to be somewhat dusty, but we enjoyed the excellent photographs of locations along Route 66. The kids especially enjoyed picking out the photos of places we have visited in our own travels.
The other highlight of the museum was seeing the 1972 VW bus and converted Chevrolet school bus that icon Bob Waldmire used to travel up and down Route 66 as he produced art along the way. Both vehicles were a tribute to his vision and spirit of wandering.
At the back of the museum visitors can walk on or even drive their car on a strip of the original Route 66. Photo ops next to the giant mural are a big attraction for the museum.
As we poked our way around the sleepy town of Pontaic, we noticed signs that pointed towards the Swinging Bridges. That sounded intriguing enough to stray off the main road and take a chance. These three iron bridges supported by cables cross over the Vermillion River and provide just the right amount of entertaining shimmy and shake for a group of boys. The bridges lead to a small playground in the shadow of the city cemetery, which was the cherry on the sundae for this impromptu stop.
Hungry tummies were calling for us to head to the center of town in hopes of finding something for lunch. We cruised around the picture perfect small town square before finally settling on Delong's Casual Dining. Inside, we were excited to see that we had picked a typical local hangout with a great personality. Conveyor belt driven fans and a painted punched tin ceiling added to the historic flavor of the restaurant. Lunch was delicious, especially the fried pickle spear appetizer that was gobbled up almost as soon as it hit the table. Before we could leave, the manager offered each of the boys a free mini ice cream cone which was just the right amount of sweetness to complete the meal.
While we were on the main square, we decided to explore a little bit more. The city made it easy to find our way with colored footprints along the sidewalk to lead to the famous murals and mini antique car photo op and art conglomerations.
It seems that every city in Illinois is proud to share their connection to Abraham Lincoln, and Pontiac is no different. As a young man Lincoln regularly traveled to Pontiac to argue trials as a lawyer. After a nod to Honest Abe, we headed out of town completely satisfied with our impromptu detour. For a small town, Pontiac packed quite a punch, proving that with a road trip the next exit could be the best one.