The last Route 66 town to be bypassed by I-40, Williams (pop. 2,842; elev. 6,780 feet) held out until the bitter end, waging court battle after court battle before finally surrendering on October 13, 1984. Despite the town’s long opposition, in the end Williams gave in gracefully, going so far as to hold a celebration-cum-wake for the old road, highlighted by a performance atop a new freeway overpass by none other than Mr. Route 66 himself, Bobby “Get Your Kicks” Troup.
Williams today is primarily a gateway to the Grand Canyon, but it also takes full tourist advantage of its Route 66 heritage: The downtown streets sport old-fashioned street lamps, and every other store sells a variety of Route 66 souvenirs, making the town much more than a pit stop for Grand Canyon-bound travelers. Apart from the Route 66 connections, Williams’s pride and joy is the vintage Grand Canyon Railway (800/843-8724, round-trip costs around $70), which whistles and steams its way north to the canyon every morning, taking roughly two hours each way. Call for current schedules and fares, or stop by the historic depot, a former Harvey House hotel restored in 1990.
If you hanker after a slice of pie and a cup of coffee, or simply appreciate good food and a warm welcome, you’ll want to save time and space for the Pine Country Restaurant (107 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., 928/635-9718), serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and famous fresh pies near the train station. Williams is also home to a landmark old Route 66 restaurant, Rod’s Steak House (301 E. Route 66, 928/635-2671), in business since 1946.
For a place to stay—and there are many, thanks to the nearby Grand Canyon—there are a couple of old motor court motels, one disguised as an EconoLodge (302 E. Route 66, 928/635-4085, $90 and up), another branded as a Rodeway Inn (928/635-4041, $110 and up). At the upper end of the scale, try the plushly renovated Lodge on Route 66 (200 E. Route 66, 877/563-4366, $100 and up), or look into that historic Harvey House hotel, now known as the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (800/843-8724, $170 and up), a very plush overnight that’s ideal for passengers taking the vintage train to the Grand Canyon.