Vintage Arizona: Neon Lights and Mid-Century Charm
Lowell, Arizona

Vintage Arizona: Neon Lights and Mid-Century Charm

Arizona has some cool vintage sights to explore, from neon signs and roadside motels to diners and other iconic landmarks.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S.' car culture boomed, especially in the American West, giving way to road trips, neon signs, roadside motels and diners. Many of these now "vintage" landmarks were preserved and can still be visited for a momentary trip back in time. All you need is a car, a camera and a healthy dose of nostalgia.

Get your (retro) kicks on Route 66

The ultimate road trip, Route 66 in Arizona crosses the northern part of Arizona passing through several small towns such as Winslow, Williams, Holbrook and Seligman. Named the "Mother Road" by the author John Steinbeck, Route 66 has inspired movies and songs and is forever immortalized in American culture. Arizona's Historic Route 66 is among the best-preserved stretches of the route with more than 250 drivable miles, including the longest unbroken stretch from west of Ash Fork, Ariz. to the California state line, a total of 158 miles in length.


Faces and Places of Route 66: Hackberry to Seligman

Arizona contains one of the longest remaining stretches of the original Route 66, extending across the state from Holbrook (east) to Kingman...


Faces and Places of Route 66: Winslow to Holbrook

Continue your journey on Arizona's Route 66, as you travel from Winslow to Holbrook, Arizona.

Neon signs from bygone days

Neon signs were commonplace along major thoroughfares and highways around Arizona during the art form's boom in the 1950s, particularly along Route 66. Today, these signs are not as commonplace but some have survived and even lovingly restored. Here are just a few of our favorite neon signs and where you can spot them.

Kingman Club

Where: Kingman, 3 hours northwest of Phoenix / 1 hour 40 minutes south of Las Vegas

A block north of Route 66 in Kingman, on Beale Street, you'll find the iconic "Kingman Club" at its former home, now reopened as Rickety Cricket Brewing. The neon sign evokes memories of the early years of downtown Kingman, which the club called home for 70-plus years. Many Route 66 travelers make a point of finding it, making it one of the most-photographed sites in Kingman.

Williams' neon loop on Historic Route 66

Where: Williams, 2 hours 40 minutes north of Phoenix

In 1954, U.S. Route 66 was expanded in Williams with two lanes running east and two to the west creating a loop to cruise around the town. Drivers would cruise endlessly from one end of town to the other, showing off their cars and checking out others' rides. You can still drive the same loop through the town of Williams and get a taste of the old Route 66 days, especially at night when the street glows from the light of saloons', restaurants', motels' and shops' neon lights.

Neon Lights Park

Where: Casa Grande, equidistant about 45 minutes south of Phoenix or north of Tucson

Bask in the beautifully colored and vibrant lights in the outdoor Neon Lights Park on the town's Main Street. This four-acre park in the Arizona Plaza opened April 2019, in the heart of the Historic Downtown District with 14 lovingly restored and salvaged signs mostly from the 1950s. And in 2020, the park was awarded the James W. Garrison Heritage Award, the top prize given by the Governor's Heritage Preservation Honor Awards.

Spend some time on the benches enjoying the vintage mid-century neon signs or walk along the landscaped paths. The lights are turned on at dusk and turned off at 11 p.m.

Gateway Saguaro and Neon

Where: Tucson

In the 50s and 60s, Miracle Mile, Oracle Road, and Drachman Street—collectively known as Tucson's "Miracle Mile Strip"—was a haven for neon, when flashing signs beckoned to road-weary visitors. One of the most recognizable signs here is the "Gateway Saguaro" on North Oracle Road near West Drachman Street. Standing at 30 feet tall, and designed by local artist Dirk J. Arnold, the giant neon Saguaro greets travelers to Tucson.

Nearby on Drachman Street, more neon signs from Tucson's mid-century past line the road, thanks to a partnership between Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation and the local Pima Community College. Then, continue on to Tucson's Ignite Sign Art Museum, where their motto is "There's no other light like neon."

Vintage Arizona: Neon Lights and Mid-Century Charm
Ignite Sign Art Museum, credit An Pham

Towns frozen in time

There are some places where time has stood still, and you can sense that when you arrive. From vintage cars parked on the street to mid-century memorabilia scattered about, here are a few such places that will make you feel like you just stepped back in time.

Vintage Arizona: Neon Lights and Mid-Century Charm
A couple of "patrons" at Hackberry General Store

Hackberry General Store

Where: Hackberry, east of Kingman and 3 hours 50 minutes northwest of Phoenix

Hackberry General Store is a museum of old Route 66 that has been called the "mother lode of Mother Road memorabilia." No gas is sold but vintage pumps from various stations stand outside. Take a walk through the vintage diner, have a bottle of Route 66 Beer (root beer), and find a special souvenir of your trip. Take a stroll through the yard decorated by tin signs including some original Burma-Shave road signs. The 1957 Red Corvette is a favorite photo spot for many visitors.

Lowell, Ariz.

Where: Bisbee, 1 hour 35 minutes south of Tucson

Walking down Erie Street in Lowell, Arizona, is like walking into a 1950s postcard. Erie Street used to be the commercial district of a once-thriving mining town that was incorporated into neighboring Bisbee in the early 20th century. Today, Erie Street is a photographer's paradise with remnants of days gone past including a Shell gas station, motorcycle repair shop, department store and several vintage cars parked on the street.

Flagstaff's Route 66

Where: Flagstaff

Route 66 continues to bisect Flagstaff today and the road is lined with relics from the route's glory days. Travel its original path on a self-guided walking tour, "Walk This Talk," which begins at the historic train station and passes by classic drive-in motels and historic Flagstaff landmarks. Pedestrian signs at locations along the route notify you to call a toll-free number to hear pre-recorded oral histories at specific sites. Photo opportunities abound along the tour, including the downtown Route 66 mural and vintage motels.

Historic places to stay with modern amenities

From funky retro-fitted airstreams to roadside motels, spending the night surrounded by vintage décor and design is a fitting way to end a day spent road-tripping down Vintage Lane.

The Motor Lodge Motel

Where: Prescott, 2 hours north of Phoenix

The Motor Lodge Motel occupies a motor court that has been in service as a motel in Prescott since 1937. Each of the 13 rooms has a separate entrance and front porch and is decorated with an eclectic mix of vintage goods and bright colors. Conveniently situated three blocks south of the Courthouse and famous Whiskey Row, the motel is far enough away to avoid the crowds yet still close enough to the heart of downtown Prescott.

Wigwam Motel

Where: Holbrook, a little over 3 hours north of Phoenix

The kitsch is strong at this historic Wigwam Village #6, more simply known as the Wigwam Motel. Once one of seven such "villages," the Wigwam motels were iconic accommodations along U.S. highways in the 1930s thru the 1950s. Most have since been demolished; however, a few continue operations, including the family-owned motel in Holbrook off of Route 66. And it's the Arizona Wigwam Motel, with its vintage cars parked in front of the individual "wigwams" that eventually inspired the Cozy Cone Motel as depicted in Pixar's animated movie, "Cars."

Cozy Peach

Where: Queen Creek, about an hour east of central Phoenix

Set in the middle of Schnepf Farms with views of the San Tan Mountains, Cozy Peach has nine completely refurbished Vintage airstream trailers. They come with plush bedding, flat-screen televisions, air conditioning, microwaves, patio furniture, and individual firepits. Add-ons such as Little Glamper's Overnighter include hot dogs and smores kits, breakfast, birthday cake, and private animal feeding in the morning. Note: Like its southern cousin, The Shady Dell, Cozy Peach operates seasonally, closing for a couple of months in the summer.

Vintage Arizona: Neon Lights and Mid-Century Charm
Credit: The Downtown Clifton, Tucson

The Downtown Clifton Hotel

Where: Tucson

Just south of downtown Tucson on Stone Avenue but still within walking distance, The Downtown Clifton is a lovingly restored 1948 motel with eclectic interiors best described as an artful mix of mid-century modern and vintage Western. Each room has a separate entrance and there is a large outdoor communal area. Order dinner and drinks to your room from the Red Light Lounge, which features "contemporary Tucson cuisine that honors our borderland roots." Think carne asada tacos with guajillo crema and roasted poblanos made with smoked gouda.

Vintage Arizona: Neon Lights and Mid-Century Charm
The Shady Dell in Bisbee welcomes visitors, no RV required.

The Shady Dell

Where: Bisbee, 1 hour 35 minutes south of Tucson

The Shady Dell features nine fully restored vintage aluminum travel trailers that combine mid-century Americana kitsch with the comforts of home in the 1950s. The Shady Dell opened in 1927 to provide trailer spaces to travelers along Highway 80, which stretched from Savannah, Georgia to San Diego, California. Today, the park is a nice mix of practicality and vintage fun. If you're feeling fancy, book the 1947 Chris Craft Yacht, or go full tiki in the 1947 Airporter bus. Dot's Diner provides on-site meals and refreshments to fill your stay. Note: The park is seasonal, and closes during the summer and winter months.

Arizona diners serving up nostalgia

Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In

Where: Seligman, 2 hours 45 minutes northwest of Phoenix

In 1953, Juan and Mary Delgadillo built this diner from scrap lumber along Route 66. Thanks to many magazine and newspaper articles, Juan and his brother Angel, co-founders of Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, gained recognition for themselves and the Snow Cap. Many people will stop at the diner and claim it's the same as when they visited as a kid in the 50s and 60s. Snow Cap is now for its classic burgers, shakes and french fries, as well as its decor, made up of vintage auto memorabilia and signs.

Galaxy Diner

Where: Flagstaff

This diner embodies 1950s fun and food on historic Route 66 in Flagstaff. Breakfast, burgers, sandwiches and old-fashioned shakes, malts and ice cream sundaes are on the menu. The walls of this popular diner are covered with over one hundred pictures and movie stills from the Golden age of film, many of which came from manager and new owner, Will Pillen. Pillen purchased the restaurant in 2019 and is working on restoring some of the vintage elements, such as the original neon sign.

Vintage Arizona: Neon Lights and Mid-Century Charm
Mr. D'z Route 66 Diner (Credit: @MissClassyCom on Instagram)

Mr. D'z Route 66 Diner

Where: Kingman, 3 hours northwest of Phoenix / 1 hour 40 minutes south of Las Vegas

Located across the street from the Powerhouse Visitor Center and Route 66 Museum, Mr. D'Z Route 66 Diner serves burgers and shakes from their vinyl record-shaped menus. Vintage Americana memorabilia decorate the walls while music from bygone days plays in the background. A must-try is the root beer float—root beer soda topped with vanilla ice cream.

Little Anthony's Diner

Where: Tucson

Little Anthony's Diner is a fun 50s themed restaurant in East Tucson serving up typical diner food—burgers, shakes, fries and malts. The diner features sparkly red seats, checkered floors, and servers dressed in costumes. Stick around to eat and you might just get treated to a show by "Elvis Presley" or "Marilyn Monroe." They have free drive-in concerts on Fridays and a monthly classic car show that draws hundreds.

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Arizona Office of Tourism

These articles are brought to you by the staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism, and occasionally local tourism organizations around the state.

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