Not to be confused with Pontiac, Michigan, Pontiac, Illinois has its own unique charm. With a historic courthouse, 4 fascinating museums and many great outdoor activities, there’s lots to do in this Livingston County city. There are also several major Route 66 attractions that you shouldn’t miss.

Route 66 Attractions in Pontiac, Illinois

The city of Pontiac makes a great stop on your Route 66 road trip. It’s easily reached from Chicago, Heritage Corridor, the Great River Road and Springfield, Illinois. The 4 municipal museums are a great place to learn more about the history of the area.

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Pontiac Route 66 mural spotted on a road trip down Route 66 in Illinois, USA
Pontiac Route 66 mural

1. Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum

The Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum, located inside a historic firehouse, is a treasure trove of information about the people who were instrumental in the Mother Road’s success.

One of the most fascinating characters was itinerant artist Bob Waldemire. Born in 1945 in nearby St. Louis, Bob fell in love with Route 66 and decided to celebrate it through his artworks.

He famously said, “The main reason I became a travelling artist was to avoid having a real job. It was about being free to move. Wanderlust”.

Bob’s intricate drawings are a fascinating insight into life on this historic route. Many of them have an ecological theme, as he was passionate about preserving nature.

Bob Waldemire artwork at Route 66 museum Pontiac
Bob Waldemire Route 66 artwork

Bob’s 1972 Volkswagen Microbus was the inspiration behind the Fillmore character in the Pixar movie, Cars. He used it as his road vehicle for over 18 years, adding a bed, office and bookshelves.

In the yard outside the museum, you can step inside Bob’s Road Yacht, a Chevrolet school bus dating from 1966. He customized it by adding a second floor, a kitchen, shower, toilet, sleeping alcove and even a sauna!

In his final years, Bob was working on a 66 foot long map of the history of Route 66 that you’ll find behind the museum on Main Street. He passed away in 2009 and the mural was completed with the help of his family and friends in 2011. 

You can purchase copies of Bob’s prints at the museum as a memento of your own journey along this important highway.

Bob Waldemire van
Bob Waldemire Volkswagen Microbus

There’s also a striking exhibition , Route 66 – A Photo Journal, which features a series of photographs by Michael Campanelli.

Another interesting thing to see within the museum is The Life in the 1940s exhibit, located on the second floor.  It was curated by Darlene Agner and Ron Selle and includes four rooms. You’ll see beautifully preserved original costumes , newspapers and furniture.

  • Opening hours:  April – October – Monday – Sunday 9.00 – 17.00, November – March -Monday – Sunday  10.00 – 16.00
  • Admission: By donation
  • Address: 110 W Howard St, Pontiac, IL 61764, USA

2. Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum

Whether you’re a petrol head or not, you’re sure to enjoy Pontiac-Oakland Museum and Resource Center. Since opening in 2011, the museum has showcased Pontiac and Oakland vehicles from the 1900s to the present day.

The cars here are in wonderful condition and some are extremely rare, such as a 1931 Oakland Sport Coupe and a 1966 Pontiac GTO “Indian Tin” drag racing car. It’s not just automobiles on display here though, there are model car kits, dealer brochures, design drawings and over 2,000 vintage oil cans.

  • Opening hours:  April – October – Monday – Sunday 9.00 – 17.00, November – March -Monday – Sunday  10.00 – 16.00
  • Admission: By donation
  • Address: 205 N Mill St, Pontiac, IL 61764, USA
Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum
Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum

3. International Walldog Mural Exhibit

Don’t miss the Route 66 murals on Main Street, Pontiac. There are  23 murals in all, 18 of which were painted by the Walldogs in 2009. This group of 150 sign painters managed to create 18 murals with images of the road in just 4 days!

Visitors can get a free mural guide at the museums and City Hall.  Alternatively, follow the footprints painted in red on the sidewalks.

The largest is the Route 66 shield mural painted on the back of the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum. Designed by Diaz Sign Art, it’s a great photo spot as you can park your car or motorcycle in front of it.

Another fantastic mural is the Pontiac on Route 66, designed by Tom and Kathy Durham. There’s a replica car below it which you can actually sit in.

Pontiac Town Route 66 murals in Illinois
Route 66 wall art

4. Pontiac Art Cars

There are 15 miniature cars dotted around town during the Summer months. They’ve been beautifully decorated in a range of styles by local artists. Spot 5 pick up trucks and 10 Chevys as you wander around downtown, including this one inspired by Vincent Van Gogh.

Pontiac art cars in Illinois
Art cars in Pontiac

5. Dongbai International Airbrush Art School

Internationally acclaimed artist Tang Dongbai teaches the art of air brushing and exhibits his own intricate paintings at 425 W Madison Street. Originally from Beijing, China, he graduated from the prestigious Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts.

He creates unique artworks on vehicles and clothing and the skill involved is impressive. In some of his works, he uses a fluorescent paint that can only be seen when lights are switched on. The white dresses below are unadorned with the lights off, but take on a whole new dimension once you turn on the lights.

Dongbai paintbrush dresses
Tang Dongbai dresses

Tang also runs airbrush painting and UV Invisible Art courses for those wishing to learn these techniques.

  • Admission: free for the gallery, a charge applies for the painting school
  • Address: 425 W Madison Street, Pontiac, IL 61764, USA
Dongbai International Airbrush Art School
Artwork by Tang Dongbai

6. Museum of the Gilding Arts

The Museum of the Gilding Arts is the only one of its kind in the United States. Established in collaboration with the Society of Gilders, it showcases the art of gilding in all its forms.

This traditional art dates back to the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. The level of craftsmanship is impressive, with ornate items and signage covered in gold.

You’ll see a pot of liquid gold at the front of the museum, and there’s a replica of the M. Swift and Sons gold beating room to the rear of the museum. You can try your hand at stamping the metal, and imagine the force needed to repeatedly perform this task throughout the working day.

  • Opening hours:  April – October – Monday – Sunday 9.00 – 17.00, November – March -Monday – Sunday  10.00 – 16.00
  • Admission: By donation
  • Address: 217 N Mill St, Pontiac, IL 61764, USA
Pontiac Museum of the Gilding Arts
Gilding at Pontiac Musuem

Other Fun Things to Do in Pontiac, Illinois

  • Swinging Bridges – the town of Pontiac is also known for its 3 unique bridges that cross the Vermilion River.
  • Livingston County War Museum -this museum on Main Street honours past and present veterans.
  • Looking for Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln visited Pontiac many times and the Looking for Lincoln story trail features 9 story boards at the corresponding historic sites.
  • Livingston County Courthouse – this beautiful building dates from 1875 and was recently restored.
  • Seasons of Life Statues – striking 25 feet tall statues at Dargan Park on the corner of Madison and Fountain streets.
Livingston County Courthouse

Where to Eat in Pontiac, Illinois

  • Bernardi’s – this cosy restaurant does great Italian specialties like lasagne and is located opposite Pontiac Court House.
  • The Cup and The Scone is a good place to grab a coffee. The owners were inspired by British coffee shops and it’s a cosy place to grab a drink. There’s a great selection of specialty stone cold brews and single origin roasts. They also serve homemade scones and cheesecake and  host quiz nights and live music sessions.

Route 66 Attractions Near to Pontiac, Illinois

There are a couple of additional Route 66 landmarks that are easily reached from Pontiac. We recommend that you explore the entire Illinois section of the road, as there’s so much to see in the region.

  • Paul Bunyon Hotdog Statue – this 19 feet tall statue at 112 SW Arch Street, Atlanta is one of the best known Muffler Men. These fibreglass sculptures date from between 1963-1972 and this one was created in 1966.
  • World’s Largest Covered Wagon – standing  7.6 m tall, this wagon is 3.65 m wide and 12.2 m long.  Tthe Guinness Book of World Records confirms it as the largest covered wagon in the world. You can find it at the Best Western Lincoln Inn, 1750 5th Street, Lincoln.

As you can see, you definitely shouldn’t miss Pontiac on your Route 66 trip. It’s the epitome of small town charm with fascinating attractions that will keep you coming back for more. The local residents are really friendly too – we were lucky to meet the Mayor, Bob Russell, who is passionate about his town. Have you ever been to Pontiac, Illinois?

Interested in the USA? Check out these other US travel features: Best Natural Hot Springs in the US | Best Restaurants in Naples FL | Best Things to Do in Springfield Illinois | The Most Expensive Cities to Live in the US | The Most Historic Houses in the US |

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Pontiac Route 66 highlights

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In association with Enjoy Illinois and Visit Pontiac

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1 thought on “Fun Route 66 Attractions in Pontiac, Illinois”

  1. I love Bob Waldmire! And in retrospective, there’s really so much to see in Pontiac despite being a small town. It’s such a great stop when you’re travelling on Route 66! Shouldn’t be missed!

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