When we were planning our short Route 66 road trip from California to Arizona, we needed to decide in which cities to spend the night. We wanted to stay in cities that had Route 66 history, so Kingman, Arizona seemed like a good choice. After all, it is one of the cities mentioned in Nat King Cole’s (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66. Little did we know that there are so many things to do in Kingman, Arizona! What we thought was just going to be a couple hours spent in this Route 66 town turned into almost a full day.
Related: Happy 90th Anniversary to Route 66! and History and Route 66: Things to Do in Flagstaff in One Day
What to Do and See in Kingman Arizona
Historic Kingman Powerhouse
We started our exploration of Kingman at the Historic Kingman Powerhouse. The powerhouse now houses the Kingman Visitor Center, the Powerhouse Route 66 Museum, and the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum. The powerhouse and its museums are dog-friendly. Be sure to talk to Diane Silverman, Go Kingman’s Information Supervisor, for information and suggestions about what to see in Kingman. Then head upstairs to visit the Powerhouse Route 66 Museum, or watch the film about the history of Route 66 first.
The Powerhouse Route 66 Museum tells the story of Route 66, starting with the development of a westerly route first developed in the 1850s to make emigration to the west easier along a weather-proof route that was also north enough to bypass the Rebel sympathizers in Arizona. The story continues through the Great Depression and the time of the dust bowl, when Midwestern farmers left their farms during the drought and came west along Route 66, the Mother Road, for a better life. Route 66 was also part of the recovery from the Great Depression, as the New Deal provided jobs to road gangs during the 1930s when Route 66 became completely paved from Chicago to Los Angeles. The final exhibits feature Route 66 like it was when it was a popular route for long, leisurely family road trips, before its demise caused by the opening of the interstate.
The Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum is on the first floor of the powerhouse. It displays a number of vehicles both old and new. One of the modern vehicles is the Buckeye Bullet 2.5, which clocked 320 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats on August 24, 2011.
Across the street from the Historic Kingman Powerhouse is the Locomotive Park. This small park features the historical monument Steam Engine #3759, a locomotive that was built in 1928 and ran the Santa Fe Railway Company passenger route between Los Angeles and Kansas City, with a water stop in Kingman. Dogs are not permitted in this park, but a visit to the park doesn’t take very long and there are shaded parking spots nearby.
Historic Downtown Kingman Walking Tour
Hotel Beale once hosted passengers riding the rails of the Santa Fe railroad, and later travelers of Route 66. The hotel was built in 1900 and purchased by Tom Devine in 1906. Tom Devine was the father of actor Andy Devine, a comic character actor who was born in Flagstaff but grew up in Kingman. The part of Route 66 that runs through Kingman is now named after the actor. Be sure to look up at the Hotel Beale neon sign that proudly proclaims that the hotel was air cooled. You can get a shot of the sign as well as a modern Kingman feature, the Running Hare sculpture by Don Gialanella.
The Little Red Schoolhouse was Kingman’s second schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was built in 1896 and is a red brick building built in the Victorian style. It is the only remaining pre-1900 public building. It now serves as the city’s municipal court.
The Bonelli House was built by George and Effie Tarr Bonelli, prominent citizens of Kingman. The house was built in 1915 with local volcanic stone in the Anglo-Territorial style. The house can be toured during the week.
Kingman Railroad Museum
Railroads and Route 66 go hand-in-hand. Before Route 66 allowed motorists to make the trip between Chicago and Los Angeles, travelers could take the train, as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad route between Chicago and Illinois was completed in 1885. For a little railroad history and kitsch, we visited the Kingman Railroad Museum. Inside you can look at model railroads, and just outside the window you can see real trains fly by about every 15 minutes.
White Cliffs Wagon Trail
A unique site in Kingman is the White Cliffs Wagon Trail. A short hike from the road leads to wagon tracks that were cut deep into the stone in the late 1800s. The wagon trail was used to transport ore from the Stockton Hill mines to the Kingman railroad. Along the side of the tracks are depressions in the stone that were used for stubbing posts and ropes which kept the wagons from flying down the hill.
Kingman Army Airfield Museum
In addition to Route 66 history, Kingman also has military history. The Kingman Army Airfield was founded during World War II to train aerial gunners. Now the Kingman airport is the site of the Kingman Army Airfield Museum run by the Kingman Army Airfield Historical Society. Exhibits include artifacts and photos of the history of the airfield, and, of course, large model airplanes. We received a tour of the museum and also learned an interesting fact that was new to us. When airplane travel was first possible, travelers would travel cross country using a combination of airplane flights and train rides. Kingman was the last airport on the way to the West Coast.
Kingman Wine Country
Using the term wine country might be a bit of an exaggeration at this time, but if things work out well, sometime in the near future Kingman will have a wine country, and a really good one at that. Right now there are two wineries open to visitors, Cella Winery and Stetson Winery. Cella’s wines are made by hand on property with grapes either grown in Kingman, Arizona or Temecula, California. Cella Winery’s owner and winemaker comes from an Italian family and grew up making wine. Stetson Winery is a large tasting room and event center. Their wines are cowboy and Route 66 themed. Currently, most of their wines are made from grapes from California and Southern Arizona, but they have a Zinfandel made with grapes grown on their Kingman property and plan to release more locally grown wines.
Related: Get Your Sips on Route 66: Kingman Arizona Wineries
Desert Diamond Distillery
Wine isn’t the only alcoholic beverage being created in Kingman. Kingman also has its very own distillery. Just a few blocks away from the Kingman Army Airfield Museum, you can find Desert Diamond Distillery near the airfield. Desert Diamond Distillery is a craft distillery making rum of the white, dark, and barrel aged variety, as well as vodka. All of their spirits start with sugar cane molasses. Visitors can have a tasting flight, take a behind-the-scenes tour, or relax with a cocktail.
Related: A Tasting Tour of Kingman's Craft Desert Diamond Distillery
Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner
Since we were taking a Route 66 road trip, it only felt right to have Route 66 style meals. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner is the perfect restaurant in Kingman for a Route 66 meal. Mr. D’z wasn’t around during Route 66 years, but it is the type of diner you would have found along Route 66 back in the day. I highly recommend the Popsicle Float, an ice cream float made with orange soda and vanilla ice cream.
Kingman Arizona Hotel
There are a number of hotels in Kingman, Arizona, but if you’re visiting Kingman on a Route 66 road trip, you have to stay in a Route 66 motel. When we arrived at the Hill Top Motel we knew immediately we were staying at the perfect place. The first thing that greeted us was Hill Top Motel’s classic neon sign glowing red and green. It looks exactly like the roadside hotels from movies of the 1950s and 60s, one story and you park right outside your door. Of course, it would have been more authentic if we had been driving a Ford Thunderbird.
Hill Top Motel is a motel, an inexpensive one at that, so don’t expect luxury accommodations. While not luxury, the accommodations are spacious, clean, and delightfully retro. Rooms have block walls and wood paneling decorated with southwestern art. Our room had a comfortable bed, a table for two, and a microwave and refrigerator. Outside was a pool, though the weather was far too cold for taking a dip. Since we were traveling with our dogs, we were happy that this Kingman hotel has a pet-friendly policy.
Another great thing about the Hill Top Motel is that it is family owned and run. Be sure to take a few minutes to talk to the owner Dennis Schroeder and Herberta Schroeder. They will tell you about the area and suggest a lot of great things to see, not only in Kingman, but along Route 66 as well. Herberta is a photographer with a gift for lightning photography (you can see some of her images on her website Windswept Images), and she also creates postcards featuring Kingman and Route 66.
If you have the time, we suggest staying in Kingman for two nights so you can spend an entire day experiencing all the things to do in Kingman and then have a full day to enjoy all of the Route 66 stops past Kingman the next day.