Just out of Flagstaff in northern Arizona, the first town you reach is Williams along Route 66. The city is far from a shrinking town, though; Williams bustles with people as part of its healthy tourist base.
Williams is notable for two things: it's a prime gateway to the Grand Canyon (more on that in a moment), and it's the last town along the entire stretch of Route 66 to be bypassed — back on October 13, 1984. It was founded in 1881 by "Old Bill" Williams, a mountain man (you kind of had to be in those days) and trader. Bill Williams Mountain dominates the landscape just south of town.
A big part of that comes from Williams' access to the Grand Canyon, most notably by the Grand Canyon Railway. From its first journey out of Williams to the Grand Canyon in 1901, it has served presidents, movie stars, and millions of other tourists out of the 1908 Williams Depot. You'll find the Grand Canyon Railway and the Williams Depot along the north side of westbound Route 66 in the heart of town.
First, stop by the Williams Chamber of Commerce for a full directory of businesses and things to see; a walking tour is definitely worth it. Sip a soda, shake, or "Route 66 Beer Float" at Twister's 50s Soda Fountain, take in a local brew at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company, stay for a burger or malt in the adjoining Cruiser's Café, or enjoy a steak at Rod's Steak House – a Route 66 mainstay since 1945.
Downtown Williams has a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and historic sites, most lining the westbound and eastbound lanes of Route 66. As you might imagine with a picturesque, pedestrian-heavy tourist destination like Williams, there is plenty of shopping in small mom 'n' pop-type stores. Check out the Turquoise Teepee and Addicted to Deals. Owner Jeremy Hassen and his staff offer everything from Route 66 signage to buffalo teeth.
Several museums are downtown, including Pete's Gas Station Museum, which was an actual gas station along Route 66 from 1949 to 1989. Pete's son restored the building and now shows off classic cars and gas station items. The Small Town America Museum helps keep the spirit of small towns (which you've gotten quite a feel for along Route 66) alive, and Wild West Junction offers the true Old West feel with saloons, a Blacksmith shop, the city's only working jail, and plenty of sights from wilder days. While not a museum, the Sultana Theater dates back to 1912, and still hosts shows.
Another Williams attraction is the nearby Bearizona Wildlife Park – a drive-thru wildlife preserve featuring real live bears and other animals. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
|Best Western PLUS Inn of Williams
2600 W. Route 66
Williams, AZ 86046-9182
Out of Williams, Route 66 goes right past the Best Western PLUS Inn of Williams and re-joins Route 66 for the ride west back towards the desert.