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17 Rev-Worthy Drive-Ins and Drive-Thrus in Northern California

Pull up to these burger, taco, and falafel institutions

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California rocks the drive-in, that 1950s and 1960s emblem of American car culture. That’s when cars first started pulling up to restaurants, and carhops — sometimes on foot, sometimes on skates — hustled from drive-in to diner, and back again.

During the pandemic, the concept started making a comeback, and it’s easy to understand why: Even diners who don’t feel safe sitting down at restaurants want to get out of the house sometimes, and a soft-serve from the comforts of one’s car might do the trick. Northern California (where American Graffiti, perhaps the most iconic nod to the drive-in era ever, was filmed) has some real throwbacks, with vintage stools and neon signs, serving everything from burgers and shakes to tacos and falafel. So hop in a car, head to the beach or the mountains, and pull up to these old-school drive-ins and drive-thrus.

The latest CDC guidance for vaccinated diners during the COVID-19 outbreak is here; dining out still carries risks for unvaccinated diners and workers. Please be aware of changing local rules, and check individual restaurant websites for any additional restrictions such as mask requirements. Find a local vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Big A Root Beer Drive In

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810 E Main St
Grass Valley, CA 95945
(530) 273-3243
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Big A is known for its “gourmet” root beer, which stars in refillable root beer floats (some have described the experience as “bathing in vanilla”). It’s also got a cute car-hop setup, complete with “deluxe” burgers and “county fair” style corn dogs.

Root beer float at Big A Drive In Big A Drive In

2. Sno-Flake Drive-In

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3057 Lake Tahoe Blvd
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 544-6377
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Tahoe’s classic drive-in has been rocking since 1961, welcoming classic cars in the summer. The Tahoe burger has an avalanche of mushrooms and onions, milkshakes are mixed up with Kit Kats and Oreos, and the soft-serve swirls reach dizzying heights.

Exterior of the Sno-Flake Drive-In Sno-Flake Drive-In

3. Pick's Drive-In

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117 S Cloverdale Blvd
Cloverdale, CA 95425
(707) 894-2962
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Pick’s might be the oldest stop on this list — it says it dates back to 1923 when it was a root beer “refresher” or roadside stand during the Prohibition. The original windows still latch up at the sides, to hand out burgers, dogs, shakes, and fries.

Classic car at Pick’s Drive In Pick’s Drive In

4. Sunflower Drive-In

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10344 Fair Oaks Blvd
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
(916) 967-4331
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A very veggie drive-in in the Fair Oaks neighborhood of Sacramento, Sunflower is worth the slight detour off the freeway. Sunflower originally opened in 1978 and is still serving vegan and vegetarian burgers, burritos, chilis, and salads, with a focus on whole grains and natural ingredients. Super nutmeat burger, anyone?

Veggie burger at Sunflower Drive-In Sunflower Drive-In

5. The Station

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1153 Main St
St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-3356
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The freshest addition from the Gott’s group opened just last year with big vintage style. The Station is a refurbished gas station, washed white with green trim, and she’s a beaut. Plus, the snacks are wine country quality — third-wave cold brew, fluffy focaccia sandwiches, and, oh yeah, they’ve got good pie. 

Illustration of the Station The Station

6. Gott's Roadside

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933 Main St, CA-29
St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-3486
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Taylor’s Refresher was a classic drive-in dating back to 1949; the Duncan brothers took over the lease in 1999 and ultimately renamed it Gott’s Roadside in 2010 (which led to some family feuding). Today, Gott’s has expanded to more than half a dozen locations, but the original is still a quintessential roadside attraction in wine country. There are burgers and shakes, starring local Niman Ranch beef and Straus dairy, but also ahi burgers and tacos, half a dozen salads, and sweet potato fries.

The original location in St. Helena.
The original location in St. Helena.
Gott’s Roadside/Facebook

7. Carr's Drive In

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6533 Covey Rd
Forestville, CA 95436
(707) 887-7053

Established in 1979, Carr’s has been in the Hashizume family for two generations, with parents Hashi and Yuki handing over the keys to their son Joe. It’s “no-frills, no fuss,” burgers, shakes, fries.

Exterior of Carr’s Drive In Carr’s Drive In

8. Amy's Drive Thru

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58 Golf Course Dr W
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
(707) 755-3629
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Yes, the brand behind the popular frozen burritos also has a drive-thru. Leave it to California to lead the way with veggie fast food, including burgers, pizza, salads, and plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.

Amy's Drive Thru
Amy’s Drive Thru

9. Mel's Drive-In

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3355 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 387-2255
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It may not have the best burger in town, but Mel’s is an icon in San Francisco, first established in 1947 and featured in American Graffiti and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? The original location on Van Ness, which welcomed more than a hundred cars in its heyday, no longer exists. But the Geary location brought back that classic carhop service, a response, they say, to the COVID era.

Exterior Mel’s Drive-In Mel’s Drive-In

10. Gillman's Classic Drive-In

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763 W F St
Oakdale, CA 95361
(209) 847-0619

This “gem in the rough” was founded in 1955, and is still serving burgers (quarter pounders), “bigger” burgers (third pounders), curly fries, onion rings, and soft-serve shakes.

Exterior Gillman’s Classic Drive-In Gillman’s Classic Drive-In

11. Beep's Burgers

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1051 Ocean Ave
San Francisco, CA 94112
(415) 584-2650
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Beep’s captured the heart of Eater’s restaurant critic a few years back, when she proclaimed it the best $7 burger in San Francisco. First opened in 1962, that beep is a space-age reference, and it’s still got a vintage neon sign, gleaming out of the fog on Ocean Avenue.

Beep’s Burger’s sign Patricia Chang

12. Taqueria El Mezcal

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194 Harder Rd
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 537-2922
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This popular mini-chain has drive-thrus serving Hayward, San Lorenzo, and San Pablo. It’s known for the Hot Cheeto burrito, which looks like a serious handful, served in the wrapper. And there are rumors of quesabirria action on the weekend, so keep an eye on those menus.

Tacos at Taqueria El Mezcal Taqueria El Mezcal

13. Taqueria Senaida's

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150 Tennyson Rd
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 783-6031
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Taqueria Senaida is a drive-thru institution in Hayward, with cars lining up for fresh and affordable Mexican and Tex-Mex since 1979. Go for those crispy, hard-shell tacos.

Taco plates at Taqueria Senaida’s Taqueria Senaida’s

14. Gorilla Barbeque

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2145 Coast Highway 1
Pacifica, CA 94044
(650) 359-7427
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Not technically a drive-in, but a roadside stop in an abandoned train car, Gorilla Barbecue serves legit barbecue to the foggy stretch of Highway One in Pacifica. Fans dig into the three-meat combo of smoked ribs, brisket, and hot links, with sauces and sides.

15. Dad's Luncheonette

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225 Cabrillo Highway South at, Kelly Ave
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
(650) 560-9832
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Also not quite a drive-in, Dad’s is another fun roadside stop on Highway One, a little further south in Half Moon Bay. Scott Clark is a former fine-dining star, but now he flips burgers in a train caboose. The details are in the ingredients: grass-fed beef, local lettuce, and white sandwich bread, served with housemade chips.

A rendering of Dad’s Luncheonette Alexis Liu

16. Jalisco Taqueria

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401 S King Rd
San Jose, CA 95116
(408) 923-3610
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This Mexican favorite is a go-to drive-thru for San Jose, where locals roll through the drive-thru, especially late at night, loading up on carnitas and carne asada.

Pastor burrito from Jalisco Taqueria Jalisco Taqueria

17. Falafel's Drive In

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2301 Stevens Creek Blvd
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 294-7886
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Anton and Zahie Nijmeh first opened in 1966, starting with burgers, then slowly switching to falafel, gently telling customers over and over, “try it, you’ll like it.” Fifty years later, it’s a falafel institution. And yes, it was featured on an episode of Guy Fieri’s show. (You knew Guy was going to pop up in here somewhere.)

Sign at Falafel’s Drive In Falafel’s Drive In

1. Big A Root Beer Drive In

810 E Main St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Root beer float at Big A Drive In Big A Drive In

Big A is known for its “gourmet” root beer, which stars in refillable root beer floats (some have described the experience as “bathing in vanilla”). It’s also got a cute car-hop setup, complete with “deluxe” burgers and “county fair” style corn dogs.

810 E Main St
Grass Valley, CA 95945

2. Sno-Flake Drive-In

3057 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
Exterior of the Sno-Flake Drive-In Sno-Flake Drive-In

Tahoe’s classic drive-in has been rocking since 1961, welcoming classic cars in the summer. The Tahoe burger has an avalanche of mushrooms and onions, milkshakes are mixed up with Kit Kats and Oreos, and the soft-serve swirls reach dizzying heights.

3057 Lake Tahoe Blvd
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

3. Pick's Drive-In

117 S Cloverdale Blvd, Cloverdale, CA 95425
Classic car at Pick’s Drive In Pick’s Drive In

Pick’s might be the oldest stop on this list — it says it dates back to 1923 when it was a root beer “refresher” or roadside stand during the Prohibition. The original windows still latch up at the sides, to hand out burgers, dogs, shakes, and fries.

117 S Cloverdale Blvd
Cloverdale, CA 95425

4. Sunflower Drive-In

10344 Fair Oaks Blvd, Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Veggie burger at Sunflower Drive-In Sunflower Drive-In

A very veggie drive-in in the Fair Oaks neighborhood of Sacramento, Sunflower is worth the slight detour off the freeway. Sunflower originally opened in 1978 and is still serving vegan and vegetarian burgers, burritos, chilis, and salads, with a focus on whole grains and natural ingredients. Super nutmeat burger, anyone?

10344 Fair Oaks Blvd
Fair Oaks, CA 95628

5. The Station

1153 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574
Illustration of the Station The Station

The freshest addition from the Gott’s group opened just last year with big vintage style. The Station is a refurbished gas station, washed white with green trim, and she’s a beaut. Plus, the snacks are wine country quality — third-wave cold brew, fluffy focaccia sandwiches, and, oh yeah, they’ve got good pie. 

1153 Main St
St Helena, CA 94574

6. Gott's Roadside

933 Main St, CA-29, St Helena, CA 94574
The original location in St. Helena.
The original location in St. Helena.
Gott’s Roadside/Facebook

Taylor’s Refresher was a classic drive-in dating back to 1949; the Duncan brothers took over the lease in 1999 and ultimately renamed it Gott’s Roadside in 2010 (which led to some family feuding). Today, Gott’s has expanded to more than half a dozen locations, but the original is still a quintessential roadside attraction in wine country. There are burgers and shakes, starring local Niman Ranch beef and Straus dairy, but also ahi burgers and tacos, half a dozen salads, and sweet potato fries.

933 Main St, CA-29
St Helena, CA 94574

7. Carr's Drive In

6533 Covey Rd, Forestville, CA 95436
Exterior of Carr’s Drive In Carr’s Drive In

Established in 1979, Carr’s has been in the Hashizume family for two generations, with parents Hashi and Yuki handing over the keys to their son Joe. It’s “no-frills, no fuss,” burgers, shakes, fries.

6533 Covey Rd
Forestville, CA 95436

8. Amy's Drive Thru

58 Golf Course Dr W, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Amy's Drive Thru
Amy’s Drive Thru

Yes, the brand behind the popular frozen burritos also has a drive-thru. Leave it to California to lead the way with veggie fast food, including burgers, pizza, salads, and plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.

58 Golf Course Dr W
Rohnert Park, CA 94928

9. Mel's Drive-In

3355 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118
Exterior Mel’s Drive-In Mel’s Drive-In

It may not have the best burger in town, but Mel’s is an icon in San Francisco, first established in 1947 and featured in American Graffiti and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? The original location on Van Ness, which welcomed more than a hundred cars in its heyday, no longer exists. But the Geary location brought back that classic carhop service, a response, they say, to the COVID era.

3355 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118

10. Gillman's Classic Drive-In

763 W F St, Oakdale, CA 95361
Exterior Gillman’s Classic Drive-In Gillman’s Classic Drive-In

This “gem in the rough” was founded in 1955, and is still serving burgers (quarter pounders), “bigger” burgers (third pounders), curly fries, onion rings, and soft-serve shakes.

763 W F St
Oakdale, CA 95361

11. Beep's Burgers

1051 Ocean Ave, San Francisco, CA 94112
Read Review |
Beep’s Burger’s sign Patricia Chang

Beep’s captured the heart of Eater’s restaurant critic a few years back, when she proclaimed it the best $7 burger in San Francisco. First opened in 1962, that beep is a space-age reference, and it’s still got a vintage neon sign, gleaming out of the fog on Ocean Avenue.

1051 Ocean Ave
San Francisco, CA 94112

12. Taqueria El Mezcal

194 Harder Rd, Hayward, CA 94544
Tacos at Taqueria El Mezcal Taqueria El Mezcal

This popular mini-chain has drive-thrus serving Hayward, San Lorenzo, and San Pablo. It’s known for the Hot Cheeto burrito, which looks like a serious handful, served in the wrapper. And there are rumors of quesabirria action on the weekend, so keep an eye on those menus.

194 Harder Rd
Hayward, CA 94544

13. Taqueria Senaida's

150 Tennyson Rd, Hayward, CA 94544
Taco plates at Taqueria Senaida’s Taqueria Senaida’s

Taqueria Senaida is a drive-thru institution in Hayward, with cars lining up for fresh and affordable Mexican and Tex-Mex since 1979. Go for those crispy, hard-shell tacos.

150 Tennyson Rd
Hayward, CA 94544

14. Gorilla Barbeque

2145 Coast Highway 1, Pacifica, CA 94044

Not technically a drive-in, but a roadside stop in an abandoned train car, Gorilla Barbecue serves legit barbecue to the foggy stretch of Highway One in Pacifica. Fans dig into the three-meat combo of smoked ribs, brisket, and hot links, with sauces and sides.

2145 Coast Highway 1
Pacifica, CA 94044

15. Dad's Luncheonette

225 Cabrillo Highway South at, Kelly Ave, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
A rendering of Dad’s Luncheonette Alexis Liu

Also not quite a drive-in, Dad’s is another fun roadside stop on Highway One, a little further south in Half Moon Bay. Scott Clark is a former fine-dining star, but now he flips burgers in a train caboose. The details are in the ingredients: grass-fed beef, local lettuce, and white sandwich bread, served with housemade chips.

225 Cabrillo Highway South at, Kelly Ave
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

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16. Jalisco Taqueria

401 S King Rd, San Jose, CA 95116
Pastor burrito from Jalisco Taqueria Jalisco Taqueria

This Mexican favorite is a go-to drive-thru for San Jose, where locals roll through the drive-thru, especially late at night, loading up on carnitas and carne asada.

401 S King Rd
San Jose, CA 95116

17. Falafel's Drive In

2301 Stevens Creek Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128
Sign at Falafel’s Drive In Falafel’s Drive In

Anton and Zahie Nijmeh first opened in 1966, starting with burgers, then slowly switching to falafel, gently telling customers over and over, “try it, you’ll like it.” Fifty years later, it’s a falafel institution. And yes, it was featured on an episode of Guy Fieri’s show. (You knew Guy was going to pop up in here somewhere.)

2301 Stevens Creek Blvd
San Jose, CA 95128

Related Maps