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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.

Big A Root Beer Drive In

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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

Sno-Flake Drive-In

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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

Pick's Drive-In

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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

Sunflower Drive-In

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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

The Station

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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

Gott's Roadside

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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

Carr's Drive In

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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

Amy's Drive Thru

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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

Mel's Drive-In

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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

Gillman's Classic Drive-In

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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

Beep's Burgers

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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

Taqueria El Mezcal

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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

Taqueria Senaida's

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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

Gorilla Barbeque

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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.

Dad's Luncheonette

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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

Jalisco Taqueria

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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

Falafel's Drive In

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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

Big A Root Beer Drive In

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.

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

Sno-Flake Drive-In

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.

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

Pick's Drive-In

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.

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

Sunflower Drive-In

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?

Veggie burger at Sunflower Drive-In Sunflower Drive-In

The Station

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. 

Illustration of the Station The Station

Gott's Roadside

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.

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

Carr's Drive In

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.

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

Amy's Drive Thru

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.

Amy's Drive Thru
Amy’s Drive Thru

Mel's Drive-In

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.

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

Gillman's Classic Drive-In

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.

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

Beep's Burgers

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.

Beep’s Burger’s sign Patricia Chang

Taqueria El Mezcal

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.

Tacos at Taqueria El Mezcal Taqueria El Mezcal

Taqueria Senaida's