Where in the Central Valley can you find five Elvis impersonators, vintage cars, and a root beer float made from root beer brewed daily? The A&W Drive in in Modesto.
More than a place to find a good burger and float, the A&W drive in has been a staple of the Modesto’s culture and food landscape for over 50 years – since 1957. Deemed the birthplace of American Graffiti, the 1972 movie directed by Modesto native George Lucas that details the rock and roll days told through a group of teenagers, locals and tourists are drawn to the drive-in for the vintage experience.
“I think we’ve stayed in business since we haven’t made any changes and people like to see something that’s a little bit less fast paced or old school so to speak,” said Johnny Matthews, owner of the drive-on. “We’ve been a fixture of downtown Modesto and really we’re happy to bring people the nostalgia they sometimes crave in life.”
As the oldest operating restaurant franchise in the Stanislaus County, many tourists make a point to stop at the local drive-in on their way to Yosemite according to Matthews who has a guestbook that tracks visitors’ hometowns. Having been profiled as one of the last standing original drive-ins in national publications, the Modesto A&W has turned heads across the country in a nod to the 1950s era.
“We are more famous around the world than we are in Modesto,” said Matthews.
While locals may not realize the importance of the A&W drive-in in the cultural landscape of American rock and roll, the local landmark does garner attention during the summer with their Cruise-In nights every Friday and Saturday starting in June. Locals drive up in their vintage cars and hot rods to enjoy shakes, burgers and of course the A&W root beer float while listening to live DJ music and the kids plays games such as limbo and hula-hoop. Friday evenings also feature five local Elvis impersonators while Saturday is karaoke night.
“It really is a family event that the kids and parents can enjoy,” said Matthews.
For locals looking to enjoy the authentic vintage experience including car hops on roller skates, the A&W Drive-In is located at 1404 G Street in downtown Modesto and open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week.