A&W Root Beer

A&W Root Beer still has a thriving presence in the fast food world but as with so many dining landmarks of the past, it ain’t the same. For one thing, they’re no longer drive-ins, at least in California. The last one in the state, which was located way out in Ontario, closed on April 30, 2006. No more car hops bringing you trays of burgers and A&W Root Beer.

When I was a kid, there were two kinds of A&W dining establishments in Los Angeles — the drive-in restaurants and the stands. The stands seemed to be located primarily in the rotten parts of town. As I was then prowling Los Angeles second-hand bookstores in search of old comic books, I often found myself near one. They were cramped little hot dog and burger stands, usually manned by one employee. For a nickel, you could get a frosty cold mug of root beer — and it was a real glass mug, not a paper cup. They also had a pretty good orange drink which cost a dime and which almost no one ordered. I never understood why the orange drink was twice the price of the root beer.

In classier neighborhoods, you had the drive-ins. I remember one out on Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica and another on Sepulveda just south of Venice Boulevard. The standard meal was a burger, fries and root beer. They had Coke and 7-Up and milk shakes but if you asked for one of those, the order-takers acted like you were the first person ever to not want the root beer. The burgers ranged in girth from huge to a kid’s size called the Baby Burger. Some adults liked to order several Baby Burgers and wolf them down like White Castle slyders.

The main thing I recall about drive-in restaurants is how utterly awkward it was to eat a meal that way. The server would bring your order on a tray that hooked onto your car window. It was not easy to get your food on and off this tray and there was much spillage. A lot of people probably lament the passing of the drive-in but I’ll bet not many of them actually went to them. More than once, at least.

71 Responses to A&W Root Beer

  • Paula Doss says:

    I grew up near one in Arcadia, Ca. on First Ave. Just north of Duarte Rd. We used to get a Baby Burger with chili and root beer – my parents would get their appropriately sized – Mama or Papa Burger – whatever they wanted. That was in the 1960’s and I don’t recall when it went out of business or ??
    The last one I went to was a drive-in in Fillmore around 1983 or 1984 – it was a perfectly nostalgic experience that I shared with some friends that had forgotten about the chain. I can’t say I thought the food was as great as when I was a kid – but the root beer was great. Totally enjoyable memory!

  • Edward says:

    Still one that i know of, in Westminster,CA !
    Two still open overseas on this little Island, Okinawa….

    Probably a few more here and there……….

  • Linda Collard says:

    I think the one in Atascadero is still open. There used to be quite a few in Santa Monica, also one of their corporate offices was on Broadway and 9th. The one on Sepulveda was the big one where everyone hung out at on weekend nights!

  • Bill Long says:

    My family moved to Colton from Oceanside in 1966 when I was 8, going on 9. A&W had an honest to goodness restaurant at the southwest corner of Mission Avenue and Hill Street (now Coast Highway) which wasn’t there very long. It had no outside service at all. In Colton, we had an A&W a block east of Colton High School which was very popular because the school was open, the cafeteria was too small for the 2500 students there (I remember they said if we had 300 kids eating lunch there the fire department got a warning call), and we could legitimately eat anywhere we wanted. The A&W was too small for carhop service. It was run by a retired Air Force veteran named George and his Japanese war bride whom we call called Martha. Since we lived near the place, we ate there a lot, even before I went to high school. So sad it’s gone. (The building is still there… it’s now Leno’s Rico Tacos.)

  • Gary says:

    I remember an A&W Root Beer stand in Fillmore Ca. A group of my H.S. buddies and I came out of the adjacent mountains after a week long backpacking trip and we were near starving. We looked at the menu and ordered all sorts of delicious looking food but after a week of eating dried, just add water type food, and not having enough food to eat, I barely got through a burger and I was full. The root beer was great though. I wish I could remember the exact location in Fillmore that restaurant was located.

  • Gary says:

    I’m sorry, I forgot to mention the year above. That visit to the A&W Root Beer stand in Fillmore, Ca. was the spring of 1972 or 1973.

  • Thom says:

    Oh yeah, we would go visit my Grandparents in Sanger, CA. My parents would always stop and take us to the same A&W they went to in high school. WOW!

  • James says:

    The last one I frequented was at the Santa Anita mall in Arcadia around early 2000s.

  • chris pingel says:

    FYI

    They closed the A&W near the Morongo Casino near Palm Springs just his last year. We used to stop there when we were going to and from Palm desert.
    Love their root beer in frosted mugs and the food as well.
    ChrisP

  • Phil Ankofski says:

    Oh well, with the A&W location in Morongo closed, I guess you will just have to hold your appetite until you get to the Ruth Chris Steak House and sit back with a JWB instead. Ask for it in a frosted mug ! tee hee.
    Fillet.

  • Brian Cozad says:

    My parents owned the A&W in 29 Palms from 1965-1980. I grew up there flipping burgers & cooking fries. We got a lot of business from traffic going to and from the Colorado River, as well as from the local Marine Corps Base. Sadly, the building is now a bar. As I remember, the corporate headquarters back then was in Santa Monica (it’s now in Lexington, KY). There’s still an A&W in Mentone (on Hwy. 38 east of Redlands, on the way to Big Bear).

  • Jon Athens says:

    There was an A&W drive in Healdsburg Ca since I was a kid. It remained a Drive -in still about the time my Daughter was 10-11 years of age, which would have made it 1997-98 or so. It had the window trays at least until that time. I am not sure when they stopped but they still had the glass mugs and the family burgers. They are still there today but the building looks different some and it is a walk up and sit down now. Have lots of memories of that A&W. Great place and good burgers, at least then.

  • CPH says:

    Apparently the one in Upland (Foothill/Mountain) has shut down for good.

    That one wasn’t bad, but I remember going to one in Lancaster (CA) in the mid-1990s, sometime after the Northridge earthquake. I forget exactly where it was, but it was on the corner where the Antelope bus to Santa Clarita and the San Fernando Valley stopped.

    Not only did they serve root beer in real glass mugs, but each mug had been dipped in root beer and put in the freezer, so when you got your drink, it stayed really cold throughout your meal. I don’t remember much about the food–burgers and fries were pretty good, but not necessarily remarkable…

  • Fred Ruf says:

    Nothing like root beer out of a keg. Oh and the one in Santa Monica was on Wilshire and Lincoln, what do you think that property is worth today?

  • Lenita says:

    They still have one in Lodi CA and I think even La Habra CA. Their Root Beer freezes were to die for! I loved their hamburgers too! Our hang out was on Pacific Coast Highway in Walteria Ca, which is reall just part of Torrance.

  • Pat Wagner says:

    There was an A&W on Hawthorne Blvd in Inglewood, CA.
    Can anyone tell me the cross street? When I was in College (Santa Monica College, or Santa Monica City College as it was known then, SMCC in the early 60’s) we used to go there A LOT! I’d like to Google Earth it and see what the intersection looks like today.
    Thanks……..

  • William Peterson says:

    @Pat Wagner: I too frequented the A&W on Hawthorne (I also attended SMCC in the mid-’60s). I don’t recall the cross street (140th?) but I do remember the following:

    -Cruising “The Boulevard” (Hawthorne) from the A&W to the Wich Stand on Slauson and back again all night or until we either picked up girls or got into a race.

    -The Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun” (“driving through the hamburger stand now ….”), the hamburger stand being the A&W.

    -Papa burgers, Mama burgers and Baby burgers.

    -On Friday and Saturday “Date Nights,” lines of cars a half-mile long on Hawthorne waiting for a spot to open up in the A&W.

    -Memories play funny tricks as you get older, but to me, the A&W Papa burger remains one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

  • John Hindsill says:

    It is good to see that some folks here are alums of SMCC. I attended off and on from summer night session 1957, through nights and summers 1959. I attended full time 1959/60 before transferring to university (with probably the lowest acceptable GPA ever, but that’s another story.) As I recall reg fees were $10!/semester for a full load of 12-16 units. My most expensive book was probably about $10+/-.
    I still have a fondness for the Corsairs.

  • Douglas Howard says:

    Come up to Canada where you’ll find A&W thriving. They were in decline here until they brought back the Burger Family. Better than The big 3 McDonalds Burger King and Wendy’s

  • Bill B says:

    We used to eat at the big A & W in Bellflower. It was a huge cruising hang out. There is still an A&W in Mentone on Highway 38. A buddy of mine ate there the other day and loved the Root Beer float

  • Joy Byerley says:

    I had my very first submarine sandwich at A&W probably 50 years ago it had a taste it was so delicious I wish I could find the menu or find someone who could tell me for certain what kind of meat and cheese and condiments was on that sub. I have never tasted that taste again since A & W has left or changed its food. Oh gosh just to have those subs again …. And I have tried subs all over but none have that taste whatever it was….

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