We’re not into July, and now you’re able once again to climb aboard a train car at Circus World in Baraboo, tour Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, or immerse yourself in 19th century crafts and activities at Old World Wisconsin.
Nine Wisconsin State Historical Sites officially reopened July 1st, with some policy changes as a result of COVID-19. Advance reservations will be required for admission to tours and events, social distancing and limited capacity guidelines will be followed, and masks are strongly encouraged; they’ll even provide them on-site.
The 9 sites opening July 1st include:
Black Point Estate & Gardens, Lake Geneva: You can tour Black Point by using the Lake Geneva Cruise Line (262-248-6206), and you can book private picnics by calling 262-248-1888 to register. U.S. 12 and Highway 50 and 120 bring you town.
Circus World, Baraboo: While live performances are being scrapped for 2020, walking tours will be available. You can reserve a time by calling (608) 356-8341. It’s right along Highway 113 in Baraboo; U.S. 12 and Highways 33 and 136 also bring you to the city.
H.H. Bennett Studio, Wisconsin Dells: This beautiful and historic studio will be open for walking tours by appointment, as well as the Tintype Experience. Call (608) 253-3523 and then follow I-90/94, U.S. 12, or Highways 13, 16, or 23 to get to the Dells.
Madeline Island Museum, La Pointe: Open for walking tours, reserve your spot at (715) 747-2415. Follow Highway 13 to Bayfield and get a spot on the Madeline Island Ferry, (715) 747-2051, to get to Madeline Island (and check out Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, too!)
Old World Wisconsin, Eagle: This large complex of 19th century history will be open for small-group experiences. Make a reservation at (262) 594-6301 and then follow Highway 67 south of Eagle. Highway 59 approaches 67 from the north, and U.S. 12 and Highway 20 approach nearby from the south.
Stonefield, Cassville: Stonefield will be open for self-guided tours, but you still need to reserve a time by calling (608) 725-5210. Highways 81 and 133 lead you to Cassville.
Villa Louis, Prairie du Chien: The mansion and grounds, which also includes historic Fort Crawford, will accommodate private tours and walking tours. Call (608) 326-2721. U.S. 18 and Highways 27, 35, and 60 all bring you to PDC.
Wade House, Greenbush: The Historic Wade House will offer special events and workshops, reserve your spot by calling (920) 526-3271. It’s just south of Highway 23 in Sheboygan County.
Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison: Located right on campus across from the UW Memorial Union, the museum will be open for walking tours. Call (608) 264-6555 to make your reservation. U.S 151 is the closest state highway, but following University Avenue to Park Street (or using the Lake/Frances parking ramps a few blocks to the east) will be your best bet.
Some places remain closed, including the First Capitol Site in Belmont, Pendarvis in Mineral Point, and the Reed School in Neillsville.
Wisconsin Historical Society members are being asked to pay full price for events this summer to help the society cope with “a serious financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic,” but they will receive a free admission pass for 2021, even if they do not renew their memberships.
You can also enjoy virtual events throughout the summer. Have fun and go explore, safely!
Hitting the open road is always awesome – but so is the time-honored tradition of watching a movie at the drive-in. A staple of the 1950s into the 1970s, drive-in movie theaters have fallen on hard times over the last few decades, but these places continue to offer the experience, with updates. Some are older and traditional, some are newer “pop-ups”; all provide a fun experience in the great Wisconsin outdoors… from in your vehicle.
The Stardust two-screen drive-in in Chetek wasted no time at all opening back up, having done so in mid-May. They show movies seven nights a week! One screen leans towards family-friendly fare and the more adult-oriented movies, like horror thrillers and the like, play on the other screen. Gates open at 6:30pm and movies typically start around 8:40pm. Ticket prices are $8.50 for adults (13 and up) and $4.50 for children, ages 5-12. The Orbit is a playground and train ride area for kids, but it’s still shut down for now. They ask that everyone park six feet apart and stay in their cars unless it’s to get concessions or use the restroom. However, because of the current trends, they are allowing you to sit on your car to watch the films, provided you maintain social distancing with others. Hey, baby steps, right??
Of particular note is THIS weekend at the Stardust, when they have their “Back to the 50s Drive-In Car Show and Movies” nights Friday and Saturday, the 19th and 20th of June. Vehicles 1975 or older (1964 on back in particular) are welcomed for the Car Show. Music from the 1950s era will play across the theater grounds, and the movies American Graffiti and Grease will be shown. You can tickets and more info here!
River’s Edge offers a 56-foot digital screen with weekend matinees starting at 5pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and evening double features at 8pm Friday and Saturday nights. Well-behaved pets are allowed; dogs must be leashed if they are outside your vehicle. Grills aren’t allowed – we never even thought of bringing one – but it says on their site they’re working on ways to allow them in (BBQ, anyone??) Gates open an hour before each show, and they accept cash and credit cards for both admission and concessions. You can buy tickets in advance, too.
The Big Sky is located just southeast of Wisconsin Dells, right where Highways 16 and 127 meet up. Two full-sized screens play 2-for-1 first-run feature films. It opens at 7:30pm and movies begin around dusk. Well-behaved pets are welcomed. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for kids under 11. Two other things of note: 1) Bring cash, because The Big Sky does not take credit or debit cards; and 2) Bring lots of cash, because you’ll probably want to try their famous Big Mamaburger, the featured culinary delight from their concession stand!
The Skyway, right along good ol’ Highway 42, is Door County’s classic drive-in. It opened back in 1950 and has hung on ever since, keeping up the quality and offering FM radio for audio reception as well as some remaining classic speakers for your car in the first few rows. Pets are welcome, as long as they behave – but I suspect that goes for humans, too. Tickets are $9 for people 12 and up, $5 for kids ages 5-11. Bring cash (they don’t take cards, either) for the movies and the concession stand, where they offer all the basics along with some fun stuff like foot-long hot dogs and ice cream novelties. Starting this Friday (June 12th), they’ll be open nightly.
“Moonlight” is the name for the retro-style outdoor movies shown at the Shawano Cinema, which offers indoor movies all year ’round and the drive-in option when weather permits, and right now most of the time, it permits. Tickets are a great deal for a double feature, $8 for adults and $3 for kids. The Moonlight Outdoor Theater offers double-features Thursday through Sunday. Movies generally start a little after dusk, currently around 8:45pm.
Big on puns but believing if they built it, they would come, Field of Scenes opened in 2003 right along Highway 55 in Freedom, just north of Kaukauna and I-41. and having opened in 2003, Field of Scenes features two screens and double features; tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for kids 11 and under. There has been a $20 carry-in fee since they weren’t selling concessions due to COVID-19, but you were able to carry in (almost) whatever you wanted. However, the concession stand has partially reopened, so that mandatory fee has been dropped. There’s been some question as to whether people can still pay the $20 fee and bring in a bunch of their own food and drink; we scanned their Facebook page and at last check we don’t know for sure. Also, while their COVID-19 rules currently bar you from enjoying these amenities, Field of Scenes normally also offers two playgrounds, a basketball court and a volleyball court to keep kids occupied before the movies start.
A 2012 addition to the state’s drive-in lineup, the Chilton Twilight Outdoor Theater is usually open Wednesdays through Sundays (weather permitting, of course) for double features. During non-social-distancing times, they also offer a mini-golf course. They’ve been back open and showing movies since mid-May (Thursday night features Onward followed by Call of the Wild), and this weekend live music precedes the flicks!
Just south of Monroe on Highway 69, you’ll find the Sky-Vu, a sister theater for the Goetz in downtown Monroe. The Sky-Vu has weathered all kinds of conditions since 1954 and is about to kick off its 66th season. They’ve been fully digital since 2012, the concession stand is open, and they’re welcoming cash-paying guests – they don’t take cards either – starting Friday night, June 12th. They bill themselves as “where the stars come to play at night”; gates open at 7:15 Friday and Saturday night, 7:45pm on Sunday night.
Highway 18 Outdoor Theater, Jefferson
W6423 US Highway 18 (and Highway 89), Jefferson (920) 674-6700 highway18.com Billing itself as “Wisconsin’s First Digital Cinema Drive-In,” the Highway 18 technically opened for the season on Wednesday, June 10th but the weather didn’t cooperate. The weather should cooperate through the weekend, and the Highway 18 Outdoor is offering two-for-one movie nights for $10 for adults, $6 for children ages 5-11 and $8 for seniors over 65 along with duty military personnel. Unlike several of these drive-ins, the Highway 18 Outdoor does accept credit cards. No checks… but who writes checks now? Admission to the grounds begins at 6:30pm Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm Sundays through Thursdays. For audio, you have the choice of the old-school speakers or listening on a low power FM station. The neon retro sign beckons you in, right along U.S. 18 and Highway 89, just west of Highway 26 bypass of Jefferson. Upcoming films in later weeks/weekends include Grease, The Warriors, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Up In Smoke, the Bad News Bears, Saturday Night Fever, Chicken Run, Psycho, Mulan, Back to the Future, American Graffiti, and Animal House. They do have some specific COVID-19 policies, see them on their website. Also, the group Titan Fun Key made a video about the Highway 18 Outdoor. See it here:
While Warner Park in Madison – famously known as the “Duck Pond” – sits empty due to the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League not playing any games, it serves instead as a “pop-up” drive-in for the Madison area. At the Duck Pond Drive-In, you can $25 per car for one or two people total, $40 per car for three people or more. The movies are shown on a large digital screen inside the ballpark. You’ll find Warner Park just off Highway 113 on the north side of Madison.
Just off Highway 36 in the southern Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, The Milky Way is a “pop-up” drive-in, showing movies in the parking lot of the stadium where the relatively new Northwoods League baseball team, the Milwaukee Milkmen, play. this new drive-in hotspot costs $35 per vehicle per movie, bring however many people you want in the vehicle. Carhops can deiver food and beverages from the food trucks around, as well as the concession stands that would normally serve baseball fans. An app will allow you to order food and drinks, as well as listen to the movie’s audio (outdoor speakers and an FM station option also provide the sound.) Movies should continue at The Milky Way through Labor Day weekend.
Marcus Majestic Parking Lot Cinema
Marcus Majestic in Brookfield 770 Springdale Rd., Waukesha (262) 798-4099 marcustheatres.com
Okay, it doesn’t call itself a “drive-in,” but it IS a pop-up drive-in, similar in concept to the Milky Way. These are movies shown outside the Marcus Majestic movie theater in Waukesha, which has pivoted to showing movies outside while the cinema inside remains closed. Dubbed “parking lot cinema,” the big screen outside offers double features that begin with the first film around sundown – they ask that you arrive 45 minutes prior to the first movie starts. Audio is provided via FM radio and an app offers online ordering for concessions and snacks. Tickets are also online-only and cost $30 per carload on weekends, $25 on weekdays.
Red, White & Blue: Flag Day and its founding in Waubeka, Wisconsin
A lot of historic events have taken place in Wisconsin; the state has a lot of firsts. But did you know it had the first Flag Day? To find out more, I headed to Ozaukee County via I-43 and Highway 57 to Fredonia. A quick jog west on County H brings you to Waubeka, a friendly little unincorporated community. Hugging the Milwaukee River, this tiny burg is the national birthplace of Flag Day. And they celebrate this fact every year with a parade and plenty of other events.
On June 14, 1885, a grade school teacher at Stony Hill School named Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand held the first recognized formal Flag Day observance with his students. He continued the tradition annually before making his way to Chicago and becoming dean of the University of Illinois-Chicago. By 1916, he had persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to officially proclaim June 14th as Flag Day in the United States. Stony Hill School has been restored and is home to the National Flag Day Foundation. You can find it by following County I from County H. You can not only check out the charming old schoolhouse, but on the grounds flag of all 50 U.S. states and more fly in the wind. The school is atop a hill (a stony one, hence the name), so you can count on wind pretty frequently there.
Stony Hill School, where Flag Day began in 1885.
The National Flag Day Americanism Center in Waubeka, not far from Stony Hill School.
Back in the center of Waubeka, all 27 star configurations of the U.S. flag are on display at the National Flag Day Foundation Americanism Center. They depict the flag through history as states were added and outline major events as each new flag configuration was commissioned. The Center’s artifacts in multiple rooms trace many aspects of U.S. history.
Every June 14th or on the Saturday prior, Waubeka celebrates its status as the founding point of Flag Day with a festival, parade, and ceremony. I happened upon it in 2017 while driving a sweet pickup courtesy of Soerens Ford in Brookfield. See the video here for some of that!
Waubeka is a small town near Fredonia in Ozaukee County, about 40 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. I-43 and Highways 32 and 57 bring you close, follow county A west from Highway 57 at Fredonia and signs will guide you to Stony Hill School and downtown Waubeka. Pretty countryside, hills, and the Milwaukee River will also greet you as you navigate this pleasant area northwest of Port Washington.
Wisconsin Drive-Ins mean some delicious treats on a tray or at a picnic table. Eating in your car makes it safer during these times, too!
If you love Wisconsin road trips, you probably love Wisconsin drive-ins. The American classic place to pull in, order tasty fare – often from a car hop, sometimes on skates – and eat in your car off a tray hanging on your window or at a picnic table with tasty burgers, fries, onion rings, ice cream or custard, malts, shakes, and whatnot. Thousands upon thousands of drive-ins populated the country in their heyday, and Wisconsin had many. A&W Root Beer stands were popular and still love on in various towns across the country, while the Sonic chain has brought the concept back in many other locales.
But here in Wisconsin, we love the independent drive-ins that survive, many of which are family-owned businesses going back generations. It’s May, and many of these places are re-opening as it’s determined to be proper. The nice part with a drive-in is, you can follow proper social distancing guidelines and other safety measures as you enjoy your food and drinks. Here are 20+ Wisconsin Drive-Ins across the state to try!
Chester’s cheeseburger, fried mushrooms, and a chocolate malt. It immediately became one of our favorites.
Chester’s Drive-In, Plymouth
1504 Eastern Avenue (County C, old Highway 23) Plymouth, WI 53073 (920) 892-7722 Facebook page
Chester’s Drive-In, an addition to our original article, deserves to be among the top! A family business since the 1970s, Chester’s Drive-In has friendly car hops and a nice variety on their menu, which is tucked into the top of the metal roof that cars park (partially) under. They’re known for great cheeseburgers (the bakery buns hold all the toppings in nicely) and their root beer. On a visit, we went for the malt and it was fantastic. They offer fries, rings, and a variety of sides – including fried mushrooms, which just seemed to hit the spot that day. Chester’s is open April through October. You’ll find it right along County C/Eastern Avenue on the east side of Plymouth. This is the “old” Highway 23, with Highway 57 less than a mile to the east, the current Highway 23 expressway less than a mile to the north, and Highway 67 less than a mile to the west in downtown.
Gilles’ Frozen Custard & Drive-In
918 S. Main Street (Highway 175) Fond du Lac, WI 54935 (920) 922-4900 Website
Gilles has been open for 70 seasons, starting back when this stretch of Main Street was the original U.S. 41 into town! Still family-owned and operated after all these decades, they still offer car hop service and serve up a variety of good drive-in fare. A Gillieburger – their “secret recipe” Sloppy Joe-style sandwich – still runs only $2.50. Other burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches are complemented by sides including crinkle-cut fries, fried white cheddar cheese curds, and creamy mac & cheese (only “in season”, for some reason.) And of course, with “Frozen Custard” in the name, you can imbibe in a huge variety of custard or ice cream-laden shakes, malts, cones, slushies, and more with all kinds of malts and extra flavor topping options including grasshopper, butterscotch, pineapple, banana, and caramel.
Quite notable about Gilles’ in Fond du Lac is that they typically open for the spring in February. In 2019, they opened on February 9th. That’s some hearty work for the car hops, cooks, and customers! Warm them up by stopping in and tipping well.
You’ll find Gilles’ Frozen Custard easily along Main Street on the south side of Fond du Lac, just past the northern end of Highway 175 and just north of I-41 and the U.S. 151 bypass. From I-41 northbound, Exit U.S. 151 west and then Highway 175/Main Street north, it’s about 1.5 miles to the north. From I-41 southbound, Exit Hickory St., cut north to Pioneer Road, east to Main Street, and then north briefly on Main. Then, as they say, “Turn your lights on for service.”
Complete with 45rpm records and memorabilia adorning the walls, the Drive-In in Grantsburg opened in 1956 and continues its heritage with signs like its root beer float along Highway 70. Their burgers and grilled sandwiches, crinkle-cut fries and onion rings, fried cheese curds, milkshakes, and root beer are among the tops in NW Wisconsin; it’s also a popular draw for Twin Cities travelers and car culture enthusiasts. Dine-in service is available all year, with the outdoor drive-in bays open seasonally. Discover Wisconsin featured The Drive-In on an episode exploring drive-ins in the state. And being right near the state line, it’s one of the more popular Wisconsin drive-ins for Minnesotans to come try. You’ll find The Drive-In in Grantsburg along Highway 70 in Burnett County, within sight of where Highways 48 and 87 end (it’s as if all roads in the area lead to it!) They do, by the way, have a sister drive-in in Taylor Falls, Minnesota, just over the river from St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, via U.S. 8. Just in case you find yourself there, too!
Hager Heights Drive-In, Hager Heights
7866 170th Avenue (U.S. 63 & Highway 35) Hager City, WI 54014 (715) 792-2118 Facebook page
Famous particularly for broasted chicken, Hager Heights draws in people from nearby Red Wing, MN, Ellsworth, Twin Cities area travelers, and people heading up and down the Great River Road. This drive-in is perched right where U.S. 63 and Highway 35 meet, about a mile east of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin’s beautiful Driftless Area. Hager Heights Drive-In is typically open from early April to the end of September and has a series of bays for cars, bikes, and trucks to park under while being served their signature items. Along with the broasted chicken (a large fiberglass chicken out front should make the entrance easy to spot), Hager Heights does up the quintessential burgers, fries, rings, shakes, and more for hungry travelers.
Gup’s Drive-In, Augusta
607 W. Lincoln Street (U.S. 12/Highway 27) Augusta, WI 54722 (715) 286-2838 Facebook Page
Gup’s Drive-In, which was called Tep’s for a long time until 2016. Same great food, service, and fun drive-in atmosphere, though!
Gup’s Drive-In has been around a long time, though the name is fairly new. Before 2016 is was Tep’s Drive-In, and it originally stood as an A&W stand. Gup’s still does it old-schoolthough, with car hops bring your food and drinks on trays that hang off your window. They’re known especially for their onion rings, fried curds, steak sandwiches and burgers, ice cream, and even good salads (not a typical shout-out for a drive-in!) Gup’s is open seasonally from mid-May to late September. You’ll find its unmistakable sign and roof line right along U.S. 12 & Highway 27 in the heart of Augusta.
Milty Wilty Drive-In, Wautoma
W7411 Highway 73 Wautoma, WI 54982 (920) 787-2300 Website
Opened on June 11, 1947, the Milty Wilty serves up classic fare indoors and out during the warm weather months (generally May-September) along Highways 21 & 73 approaching Wautoma, near the brief Highway 152. Still a family business and now in its 4th generation, the milkshake machines hum, cones fill with ice cream and custard, and burgers sizzle. The Milty Wilty also introduced the “pizza pie” to the area when it first opened, and the pizza burger is one of their most popular items. Dine in, or pull to a space and get served by a car hop; you can even enjoy some mini-golf on their adjacent course. They offer “Cruise Nights” on Thursdays if you want to admire some true classic cars and street rods, a popular feature at many of the classic Wisconsin drive-ins.
Mullin’s Short Stop, Columbus
641 N. Ludington Street (Highway 73/historic US 151) Columbus, WI 53925 (920) 623-2080 Faceboook page
Mullins Short Stop along Highway 73 (photo credit: TripAdvisor user DuaneB.)
Mullin’s Short Stop opened as Brown’s Drive-In during the 1950s, when this stretch was not only Highway 73 but also part of U.S. 151, the main road from SW to NE Wisconsin. A bypass around Columbus completed in 1976 cut traffic a bit, but the Drive-In held on thanks to loyal customers from in and around the town. Brown’s became Mullin’s around that time and continues to delight burgers, fries, and shakes lovers to this day. Car hops offer service right to your car, but no trays… you get your food and drinks in their own bags and containers, perfect for whether you’re eating right there, or taking it home. Mullin’s is open from mid-May through Labor Day, and watch for the occasional classic car show!
Ardy & Ed’s Drive-In, Oshkosh
2413 S. Main Street (U.S. 45) Oshkosh, WI 54902 (920) 231-5455 Website
Roller skating car hops and food on a tray with a view of Lake Winnebago and 50s & 60s tunes playing outside. That, along with delicious classic American food, has been drawing people to here since 1948 – some of whom arrive by boat. Located right along U.S. 45 on the south side of Oshkosh, Ardy & Ed’s began as an A&W stand and went independent in 1972 with its new name. Being one of the oldest Wisconsin drive-ins, Ardy & Ed’s celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018. They have a jingle too; you can hear that and see more here:
Annie’s Burgertown, Elkhorn
645 N. Lincoln Street (just off Highway 67) Elkhorn, WI 53121 (262) 723-3250 Website
Annie’s serves year-round and has some limited inside seating. They also deliver to the area and even offer catering, but summer is when they’re the classic drive-in, with car hop service and picnic tables around the grounds if you prefer to sit outside. Their burgers are fantastic and their “homemade root beer” is locally legendary – they’ve been known for both for over 50 years. Annie’s offers pizza on its menu too, and serves it up from their Pizza Wagon at the Walworth County Fair and Elkhorn Flea Market. But pulling up to a spot at Annie’s for car hop service is when it’s our favorite. You’ll find Annie’s right off Highway 67 at Lincoln Street. It’s on the north side of Elkhorn, south of the U.S. 12 freeway and north of both I-43 and Highway 11. Definitely worth the stop!
Billed as the “Best Root Beer in Waukesha since 1937,” John’s started in a different location and – with a stop or two in between – this original building opened in its current location in 1962. It was an A&W root beer stand until 1974, when then-owner John Nelson chose not to install a grill per A&W’s request, and he took it independent. Today, John’s focuses on highly-prized homemade root beer, hot dogs, sides like fries and onion rings, and sandwiches ranging from pulled BBQ pork to brats – but no hamburgers. John’s doesn’t have car hops or trays upon which to serve food, but they are loved for generations for their traditional menu. Hot dogs range from straight-up Plain Dogs to Nacho/Bacon Dogs, Sloppy Dogs, Slaw Dogs, and more. Malts, ice cream concoctions, and a seasonal menu that brings in fish fries, chili, and more become available through the winter. For you see, John’s is open year-’round. You’ll find John’s Drive-In northeast of downtown Waukesha along Arcadian Avenue (Highway 59 for a long time), just west of the Les Paul Parkway, today’s Highway 59/164. They’re not only open all year, but seven days a week – all starting at 11am.
Leon’s Frozen Custard, Milwaukee
3131 S. 27th Street (Highway 241, Historic U.S. 41) Milwaukee, WI 53215 (414) 383-1784 Website
Considered by many to be the quintessential American drive-in, and perhaps part of the inspiration for Mel’s Drive-In in American Graffiti and Arnold’s in Happy Days, Leon’s has been in operation since 1942. An early 1950s remodel adding the fluorescent lights and neon signs gave Leon’s its current look. To this day, Leon’s serves some of the highest-rated frozen custard in the country along great malts, shakes, floats, and sundaes. They don’t have car hops and they don’t serve burgers (although Mazo’s across the street dates back to 1934 and has awesome ones), but Leon’s does serve tasty hot dogs, chili dogs, and a Spanish hamburger, which like a spicy sloppy joe. On a warm summer night, expect quite a crowd in line and in the parking lot along this 27th Street location. It’s currently Wisconsin Highway 241, but was once U.S. 41 and the main road in from Chicago – one of the reasons Leon’s drew so much traffic and became so widely known.
Wayne’s wasn’t around in the 1950s & 60s, but it sure seems like it. The building is 12-sided – technically a dodecagon – and dates back to the early 70s. The building previously served as a snowmobile shop, a storage facility, and a furniture refinishing shop before it became one of our favorite Wisconsin drive-ins, becoming Wayne’s Drive-In in 1998. The classic burgers and shakes, ice cream, skating car hops, and overall vibe draw people from all over SE Wisconsin. Corvette Cruise Nights run select Wednesdays, Classic Cruise Nights run select Thursdays. Wayne’s is open every day from 11am to 9pm during the season, which generally runs from early April through early November.
The Kiltie, Oconomowoc
N48W36154 Wisconsin Avenue (Historic U.S. 16) Oconomowoc, WI 53066 (262) 567-2648 Facebook page
A classic since 1948 with post-war architecture, the smiling Scotsman logo, and car hops in plaid Scottish skirts, The Kiltie keeps bringing customers – and employees – back decade after decade. Their classic burgers, onion rings, sundaes, malts and other essentials are second to none, in part because everything seems to taste better when served on an aluminum tray. You want custard? Your choices are simple: chocolate, vanilla, or a twist of the two; no flavors of the day here. The car hops like to have fun, too: some refresh people with water guns on hot days, and when business is slow frisbees may fly around the parking lot.
Located along old U.S. 16 on the east end of Oconomowoc, The Kiltie also nestles up against the current Highway 16 freeway, easily accessible via the County P exit a little bit east of Highway 67. The neon signs that mark this classic are visible from either road and beckon you to the numerous pull-in spots for your car so the hops can get your order. The Kiltie is open from April through October.
A Kiltie Burger, clearly with onions, in Oconomowoc along Highway 16.
The Spot, Kenosha
2117 75th Street Kenosha, WI 53143 (262) 654-9294 Website
Opening on July 4, 1945, The Spot is a true classic. It’s one of the oldest surviving drive-ins in the country, and certainly one of the oldest of the Wisconsin drive-ins. They still make their own homemade root beer and have been hitting home runs with burgers, fries, onion rings, and shakes since World War II (in fact, one of their big challenges was getting supplies, since the war was still going on.) Their menu is much larger now, including mini-tacos, perch, chicken wings, and cheesecake, but the traditions hold true with car hops and the iconic neon sign on the corner.
The Spot was once also the intersection of Highways 50 & what used to be Highway 174, which came in from the south for Chicago travelers, making it once a primary intersection in Kenosha for travelers looking to head downtown. Today, it’s a little quieter traffic-wise but The Spot still serves as a big draw for any fans of classic drive-ins and fantastic burgers.
Andy’s in Kenosha. The “A” on the top is reminiscent of “Arnold’s”, the fictional drive-in from the TV show “Happy Days.”
Andy’s is a classic drive-in that dates back far into Kenosha’s history, which has always been big on car culture, competing with The Spot nearby. Their Cruise Nights are still immensely popular. Along with serving traditional burgers, fries, shakes, and other drive-in fare, Andy’s dishes up well-loved breakfasts too, and opens early: 6am Monday-Friday and 7am on weekends. It’s right along Roosevelt Road/Highway 50 in Kenosha.
Gus’ Drive-In, East Troy
3131 Main Street, County ES/Historic Highway 15 East Troy, WI 53120 (262) 642-2929 Website
Located along Historic Highway 15 – the main road from Beloit to Milwaukee before I-43 came along – Gus’ Drive-In in East Troy dates back to 2002 but offers the full 1950s vibe. Home of the “Heavy Chevy” Burger, Gus’s is close to Alpine Valley, the East Troy Railroad, and is only minutes from I-43 or Highways 20 and 120. Gus’ features frozen custard – with flavors of the day on their Facebook page – rather than ice cream with a different flavor-of-the-day everyday. They also specialize in Greek gyros and Italian meatballs on top of the classic, where they’re often in the running for “best burger.” Gus’ also features regular Cruisin’ Nights on Saturdays. This is definitely a place to bring your street rod and immerse yourself in that time! In season, Gus’ is open every day from 11am-8pm.
514 S. Water Street (Highways 16 & 21) Sparta, WI 54656 (608) 269-2011 Website
Rudy’s Drive-In opened in La Crosse in 1966, but origins of Rudy go back to an A&W Root Beer stand in Chippewa Falls in 1933. The La Crosse location, and the newer Sparta one, are still owned by the Rudy family. We’re consolidating these two locations into one entry!
Rudy’s features a bright roof to shelter at least part of your vehicle and car hops bringing you the tray of tasty treats. They’re one of the few drive-ins offering gluten-free buns and even some healthy choices like a Turkey Burger and their Historic Trempealeau Hotel Walnut Burger, which we’ve had at the Trempealeau Hotel. It’s a seasoned walnut & cheese patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle and honey mustard on a whole wheat kaiser bun. Not your traditional drive-in food, but it’s certainly a good option for many! On select Cruisin’ Nights, showing up in a classic car or on a classic bike gets you a free root beer float.
A family business since 1965, Charlie’s Drive-In keeps it “homespun,” as they like to say. Tuesday nights are for classic cars (a “Collector” license plate gets you a free mug of root beer), and they have a tributes to Elvis every year on the anniversary week of his passing. Plenty of tunes and a classic menu with a busy fryer keeps things fun and happy at Charlie’s. They are generally open from mid-March through the end of September. You’ll find Charlie’s along Highway 15 (formerly U.S. 45) in Hortonville, about 15 minutes northwest of Appleton.
Home of the “Maxi Burger,” Dick’s Drive-In opened in 1955 along Highway 55 and is open from March 1st – November 30th, which is pretty long season given the weather rarely cooperates for several of those months. However, they generally don’t have car hops – you go inside the little area in front to place your order. You’re welcome to enjoy it in your car in the lot, at a picnic table in the back, or of course to bring it home or eat it on the run. Broiled burgers (the neon is there to remind you of their broiling process), a variety of sandwiches, sides, shakes, slushies, floats, and flurries are all part of their popular menu. To help with flashing back, the interior of Dick’s has stayed essentially the same since the 1950s, keeping it one of the most original of our Wisconsin drive-ins!
Rumble Seats Drive-In, Spring Green
E4851 U.S. Highway 14 Spring Green, WI 53588 (608) 588-2924 Website
A great complement to a drive through the Driftless or a trip to see Taliesin, House on the Rock, Tower Hill State Park, or American Players Theater, Rumble Seats offers the classic 50s-60s feel along with great burgers, chicken, wraps, malts and shakes, and more to satisfy multiple peoples’ palates. Their specialty is their Root Beer Float. You might also want to try the Marilyn Monroe Burger, which features sauteed onions, bacon, Mozzarella & Cheddar cheeses, plus BBQ and their specialty, spicy Rumble sauce with gooey cheese curds!
The Albatross Drive-In, Washington Island
777 Main Road Washington Island, WI 54246 (920) 847-2203 Website
This is the only one of our Wisconsin drive-ins that requires a boat ride first. Once you reach the end of Highway 42 at the tip of the Door County Peninsula, the Washington Island Ferry will take you to County W on Washington Island, where a short ride lets you adjust to “island time” and prep your tummy for a tasty Alby Burger, fries, rings, cheese curds, or ice cream. They make it a point at The Albatross to note that they’re “not fast…but we’re good!” And they definitely are. It’s been around since the 1970s, although the current building only dates back to 2002, a rebuild after a fire. The Albatross generally doesn’t serve you “car hop” style, but you’re welcome to eat in your car in the lot, on the bike you rented on the island, or at the tables outside – some of which are under cover. It’s definitely a nice, relaxed setting where the food is fantastic and nobody is in a hurry… hopefully.
The Albatross sets some ground rules as you prepare to order.
What’s your favorite of the Wisconsin drive-ins?
And there you go: some of our favorite drive-ins in Wisconsin as we road trip around the state. Did we miss one of your favorites? We know that’s quite possible, and that’s cool… because the more great drive-ins we can all know about, the better! It’s why we added Chester’s in Plymouth, Annie’s Burgertown in Elkhorn, and Rumble Seats in Spring Green to our original list. Let us know about other great places (they need to serve food, not just ice cream or custard) in the Comments below, and we’ll be happy to pay your favorite place a State Trunk Tour visit!
As most of the rest of Wisconsin’s State Parks are open and have opened up some restroom facilities (let’s face it, that was needed), get ready to take advantage of “Free Fun Weekend” coming up! This means means NO state park admission stickers, trail passes, or fishing licenses are required Saturday, June 6th or Sunday, June 7th.
• ATV, UTVs, and OHMs are exempt from registration requirements. Resident and non-resident all-terrain vehicle operators do not need a trail pass to ride state ATV trails.
• Visitors are asked to recreate responsibly close to home and practice social distancing.
• All 2020-2021 fishing regulations apply including bag and length limits.
• Due to the public health risk, loaner equipment will not be available. Anglers should bring their own equipment and bait.
• Events such as fishing clinics are canceled.
• All state parks have updated hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
• All group, family and indoor group campsites will remain closed through June 7. The status of events, reservations and camping after June 7 is currently under review.
• Park-goers should remember to take their garbage and recycling home with them as most state parks, forests, and other day-use areas do not have garbage or recycling bins.
• Attractions at which social distancing cannot be achieved are closed at various properties; visit the park notices webpage for information about ongoing closures.
• All other facilities currently closed such as towers, shelters, playgrounds, nature centers, headquarters, entrance stations and concession buildings remain closed to the public.
• Fight the Bite! Ticks are out, and visitors should take precautions to prevent Lyme Disease.
RESTROOMS AND BUILDINGS
• A limited number of day-use area restrooms at parks are now open for public use.
• All other facilities will remain closed, including towers, shelters, playgrounds, nature centers, headquarters, contact stations and concession buildings.
• Attractions where social distancing cannot be achieved will be closed as needed at various properties.
More Craft Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries are opening up this week and weekend
With COVID-19 shutdowns of tap and tasting rooms, brewery, winery, and distillery tours have been non-existent this spring. That’s changing! While social distancing and cleaning/sanitizing rules remain in effect, more of your favorite – and your yet-undiscovered – places that deal in fermentation are re-opening their doors to visitors. Places like G5 Brewing in Beloit, Duesterbeck’s Brewing north of Delavan, the Lone Girl Brewing Company in Waunakee, and Brewfinity Brewing in Oconomowoc have already opened their tap rooms back up. Opening Thursday: Petskull Brewing in Manitowoc, Second Salem Brewing in Whitewater, and Potosi Brewing in Potosi. Open Friday: Thumb Knuckle Brewing along Highway 54 in Luxemburg, Driftless Brewing Company along U.S. 61 in Soldiers Grove, Hubbleton Brewing Company near Waterloo, and 3 Sheeps Brewing in Sheboygan. These are just the ones we know offhand; there are many, many more in the state opening up for indoor beverages and food. Even in the city of Milwaukee, bars and restaurants are being allowed to open to 25% capacity this weekend, so if you want to try Broken Bat Brewing, Lakefront Brewery, Good City Brewing, or any the other dizzying array of craft breweries in Milwaukee, you just might be able to. But you should definitely check with your local (or distant) favorites before heading out! More…
Summerfest 2020 cancelled
One of our favorite festivals in the world, Summerfest in Milwaukee, has decided to cancel outright for 2020. It’s the first time its 50+-year history they’ve done this, but they decided to look ahead and plan for 2021. Details about ticket refunds can be found here, and we’ll track additions to the music lineup in 2021 – four are already committed.
Check out State Trunk Tour Podcasts on the Wisconsin Coastal Food Trail and the Blues history in Ozaukee County! State Trunk Tour founder Eric Paulsen got to talk with Jason Ring of the Manitowoc CVB about the new Wisconsin Coastal Food Trail that offers pathways for exploring everything from farms and cheese factories to breweries, bakeries, wineries, and distilleries in and around the Manitowoc and Two Rivers area (which are reopening again), as well as with Kris Raymond of the Paramount Music Association, about the amazing and little-known history of early Blues and Jazz records being made in Grafton and Port Washington – recordings that helped shape music ever since. Check them both out below: