How To Visit America’s First Fast Food Restaurants

There’s no need to hop in a time machine to visit America’s first fast food restaurants and their museums! While some of America’s original fast food locations have been demolished, moved, or updated – you’ll be surprised to learn that quite a few of them are still standing. Some of the locations have been preserved while others have been turned into food museums you can visit for a blast from the past.

So if you’re just looking for fast food museums or want to see where Taco Bell started – here’s a few ideas to plan your first fast food restaurants road trip!

1. McDonald’s

1398 N. E. Street, San Bernardino, CA 92405

where is the original mcdonalds
The original site of McDonald’s is located in San Bernardino, California along Route 66

As a road trip lover, you may have wondered, can you visit the original McDonalds? The short answer is yes. The better answer is – sort of. The original location of the first McDonald’s restaurant is now a shrine to the fast food chain that has absolutely no affiliation with the McDonald’s corporation. If you remember your McDonald’s history, the original founding brothers didn’t give up their original site when they sold out to Ray Croc. Croc was so infuriated that he opened a brand new McDonalds down the street from store #1 – and put the brother’s location out of business.

Inside is a wild museum of Happy Meal toys, props from The Founder (the film about Ray Croc and the McDonald brothers starring Michael Keaton) and even some of the original kitchen equipment used when the fast food restaurant debuted. Any child of the 1980s will appreciate the vintage McDonalds playground equipment sitting outside of the museum.

2. Pizza Hut

2090 Innovation Blvd. Wichita, KS 67208

first fast food restaurants
The first Pizza Hut was a tiny brick building in Wichita, Kansas

The original Pizza Hut restaurant is located on the campus of Wichita State University. The tiny brick building was moved from its original location to serve as a Pizza Hut museum and homage to the restaurants two co-founders. Like McDonalds, Pizza Hut began with two brothers – Dan and Frank Carney who served up pizzas to their college buddies back in the day in awful close quarters.

Inside the Pizza Hut Museum is a collection of restaurant history, videos, and even the handwritten recipe for their homemade pizza sauce.

I featured the museum in my travel guide: Finding The American Dream – A Guided Tour of Places Where Americans Changed History.

3. Kentucky Fried Chicken

688 US-25W, Corbin, KY 40701

The original Kentucky Fried Chicken

Some will argue that the original Kentucky Fried Chicken is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. But, that’s actually where the first KFC franchise was located. (That building is no longer standing. A more modern version was constructed in 2004 and now features a small museum.)

If you want to visit one of the original fast food restaurants, the spot where KFC got its started – Sanders Cafe in Corbin, Kentucky is where the famous recipe was developed and sold to patrons who traveled down the highway or stayed at a hotel Sanders owned across the street. The original location burnt down but was rebuilt in 1940. Sanders sold the Cafe in 1956 to focus on franchising.

4. In-N-Out

13766 Francisquito Ave, Baldwin Park, CA 91706

first fast food restaurant

The original In-N-Out restaurant was built in Baldwin Park, California back in 1948. One of the first fast food restaurants in America, the original was torn down to make way for Interstate 10. Lucky for us – the company created an exact replica of the first In N Out location and it’s in a word – adorable! I had the chance to visit on a recent California road trip and it was really neat to see in person!

While it’s not a museum in the traditional sense – the building is manned by a staff member during limited hours to answer questions or share In N Out history.

5. Waffle House

2719 E. College Avenue, Decatur, GA 30030

Located on the exact site where the first Waffle House restaurant was opened in 1955. The Waffle House Museum includes a replica of the first restaurant and is full of memorabilia. The hours are wonky and unless you happen to be in the Atlanta area on a Wednesday, good luck getting inside. If you can get there on a Wednesday at 11am or 1pm, they have a reservation system for private tours.

6. Chick Fil-A

461 North Central, Hapeville, GA. 30354

fast food restaurant original locations

Chick Fil A is another fast food chain that began in the Atlanta metro area and its corporate offices remain there today. Did you know there’s a backstage tour that die hard fans can take at the corporate office? You must buy tickets online in advance through the corporate website.

The Dwarf Grill, where founder Truett Cathy invented what would become Chick Fil-A’s famous chicken sandwich was located in Hapeville, Georgia. The building was recently renovated but still sits on the original site.

7. Krispy Kreme

259 S Stratford Rd., Winston-Salem, NC 27103

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are a gift to the world from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and that’s exactly where you’ll find Krispy Kreme’s first location. You can visit the drive through of store #101 anytime – but you can also tour the location as well by calling the location and scheduling one.

The size of the location is much larger than a normal franchise location – and includes a special kitchen where they bake 24/7. Keep an eye out for that “hot doughnuts” light in the window!

8. Wendy’s

4555 W. Dublin Granville Rd. Dublin, OH 43017

The original Wendy’s location was at 257 East Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio. Unfortunately, they closed the doors back in 2007. The good news is – all of the artifacts inside were sent to the flagship store in nearby Dublin, Ohio. Visitors can pop in to pose for a photo with a Dave Thomas statue, see the original employee uniforms, or the griddle used to make the famous square burgers back in the day!

The store is located directly across from the Wendy’s corporate headquarters.

9. Taco Bell

The first Taco Bell being lifted from its original location for a move to corporate headquarters in Irvine, California.

In 2022, the original Taco Bell faced impending demolition due to a construction project in its hometown of Downey, California. The first restaurant, which closed in 1986, was saved from the wrecking ball and has since been moved to the Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine. Here, Taco Bell fans will be able to eventually visit the chain’s first restaurant.

10. Burger King

7146 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32216

Originally opened as “Insta-Burger King” in 1953, the popular fast food chain began on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. Though it’s no longer a Burger King, most of the original building is still intact. Today, it’s a Mexican grocery store and restaurant called La Favorita.

Miami is currently where Burger King is headquartered and the city where the famous Whopper was invented.

11. Hooters

2800 Gulf To Bay Blvd Clearwater, FL 33759

The famous chicken wing chain started in Clearwater, Florida back in 1983. The history of the franchise is quite entertaining. Some of the early relics of the chain are displayed on the wall along with the original Hooters chicken mascot. The original building has been modified with an addition. The wall of photos near the kitchen shows the many celebrities that have stopped by over the years.

12. Whataburger

While the original site of Whataburger is no longer standing in Corpus Christi, Texas – a replica of the building is on display at 4126 S. Staples Blvd near an existing Whataburger location. One of the classic first fast food restaurants in America!

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