If Sonic is one of your favorite Oklahoma institutions, then take a pilgrimage out to the site of the first Sonic Drive-In, which is located in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Growing up, we used to go to Sonic every Sunday after church, addicted to their nugget ice and the array of flavors you could add to your drinks.
Today, Sonic has become a nationwide phenomenon, and I’ve stopped in at Sonic from Philadelphia to LA and everywhere in between.
But this fast-food chain is still Oklahoma grown, and you can pop over to the site of the first one!
Below I detail the history of Sonic, what the city of Shawnee has to do with it, and what you’ll find when you visit the first Sonic Drive-In.
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First Sonic Drive-In Map
First Sonic Drive-In Address: 215 N Main Street, Stillwater, OK 74075
Good to know: There are four Sonics in Stillwater, so you need to make sure you make your way to the right one!
Quick History of Sonic Drive-In
Whenever you mention that Stillwater has the first Sonic Drive-In, someone will chime in that the first Sonic was in Shawnee, Oklahoma. And, well, yes, that’s true…but it’s complicated.
The first Top-Hat, the predecessor to Sonic, was opened by Troy Smith Sr in an old root beer stand in Shawnee in 1953.
Smith Sr made several innovations to the basics hamburger drive-thru experience, as well as taking influences from other restaurants.
He added radio technology to allow customers to park and order from their cars, something he first saw in use in Louisiana.
He also added a canopy above the stalls to protect the cars from the weather as well as carhops on roller skates to add fun vibes.
These three major additions to the basic drive-in fast-food restaurant chain are still some of what makes Sonic restaurants special today.
After opening three more Top Hat Drive-In franchises in Woodward, Stillwater, and Enid, the company ran into an issue. The name “Top Hat” was owned by another company.
Using their motto “Service at the Speed of Sound” as their influence, they renamed the company Sonic.
In 1959, the Top Hat location in Stillwater became the first location to drop the name Top Hat in favor of Sonic, leading to the restaurant’s claim to be the first Sonic Drive-In.
Over the years, the Sonic brand grew from these original four Top Hat locations to over 3500 Sonic drive-in locations in forty-six states under the Sonic Systems of America umbrella.
Today, Sonic operates under the parent company Inspire Brands.
If you want to drop by the site of the first Top Hat Drive-In in Shawnee, head to 1814 N Harrison. There’s not much here today, but you’ll be able to find the address in Google Maps.
Good to know: I always thought that the name Sonic was somehow related to the Oklahoma City Sonic Boom tests, but these tests started five years after the restaurant’s new name was adopted.
First Sonic-Drive In Sign + Architecture
The original building that housed the first Sonic Drive-In restaurant is gone, but the franchise owners of this particular Sonic franchise are not blind to the site’s important history.
The building that sits there today was built in 2015.
The new Sonic has a few signature touches that separate this building from your typical location, including featuring the original sign from the 1950s, a statue of the first manager Gene Longberry, and a sign over the canopy that says “America’s First Sonic Drive-In.”
What It’s Like Visiting the First Sonic Drive-In
Here’s what you need to know when you visit.
If you don’t see the original sign out front touting the company’s first motto, “Service with the Speed of Sound” then you might not see what makes this Sonic location special.
The sign is out front near the entrance and the drive-thru exit.
There is a curve in the parking lot that allows you to drive all the way around the site, so you can pull out front and take a picture without being in anyone’s way.
This is also where you’ll find the statue of Gene Longberry, the location’s first manager.
If you want to stay for longer, you can park at one of the drive-in stalls and order your food. I would wait until your order is served before getting out to visit the sign.
This way you don’t miss the car hop coming to your vehicle. They do pride themselves on quick service after all!
You don’t need to order food in order to park and get out. This Sonic is a busy one, so don’t stay too long if you aren’t going to be ordering food.
Best Time to Visit
Some websites state that this location is opened 24 hours a day, but that’s no longer the case.
The sign isn’t usually busy, so you can drop by any time to grab a pic with your tots. If you want to order food or drinks, make sure to check that they are open before visiting very late at night or early in the morning.
However, if you just want to see the sign and move on, it’s located out front and is not closed or blocked when the location is closed.
What to Order at Sonic
If this is your – gasp – first time at Sonic, then you might not see what’s so special about it. Because, yes, they have hamburgers like any other fast-food burger chain.
However, the reason my sisters and I will pick a Sonic (any Sonic) over McDonald’s or Arby’s is not just Oklahoma pride. It’s also because Sonic has more interesting menu items.
Yes, they have the typical cheeseburger I gravitate towards the cheese tots, Ched ‘R’ Bites (with ranch!), or the Ched ‘R’ Peppers (jalapeno poppers with ranch).
Other Sonic menu fan favorites include the hot dogs (though I miss the old Chicago dog), chili cheese coney, onion rings, bacon cheeseburger toaster (on Texas toast), and chili cheese tater tots.
It’s completely normal to stop by Sonic and just get a drink. You’ll find the typical range of Coca-Cola products, served with Sonic’s famous ice, along with cherry limeades, slushes, and flavors that can be added to sodas to make a nearly-unlimited number of drink combinations.
If you prefer dessert, they have a wide array of milkshakes along with ice cream and sundaes.
Things to Do Nearby
If this is your first time in Stillwater, check out my guide to the best things to do in Stillwater and the best Stillwater photo locations.
If you love kitschy roadside attractions, definitely make sure to stop by the two transformer statues!
Frequently Asked Questions about the First Sonic Drive-In
These are the questions travelers ask the most about visiting the first Sonic Drive-In in Stillwater.
What is a Sonic Drive-In?
A drive-in is a restaurant that has stalls so that you can park your car and order from your vehicle. This allows you to eat in your car or take your food with you.
This is opposed to a drive-through where you order and then leave with your food so that you don’t block the line.
Was the first Sonic in Shawnee or Stillwater?
The first Top-Hat location was in Shawnee. When the company expanded and rebranded, the Stillwater location was the first one to use the name Sonic.
Where was the first Sonic Drive-In?
The first Sonic Drive-In was in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
When did Sonic Drive-In start?
The Top Hat franchises started in 1953. They rebranded to Sonic in 1959.
Who founded Sonic?
Sonic was founded by Troy Smith Sr along with eventual partner Charles Pappe.
Where was the first Sonic in Stillwater OK?
The first Sonic in Stillwater is located at 215 N Main Street, Stillwater, OK 74075.
Is the first Sonic still open?
The first Top Hat in Shawnee is not open, but the first location to rebrand to Sonic is still open. It is in Stillwater, Ok.
What year did Sonic open?
Top Hat opened in 1953. They rebranded to Sonic in 1959.
What is the most popular drink at Sonic?
The most popular drink is the Cherry Slush.
How many Sonics are in Oklahoma?
There are almost three hundred Sonic locations in Oklahoma.
What is the motto of Sonic?
The original motto was “Service with the Speed of Sound.” They have gone through many mottoes over the years.
The current motto is “This Is How We Sonic.”
Pin this Guide to Visiting the First Sonic Drive-In in Stillwater, Oklahoma for Your Oklahoma Adventures!
Stephanie Craig is a born-and-bred Oklahoma mom and travel expert who has been to over fifty countries. After traveling all over the world, Stephanie moved back to Oklahoma to explore more of her own backyard. Her favorite things to do in Oklahoma include visiting the Blue Whale of Catoosa, the Arcadia Round Barn, and the Talimena Scenic Byway.