We Braved the Lines at Santa Rosa’s Sonic Drive-In So You Don’t Have To

Was it worth it? Yes and no. While pickle fries and Coney Island dogs are fun, Sonic is all about the drinks.

Since 2019, Sonoma County has waited patiently for a Sonic Drive-In to arrive in Santa Rosa. This Oklahoma-based chain is an American classic, hawking burgers, hot dogs, popcorn chicken, onion rings, grilled cheese, tater tots, jalapeño poppers and anything else your doctor would strongly advise against.

Not surprisingly, when it opened on April 7, lines snaked out of the parking lot, causing traffic snarls along Santa Rosa Avenue. That enthusiasm has continued steadily as eager newcomers pull into one of the six drive-in spaces or drive-thru lines. With an average wait of about 25 minutes, eating here is a commitment, however (though it can be significantly faster at off hours).

So is it worth it? Yes and no. While pickle fries and Coney Island dogs are fun, Sonic is all about the drinks.

Depending on how you do the math, there are up to 1.5 million drink combinations on the Sonic menu. It’s a mind-bending mixture of fountain drinks, slushes, milkshakes, juices and flavorings coupled with candy and fruit add-ins that have given rise to “secret drink menu” blog posts raving about the Sonic Sunrise (cherry limeade with orange juice), the Pink Lady (Sprite with cherry juice and vanilla cream) or the Dr Pepper Orgasm (Dr Pepper, lemonade and Powerade).

The top seller is Cherry Limeade slush, though Ocean Water comes in at a close second (a very blue, very coconut-y, fizzy citrus drink that’s as much ice as drink). Fans rave about Sonic’s proprietary “nugget” ice — a soft pellet that retains its chill and begs to be chewed loudly.

The food is another story. It’s not that great. Though the burgers are enormous, they’re just OK, without any redeeming qualities. The tots are also acceptable, as are the corn dogs. The onion rings taste like they’ve been fried in doughnut batter, with an oddly sweet quality. Rumor has it (there has been no confirmation from Sonic) that the secret ingredient in the cornmeal onion ring batter is vanilla ice cream.

Even the Sonic Signature Sauce falls flat, tasting like a bad knockoff of Chick-fil-A’s smoky-sweet mustard sauce.

So go for some chili-cheese tots, maybe a breakfast burrito or some mozzarella sticks, and stay for the nearly infinite possible drink combinations like a cake batter milkshake, sweet tea with orange and cream, a Red Bull strawberry apricot slush, a cranberry limeade with Nerds candy or a chocolate chip cookie dough milkshake. Sonic’s daily happy hour is from 2 to 4 p.m., when all drinks and slushes are half off.

Sonic Drive-In, 2245 Santa Rosa Ave., open 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. for takeout or drive-up only. sonicdrivein.com