On May 5, 1940, brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald opened a drive-in barbeque joint at 14th and E streets in San Bernardino, California, along Route 66. They called their first restaurant “McDonald’s Famous Bar-B-Q.” Customers could get a barbeque beef, ham or pork sandwich with french fries for 35 cents. Also on the menu: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and, of course, hamburgers.
Seventy-five years later, the site of the original McDonald’s still stands in the Southern California sun. Today, the building serves two functions—as an unofficial McDonald’s Museum (the official museum is in Des Plaines, Illinois) and as corporate offices for another fast food chain, Juan Pollo Chicken. The latter role was born in 1998, when the building went up for sale and Juan Pollo founder and CEO Albert Okura bought it for a little over $400,000. Not needing the whole building for his corporate offices, and being a big fan of McDonald's, Okura thought a shrine to the restaurant chain in the place it was born seemed appropriate.
Outside the modest building, a familiar red sign touts the “self-service system” and 15-cent hamburgers (the sign was there when Okura purchased the place.) In front of the sign sits a popular McDonald’s playground toy, an “Officer Big Mac” jail, with most of its bars still intact. Below the sign, a plaque commemorates the site as the world’s first McDonald's. Inside the building, there's a sprawling collection of McDonald’s memorabilia: overflowing display cases and walls of glass shelves filled with Ronald McDonald dolls, golden arches pins, an old purple costume for Grimace (one of the company's mascots), a small coin-operated carousel, fry-shaped drinking straws, big fiberglass burgers from an old McDonald’s indoor playground and much more. Okura says he’s received so many donations of McDonald’s-related items, he doesn’t know how many are in the collection. And there, sitting right by the front door, is the original 1940 McDonald’s Bar-B-Q menu, yellowed but still legible. While this former McDonald’s location plays a special role in the company's history, it’s no longer serving up burgers and fries.
Today, most McDonald's stick to uniformity—the same food, the same iconic golden arches, the same red-and-yellow color scheme. However, there are a few locations that break the mold. From New Zealand to Dallas, here are seven of the most interesting and unusual McDonald's around the world where you can still get a Big Mac or a Happy Meal.
Taupo, New Zealand
For six years, this Douglas DC-3 airplane flew South Pacific Airline passengers around New Zealand. Today, it is the perfect place to chow down on a Georgie Pie (an iconic New Zealand brand of steak and cheese pie bought out by McDonald's in the 1990s.) Part of South Pacific Airline’s fleet from 1961 to 1966, and later used as a top-dressing plane (New Zealand’s version of a crop duster), the plane was decommissioned in 1984. Several years later, McDonald’s purchased it and installed seats for a dining area. It is the only McDonald's inside a plane in the world. The spot has become a popular tourist attraction in Taupo, and the city's tourism website encourages people not to leave without taking "a picture of yourself with our plane.”
New Hyde Park, New York
Only about 20 miles outside Manhattan sits the most sophisticated McDonald’s in the world. Located in an 18th century mansion on Long Island, McDonald's purchased the land where the house (then called the Denton House) stood in 1985, intending to demolish the structure. Upon hearing the news, citizens stepped up and, in 1987, helped secure the house as a landmark of the town of North Hempstead (part of New Hyde Park is located in the town of North Hempstead, including this McDonald's). A local citizen paid the franchise fees to own and operate the business, and the "McMansion," as locals call it, was born. Today, patrons can eat their burgers in a glassed-in veranda or next to a grand staircase, and the site even hosts weddings.
Roswell, New Mexico
When aliens finally make contact with our planet, they’ll know where to go for their first meal. This McDonald’s in Roswell is shaped like a UFO, in an homage to supposed crash-landing of an alien aircraft in 1947. The only McDonald's like it in this world or any other, it takes the alien theme to the extreme. Inside, a space-suited Ronald McDonald flies above the play area, and on an adjacent building across from the restaurant, there’s a 110-foot mural (commissioned by McDonald’s and painted by New Mexico artist Larry Welz) of several McDonald’s characters zipping around in space crafts. At night, the UFO-shaped building lights up, directing hungry Earthlings and outer space travelers alike to a quarter-pounder.
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Everything about this McDonald’s is normal except for where it is located—at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Situated within the base compound and near one of the world’s most controversial prison camps, its Chicken McNuggets can only be bought by base personnel. It is also the only Golden Arches in Cuba, at least for now—that may change soon, thanks to the normalization of relations between the two countries. The restaurant also isn’t the only American chain inside the compound—there’s also a KFC, a Starbucks and two Subways.
Norway’s fifth-largest city, Kristiansand, boasts a beautiful downtown, Baltic Sea beaches and a McDonald’s in a giant marble-columned old bank. While patrons can no longer enter through the bank’s original door (the entrance is now located on the side), this McDonald's has a certain class, even if the interior is pretty plain. Inside, the usual fare is served—burgers, fries, soda, milkshakes—along with McDonaldified Norwegian delicacies such as McLaks (freshly caught salmon sandwiches).
The nearly 300-year-old Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna in Rome are beautiful, historical and imposing. Naturally, the McDonald’s right next door needs to match. Sometimes said to be the fanciest McDonald’s in the world, the place has granite, marble, fountains, statues, mosaic walls and seats for over 800 hungry visitors. The location also offers higher-class food options, such as a salad bar, fresh pastries and chicken cordon bleu sandwiches. There are also no visible golden arches anywhere in the restaurant. However, the spot wasn’t beloved by all when it first opened in 1986. Its opening spawned immense backlash and protests, including from Italian food journalist Carlo Petrini. He helped ignite the International Slow Foods Movement, citing the opening of this McDonald's as his motivation.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and this McDonald’s is certainly no exception. Like something out of a McFlurry-induced dream (or nightmare?), this McDonald’s in Dallas is shaped like a massive happy meal, complete with super-sized versions of a hamburger, french fries and soft drink. That isn’t the only thing that makes this McDonald’s one of the most unique in the world: Austrian crystal chandeliers, mahogany booths and Ralph Lauren-designed wallpaper adorn the dining area.