Over the last century, automobiles have defined generations.

At the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, located at 161 Museum Drive, just off of Route 39 in Hershey near Hersheypark and Chocolate World, car aficionados and the people who love them can take a ride through the history of America's changing landscape as seen from the driver's seat.

The three-floor, 70,000-square-foot exhibit space currently holds more than 150 vehicles, all of which have been donated. At any given time, 85 to100 of these classic cars and trucks are on display, according to Nancy Gates, the director of public relations for the museum.

Cars and context: The collection spans more than a century and includes everything from a 1895 Chicago Motor Benton Harbor to a 1977 Chrysler Cordoba. Visitors can also see trucks and special vehicles, including buses and motorcycles.

The main gallery is "a cruise through time," according to Gates, showing cars from various points throughout history. "We take you cross-country, decade by decade."

Visitors will see more than just cars lined up in a row, Gates said. Each display includes a unique backdrop in scenery to give visitors a look at life during a specific era.

"We try to put each of the time periods in context of what was happening in that decade," she said.

Other attractions: In addition to the wide display of cars, the museum also houses the Museum of Bus Transportation, the largest exhibit of its kind, as well as the restored Valentine Diner, a 1940s diner brought in from Wichita, Kan.

The museum is ideal for families with children, as the museum offers an interactive kids' area where youngsters can build their own racecars using different wheels and body steels. A photo area lets kids get their picture taken behind the wheel of a vintage car.

"The kids can get in and pretend to drive," Gates said. "In addition to being fun, it's somewhat educational."

Special exhibits: While the museum has a number of permanent exhibits, Gates said it also has several special exhibits throughout the year.

In 1972, Debbie Laughman of Spring Grove raced this soapbox derby car in the national competition. It’s now on display as part of the "100 Years
In 1972, Debbie Laughman of Spring Grove raced this soapbox derby car in the national competition. It's now on display as part of the "100 Years of Chevrolet" exhibit at the AACA Museum in Hershey. Click on the image to see more photos from the exhibit. (Randy Flaum/The York Dispatch)

"We usually try to change the exhibits three to four times a year, so people come back here and there is something new to see," she said.

Currently, the most popular exhibit at the museum is "100 Years of Chevrolet" in honor of the automaker's 100th anniversary.

"We're featuring cars from each decade," Gates said. "It's sort of a tribute."

The exhibit spans the whole history of Chevrolet. Currently on display, visitors can see the current centennial Corvette and the first-ever Chevy Suburban as well as the 50 millionth car ever made by Chevrolet. The exhibit also includes a special edition Corvette racecar, which was the last car NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt ever finished a race in before his death in 2001.

In conjunction with the exhibit, which runs through Oct. 14, the museum will host an all-Chevy car show July 22. The show is open to all models and years of Chevy cars, and anyone can participate.

Annual show: The museum will hold a number of special events throughout the summer, including its 17th Annual Car Show from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 23, on the museum grounds.

The show is open to all vehicles including antiques, classics, street rods, trucks, buses, motorcycles and sports cars.

Attendees can also enjoy Valve Cover Racing, a 50-50 raffle, antique car rides and a behind-the-scenes look at one of the museum's storage facilities including additional vehicles not on public display.

Gates estimates a couple hundred cars will be on display during the event. There is no admission charge for the car show, but standard admission for the museum applies.

At the drive-in movie: On July 20 and 21, the outdoor area of the museum will turn into a drive-in theater where families can watch Disney's "Cars 2" on a three-story inflatable movie screen.

While visitors can obviously view the movies from their vehicles, with a suggested donation of $15 per car, they can also bring lawn chairs or blankets and sit on the grass.

"We re-create drive-in theater atmosphere," Gates said.

The movie showings will start between 8:45 and 9 p.m. each evening. Parking will open at 7 p.m., and concessions will be available for purchase.

Fourth of July: On July 4, the museum will have extended hours, during which visitors can tour the facility for $5 per person, half the regular admission price, from 5 to 9 p.m. Once the tour is over, guests are invited to stay and enjoy the view from the hill, overlooking Hersheypark for the annual Fourth of July display. There will be food vendors onsite, but visitors can also bring along a picnic.

"It's a nice spot to watch the Hersheypark fireworks," Gates said.

Admission: The museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for children 4-12 and free for ages 3 and younger. Admission is free for American Antique Car Club members. The membership cost is $35 and allows for unlimited admission throughout the year.

Gates suggested guests allow a couple of hours to take in all of the exhibits and leave extra time for any additional events or a trip to the gift shop, where visitors can find a variety of unique gifts. "We have things for every age group," she said.

Gates encourages families to visit the museum as part of their summer excursion to the Hershey area, as it is so close many of the other attractions in the area. She said it's both entertaining and educational for everyone.

"It helps people understand the evolution of cars."

For more information, visit the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum website or call (717) 566-7100.

Weekend Travels is a travel series highlighting fun attractions within a two-hour drive of York City. Want to suggest a place for a future travel feature? Contact York Weekend editor Mel Barber at (717) 854-1575, ext. 458, or mbarber@yorkdispatch.com or travel writer Kristen Putch at (717) 505-5444 or kputch@yorkdispatch.com.