When the son of an auto products company also likes movies, what does he do? Come up with the idea for an open-air theater where people can sit inside the comforts of their own automobiles. Richard Hollingstead opened the first park-in theater in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey, advertising it as entertainment for the whole family. The idea became so popular by the 1940s that Hollingstead’s patent was overturned, and drive-in movie theaters began cropping up all over the country. Over 4,000 drive-in theaters dotted the landscape at one point, but numbers have since dwindled to the 300s. The good news is that this pastime isn’t extinct yet! Nerve.com published an entire list of the 338 drive-in theaters left in the United States. (http://www.nerve.com/entertainment/drivein-theater...) But here are 14 of our favorites that are still as hip-hop-happening as they were in their heyday.
14 Best Drive In Movie Theaters in America
1. Shankweiler’s Drive-in
4540 Shankweiler Rd. (just off 309) Orefield, PA 18069
Self-proclaimed as the oldest of America’s drive-in movie theaters, Shankweiler’s has been in operation since 1934. Located 15 minutes north of Allentown, it tries to give moviegoers the same experience that patrons would have experienced back in the 1930s, but has kept up with the latest advancements in theater technology to provide top quality entertainment. It was the first to offer FM broadcast stereo in 1986, and installed RED L.E.D in 2002. They’re open only on the weekends only starting in mid-April through May, and open 7 days a week from mid-June until Labor Day. The theater offers double features, so tickets are a flat rate $10 for one or both movies.
2. Bengies Drive-In Theater
3417 Eastern Blvd. Baltimore, MD 21220-2147
Bengies in Baltimore has been a recognized state treasure since 2000, with its self-proclaimed “biggest movie theater screen in the USA with a perfect picture” with an entire page of footnotes justifying its claim on its website. This drive-in has been in operation for over 60 years, and may be one of the last of its kind in the DMV (Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area. Double features are screened every evening, and triple features on the weekends. General admission per person runs under $10, depending on entrance times and late showings, while admission for children is $5. Bengies also plays classic cartoons, vintage trailers and intermissions clips, and Dusk till Dawn shows.
3. Big Sky Drive-In
6200 W Hwy 80, Midland, TX 79706
It’s hard not to think of carnivals, old-school diners, and all things retro when you’re at Big Sky Drive-In in Midland, Texas. The “concession” stand is more like a diner, with a dine-in area with funky booths, a small arcade, and cheery décor that will take you back to the 1950s. The menu offers options like the Chihuahua sandwich and the Char burger, but classic carnival staples like funnel cake and Jalapeno poppers as well. The Big Sky Drive-In is open 7 days a week, and shows 3 different double features on each of their 3 screens, so you’re bound to find a combination of movies that you’d sit through, whether it’s inside your car, outside on lawn chairs, or even on blankets within your parking space.
4. Mission Tiki Drive-In Theater
10798 Ramona Ave, Montclair, CA 91763
California is the state of good weather and driving around everywhere, so what else would people do beside go to drive in movie theaters? Mission Tiki Drive-In Theater in Montclair, California, is a popular hangout spot for its double features and snack bar – which even has good Mexican food. The tiki theme underlying its name became more prominent after 2006, when the drive-in was refurbished. The ticket booths and concession stand were remodeled to fit in with the tiki theme and a Maui statue garden was added for extra ambiance. This drive-in theater is open 7 days a week, and admission is $9 for adults and $1 for kids ages 5-9.
5. Goochland Drive-In Theater
4344 Old Fredericksburg Road, Hadensville, VA 23067
Goochland may not have the years of history as some of America’s oldest drive-in movie theaters, since it was built just a few years ago, but it was built on the same grounds of wholesome family fun. The story goes that the Heidel family, who enjoyed family nights outs, wanted a budget and kid-friendly option for a night out with their entire family. That’s when they came up with the idea for this family-oriented and community-involved theater. Their official season runs from March through November, weather willing, and admission is $8.50 per person 12 years and older. The theater is a forty-minute drive from Richmond, Virginia.
6. Starlight Six Drive-In
2000 Moreland Ave SE, Atlanta, Georgia 30316 USA
This classic drive-in on the outskirts of Atlanta has four different movie screens, a completely revamped digital projection system, and shows double feature films. It’s the only remaining drive-in movie theater in all of Atlanta, after the closing of the North 85 Twin in 1998. This landmark pays homage to classic art-deco style, and is set against a picturesque background of lush greenery. Tickets are $9 for adults, and moviegoers are free to bring their own food or buy snacks from an independent vendor on site. The lot also hosts a Swap Meet from 6 AM – 3 PM every weekend, and for a 25-cent entrance fee and free parking, shoppers can browse to their heart’s content.
7. The Corral Drive-In Theater
825 W Highway 54, Guymon, Oklahoma
Some drive-in movie theaters are making it as much about the food experience as the movie-going experience. The Corral Drive-In is one of those establishments. They’re pretty strict about not bringing outside food onto the premises, but that’s because they want their guests to try their specialty pizza! The dough is rolled out from scratch and each pie is made to order, with an eclectic array of toppings like loaded baked potato and green-chili chicken enchiladas. Admission to the drive-in per individual is $8.50 for those 12 years and older, and $4.00 for children ages 4-11.
8. 66 Drive-In Theater
17231 Old 66 Blvd., Carthage, Missouri
The 66 Drive-In pays homage in its name to Route 66, which runs past this historic drive-in theater. The theater opened in 1949, closed in 1985, but was renovated and reopened in 1998. The setting is old-fashioned and nostalgic, and has the same family-friendly vibes that you might have found in the 1950s. There’s a playground on site for kids, and an open field for tossing a Frisbee or playing a ball game. Tickets are just $7 for individuals 13 or older, and $3 for children ages 6-12. This is an easy day trip from Springfield, Missouri - it's an hour away.
9. Delsea Drive-In Theater
2203 S Delsea Dr, Vineland, NJ 08360
Under an hour from Philadelphia, Delsea is New Jersey’s only drive-in movie theater despite Jersey being the birthplace of the past-time. The Delsea Drive-In Theater is unusual for its Atkins-friendly and eco-friendly concepts, which means that you’ll find “healthy” menu options like shrimp kabobs and stir-friend asparagus at the concession stand. Owners John and Jude DeLeonardis claim, “If you eat here, we’ll be here.” The owners also decided to “go green” by switching to solar power, which they said could cut their electric bill from $1400 to $140. Admission into the drive-in is $11 per adult, and $6 for children 4-11 years old, for double features on most days, and triple features on others.
10. Coyote Drive-In Theater
223 NE 4th Street, Fort Worth, TX 76164
Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth is a relatively new, hip place to go for younger crowds, while having enough familiarity of old time drive-ins for the older, nostalgic audience. There are multiple Coyote Drive-In locations in Texas and Alabama. The concession stand has an extensive wine list and offers local food specialties like Louisiana meat pies and banana pudding. Don’t forget the foot-long corndog or Frito pie. You can book an entire event at Coyote Drive-In Theater, or bring your pets any evening to enjoy the double features. General admission for adults is just $6 for both showings, and $5 for children ages 5-11.
11. Harvest Moon Drive-In Theater
1123 S. Sangamon Ave., Gibson City, Illinois, 60936
Harvest Moon is unique in that it is the first self-proclaimed drive-in movie theater to be the “world's first wind-powered movie theater.” It installed two residential wind turbines that might provide at least 30% of the theater’s energy needs upon installation, with high hopes for progress in subsequent years. In addition to its eco-friendly achievements, Harvest Moon has outdone itself in terms of its desserts and frozen treats menu. Moviegoers can get fresh baked mini donuts, topped with chocolate or caramel sauces, at the concessions stand; 44-ounce jumbo floats for $8 bucks a pop; or jumbo cotton candy made to order.
12. Rodeo Drive-In Theater
7369 WA-3, Bremerton, WA 98312
The Rodeo Drive-In Theater of today has 3 screens and a total car capacity of about 1,000. It’s self-proclaimed as “the largest outdoor theatre complex in Washington State and by far the largest and oldest family owned drive-in in the Northwest.” It was originally built in 1949 as part of the United Drive-Ins chain on a single field that could hold over 600 cars. Now, in addition to the multiple screenings and extended capacity, the lot is also the site of a seasonal weekend Swap Meet. For moviegoers, admission for a double feature screening is $9.75 for adults, and $6.75 for those 12 and under. This is a fun excursion from Seattle because the easiest way to get there is the Seattle-Bremerton ferry line!
13. Mesa Drive-In Theater
2625 Santa Fe Drive, Pueblo, CO 81006
The Drive-In’s motto is, “When the lights go out, the fun begins." Mesa is a 3-screen drive-in movie theater in Pueblo that often sells out, especially during the summertime. Tickets are $8.50 for adults, and free for children under 12 (though one adult must be present for every four children). Mesa has been a Colorado tradition since its opening in 1951, and has a great staff, amazing popcorn, and the same 1950s vibe as when it first opened its doors.
14. Capri Drive-In Theater
119 West Chicago Road Coldwater, MI 49036
Capri Drive-In in Coldwater, Michigan is a family-run business an hour away from Kalamazoo that has been open for over 50 years. It’s located between Chicago and Detroit, and has partnered with local motels to offer lodging packages for out-of-town customers. The lodging packages are available on their website. The Capri takes the Drive-In theater business very seriously, with Capri Trivia and Drive-In Dos and Don’t also on its homepage. The site itself is a two-theater lot with first come first serve parking. Their digital projection equipment produces top-quality pictures, and they use AM and FM Stereo sound for both screens. The theater rents out portable radios for $2. The admission is $8 for adults, and $5 for kids ages 5-11.
This piece was written by Hanna Choi.