7 of the Best Drive-In Movie Theaters That Are Worth a Road Trip
Take your family on a trip to one of these nostalgic drive-ins.
The first drive-in movie theater was opened in 1933 by Richard M. Hollingshead in New Jersey, and the idea of hopping into a car to enjoy the newest feature flick quickly caught on and spread throughout the country. During their peak popularity in the late 1950s, almost 4,000 drive-ins existed. Though there are only about 330 drive-ins left in the U.S., catching a show at the drive-in continues to be a favorite family-friendly pastime, particularly in summer months.
These outdoor theaters have maintained many of the traditions from when drive-ins were in their heyday, and they continue to keep viewers coming back by providing a nostalgic moviegoing experience. Check out a few of our favorites.
Bengies Drive-In Theater, Middle River, MD
The Bengies Drive-In Theater opened in June of 1956 and boasts the biggest movie theater screen in the U.S., measuring 52 feet high and 120 feet wide (to put it into perspective, the average movie theater screen size ranges from 30-90 feet wide). Featuring a marquee sign that dates all the way back to 1973, this drive-in theater prides itself on preserving traditions like kicking off each evening with the National Anthem and encouraging audience participation via flashing headlights. Bengies offers triple features almost every Friday and Saturday night, as well as double features on Sundays. Admission is priced per person; Adults (ages 11+) cost $5 to $10 each, kids tickets are $5 each, and children under four are free.
When to visit: Though its opening and closing dates are dependent on weather, Bengies is generally open from early spring through October.
Coleman’s Motor-Vu Drive-In, Riverdale, UT
This drive-in became a family-owned business in 1979 when Howard Coleman purchased it—he first worked there in 1952 when he was a young boy. After Coleman bought The Motor-Vu, he managed and worked the box office until retiring in 1999. His three sons then took over the business, and his youngest continues to run the drive-in with plans to keep the theater around—and in the Coleman family—for many years to come. It's also a fun spot to bargain shop; the Motor-Vu hosts a swap meet every Saturday and Sunday morning throughout the year with a variety of sellers. Tickets for the movies, which play daily, are sold on a per-person basis; prices are $9 for adults, $4 for kids (5-11), and free for children under four.
When to visit: Early April and until late fall.
West Wind Drive-In, Sacramento, CA
West Wind opened their first theater in 1952, and today they own and operate the largest drive-in theater chain with six locations across California, Arizona, and Nevada. At the Sacramento location, you can enjoy all the family fun of an old-school drive-in with the modern technology of digital projectors. You can even catch midnight releases of the newest movies at the same time they hit regular theaters. General admission for this drive-in is $8 per adult, $1.75 for kids (5-11), and free for children four and under. This theater also offers a special family discount on Tuesdays ($5.50 per adult ticket).
When to visit: Seven days a week, all year long.
Hyde Park Drive-In Theater, Hyde Park, NY
At the Hyde Park drive-in, you’ll be less than two hours from Manhattan, on a stretch of 12 acres that can fit up to 670 cars. It’s been a family-run business for more than 60 years and provides patrons with the nostalgic feel that drive-in theaters so often give with hundreds of people camped out on blankets and chairs under the huge screen in the heat of the summer. The theater is situated diagonally from the FDR Estate and is preserved by the National Park Service. The cost of admission is $10 for adults, $7 for kids (5-11), and free for children under five.
When to visit: Seven days a week, rain or shine, from April to September.
Valle Drive-In, Newton, IA
The Valle Drive-In is the oldest one in Iowa, and one of only four left in the state—a big decrease from the almost 70 drive-ins the state had back in the 1950s. The snack shack, popcorn maker, and neon “V” sign are all original from when the drive-in was built in 1948. Take a family trip to see the authenticity of this theater, with double features every night during the open season and even free popcorn on Tuesdays. General admission for adults is $8, $5 for kids (5-11), and free for kids four and under.
When to visit: April through the end of October (based on weather).
99W Drive-In, Newburg, OR
This drive-in is on its third screen since opening in August of 1953, the first two being lost during storms. The 99W drive-in was originally a single-screen theater until 1983 when the owners built an indoor theater on the same property so that they could stay open year-round. They’ve also added a single screen movie house to their business that’s located in downtown Newberg. Visit the Francis family, who have been showing movies in Newberg for three generations, at the 99W. Tickets cost $9 per adult, $5 for kids (6-11), and are free for ages six and under.
When to visit: Late April (or early May), with showings until late October.
Delsea Drive-In, Vineland, NJ
The Delsea Drive-In is New Jersey’s only drive-in theater, which is significant considering the first-ever drive-in was opened in the state. Originally built in 1949, it closed in 1987, but made a comeback in 2004 to continue bringing families a unique entertainment experience. The Delsea Drive-In is conveniently located within an hour from Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and Delaware, so it’s an easy stop for families traveling to or from any of those cities. Tickets are $12 for adults, $7 for kids (4-11), and free for children under the age of three.
When to visit: Fridays and Saturdays in March and April; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in May; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, and Fridays and Saturdays from Labor Day to October.
While the number of drive-in movie theaters has drastically declined over the last few decades, the nostalgic thrill of sitting out under the stars to catch a double feature has not lost its appeal. Keep this classic tradition alive by visiting a drive-in near you or by taking a family road trip to one of these historic theaters!