We thought they were a dying breed. Once an entertainment staple in nearly every city in the country, the drive-in theater was done in by AMC and Regal multiplexes. Living room Dolby sound was a cause of death, as well. Sure, there were a few of them, scattered among the pastures of deep rural America, but they were a retro anomaly. They weren’t now, and could never again be mainstream entertainment. Their death knell was accompanied by their broken screens and lonely speaker poles. Rest in Peace.
Not so fast, my friend! The drive-in theater has evolved and survived. Combining nostalgia, kitsch, and modern high-tech circuitry the drive-in theater is alive, well, and on the way back! No longer the sole purview of the agrarian warm-weather South and Southwest, drive-in movie theaters dot the landscape.
A search for the best drive-in theaters yielded a wealth of possibilities. Suffice it to say, every region is represented, though the State of Michigan is represented twice. So drop the top on that convertible and enjoy the doubts (and sometimes triple) feature. Or, in at least one case, just check in at the front desk and enjoy the show from your room.
- Bengie’s Drive-In, 3417 Eastern Blvd, Baltimore, MD. 410-687-5627. Open since 1956, Bengie’s offers double features every night and triple features most Fridays and Saturdays beginning in late April. With 20 minutes between shows, it means entertainment into the wee hours on the nation’s largest drive-in theater screen. Standard movie food is supplemented by a nice selection of sandwiches. Pizza choices? With or without pepperoni. Bengie’s Website.
- 99W Drive-In, 3110 Portland Rd, Newburg, OR. 503-538-2738. In 1953, the 99W opened as a nice single-screen movie theater of the drive-in variety. Sixty-four years later it is still that gathering spot for young and old a half hour southwest of Portland. Now paired with an indoor theater the 99W offers standard movie concession food as well as shirts and swag to show you are a fan. 99W website.
- West Wind Solano Drive-In, 1611 Solano Way, Concord, CA. 925-825-1951. The wide-open spaces once was a signature of the drive-in theater. Kids tossed a ball back and forth. Couples walked hand-in-hand through the grassy field in front of the screen. West Wind Solano still has that kind of room in play. On-screen a first-run movie or even a midnight movie premiere is showing. Standard snack bar food is supplemented by genuine California burritos. West Wind Solano website.
- Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, 10400 Ford Rd, Dearborn, MI, 313-846-6910. In many places “largest” in drive-in speak is a measurement of the screen. Ford-Wyoming measures largest in terms of screens and vehicle capacity. How big? Five screens and a parking capacity of over 3,000 cars and trucks. Presumably Ford cars and trucks. While most drive-in theaters operate in Spring and Summer only, Ford-Wyoming is open year round. Standard movie concession food is on the bill of fare. Ford-Wyoming website.
- Capri Drive-In, 119 W. Chicago Rd, Coldwater, MI, 517-278-5628. When the Capri opened in 1964 admission was $1.00 and a cheeseburger was 45¢. Times and prices have changed, but the Capri forges on. It now boasts two screens and regular customers from as far away as Detroit and Chicago. Standard concession fare is supplemented by pulled pork sammies and a “pic” mosquito coil. Capri Drive-In website.
- Mesa Drive-In, 2625 Santa Fe Dr, Pueblo, CO. 719-542-3345. The Mesa Drive-In is an interesting blend of old and new. Cash only (that’s old), call ahead snack service available (that’s new). Standard fare supplemented by giant pickles and funnel cake fries. Mesa Drive-In website.
- Shankweiler’s Drive-In, 4540 Shankweiler Rd, Orefield, PA. 610-481-0800. We had to include this one. Shankweiler’s is the oldest continuously operating drive-in in the world! It was the second drive-in to open in this country. Over 4,000 would follow in the next 25 years. Fortunately, it has much to offer besides a volume of birthday candles. Digital sound and picture equipment guarantee a clear and sharp picture. Open weekends in April, May, and September, Shankweiler’s is open seven days a week June-August. Standard concession fare is supplemented by excellent ice cream choices and some of the lowest concession prices in the industry. Shankweiler’s website.
- Midway Drive-In Theater, 2475 NY-48, Fulton, NY. 315-593-0699. Midway between…New York and Boston? New York and Philadelphia? New York and Atlantic City? Nah, midway between Fulton and Oswego find this gem, opened in the summer of 1948. Midway is currently holding a fundraising drive to help rebuild after some storm damage. You can help on the Midway website.
- Corral Drive-In, 825 SW Highway 54, Guymon, OK. 508-338-3748. Part RV Park and part drive-in movie theater, the Corral has been a staple of entertainment for northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas since it opened 60 years ago. Classic vehicles placed throughout the parking area create a 1950s atmosphere and the showing begins with a screening of retro cartoons. Let your kids play on the giant balloons before the show starts. But know the lights on the balloon area go off when the movie begins. A pizzeria and grill supplement the usual food offerings. Corral website.
- Coyote Drive-In, 223 NE 4th St, Fort Worth, TX. 817-717-7767. And then there are drive-ins that aren’t retro at all. The Coyote in Fort Worth offers a double feature nightly along with unique foodie experiences such as Frito pie, banana pudding, and churros. Beer selections include the usual suspects, but Rahr, Shiner and Abita Purple Haze highlight the more exotic suds offerings. Coyote website.