Drive-in Theaters Are Experiencing a Major Comeback. Here’s Where to Go

Drive-in theater
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Summer 2020’s blockbuster season isn’t canceled—it just might look a little different than you’re used to. Instead of seeking popcorn and AC in 17-screen movie theaters (many of which are still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions), people are venturing outside to old-fashioned drive-in theaters.

In the 1950s, there were about 4,000 drive-in theaters scattered throughout the United States. Now, that number has dropped to around 305, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. But this summer, those remaining drive-in theaters are seeing a surge in popularity. With ticketing and concession sales largely relegated to online, screens under the stars, and plenty of space for socially distanced parking, drive-ins provide a safe way to get out of the house and be entertained when we need it most.

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Drive-ins are also getting creative about providing movie-goers with more than just what’s on the screen, from partnerships with local eateries and signature snacks to live music and comedy nights. If you’re looking for a way to get out of the house this summer, head to one of these drive-in theaters.

1. Bel-Aire Diner

Queens, New York

While New York still has a number of drive-in theaters throughout the state, those living in the city don’t need to take a long road trip to find one. The retro Bel-Aire Diner, on the corner of Broadway and 21st Street in Queens, turned its parking lot into a 40-car theater this summer, showing films from Rocky Horror Picture Show to The Greatest Showman to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. They’re also hosting events like comedy nights and Dueling Pianos. You can even order from the restaurant’s menu, and servers will bring your food right to your car.

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2. Holiday Twin Drive-In

Fort Collins, CO

Fort Collins’ Holiday Twin Drive-In—which first popped up in a field on the edge of town back in 1968—reopened in April with showings of family-friendly films like Trolls World Tour and throwback viewings of Superman and Batman. The drive-in is currently operating at about half capacity, but that still means nearly 300 cars can fit on the property with a minimum of 12 feet of space on each side. Holiday Twin will also be hosting live music this summer—bands will perform on the outdoor screens and broadcast their audio through the drive-in’s radio frequency.

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3. Rustic Drive-In

Rhode Island

The Rustic Drive-In, tucked into Rhode Island’s Blackstone Valley just 15 minutes north of Providence, dates back to the ‘50s—and remains the state’s only drive-in theater. From socially distanced parking spots, you can watch movies the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (both playing now), as well as Mulan and A Quiet Place Part II (coming soon) on the site’s three screens. If you’ve got a mask, you can even set up chairs outside your car or watch from a truck bed.

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4. The Blue Starlite

Austin, TX

Austin’s only drive-in movie theater, The Blue Starlite, sits right in the heart of the city. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the site can still host 20 cars per night at the main screen, which shows everything from childhood favorites and drive-in classics to indie films, art house, and cult faves. The owners opened a second Blue Starlite location at the end of February in Round Rock, 25 miles north of Austin, which can host 35 cars per showing. Bonus: The drive-in partnered with Austin’s famous BBQ spot for food preorder and delivery.

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5. Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre

Montclair, CA

Situated about 40 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles, the Mission Tiki Theatre opened in 1956 with just one screen; they’ve since added three more and the owners entirely refurbished the property in 2006 (there’s a very obvious tiki theme, from the ticket booths to the Maui statue garden). After a brief shutdown this spring, viewings of movies like The Invisible Man, Knives Out, Jumanji, and Groundhog Day have resumed. There’s a full snack bar, but make sure to order the carne asada nachos Mission Tiki serves up at its nightly showings.

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6. Sauerbeck Family Drive-In Theater

La Grange, KY

The Sauerbeck Family Drive-In Theater only opened in August 2018, but was nearly shut down that same summer due to storms in Oldham County, a half hour outside of Louisville. Now, they’re fully operational—even with social distancing limitations—and going all-in on the retro vibes. Their upcoming schedule includes showings of the Wizard of Oz followed by Twister, The Goonies followed by Jaws, and Dirty Dancing followed by Road House on a 60- by 90-foot diagonal screen. For a $5 fee, you can BYO snacks to the lot.

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7. 66 Drive-In

Carthage, MO

When it first opened in 1949, the 66 Drive-In could fit 400 cars. It shuttered in 1985 and briefly served as an auto-salvage yard, but was resurrected—with the OG neon sign—a little over a decade later. Now, it’s one of the few drive-ins left on the famous Route 66 (a fact that earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places) and is currently showing crowd-pleasers like Back to the Future and American Graffiti. At intermission, you’ll see the same cartoons that aired back in the drive-ins heyday.

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