It’s no surprising that drive-in theaters are having a major resurgence—thanks to a pandemic and our love for nostalgia. And while these relics of the past may be making a comeback out of design, something tells us you’re about to fall in love with the drive-in’s authentic charm, carhop cuisine, and cozy seat assignments next to your favorite germ-mates. Here, the 15 best drive-in movie theaters in the U.S.
The Best Drive-In Movie Theaters in the U.S.
1. Valle Drive In (newton, Ia)
If you’re looking for authentic charm, this place has got it. Opened for business in 1948, the Valle Drive In is the oldest in Iowa. The teasers shown before the double-features, the concession stand, popcorn maker and neon sign are all original, a rep for Travel Iowa tells us.
2. Hull's Drive-in (lexington, Va)
In 1999, a community group called Hull's Angels came together to raise funds for the improvement and purchase of this then decaying drive-in property. It reopened in 2000 as the first non-profit, community-owned place to view a movie under the stars in the U.S. Pretty cool.
3. Mission Tiki Drive-in Theatre (montclair, Ca)
Tiki-themed concession stands surrounded by palm trees will transport you to a Polynesian paradise when you roll up to this Southern California drive-in just outside Los Angeles. Menu items are filled with American favorites, though. Think pizza, burgers, and Mexican grub that’s finger-licking greasy and good.
4. Four Brothers (amenia, Ny)
Opened in 2013, Four Brothers may be one of the newer drive-ins on the scene, but it's design still takes cues from the 1960s. In those days, there were over 4,000 across the U.S. as compared to fewer than 400 today. To capture the spirit of the era, their founders chose a rocket as their logo because they believe it symbolizes the imagination of Americans during the ‘60s. Double features from 4K projectors are currently up and running, and Four Brothers’ staple events and live music, petting zoo, and face paintings are likely to slowly return as COVID-19 restrictions ease in the future.
5. Delsea Drive-in (vineland, Nj)
The concept of the drive-in movie theater was invented in New Jersey all the way back in ‘33, so it’s a little surprising to hear that Delsea is the state’s only remaining way to catch a feature film from your car. This Garden State beauty more than makes up for it by doing nostalgia quite well, all while catering to today’s movie goers with healthier, gluten-free and Atkins-friendly food options. Don’t worry, the classic coke, burger, and chili fries also grace the menu.
6. Admiral Twin Drive-in (tulsa, Ok)
If your claim to fame is being featured in the classic Francis Ford Coppola flick The Outsiders, then you clearly belong on this list. We can’t guarantee you’ll find Ponyboy, Johnny or Dally sneaking in as they do in the film, but this Tulsa, O.K. gem has everything else your heart desires for a drive-in movie experience. Imagine an iconic sign that’s ideal for the ‘graming, a wide-open lot to park your car and beautiful sunset backdrops if you hit the light right.
7. Transit Drive-in (lockport, Ny)
These days, before the start of each movie at the Transit Drive-In—which has been a staple of the Niagara Falls community since 1952–there’s a moving tribute clip to celebrate frontline responders and essential workers who have been working tirelessly for the community. Customers are encouraged to honk their horns loud and proud as a way to say thanks.
8. Smith's Ranch Drive-in (twentynine Palms, Ca)
“There's nothing fancy or retro about it—it's just a classic drive-in that's been continuously operating since 1954,” says James Kaiser, author of Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide, of Smith's Ranch Drive-In. “After exploring the weird and wonderful scenery in Joshua Tree, head to Smith's Ranch and enjoy first-run movies under an ocean of desert stars.” Yes, please.
9. Tibbs Drive-in (indianapolis, In)
Going strong for 53 years, it’s easy to see why: Tibbs has four screens which means it can pack in some 1,600 cars each of the five days a week it operates. To keep social distancing in check, Tibbs just launched a new app so that both movie ticket and concession stand orders are contactless.
10. Northfield Drive-in Theatre (hinsdale, Nh)
Outdoor projectors start rolling right around dusk at this picture perfect drive-in where both the screen and parking field is flanked by a protective bubble of tall trees.
11. Greenville Drive-in (greenville, Ny)
Socially distanced bales of hay, adorable vintage pickup truck and VW bus popcorn holders, and old-school speakers are just a few of the reasons people travel from all around to experience the Greenville Drive-In in Greene County, part of New York’s Northern Catskills. While the adjacent biergarten that serves local beers, wine, and cocktails is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, it’s rumored to be reopening in early July with restrictions and limited capacity.
12. Shankweiler's Drive-in Theatre (orefield, Pa)
The oldest drive-in movie theatre in America (!) has been operating in Lehigh Valley since 1934, and still requires you to tune in through your car radio to hear sound. For the price of one ticket, you’ll get a double feature at the historic venue—which is great, because you’ve got more time than ever to kill at the movies.
13. Sunshine Mill Winery Drive-up Movies (the Dalles, Or)
This Oregon winery recently, and very wisely, converted a parking lot into a drive-up movie theater currently in operation three nights a week. Each parking space here has its own wine barrel where wine, beer, and snacks or even a pizza can be dropped off while you enjoy throwbacks on Thursday, grown up films on Friday, and family-friendly favorites on Saturdays.
14. Denver Mart Drive-in (denver, Co)
With a screen that backs up to an overpass and plenty of room to spread out in a large parking lot, The Denver Mart Drive-In is no frills. But it’s also minutes from downtown Denver, making it an easy and quick escape for city folk looking to enjoy a drive in without a trip to the ‘burbs or beyond.
15. Family Drive-in Theatre (stephens City, Va)
Feast your eyes on this beaut—a two-screen classic family friendly drive-in that also happens to be pet-friendly, because the separation anxiety with our pets is real these days. The concession stand is currently slinging classic theater snacks like popcorn or bigger meals like a 13-piece shrimp basket, and can all be ordered safely through an app.