The ultimate drive-in movie checklist: why to go, what to bring, how to maximize the fun.

Recently, my husband took me on a spur-of-the moment date to the drive-in. It was the first time in a few years that we made time to go. We had a blast … albeit a nostalgia-tinged one. As soon as we pulled up to the box-office, memories rushed at us from all sides. Through all the stages of our life together – from just-friends through 20+ years of marriage to almost-empty-nesters – we’ve enjoyed this quintessentially summer-time activity. In all those years, we learned some great tips and tricks to maximize the joy of the experience. I’ve written this stand-alone piece to accompany a couple of other blog posts our date inspired:

If you’re a drive-in fan, you might want to check them out. Right now, allow me to share the wisdom we accumulated over the years.

big screen edit 2.jpeg

Why going to the drive-in rocks:

  • Drive-ins are cheaper than regular movies – often you will pay the same price for a triple feature that you would for a regular movie ticket. Also, children are usually admitted at a reduced price, or even free.
  • Going to the drive-in can take as little time as the length of one movie, or it can fill an entire evening – from dinner time to 3-4 o’clock in the morning.
  • Going to the drive-in with family or friends is far more social than going to a regular theater. You can move around, converse, play games, share a meal … you can even make a big ol’ puppy-pile on a stack of blankets.
  • Going to the drive-in on a date allows more cuddling and conversation time than a regular movie. (But it’s not as easy as you think to get down to serious business. There’s a lot of ambient light and people walk past you car all the time.)
  • Children have room to move around and don’t need to be silent.
  • Young children can be tucked into the back seat at bedtime, and the night can go on for everyone else. (Though it’s best to patient when teaching this – the drive-in is exciting!)
  • Bringing your own food and beverages is allowed. (Yet there is a concession stand that can accommodate your needs.)
  • Grilling is allowed.
  • Drinking alcohol is allowed.
  • Smoking is allowed.
  • Dogs are allowed.

Find a drive-in:

1) Start here to find a drive-in near you – just enter your zip code:



2) Even if you already know of a nearby theater, take the time to go to its website if possible.

At the website you should find  a list of what’s showing, approximate show times, and a description of amenities. Theater rules and regulations differ – it’s a good idea to review any and all posted policies. That said, going to the drive-in is a time-honored tradition, generally the information in this post reflects a typical drive-in experience.

Tips for reducing stress and maximizing fun:

  • GO EARLY unless you’re just hoping to sneak in for the 2nd or 3rd feature (which is allowed, but you’ll pay the same price as everyone else.)
  • Be there at least 30 minutes before the box office opens, and plan to wait in a line of cars. (Especially on the weekends.)
  • Know how you’re planning to hear the movie – some theaters have speakers, most (also) send the soundtrack through your car radio. Theaters are aging – bring a battery-powered, portable radio so you can hear no matter what.
  • I’ve never been to a drive-in where the restrooms weren’t pretty icky by time the second show started. Not much you can do about it, but be aware.
  • Don’t worry too much about getting a great spot. The drive-in isn’t going to provide the best possible movie-viewing experience anyway.
  • If you have children, on the first couple of excursions, expect to spend the majority of your time training your kids how to do a drive-in – it doesn’t come naturally to the small ones, and you don’t want to give them bad memories. Be patient when they are young, and reap the benefits for years to come.
  • Kids of a certain age (and me) really get a kick out of sitting on the roof or hood of the car. Decide on your policy ahead of time and prepare as needed.
  • When we went to the drive-in recently, we saw A LOT of people playing on phones, tablets and other hand-held devices. Decide on your policy ahead of time and make sure everything is charged as necessary.
  • If you’re going to grill, do it early and with the least amount of coals possible so they cool by the time you leave. Most theaters provide metal cans for disposal.
  • PLAN on filling the time between arrival and dusk. This can be as long as three hours. A read-through of the following list should help you be prepared.

The ultimate guide to what to bring to the drive-in, for all ages:
(Just skip the stuff that doesn’t apply.)

cooler stuff –
(AFTER everything is packed, fill cooler with ice from the gas station.)

  • soda pop (glass bottles aren’t the safest option, but they do make anything inside them taste even better and stay colder longer)
  • beer  or wine coolers (just a couple for the driver)
  • juice boxes
  • Hershey chocolate bars, securely water-proofed with a plastic bag
  • hot dogs, unless you want to be more creative on the grill (Fully cooked hot dogs were our no-stress option.)
  • catsup, mustard & other desired condiments (Sometimes we saved up extra fast food packets, especially relish.)
  • chopped up fruit in Tupperware
  • OR chill a watermelon ahead of time, and put it in the trunk right before you leave

Hell, bring cold lobster salad if you want – as long as you can transport it safely, there are no rules about food-stuffs. The rest of this list will reflect what I used to pack for my family – feel free to be inspired in a way that better suits your family.

bag-of-other-food-stuff –

  • graham crackers
  • marshmallows
  • hot dog buns
  • chips and/or crackers
  • selection of movie candies – DOTS, Junior Mints, Whoppers, M&Ms (If it’s very hot, some of these should be stored in the cooler, next to the Hershey bars.)
  • pre-popped corn (We saw people do this, but always splurged at the concession stand.)

cooking / eating / clean up stuff –

  • Hibachi grill & quick-light charcoal (lighter fluid, if you need it)
  • tongs
  • roasting stick for each person (there will not be a handy tree to cut from)
  • bottle opener
  • big knife (for watermelon)
  • wet wipes (lots of wet wipes)
  • napkins (we used bandanas)
  • plastic placemats (1 for each kid, plus at least  1 for cutting melon / preparing food)
  • paper or reusable plastic plates (ours were orange, yellow and green)
  • paper or plastic bowls for dividing large popcorn from concession stand

seating / sleeping stuff –

  • lawn chairs, appropriately sized for each family member / guest
  • picnic blanket (if there are kids, this will likely not be good for cuddling later)
  • cuddle blankets / throws / sleeping bags for everyone
  • a sheet or light throw to hang in the car to create a screen-shield for sleep-time
  • pins or clips to hang said screen (you’ll have to experiment to see what works)
  • sleeping buddies (ONE stuffed toy/cuddle item for each kid)

entertainment stuff –

  • a portable radio for each cluster of movie watchers (See ‘tips for reducing stress …’ above.)
  • ball and gloves for everyone  – there’s room to play under the screen & along the sides of the lot (If baseball isn’t your family sport, substitute appropriate active-time equipment: frisbees, soccer balls, etc.)
  • travel versions of your favorite games (Ours were Yahtzee and Chess/Checkers.)
  • each child’s to-go bucket of toys (Pooka had an ice cream pail full of cars & little guys. Ten years later, The Boy inherited it.)
  • at least one penlight / flashlight (But consider more for flashlight tag between movies.)
  • glow in the dark bracelets or necklaces (Many of the stands sell them, other people will have them, someone in your party will want one too, and they are cheaper to buy ahead of time at a discount store.)
  • phones, tablets, hand-held games, if that’s okay with you (Make sure they are fully charged.)

practical stuff –

  • if there are babies in the party, I’m assuming they have fully packed diaper bags with all the necessities
  • a  big dad-shirt or two – in case someone gets filthy or wet, and needs an emergency change of clothes
  • sunscreen for the early evening
  • bug spray
  • bug bite relief
  • hand sanitizer (remember the bathrooms aren’t great)
  • a first aid kit (customized to your famiy’s needs – this is a long outing)
  • flash light (see above)
  • portable radio (see above)
  • camera / cell phone (Sadly, I never remembered to bring one when our kids were young.)

Just a few more thoughts:


help to keep the drive-in experience fun for everyone.

  • One car gets ONE spot. Don’t sprawl.
  • Control your kids.
  • Don’t approach every dog you see … it’s not relaxing for the dog’s people. You’ll be able to tell which dogs are ready for a visit. If you’re in doubt, don’t.
  • Don’t drink and drive. (An early beer or two should be the max for someone who will be driving at 3 am.)
  • Don’t use your headlights, or interior lights (if you can help it) when the movies are playing.
  • Don’t toss trash, cigarette butts, or scraps of food around.
  • Dispose of hot coals safely.
  • Pick up all your trash.

And, most importantly, remember that it’s perfectly fine to just hop in the car and go.

Chances are you’ll have a fabulous time no matter how much or or how little you prepare.



A reader, R Kay, brought the following project to my attention. Time is running out. Share, Pledge to go to the drive-in. Vote to give a drive-in a digital projector. Donate.


June WriMoProg 27 + 35 = 62/98

[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]


61 Comments on “The ultimate drive-in movie checklist: why to go, what to bring, how to maximize the fun.”

  1. Crista says:

    very thorough post! i love love the drive-in movies……

  2. angryscholar says:

    I love that you spell it “catsup,” but I am APPALLED that you listed marshmallows and graham crackers on your list of snacks, but no chocolate. For shame.

  3. jokelly65 says:

    wow, this brings back memories, I have not seen an open Drive in theater in years.. I do miss them.

    • There are less than 400 left, by most estimates. And more will be folding as the movie industry converts to an all-digital distribution. I don’t want to introduce a sad note, but now’s the time to plan a road trip if necessary to make sure you get to go at least one more time.

      • jokelly65 says:

        its a sad thing that we keep tossing away wonderful ways to socialize and enjoy life with the rush to use the latest and greatest gizmo or technology that is usually out of date six days to two months after it hits the shelves.

        I think I would have to go out of state to find a Drive through at this point

      • Micheal says:

        Damn… Just reading this as I am opening up my own drive-in theatre here in Ontario! If ever you’re in the area!;)

  4. Anonymous says:

    now i really want to go 🙂

  5. I miss drive-in theaters. Sadly, there aren’t any real close to where I live.

  6. Patrick says:

    It has been a looooong time. You may have just convinced me to find the nearest theatre!

  7. jmount43 says:

    Great post! Liked and re-blogged this on Written in Blood.

  8. ODDLY (?) enough, I learned that we still have an operational drive-in nearby just 3 days ago! I am THRILLED to death to find this out and will be keeping my eyes pealed for movies there that we want to see this summer! OMG! The drive-in we went to when I was a kid is LONG! gone, lost in the madness of yet another Wal*Mart Plaza. ICK! I’ve not been to a drive-in movie since the mid-1980s! Your post brought a smile to my face and nearly a tear to my eye. Certainly when the blessed event arrives, I will blog about it.

  9. Very cool post!

    Man – the last flick I remember watching at a drive-in was… well, I don’t remember the movie, because the reason we were there was to make out, but I recall it being a pretty good time. Had to be in the mid-80’s.

    There’s a drive-in within 90 minutes of our house. Maybe we should go and this time, we’ll watch the movie. Probably.

  10. There’s usually a couple of features – watch one, make out during the other one or two 🙂

  11. R Kay says:

    Great list. I will be going to the drive in tonight. Thought I would share this: You can vote to have your favorite drive in receive a digital projector, so they won’t go out of business.

  12. […] more suggestions and ideas, check out this comprehensive list or come up with some ideas of your own.  And one final piece of advice: if you’re going with […]

  13. Morguie says:

    How very cool is THAT!?! I remember that going to the drive-in was the ONLY way my parents enjoyed going to the movies…I think mom and dad “probably” went to the ‘walk-in’ a total of POSSIBLY 3 times, since I’ve ever been aware. Dad is passed away now, Mom doesn’t go to movies, doesn’t care to. She’s happy to see them at home. I can still remember the gigantic batches of popcorn she’d make, the cooler with the beverages (adult and kiddie)…blankets pillows in the back of our International SCOUT and a double-feature…I miss those days. Thanks for the great post! It was a nice look back for me…

  14. Nikki Marie says:

    I going to see maleficent today :O ! OMGosh, I’m so excited. I’m glad I read this list before I went so now I have some really good prep ideas 😀 !!!!

  15. Julie Smith says:

    I love, love, love your post! Taking our 5 year old son and our 10 year old niece to the drive-in tonight. I have such fond memories and hope we’ll make some for them! Drive-ins are such a gem!

  16. Regan says:

    Thanks for a fabulous post! Bags are all packed to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Maleficent tomorrow night with my 4-1/2 year old son! I think I’m more excited than he is!

  17. The drive in for us is priceless for all the reasons you stated! I have many fond memories as a kid and now my children do. Thanks for a great post!

  18. Reblogged this on The Write Girl for the Job Blog and commented:
    For all of those who haven’t experienced a Drive-In : This should be on your Must Do List. It’s hard to even put in to words the good memories you’ll have. The Paranormalist says it all. : )

  19. Cris says:

    I love drive-ins but there are so few of them left anymore. When I first moved to Salt Lake City many years ago, there were at least five drive-ins. Unless things have changed since I moved away 15 years ago, there is only one. One is now a medical center and the rest are houses. Good reminder. Thanks.

    • It’s a shame that we’ve lost so many. It’s been happening over time, of course, but I think the necessity of converting to digital projectors was the death knell for many. I can’t imagine anyone building a NEW drive in … though I guess I don’t why not. I wonder what the future holds for them.

  20. aj vosse says:

    Gosh… those are long lists for a few short hours of fun!!

    I do recall my early days of drive-in movies… then top of the list was a girlfriend!! 😉 Say no more!! 🙄

  21. […] by before to snag a couple burritos bowls. Another great tip is to take an ice cooler. You can stop by at your local gas station, buy a pack of ice, and fill up the cooler with sodas, fruits, and water […]

  22. […] If you live near Columbia, South Carolina, then you know the Big Mo. Monetta Drive-In is the place to go if you want to be in the great outdoors and the movie theatre. So, if you love going to the drive-in, here are some drive-in movie musts! […]

  23. lindsay says:

    There are many drive-ins that don’t allow grilling of any kind (ours doesn’t), so just a word of caution- don’t bring that stuff unless you have confirmed that your drive-in allows it. Otherwise you might have cold buns and no dogs or burgers.

    I loved all the other tips on the list. Thank you for posting this article!

  24. Dan Nodden says:

    I’m going to one in Rhode island tomorrow!

  25. Nick Hensgen says:

    Great article. But remember, all drive-ins have different rules. Many do not allow dogs or alcohol any more for instance for liability reasons. There are about 330 remaining drive-ins in the U.S. To find the drive-in theater nearest to you or to learn more about them, visit which list all open drive-ins and has detailed information on each of them. So go out this weekend and enjoy a movie under the stars!

  26. Gwen Stacy says:

    I am hosting a drive-in movie at the company I work for we restore classic cars. This article is very helpful! Thank you for writing

  27. J says:

    I realise this is an old post but I’m going to my first drive in tomorrow, didn’t know what to except so this is a great find, thank you. Blanket was top of the list, it’s winter here.

  28. Ken says:

    I found it hard to do with modern cars. If you want to watch the movie from a hatch back, the curtesy lights come on when you lift the boot door and stay on until it is shut. I still cant find a way to over ride this in my 2018 ford focus trend. Very annoying for the other movie goers.

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