An evening at the drive-in pretty much sums up the best parts of summer. From the pre-movie entertainment (which may include, but is not limited to: mini golf, giant slides, pony rides, and barbecuing with friends, depending on the theater) to watching the stars come out during the feature, it’s a true highlight of the season.
And with fewer than 350 drive-in theaters left in the United States, it’s a piece of Americana in danger of fading away. Which is unfortunate because drive-ins are awesome, and there are few experiences that can truly (and affordably) entertain every member of the family. There’s a reason we put “Go to the drive-in” at the top of our summer bucket list. You should too.
Note: we don’t collect affiliate fees for the products we recommend on Parent.co.
Your family’s ultimate double-feature adventure
Find the nearest drive-in. Check their website or Facebook page to get the lowdown on what is and isn’t allowed. There’s nothing more disappointing than showing up and learning you can’t bust out your mini-grill (or beers).
Pack the snacks. Part of the fun of going to the drive-in is bringing your own snacks. We usually pop a gigantic vat of popcorn, pack a cooler with some seltzer and juice boxes (and beers!), and hack up a watermelon. The drive-in is also a perfect place to snack on fresh cherries.
Our local theater does not allow grilling, but we’d rather hit the concession stand for hot snacks anyway. Many businesses rely on those sales to make their profit, and since we want to continue to bring our kids there season after season, it makes sense to show support.
Grab the bug repellant. It seems the only creatures in attendance gorging themselves more than the teenager on his second chili dog are the mosquitos. Read our bug spray recommendations here. (Or, for the true aficionado, Skeeter Beeters.)
Bring a flashlight. Good to be prepared for flashlight tag and general illumination needs. Sure, your iPhone has a built-in flashlight, but a real flashlight is brighter and easier to use. (Plus, do you really want your kids playing flashlight tag with your iPhone?)
The Black Diamond Spot is the highest-rated headlamp on Wirecutter. The Energizer LED 2 in 1 handheld flashlight has a built in area light (handy), comes with batteries and is highly rated on Amazon. Our favorite “ultimate flashlight” is the Streamlight Strion rechargeable flashlight.
Don’t forget Windex, paper towels and a trash bag. Sure, you can ignore bug guts on the windshield when you’re driving, but something as important as Jurassic World deserves a crystal clear view. And just because you’re going to the movies in your car doesn’t mean it needs to get trashed. Bring trash bags to make clean up easy.
Get comfy. Bring blankets, pillows and sleeping bags. If you have a hatchback, fluff them all up into a nest and pull in backward.
If you’re going to sit outside of the car, grownups are generally more comfortable sitting in lawn chairs vs. sitting on the ground. We like Burton’s Camp Chair because it’s easy to pack, airy (for humid nights) and hold 320 pounds. (Enough for a parent with a kid on the lap during the scary parts of the movie.)
If you (or the kids) are sitting right on the ground, don’t forget to bring a blanket. You probably have plenty of blankets that are great for the job, but we like the stylish Meadow Mat from Alite; it’s water resistant for use on soggy ground.
You’ll need a portable radio if you sit outside your car. (Or even if you’re sitting in your car but don’t want to use your car’s battery.)
We’ve used the rechargeable iPal AM / FM radio at the drive-in, but it only has one speaker, which might not work for large groups.
At some theaters, you might be able to use the TuneIn Radio app to stream radio from your phone. Pair it with a portable Bluetooth speaker for flexible listening. The Logitech UE Mini Boom is a top-rated Bluetooth speaker. Bring a backup 3.5mm cable to connect your phone directly to the speaker in case the Bluetooth acts dodgy.
We haven’t used the Polaris V8 Portable Bluetooth Wireless Speaker, but it includes a built-in FM radio, has stereophonic sound, includes a 3mm cable, and gets great reviews.
Drive-in Movie Pro Tips
- Bring (or wear) pajamas for the littles. Make the transfer from party time to bedtime just a tad easier.
- Turn off your daytime running lights by engaging the parking brake.
- Don’t park in the front rows if your vehicle is giant.
- Keep your foot off the brake to avoid annoying people behind you with your brake lights.
- Get there early. For one thing, often, the movie isn’t the only attraction. A lot of theaters have added attractions, from playgrounds to petting zoos, which usually wind down when the movies start. Additionally, no one wants to be the guy driving in with headlights blazing once everyone is focused on the screen.
- Bring a ball or Frisbee to keep people entertained pre-flick.
- Bring Jumper cables. You should probably carry these anyway, and it’s likely that the office has a battery charger, but it’s worth a mention. (Also, make sure if you are using your car radio to hear the movie, that the key is turned to the ACC position and not all the way to ON.)