6 Ways to Turn a Drive-In Theater Into Your (Cheap) Ticket to Summer Fun

A family watch a movie at a drive-in movie theater.
From left, Paul, Heath, Izzy and Amanda Danbury took in the movies at Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre when they visited Florida from Dorset, England. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Drive-ins aren’t merely a relic of the past — you might even have one on your backyard.

Like the brick-and-mortar theaters, drive-ins have had to raise ticket prices because of inflation. Still, drive-ins are a pretty good deal.

A family of four can purchase tickets to most drive-ins for less than $30. (Expect to pay more than $50 at an AMC theater.) Most drive-ins offer free or discounted tickets for young children — and sometimes to seniors and military veterans. Some will allow you to bring your own food for a fee that’s typically $5 to $10 per car.

Check out our searchable table below to see if one is near you. DriveInMovie.com also maintains a listing of drive-ins.

Next, here are some drive-in movie ideas to make sure you get the most out of your drive-in theater experience.

Tips to Help You Have a Blast At Your Local Drive-In Movie Theater

I know what you’re thinking: “What could be so difficult about putting a car in park and watching a dang screen?”

Well, it’s not difficult. But if you want to be comfortable and have as much fun as possible, here are some tips for your drive-in experience, courtesy of patrons and staff at the Lakeland, Florida-based Silver Moon Drive-In Theater.

Check with your drive-in before you go for location-specific updates.

Two people get situated to watch a movie at a drive-in movie theater.
Chris Kramer, left, and his fiancée, Elaine Schray, both of Clermont, Fla., picnic at the Silver Moon Drive-In. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

1. Get There Early and Grab a Spot Near the Exit

As both a cheaper and socially safer alternative to the traditional movieplex , the drive-in has regained some popularity. The Silver Moon’s website specifically asks you to try to get there early.

One, you won’t have to sit in a long line of cars and burn that precious gas. And two, you can snag a parking space close to the exit so you avoid the slow-moving caravan after the double feature.

A battery-operated radio sits on the dashboard of someone's car.
Bringing battery-operated radios to the Silver Moon Drive-In theater is highly encouraged. Patrons tune into the movie’s sound using radios, and portable radios save your car battery. Chris Zuppa/The

2. Bring Your Own Radio and Extra Batteries

Here’s the scene: You’re out with the guy of your dreams, who is totally impressed with your choice of a classic date night. But when the movie’s over, you turn the key to start your car and hear that dreaded clicking noise. Your battery is dead.

Don’t let this happen to you; bring a portable radio with extra batteries. You have to stream the movie’s audio through a radio, and using your car radio will drain the battery.

Also, if you plan to set up chairs in your pickup bed or behind your vehicle, you’ll need a portable radio to hear the movie anyway.

Alternatively, you can recharge your car battery by turning on your car every half hour or so and letting it run for a few minutes.

3. Bring Bug Spray

Bugs are an annoying part of life in the summertime.

You’ll be outside for a few hours — whether you’re sitting outside on your lawn chairs or just in your car with the windows rolled down — so pack that bug spray to send the pests packing.

4. Plan for a Full Evening

Check your local drive-in’s website or call ahead when planning your movie night. Most offer deals for double features for a single ticket price. That’s a full night of entertainment, so you might want to bring the kids’ pajamas and pillows in case they fall asleep before the final show.

A little girl plays in the parking lot of a drive-in movie theater.
Destiny Farrior, 7, eats pizza and plays soccer before the start of the film at the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre.

5. Wear Comfy Clothes

Here’s another drive-in advantage: Nobody will judge what you’re wearing.

Break out your pajamas for an extra comfy drive-in experience. Or dress up like one of the Avengers.

A woman buys food at the concession stand at a drive-in movie theater.
Customers stand in line at the concession stand at the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

6. Bring Cash, Just in Case

Remember when people actually paid for stuff with those green paper thingies?

Drive-ins dredge up feelings of nostalgia for much simpler times. That might mean simpler times for your wallet as well. Bring some cash just in case the drive-in doesn’t accept credit cards or tap-to-pay.

Now that you’re a drive-in expert, all you need is a cherry red 1950s convertible and you’re ready to hit the theater. Just kidding.

Methodology: We used Google Map’s API to collect data for every drive-in listed in the United States and verified the ones that are opened or plan to be open during the summer of 2023. 

Alex Mahadevan is a former data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. Multimedia Content Creator Chris Zuppa provided data analysis and updates for this article.