Here Are 6 Ideas to Make a Drive-In Theater Your Ticket to Summer Fun

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 on Friday, April 6, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Summer is on its way. Wahoo!

That also means it’s time to start planning affordable family nights, now that the kiddos are home and don’t have homework to worry about. But that seems to be getting harder and harder these days, especially in a way that’s safe for everyone.

That’s why you should consider the closest drive-in movie theater.

Drive-ins aren’t merely a relic of the past — you might even have one in your backyard. A family of four can see a movie with snacks and drinks for around $25, at most.

Check out this database from DriveInMovie.com to see if there is a drive-in in your county. Next, here are some hacks 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 eight tips for your first drive-in experience, courtesy of patrons and staff at the Lakeland, Florida-based Silver Moon Drive-In Theater.

And because it seems like everything can change on a weekly — or daily — basis, we’ve included Pro Tips to help you prepare for social distancing restrictions. But check with your drive-in before you go for location-specific updates. 

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

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 on May 21, 2020. The couple last visited the Silver Moon in February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

As the only option for big-screen movies in some areas, the drive-in is becoming a lot more popular. The Silver Moon’s website specifically asks you to try to get there early. 

Pro Tip

Many drive-ins currently require you to pre-purchase tickets online and restrict capacity to allow a full space between each car.

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.

2. Bring Your Own Radio and Extra Batteries

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

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.

Pro Tip

Some drive-ins will not allow you to leave your car — even for the restroom. Plan accordingly.

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 allowed to sit outside on your lawn chairs or even if it’s just with the windows rolled down — so pack that bug spray so you don’t feel like you’re actually in the jungle while watching “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

4. Pack Dinner, Snacks and Drinks

A box of pizza with a beer is photographed.
The Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre allows people to bring their own food, but not all drive-ins allow food from the outside. Check before you go. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

One of the best parts of the drive-in is that you can bring your own food. Why spend $12 on movie-theater nachos when you can bring some chips and dip for less than half that?

Pro Tip

Some drive-ins have had to close concession stands due to social distancing restrictions — and relaxed their rules on outside food. Call before you go to ask if you can bring your own snacks.

Not all drive-ins allow outside food, so check the rules before you arrive. Silver Moon does allow you to bring in food, but its patrons rave about the food. (I recommend glass-bottle Cokes, some popcorn and a Silver Moon pizza.)

5. Wear Comfy Clothes

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 on Friday, April 6, 2018.

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. 

6. Bring Cash, Just in Case

A woman buys food at the concession stand at a drive-in movie theater.
Drive-ins across the nation are approaching concessions differently during the pandemic; some are closed, while others still serve food at limited capacity. The concession at the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre is open, but patrons are required to stand six feet apart and enter and exit from different doors. Employees are also wearing face masks. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

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.

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.

Alex Mahadevan is a former data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.