With home entertainment, multi-screen theaters and the high cost of real estate, the Southland has seen the decline of the drive-in theaters along with the rest of the country. While there are some 400 drive-ins in the nation, Southern California has only a handful left. With these five best choices, the drive-in experience is holding on. Renovations and technological overhauls have brought new life to what was once a regular night out. If you have never been to one, this is your chance to encounter a completely American cultural treasure.
Electric Dusk Drive-In
City Market of LA
1000 San Julian Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Just off the 10, 5, 101, & 110 Freeways in DTLA is a drive-in theatre that tops most. With the skyline of Downtown L.A. in the background and classic films such as Pulp Fiction, Dirty Dancing, Coming to America, Wayne’s World, Grease and others, it’s hard to beat this spot. Prices range from $9 to $11 for regular films or $9-$13 for double features when you purchase online in advance. If you decide to get a ticket at the door (or in your car), tickets are up-charged $2 more than the usual price. The plus side is children 5 and under get in free. If you decide the car isn’t your thing, you can grab the best seats at the venue. Buying astroturf tickets allows you access to their large patch of astroturf where you’ll mingle with fellow moviegoers and listen to audio through outdoor speakers. These seats are actually closest to the screen and offer a lawn-style al fresco viewing experience. If you get hungry, their Snack Shack offers items such as hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs as well as large selection of candy, popcorn, chips, sodas and more.
Pacific Theaters Vineland Drive-In
443 N. Vineland Ave.
City Of Industry, CA 91746
Retro all the way, Vineland Drive-In has all new movie releases in the classic 50s setting. Standard audio, projection and snack bar completes the experience. This survival from the past is kid friendly and a great experience for young and old couples. The snack bar guy and hot dog gal add a little authentic eccentricity, a sort of down-home role-play. This “unique experience” has the added value of moving around to the other screens – it’s “two movies for the price of one,” and showings are seven days a week.
Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre
10798 Ramona Ave.
Montclair, CA 91763
The Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre says Americana all the way, and that the drive-in movie experience is “more than apple pie.” Its sense of history recalls the beginnings of the drive-in movie theater. During the 20th century’s depression, New Jersey saw the first of what was to become an “unprecedented national phenomenon.” Drive-ins merged two great passions: “the automobile and the movies.” Opened in 1956, and after years of neglect, in 2006 a major renovation that left “no detail untouched” upgraded the drive-in for the 21st century. The “Tiki Theme” added an over-the-top 50s-ish feel. The concession stand now has traditional drive-in fare, and it also serves classic American and Mexican food. “In a culture where family time has become so rare and the price of movie tickets are breaking the budget,” say the owners, “the time is right once more for the drive-in to satisfy the national thirst for affordable, good, quality family entertainment.”
West Wind Drive-In – Santa Barbara
907 S. Kellogg
Goleta, CA 93117
With the decline of the drive-in in the Southland, the West Wind Drive-In – Santa Barbara is an opportunity for a weekend trip north. Via Highway 1 and 101, the trip takes about two hours. Once out of the Los Angeles metroplex, Ventura and Santa Barbara provide an inviting landscape and cool sea breezes. The drive-in accepts only cash and offers double features. It prides itself on an “energetic, fun, hard-working staff.” Upgraded and classic, this drive-in has it all.
Van Buren Drive-In
3035 Van Buren Blvd.
Riverside, CA 92503
Named for its location on Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, this drive-in opened in 1965. The former orange grove was redeveloped a decade later. After 40 years, and having never closed, in 2006 it started a renovation that saw the latest technologies from FM transmitters for audio to digital projectors. With the overall improvements, from repaving to new restrooms, the public returned “in record numbers.” The remodeling took in local culture as a theme, or what it calls “Old California, Orange Ranch.”
Santee Drive-In Theater
10990 Woodside Ave. North,
Santee, CA 92071
For those living south of greater Los Angeles, or on a visit to San Diego’s attractions, an evening at the Santee Drive-In Theater is well spent. Santee is a suburban community to the north of greater San Diego. The drive-in preserves a long tradition of service and it is an iconic American experience, and it wants to say thanks for “supporting the Santee Drive-In” and “see you at the movies!”