The drive-in theater boom first started on June 6 of the year 1933. That was the day that Richard Hollingshead opened the country’s first drive-in movie theater in the Pennsauken Township in the state of New Jersey. After that day, drive-in theaters started popping up all over the United States, including in the state of California.The trend really took off during the 1940’s with the invention of in-car speakers. Families still come to drive-in theaters today, looking for affordable, outdoor family fun, especially during the summer season. These California drive-in theaters offer their own bit of Americana.
1.Mission Tiki Drive-in
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The Mission Tiki Drive-in theater first opened back in the year 1956 as “The Mission” with just one large outdoor movie screen. Since then, the drive-in has grown to boast four large screens, as well as an updated lot, new sound systems, and a digital projection screen. The options for food at the theater’s tiki-themed concession stand include burgers, pizza, and unlike most movie theaters, Mexican food. The ticket booths are designed to look similar to tiki huts, and there is even a Maui statue garden. The Technalight projection system used provides the brightest and clearest picture possible.
10798 Ramona Ave, Mission, California 91763, Phone: 909-628-0511
2.Solano 2 Drive-in Theater
© Solano 2 Drive-in Theater
The Solano 2 Drive-in in a West Wind drive-in theater located in Concord, California. West Wind opened its first drive-in back in 1952, and now owns and operates the largest chain of drive-in theaters in the world, four of which are in the state of California. The outdoor theater has a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere with an old-school drive-in kind of vibe. This is combined with the latest in movie theater technology. The drive-in shows current releases at the very same time that indoor theaters are showing them. The theater even does midnight showings of major movie releases, as well as early openings.
1611 Solano Way, Concord, CA 94520, Phone: 925-825-1951
3.West Wind Santa Barbara Drive-in
© West Wind Santa Barbara Drive-in
The West Wind drive-in theater in Santa Barbara is one of the country’s first drive-in theaters to fully embrace modern technology, installing the largest digital projectors that are available. Customers can enjoy a completely clear digital image of the movies being shown at the outdoor movie theater, and much larger than many indoor movie theaters. Guests can grab something to eat from the full-service Snack Bar, which serves high quality refreshments, such as Nathan’s Famous hot dogs among other snacks. Kids can play on the playground or in the arcade during the break between the movies of the double feature.
907 S Kellogg Ave, Goleta, CA 93117, Phone: 805-964-9050
4.South Bay Drive-in
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The South Bay Drive-in theater first opened in 1958, quickly becoming a popular destination for families with children in the San Diego area, as well as young adults wanting an easy date night beneath the stars. By introducing very bright digital projectors, the drive-in movie theater is able to screen first-run current releases at a quality similar to indoor movie theaters. The South Bay offers a great experience for quality family time, as well as an affordable night out for people of all ages. The drive-in is open every day of the week, open 362 days out of the year.
2170 Coronado Ave, San Diego, CA 92154, Phone: 619-423-2727
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The Vineland Drive-in theater, located in the City of Industry, is open seven days each week, including holidays, no matter what the weather may be. The outdoor movie theater accepts both cash and credit cards, and tickets are slightly cheaper Sunday through Thursday. Since it originally opened in 1950, the theater has upgraded to using FM radio for audio and digital projection. The four-screen drive-in can accommodate up to 1,700 cars and features a snack bar with a variety of treats available. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the first film is typically shown again after the second film of the double feature.
433 N Vineland Ave, City of Industry, CA 91746, Phone: 626-961-9262
6.Lakeport Auto Movie Theater
© Lakeport Auto Movie Theater
The Lakeport Auto movie theater is a basic classic drive-in movie theater that shows double features of mainstream films. The grounds also include a snack bar where guests can purchase a variety of movie treats and drinks, such as candy, popcorn, and soda. The Lakeport Auto is newer than several other drive-ins in California, having opened in the year 1974, and is open from May through September. The drive-in theater provides residents of the Lakeport community, as well as visitors, with a chance to enjoy the American tradition of experiencing movies in their own car. Audio is accessed through radio.
52 Soda Bay Rd, Lakeport, CA 95453, Phone: 707-263-5011
© Madera Drive-in
The Madera Drive-in theater is a cash-only outdoor movie theater that first opened back in the year 1948 under the name El Rio Drive-in. The drive-in theater features two large outdoor movie screens and is only about thirty minutes away from Fresno in Madera, California. Of all the remaining drive-in theaters in California, the Madera Drive-in is the oldest in the entire state. The outdoor theater is open on a seasonal basis every year, from the month of May through the month of September. Customers can watch two movies as a double feature for the price of one.
201 E Lincoln Ave, Madera, CA 93638, Phone: 559-673-5381
8.Paramount Twin Drive-in
© Paramount Twin Drive-in
The Paramount Twin Drive-in movie theater features two large seventy-five-foot outdoor movie screens that are used to show first-run movies. The drive-in theater received some major renovations and improvements after being closed for twenty-two years. After this “intermission,” the Paramount started using sound through FM radio, Barco Digital projection, expanded the food menu served at its concession stand, and overall created a cleaner, safer, and friendlier environment at the bigger and brighter theater. Movies are shown at the Paramount Twin Drive-in no matter what the weather is like. Pets are not allowed on the property, unless they are service animals.
7770 Rosecrans Ave, Paramount, CA 90723, Phone: 562-630-7469
© Rubidoux Drive-in
The Rubidoux Drive-in theater boasts a history that dates back to the year 1948. Since then, new sound systems and digital projection has been added to the outdoor movie theater. The bathrooms and the concession stand have also been renovated, yet much of the drive-in still possesses its original character, offering a more nostalgic setting in which customers can enjoy a movie or two. The Rubidoux features three large outdoor screens that used to show currently released movies in Riverside, California. The drive-in theater also sometimes has coupons on its website for snacks at the on-site concession stand.
3770 Opal St, Riverside, CA 92509, Phone: 951-683-4455
10.Van Buren Drive-in
© Van Buren Drive-in
The Van Buren Drive-in originally opened in the year 1964 on the grounds of what was once an orange ranch. The drive-in theater opened with just a single outdoor screen, but later grew to consists of four large screens in the year 1975. The Van Buren has also since been outfitted with new sound and projection systems, and the screens have been repainted and the lot repaved. The snack bar at the drive-in offer many movie theater treats, as well as delicious fresh churros, for customers to enjoy during double features. Audio for movies is transmitted through FM radio.
3035 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92503, Phone: 951-688-2360
11.West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-in
© West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-in
The West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-in movie theater is the last remaining outdoor theater in the city of Sacramento. The concession serves high quality food, such as all-beef Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and Orville Redenbacher popcorn. While at first glance, the Sacramento drive-in may seem old-fashioned, it is in actuality quite modern, and business seems to be doing well. The theater is open throughout the year and show first-run, current releases at the same time as the indoor movie theaters. The drive-in theater also offers midnight showings of major new releases, as well as occasional early openings.
9616 Oates Dr, Sacramento, CA 95827, Phone: 916-363-6572
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12.Capitol Drive-in Theatre
© Capitol Drive-in Theatre
The Capitol Drive-in Theatre is one of the West Wind drive-in movie theaters located in the state of California. Situated in San Jose, the retro-style drive-in shows double features of current releases and provides sound through car FM radio. Since day one, the drive-in has been family owned and operated, and the West Wind Capitol sure seems to know how to keep guests entertained. The huge outdoor screens offers completely clear pictures through digital projection. The drive-in also consists of a game-filled arcade and a playground to provide more sources of entertainment for kids in between movies.
3630 Hillcap Ave, San Jose, CA 95136, Phone: 408-226-2251
© Sunset Drive-in
The Sunset Drive-in theater offers a slice of Americana from the “old times.” Customers can grab a blanket, a comfortable chair and a few friends and head out to watch a movie underneath the stars. The outdoor movie theater offers a great night out filled with clean family fun. The Sunset is independently owned and operated, and is one of only a handful of drive-in movie theaters still showing movies in southern California. The drive-in theater, located in San Luis Obispo, can accommodate up to 500 vehicles, and has been ranked on TripAdvisor as one of the top 10 drive-ins in the country.
255 Elks Ln, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, Phone: 805-544-4475
© Hi-way Drive-in
The Hi-Way Drive-in theater is one of the few remaining outdoor movie theaters in California, offering residents of the Santa Maria area and visitors an opportunity to watch a movie at an affordable price in a great outdoor environment in the state. The Hi-Way is situated south of San Luis Obispo’s Sunset Drive-in theater and is closer to the city of Santa Barbara. It also has a bit larger of an outdoor movie screen and hosts a swap-meet during the weekends. It’s hard to miss the flashing red neon lights on the drive-in theater’s marquee, which is a spectacular sight in itself.
3170 Santa Maria Way, Santa Maria, CA 93455, Phone: 805-937-3515
© Santee Drive-in
The Santee Drive-in theater is a classic outdoor movie theater that features a huge outdoor movie screen on which currently released movies are shown. The drive-in theater does not accept any credit cards or debit cards, so only cash is accepted. Thanks to the warmer climate of the state of California, the drive-in is open year-round, seven days a week. Audio for the films screened is through FM radio. Customers without a working FM radio can borrow one from the drive-in with a valid picture ID and a deposit. Bathrooms and the Snack Bar are in a building in the center.
10990 N Woodside Ave, Santee, CA 92071, Phone: 619-448-7447
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16.Smith's Ranch Drive-in
© Smith's Ranch Drive-in
While many drive-in movie theaters are closing across the country, the Smith’s Ranch Drive-in movie theater is still going strong. The cash-only drive-in theater features a single screen and is open throughout the entire year. During the off-season and the winter months, however, the drive-in only shows films during the weekends. Customers will find a great bargain at the Smith’s Ranch, as it offers double features for around half the price of a single movie ticket at most indoor movie theaters. The concession stand offers a variety of food, including fresh popped popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, pizza, and pulled pork sandwiches.
4584 Adobe Rd, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277, Phone: 760-367-7713
© Skyline Drive-in
The Skyline Drive-in movie theater is located in Barstow, California, offering the community a chance to watch movies from their own car, just like “old times.” The outdoor movie theater is open every day of the week during the summer months, screening first-run films every night. There is a full-service Snack Bar at the Skyline that serves a variety of food that will appeal to the entire family. The drive-in features two large outdoor screens that show current releases, and audio for the films can be accessed through FM radio. The Skyline Drive-in originally opened in 1964 with just one screen.
31175 US Highway 58, Barstow, CA 92311, Phone: 760-256-3333
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17 Best Drive-in Theaters in California
- Mission Tiki Drive-in, Photo: Courtesy of lexpixelart - Fotolia.com
- Solano 2 Drive-in Theater, Photo: Solano 2 Drive-in Theater
- West Wind Santa Barbara Drive-in, Photo: West Wind Santa Barbara Drive-in
- South Bay Drive-in, Photo: Courtesy of terry - Fotolia.com
- Vineland Drive-in, Photo: Courtesy of EugeneF - Fotolia.com
- Lakeport Auto Movie Theater, Photo: Lakeport Auto Movie Theater
- Madera Drive-in, Photo: Madera Drive-in
- Paramount Twin Drive-in, Photo: Paramount Twin Drive-in
- Rubidoux Drive-in, Photo: Rubidoux Drive-in
- Van Buren Drive-in, Photo: Van Buren Drive-in
- West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-in, Photo: West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-in
- Capitol Drive-in Theatre, Photo: Capitol Drive-in Theatre
- Sunset Drive-in, Photo: Sunset Drive-in
- Hi-way Drive-in, Photo: Hi-way Drive-in
- Santee Drive-in, Photo: Santee Drive-in
- Smith's Ranch Drive-in, Photo: Smith's Ranch Drive-in
- Skyline Drive-in, Photo: Skyline Drive-in
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of jdoms - Fotolia.com