Like a great road trip, there’s something uniquely American about the drive-in movie theater experience. Spotlight has been shed on the movie theater industry as it’s one of the many sectors that was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. With regulations ensuring social distancing, we slowly watched as the retro concept of drive-in theaters reemerged with full force throughout all American states.
Even as indoor theaters open up we still see many people opting to stay inside their own automobile-corona-free-bubble. This mix of safety, entertainment, and nostalgia might just be the perfect summer night plan. With big open spaces and a friendly atmosphere, the Midwest is the optimal backdrop for the occasion. If you live in this region or are planning to rediscover America this summer by going on a road trip through the Midwest, you should stop by one (or ten) of these drive-in theaters. Sit under the stars, disconnect from the present, and travel through time.
Like any other outdoor activity, during these unprecedented times, there are also restrictions being imposed in drive-in movie theaters. So keep an eye for things like social distancing measures and reduced capacity of theaters. Some venues are encouraging all ticketing to be done online, limiting their snack bar options, and closing playgrounds for kids. Please do your homework before embarking on this adventure.
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Gibson City, Illinois
Open since the 1950s, this spot in central Illinois survived both a tornado and a brief closure. It’s ready to face COVID-19 head on! It claims to have the best drive-in food in the Midwest, housing a snack bar, a so-called Burger Barn, and a tiki hut. If you’ve become somewhat of a germaphobe, they’ve got you covered, you can buy a food permit for US$5.00 and bring your own food. They are located 30 minutes from Champaign-Urbana and 35 minutes from Bloomington-Normal.
Before the pandemic, this was one of the few thriving drive-in theaters in the United States. So we can only imagine how 13-24 Drive-In is doing right now. Open for almost 70 years, it boasts one of the largest outdoor screens in Indiana and an elevated parking for better viewing. The venue also hosts other events like this year’s “Summer Music Series” where you can listen to live music for free.
The big neon sign at the front is enough of a reason to go—c’mmon it doesn’t get more nostalgic than this. 66 Drive-In is one of the only drive-in theaters left in Route 66 and one of the very few historically intact. The owners take pride in their mission of being an affordable family entertainment and offer “the best double features possible.” As an added bonus this venue also allows pets!
Feel the grandiosity of the screen at 66 Drive-In as soon as you arrive
Kansas City, Kansas
This 50-year old drive-in theater was the world's first to use a 4K digital projection system. The Boulevard Drive-In brags that it outlived many of its competitors being the longest operating Kansas City movie venue, indoor or outdoor. If you’re not sold by the high-quality image, their bi-weekly Swap ‘n’ Shop Flea Market will definitely do the job. The theater is located in a field near the northern banks of Turkey Creek in the Rosedale district.
This drive-in theater is one of the oldest and one of the two last standing in Nebraska. At TK-Starlite Drive-In Theater shows begin at dusk and unlike most other drive-ins that only show movies on the weekend, this spot is open Thursday through Sunday. On their website, you’ll find more helpful directions if you’re coming from Norfolk, Yankton, O’Neil or Albion.
This is America's largest drive-in theater with 5 screens and parking for 2,500 cars. Like some other venues, they’re happy to offer their customers two movies for the price of one with their double features! They’re also open 7 days a week.
Feel the anticipation of waiting in line to get in at Ford Drive-In by @ingrids_tia
The Sky-Vu is a single screen drive-in holding up to 180 cars, making it one of the smaller, and more intimate drive-ins left in the United States. It really is the perfect plan to add to your romantic getaway. Located in the heart of the Red River Valley, it’s within minutes of Crookston, Thief River Falls, and Grand Forks in the neighboring state of North Dakota. Unlike the snack bars in large chain movie theaters, this one is affordable and has signature snacks cooked by the owner himself.
Leave your mark and buy yourself some popcorn at Sky-Vu's Snack Bar by @jenicamercilll
Hermosa, South Dakota
Roy’s Black Hills Twin Drive-In is a rare case of a drive-in that was constructed in recent years. It opened in 2012 featuring two big screens. Located 18 miles outside of Rapid City, you can find the venue on Highway 79 at 810 Tenaya St. on the edge of Hermosa. It’s open 7 days a week to easily fit your road trip schedule.
Enjoy the sundown and a movie from inside your car or a nearby chair by @rokasbucas
In 1987, more than 20 years after its opening this drive-in theater added the word “Twin” to its name after a second screen was added. This 18 acres plot of land, which fits up to 1,100 cars, is only a 25-minute drive from Dayton and a 1-hour and a half drive to Columbus. They pride themselves in serving their customers with the utmost agility, having a well-equipped snack bar ready to serve rumbling bellies during the 10-minute intermission.
This spot was the first drive-in to feature state-of-the-art digital projection and FM stereo in the Midwest. It’s got the feel of an old movie theater with the technical qualities of a modern one—what more can you ask for? It’s located 5 miles south of Maquoketa on Hwy 61 just off of EXIT 153.
Take your cool car for a spin at 61 Drive-In by @atalie.r
Fish Creek, Wisconsin
This is one of the last drive-in movie theaters in the state. Open since 1950, this drive-in theater has been extremely well preserved. The snack bar is almost intact, the parking spots remain almost the same, and the one-screen concept is still in place. Even the sound system in the first four rows are the traditional speakers that were hung on posts. The cherry that tops the cake is that they still show cartoon advertisements from decades ago. Recent movies in a vintage setting? You couldn’t ask for more.
If you’re planning on exploring the Midwest this summer don’t miss out on this experience. At a time when everything seems out of place, a trip to another era might just be a great starting point to your next travel escapade.