Drive-In Theaters in the Midwest: The Perfect 2020 Summer Night Plan

F. Bruna Ferreira

Published on
Drive-In Theaters in the Midwest: The Perfect 2020 Summer Night Plan

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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Harvest Moon Drive-In

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.

13-24 Drive-In

Wabash, Indiana

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. 

Girl in front of sign at 13-24 Drive-In, Wabash

Strike a pose by the impossible-to-miss neon sign at 13-24 Drive-In by @bailey.thibodeaux

66 Drive-In

Carthage, Missouri

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!

Entrance of 66 Drive In Theatre

Feel the grandiosity of the screen at 66 Drive-In as soon as you arrive

Boulevard Drive-In

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. 

TK-Starlite Drive-In Theater 

Neligh, Nebraska

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.

Ford Drive In

Dearborn, Michigan

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.

Entrance of Ford Drive-In, Dearborn

Feel the anticipation of waiting in line to get in at Ford Drive-In by @ingrids_tia

Sky-Vu Drive-In

Warren, Minnesota

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.

Girl buying popcorn and soda at Sky-Vu Drive In Theater

Leave your mark and buy yourself some popcorn at Sky-Vu's Snack Bar by @jenicamercilll

Roy’s Black Hills Twin Drive-In

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.

Screening of a movie at Roy's Drive-In Theater, Hermosa

Enjoy the sundown and a movie from inside your car or a nearby chair by @rokasbucas

Melody 49 Twin Drive In

Brookville, Ohio

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. 

Entrance of Melody 49 Drive In Theater

Arrive early to get a good spot by Melody 49 Drive-In

61 Drive-In Theater

Delmar, Iowa

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.

Retro car parked at 61 Drive In Theater

Take your cool car for a spin at 61 Drive-In by @atalie.r 

Skyway Drive-In Theater

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. 

Couple sitting at hood of their car at Skyway Drive-In Theater.jpeg

Sit on your hood and make yourself comfortable by @nateschieldt

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. 

F. Bruna Ferreira
Lisbon, Portugal
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