Looking for drive-in movie tips? My family loves movies almost as much as we love to travel, and we go to the drive-in at least once every summer.
When we want to be immersed in a blockbuster movie with a high-definition picture and digital sound, we head for the multiplex. When we want to spend quality time together, make memories and celebrate summer, we go to a drive-in movie.
In this post, I'm sharing my top tips for going to a drive-in movie with kids. I'll tell you how to listen to the sound, what to bring, when to go, what to wear, how to set up your car and more.
Here are our drive-in movie tips for families.
Plan for a late night
You usually get two movies for the price of admission at a drive-in. The first movie starts as soon as it gets dark enough. In June and July, the second movie often ends well after midnight.
You don't have to stay for both movies. Many people leave after the first one, but we think that staying out late is part of the fun!
Choose the right double feature
Our kids used to fall asleep before the second movie, but not anymore. Now we look for double features with two family-friendly movies. They usually come around at least a couple of times each summer.
Check the drive-in's website every week so you don't miss pairings that are the perfect fit for your crew.
Dress in comfortable clothes or pajamas
A drive-in double feature can last until 1 or 2 AM. It's easy to move the kids directly from the van to their beds when they are already in pajamas.
Do you need cash?
Our local drive-in usually doesn't accept credit cards because it costs them extra and slows down the line. This changed during the COVID-19 pandemic when we were required to purchase our tickets online in advance.
Either way, we have never been able to use a credit card at our local drive-in. Check your drive-in's website for current policies and prices.
Pack fun snacks
One of the best things about a drive-in movie is that you can bring in your own food. We pop our own popcorn and pick up sodas, pizza, or candy before we arrive.
Once you're inside, don't plan to leave for treats. Our drive-in does not allow re-entry but it does sell snacks.
Pack camp chairs or lawn chairs
We park our van backward, open the hatch, and lay the back bench flat. We pile blankets and pillows in the back for the kids. My husband and I sit in camp chairs.
If you have a truck, then you can really get creative. I've seen mattresses and love seats in the backs of trucks at the drive-in movie theater. Because of their height, vans and trucks may not be allowed in the first few rows of theater parking.
Pack jackets or blankets
I always get cold after I've been sitting in the dark for a while, regardless of how hot it was during the day. Bring jackets and blankets to keep everyone warm after the sun goes down.
Consider insect repellent
I came home with several mosquito bites after our last drive-in movie. If you live in an area where insects will be a nuisance after dark, bring bug spray.
How to listen to movies at a drive-in
Most drive-in movie theaters use FM radio to play the sound. Each screen has its own frequency and you tune your own radio to that station to listen.
Here are three ways to listen to FM sound at a drive-in movie.
We prefer to use an old school portable radio with batteries for sound at the drive-in. It's inexpensive, easy to use, and there's less risk of draining our car's battery.
Your car stereo
If your battery is strong, you should be able to listen to both movies through your car stereo without draining your car battery.
Turn on your engine between movies and immediately after the second movie to make sure it turns on. This will also give the battery a little charge.
It seems like it should be easy to get a radio app for a drive-in theater. But it isn't (for now), because most phones do not have FM transmitters.
There are some good radio apps like TuneIn, Simple Radio, or iHeartRadio. They'll easily stream popular radio stations, but they aren't built to tune into the specific FM frequencies you need for a drive-in and play the sound ad-free.
If you have successfully used an app to listen to FM sound through your phone at a drive-in, let me know! I'd love to share your experience.
In the meantime, an old-fashioned boom box is our favorite way to listen to sound at the drive-in.
If you're serious about getting a good parking spot, arrive 1-2 hours before the movie is scheduled to begin. You may not need to go quite that early on weekdays, but expect the drive-in to be packed on summer weekends.
Bring toys and games
You'll have time for other activities if you arrive early. Here are a few ideas:
- Play card games or board games
- Throw a football
- Kick a soccer ball
- Have a picnic
- Take a walk
- Read a book
- Say hello to the “neighbors”
Our drive-in has a friendly, casual atmosphere. Expect tons of kids at the family movies.
Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest nights at the drive-in theater. Those are usually the best nights for most families to stay out late.
However, it's much less crowded on a weeknight. If you don't want to show up as early and still get a good view, Sunday-Thursday are good nights to go if you can.
Consider spring or August
Drive-in movies don't start until dark, which can be 10 PM in June. That's late for our family, and it's hard to enjoy both movies if we're all fighting sleep an hour into the first one.
When we go in the spring or later in the summer, the weather is still warm, but the movies start earlier.
Pack jumper cables
We once went home after the first feature because we played the sound through our car radio and the battery died. We happened to be parked next to a firefighter who got us started again fast, but it was an annoying problem, and it kind of ruined the night.
This is one reason that we always bring a portable radio and make sure all the interior lights are switched off to minimize our use of the car battery.
If your car battery does die, the theater or nearby cars will likely be able to give you a jump start. If you have your own jumper cables or portable charger, you won't have to worry about finding some late at night.
Where to find drive-in movies
Drive-in movies are harder to find than they were a few decades ago. However, you can still find drive-ins near your home or on the road at
Drive-in movies are a fun and inexpensive summer tradition for families. It's an easy activity, but there are details that can make your drive-in movie experience better and I hope that our drive-in movie tips are helpful.
Have a great night at the movies!