Nothing says summer like catching a double feature under the stars. You can almost hear the concession-stand jingle in your head…
Nothing elicits summertime Americana more than the great tradition of the drive-in movie theater. After the first drive-in opened in New Mexico in 1916, the format spread rampantly throughout the U.S., reaching a fever pitch in the ’50s. With the advent of newer and newer screening (and eventually streaming) technologies, drive-ins gradually shuttered, but many businesses endure to provide classic entertainment outdoors, with the concession stands of yore still intact. From sprawling multi-screen double features to a boutique urban space, here are 11 notable drive-ins in the West.
1. The Rustic Charmer: Wheel In Motor Movie, Port Townsend, WA
One of only four remaining drive-ins in Washington State, the Wheel In distinguishes itself among that rarefied bunch with original metal speakers that hang from the car window, for an oh-so-authentic touch. This double feature operation on the Olympic Peninsula screens the season’s most exciting first-run flicks, and in addition to typical concession stand snacks, they serve grilled items and pizzas.
2. The Vintage: 99W Drive-in, Newberg, OR
Screening double features of the latest blockbusters and beloved throwbacks (such as the very Oregon-appropriate Goonies), this drive-in located 23 miles from Portland makes for a delightful summer evening excursion. Open since 1953, the 99W retains its old-school charm courtesy of screening a vintage snack bar reel between features.
3. The Crowd Pleaser: Sunset Drive-In, San Luis Obispo, CA
One of SoCal’s few remaining drive-ins, the homey, family-owned Sunset(we swear we didn’t pick it for its name) is a win-win for summer entertainment. It’s open daily, the snack bar customer service receives raves (Yelp reviewers deemed the staff “hard working,” “peppy,” and “fun”), and they routinely play a double feature, so you can make a full night of it.
4. The Modernizer: West Wind Drive In, Glendale, AZ and Las Vegas, NV
Operating since the early ‘50s, this franchise fantastically merges nostalgia (classic movie snacks like Orville Redenbacher popcorn and Nathan’s Famous hot dogs) with modern technology (digital projection). In between the double feature’s screenings, kids can take advantage of an onsite playground and arcade. West Wind has locations in a handful of Western states, but we’re partial to the Glendale and Vegas outposts for consistently idyllic summer nights.
5. The Warm Welcome: Fort Union Drive-In, Las Vegas, NM
Fort Union switches up its offerings from week to week, all the while screening a double feature of the latest family-friendly and action flicks. The snack bar is refreshingly affordable and the owner typically greets customers personally, amping up the nostalgic vibe.
6. The Cosmopolitan: Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In, Austin, TX
Open year-round, this boutique urban drive-in offers a more intimate viewing experience in a number of formats for car passengers and pedestrians: the main screen (largest capacity), the side show (medium capacity), and a forest-set amphitheater fit for 60 pedestrians only (so bring your picnic blanket). Blue Starlite shows first-run action flicks as well as throwback faves like the original Star Wars trilogy and Dazed and Confused. File this tidbit away: You can rent it out for a private party. (Just don’t forget to invite us!)
7. The Easy Breezy: Mesa Drive-In, Pueblo, CO
Mesa offers a number of unique conveniences: you can place your concession stand orders ahead of time, kids 12 and under get in free, and, best of all, the drive-in is open seven nights a week so you can get your movie fix when the mood strikes. Choose from one of three screens, each showing its own double feature.
8. The Double Whammy: Coleman’s Motor-Vu Drive-In, Riverdale, UT
Open since 1947, this large drive-in (they project onto four screens, meaning substantial car capacity) is all about doubling up: Coleman’s offers you two films for the price of one, and on weekend mornings, the space also functions as a swap meet, yet another hallmark of Americana.
9. The Value Outing: American Dream Drive In, Powell, WY
Pile into the van! Offering one film per screening, American Dream offers entertainment at the affordable flat fee of $15 per carload (no matter how many passengers are inside).
10. The Roadside Attraction: Spud Drive In Theater, Driggs, ID
Flanked by an iconic pickup truck hauling a giant faux potato, this screen has been entertaining folks in the Teton Valley since the ‘50s. The Spud is open every day but Sunday during summer, and offers double features on Fridays and Saturdays.
11. The One-and-Done: Silver Bow Drive In, Butte, MT
Montana’s first twin-screen drive-in, Silver Bow has been a summer staple since it was built in the ‘70s, but that doesn’t mean all old-school amenities—a state-of-the-art digital projector keeps it rooted in the 21st century. Choose from two film offerings for a single viewing; the theater switches up its features on a weekly basis.