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The best drive-in theater options in Southern California

There just is nothing quite like a drive-in theater. Lucky for us, Southern California still has several in operation.

Photograph: Courtesy Patrick Semansky/West Wind Drive-In Theatre
By Stephanie Morino |

Looking for a fun date idea? Travel back to a simpler time, when going to a movie was a major Friday night activity and most certainly enough to land you a second date. We’re not talking about the ArcLight or AMC, or even some of the newer dine-in theaters that have popped up—we’re talking about drive-in theaters. Yes, they still exist. In fact, there are a number of drive-in theater options in Southern California that have stayed true to those mid-century ways. Skip the romantic restaurant, pack a picnic or stock up at the snack bar, and enjoy a flick at one of these classic drive-in theater locations. Enjoy your movie! 

The best drive-in theaters for movie-watching around L.A.

Movie theaters, Drive-in

Paramount Drive-In Theatre

Southeast Cities

If you’re looking for a classic drive-in movie theater experience, this is your spot. Paramount Drive-In first opened back in 1947 and operated as a drive-in theater until 1992, when it turned into a swap meet. But the area returned to its roots in recent years, opening with two new 75-foot screens, Barco Digital projection and Dolby Digital radio sound so you can hear the movie on your own radio. There’s a full snack bar, but you can also bring in food and drink—though no alcoholic beverages are allowed. You’ll see some people watching from inside their cars while others bring chairs and watch from the bed of their truck—no matter your preference, it’s always a good time.

Vineland Drive-In
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Paul Narvaez
Movie theaters, Drive-in

Vineland Drive-In Theatre

San Gabriel Valley

This drive-in theater, which opened in 1952, shows a wide selection of new releases each week on multiple screens. While your ticket price gets you in for two movies, you can’t switch screens—so plan accordingly if you’re there to watch more than one movie. Open rain or shine, the drive-in broadcasts in FM Dolby Stereo sound, so a radio is needed. Don’t have one? You can rent one from the snack bar—yes, there’s a concession stand selling pizza, popcorn, soda and more.

Movie theaters, Drive-in

Electric Dusk Drive-In

Glassel Park

Somewhere between an outdoor screening and a drive-in movie, this series used to host showings in the heart of Downtown, but has since moved to Atwater Village. It’s the best of both worlds, because you can park and enjoy the movie from your car or select an astroturf ticket to sit on the “grass” (bring lawn chairs, blankets, etc.). If you’re feeling peckish, fill out a snack order sheet and hand it back to your carhop, who’ll bring your order right to you. As if this didn’t sound cool enough already, Electric Dusk is also pet-friendly, so bring your pups!

Photograph: Courtesy Van Buren Drive-In Theatre
Movie theaters, Drive-in

Van Buren Drive-In Theatre

Inland Empire

Built in 1964 as a single-screen drive-in, this Riverside staple now boasts four screens. According to the theater’s website, the drive-in underwent a complete renovation in 2006 that included installing FM transmitters and a Technalight projection system. The drive-in features an old California, orange ranch theme which can be seen in the marquee, box offices, snack bar, landscaping and a mural of 1930s Riverside. Like most drive-in theaters, admission is for a double feature, but you’re allowed to leave if you don’t want to stay for both films. Films include a variety of new releases.

Photograph: Courtesy Rubidoux Drive-In Theater
Movie theaters, Drive-in

Rubidoux Drive-In

Inland Empire

Today, this drive-in in Riverside features multiple screens showing the biggest Hollywood films. It started life back in 1948 as a single-screener, and that original, Art Deco-inspired screen is still at the center of the theater today, though the petting zoo, minature railroad and other attractions that drew in the crowds in the early years have gone by the wayside. A full renovation in 2000 brought the theater up to modern movie-going standards and gave the place a bit of vintage Route 66 flair.

Photograph: Courtesy Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre
Movie theaters, Drive-in

Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre

Inland Empire

Located in Montclair, this drive-in theater was originally called the Mission when it opened in 1956. Much like Van Buren, the Mission Tiki started as a single-screen drive-in and then expanded to four screens. In 2006 it began a refurbishment process that included upgrading to FM transmitters and Technalight projection. Playing off its name, ticket booths were remodeled to look like tiki huts, a Maui statue garden was added and the concession stands were also remodeled with a tiki theme. You can watch some of the latest releases at this drive-in, which is open seven days a week, while enjoying snacks from the concession stand, including pizza, burgers, Mexican food and more.

Photograph: Courtesy West Wind Drive-In Theatre
Movie theaters, Drive-in

West Wind Drive-In Theatre

Santa Barbara

West Wind is a family-owned and operated drive-in theater company with multiple locations, but Santa Barbara is its only Southern California location. Tickets to this location are exceptionally low, with adult tickets costing just $8.25 and Tuesday family-fun nights for $5.25 per person. And these prices aren’t getting you old movies either; West Wind offers a variety of new releases. Kids can entertain themselves at an on-site arcade if they aren’t interested in the show. The drive-in also hosts a number of events throughout the year.

Looking for a more traditional movie theater?

Nuart Theatre
Photograph: Courtesy Nuart Theatre

The best movie theaters in Los Angeles

Whether you're into arthouse, black-and-white, B-movie bonanzas or the most luxurious assigned-seating cinema/cocktail lounge, this city has it all. Here are our picks for the best.