Like a mix of watching a movie at home and being at an outdoor movie, drive-in movies are a fun bucket list experience. My college friend C. and I checked an item off the bucket list when we went to the Rodeo Drive-In in Bremerton, WA last summer. Here’s how my experience was.
Finding the entrance to the theater is a bit tricky for us. We actually pass the entrance because the GPS isn’t sure where it is, but the good news is that it got us close. The screens become visible as we pass the entrance, but there’s an easy place to turn around and go back. We buy the tickets right as we enter, and are directed to a specific field (theater).
We park with the front of the car pointing up, the front tires resting on the bump on the ground that runs along the entire row of this grass-and-dirt parking lot. Our plan is to sit inside the car, but we notice that many people bring lawn or camping chairs to sit on so they don’t need to be inside the car the whole time.
**Good to know: The rules about sitting on the ground, in chairs, on blankets, or on the top or hood of the car vary by theater, for safety reasons, so check to make sure you’re clear on the rules before you go. For example, the rules at Rodeo Drive In say, “No one is allowed to sit or lay on a blanket or a mattress on the ground in any of our fields. […] You may sit in the bed of your pickup, or on lawn chairs, but not on the ground. Also, you may NOT sit on the top or roof of your vehicle.”
The showing is always double feature at the place we’re at, but you’re not required to stay for the second movie (but if you decide to leave, you’re asked to do so at intermission so the headlights and engine noise don’t interfere with the other viewers’ experience. Our movies are Inside Out (such a fun movie!) and Tomorrowland (it’s okay, really not as good as the commercials make it seem).
Before the movie we get food from the concession stand/snack bar, which joins all the theater fields together. There are more options than most theaters around me, including something called a pizza dog. We don’t know what it is, and while we guess things like “a pizza with hot dogs” or “a hot dog in the crust of a pizza,” the person in front of us in line says he thinks it’s a hot dog with pizza toppings. Who’s right? We ask the person at the counter about the pizza dog, and they nicely explain with the ease (but no attitude or eye rolling) that comes from explaining the same thing every night. Unfortunately, as I’m writing this, I can’t remember what they said. So, I ask Rodeo Drive-In on Facebook, and this is how they describe their famous pizza dog:
A Pizza Dog is one of our hot dogs, on a bun with pizza sauce on it, covered in mozzarella cheese and then steamed until the cheese is melted. We serve it with a knife and fork, it gets a little messy trying to eat it with your hands.
We eat the food and hang out in the car while waiting for the movie to start, but there are also a few benches just outside the concession stand to sit and eat (or watch the movie) if you don’t want to be in your car the whole time.
As we’re waiting for it to get dark, I’m a little worried about my ability to stay up late, because the first movie won’t start until dusk, and then second starts after the intermission, so it won’t end until 2am! Still, I’m super excited for the first movie, and I decide that if I fall asleep in the second one, it’s not a big loss, and not as weird as falling asleep in an indoor movie theater.
When the movie finally begins, we turn on the car’s radio and settle in, enjoying the ability to make little comments while we’re watching. The movie and sound both run smoothly, and I don’t mind looking through a window, which was the one thing I thought might be weird (but if you have a dirty windshield, it’s probably a good idea to clean it before you go to a drive-in). Also, if you have more than two people, you should be prepared to watch the movie outside of the car, since it may be hard for the people in the second row of seats to see.
During intermission, we take a bathroom break and buy more snacks, but the lines for both are very long. We end up missing a few minutes of the second movie even though we left our car right at the start of the intermission. If this is really important to you, you could leave at the beginning of the credits of the first movie (we wanted to watch the credits because Inside Out has little videos during the credits), or if you want to go with the more extreme option, bring a portable FM radio and earbuds tuned into the station for your theater. Then you’ll at least be able to hear the movie while you wait.
Our car starts on the first try when we’re ready to leave, which is fortunate, since that’s not always the case at drive-in theaters. Because you listen to the movie’s audio using the car radio, there’s a chance the battery will die. But not to worry! Drive-in theaters often let you borrow jumper cables if this happens to you. When I ask the Rodeo Drive-In to refresh my memory on their available supplies, I’m told they offer “jumper boxes, field people, and flashlights,” and that guests can “just go to the snack bar and ask for help” if needed.
Overall my experience was very fun, and there’s nothing quite like watching a movie at a drive-in theater. The price is a great deal because it’s a double feature, and because the theater requires a lot of space, they’re often outside of cities so you can turn it into a small overnight trip or part of a longer road trip. It was also fun to accomplish this list item at such a historic theater. According to their website, Rodeo Drive-In is “the largest outdoor theatre complex in Washington State and by far the largest and oldest family owned drive-in in the Northwest.” I wouldn’t pick it over a regular indoor theater for the majority of my movie watching, especially because it’s far away, but I’d definitely recommend it as a fun bucket list activity!
Good to know:
- Many drive-in theaters are only open seasonally, so be sure to check open hours/seasons with the theater you’re interested in.
- Also, while there’s a resurgence in popularity, in some areas, only a few drive-in movie theaters remain. Do a little internet research to find one near you, and go soon before there’s even fewer left.
- Even though you bring your own car, you’re asked not to bring your own snacks, because the concession sales are what help keep the theaters in business.