Of about 300 outdoor theater remaining in the United States, there are five drive-in movie theaters in Washington State that have managed to survive. And since it’s still a fun way to watch a movie, I want to highlight the remaining ones and suggest that you add a visit to one on your things-to-do list.
Brief History of Drive in Theaters
Drive In movie theaters have been in existence since the 1900s, but the first permanent one was established in Camden, New Jersey in 1933. The movie shown on opening day was an English comedy, Wives Beware, and drivers paid 25 cents per car, plus an additional 25 cents per person to watch.
In the 1950s and 60s, drive-in movies became very popular, with nearly 5,000 of them cropping up across the United States. The drive-in experience provided entertainment for the whole family, and since many patrons brought in outside food, and the ticket price was low, it was an affordable movie option.
With the rise of indoor theaters and televisions in the 1970s, drive-in movie theaters began to see a decline at the box office. Outdoor screens disappeared, or became a veritable parking lot, as the appeal of outdoor movies and listening on an FM receiver on the car radio dwindled. Traditional drive-in theaters turned to creative marketing options to stay in business, including special pricing, classic movie fests as well as first-run movies, arcade games, and creative menu items at the concession stand. It worked for awhile and then outdoor movie theaters started closing again.
Today, there are only about 300 drive-in movie theaters across the U.S. that are still operating. The businesses seem fueled by a dedication to the outdoor movie theater business in general, and more specifically to a family family enterprise. A 2023 documentary, Back to the Drive-In, features 11 family-owned drivel-ins across the country and their passion and determination to keep their theaters going. Creative programming and marketing, along with consumer interest in nostalgia and retro venues, has helped the industry limp along.
Rodeo Drive-In Theatre
Rodeo Drive In Movie Theater is located in Bremerton, Washington, and was one of the It was first built in 1949 and is among the oldest in Washington State. Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, the drive-in offers double features on multiple screens, with a capacity of 1,000 vehicles. Movies are offered on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, with the first show at dusk. The theater has been family-owned since 1986.
Address: 7369 State Highway 3 SW, Bremerton.
Wheel-In Motor Movie Drive In
The Wheel-In-Motor Movie Drive-In located in Port Townsend, and started operation in 1953. This theater is open most weekends. There’s a relatively small capacity, only 154 cars, with one screen. Hot dogs, popcorn, and other food is available at the concession stand. The Wheel-In is affiliated with the Uptown Theater, offering indoor movie options.
Address: 210 Theatre Road, Port Townsend.
Skyline Drive-In Theater
This drive-in movie theater was started in 1964 on a 16-acre tract of land, with a capacity of 354 cars. It became a favorite spot for the locals until the 1970s when the business plan switched to showing adult films. Eventually, the theater switched back to showing mainstream films, and became a staple in the community. The theater hosts special events like car shows, themed nights, and concerts. Note that this venue enforces a strict policy prohibiting outside food and drink.
Address: 182 SE Brewer Rd, Shelton.
Blue Fox Drive-In Theatre
Located in Oak Harbor, Blue Fox has been in operation since 1960 has two screens and a capacity of up to 280 cars. Serious creativity has gone in to diversification of revenue streams here, and the venue offers an arcade, Go-Karts, and overnight camping (car, RV, and tents). The BackLot Tavern is the newest addition, offering a selection of rotating taps, along with a selection of can and bottle drinks, and specialty appetizers. It’s an upgraded outdoor cinema experience. 21 and over only in the beer garden.
Address: 1403 N Monroe Landing Rd, Oak Harbor.
Auto Vue Drive-In Theatre
Auto Vue is located in Colville and is the only remaining drive-in theater on the eastern side of the state. It dates back to 1953. The theater has a capacity of up to 450 cars and with a single screen. The theater is open daily seasonally, from May-September, perhaps due to the harsher climate than on the western side.
Address: 444 Auto View Road, Colville.
No website. Facebook page here.
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