Night at the Drive-In, Santa Barbara Style

Night at the Drive-In, Santa Barbara Style


I remember riding by the drive-in movie theatre in my hometown as a young kid, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of whatever was playing on the big screen. The theater, like most across the country, closed before I was old enough to actually watch a movie from the comfort of my parent’s car. Every now and then in your travels you pass by a big screen just off the highway, but I’d never come across one still nightly lighting up the screen until my kids and I rolled into Santa Barbara.

I had heard rumors there was a drive-in in the area but didn’t really know what to expect. Turns out the theatre owner, West Wind, owns drive-ins located in Nevada, Arizona and California. Bay Area folks can catch a show in Concord and San Jose.

I was on the fence about the whole thing until I saw the showtimes. Double features pretty much every night. On the schedule our vacation evening;  Madagascar 3 Europe’s Most Wanted and MIB3. It doesn’t get much more family-friendly than that. Woo hoo!

We stopped on the way and grabbed dinner to go at the Habit Burger Grill in Goleta. With burgers in hand, and a great reassurance from the friendly cashier who took our order that the drive-in was “the real deal,” we were on our way.

We were pulling in before we had the chance to eat our french fries. A good 40 minutes before showtime, the place was already hopping. I’d recommend you don’t go any later if you want a shot at parking in the first couple of rows. The price of admission can’t be beat, $7.00 for adults, kids ages 5-11 are just $1.00. Kids younger than 5 are free. Bring cash, credit cards aren’t accepted. Total cost for dinner and two movies for my family of four -$45.00 and some change. That’s hard to beat.

The theater has a concession stand, but doesn’t object to folks bringing their own snacks. Food isn’t the only thing regulars bring in. Beach chairs, blankets, bubbles and all sorts of light up gadgets attached to kids, many of which were in their pjs.

I’m told, back in the day, drive-in viewers had to balance speaker boxes on their car doors & windows. These days, you just tune your car radio into an FM radio station that broadcasts the movie. If you don’t have a FM stereo, you can bring a portable boom box.

Just in case you’re wondering, no, your car should not go dead while you’re watching the movie. If it just isn’t your night and somehow your car does call it quits, West Wind offers a free jump start so you will be able to drive home.

The hardest part of the evening was staying awake. The second movie started around 10:30p and soon after the backseat fell quiet. When the credits rolled after midnight my youngest and I were the only ones still awake and barely moving. Those kids in their pjs have the right idea.

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