A Mom’s Guide to the Drive-In

The Drive-InDid you know that National Drive-In Movie Day was this month?  It is celebrated on June 6 every year, because the first drive-in theater was opened in New Jersey on June 6, 1933.  The advertising slogan was:

“The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

The drive-in theater reached it peak popularity in the 1950’s.  As you can imagine, with all the modern conveniences and technology and rising land values, the drive-in is not as well known today.  But we are well-versed in noisy children…so the drive-in is one of our favorite activities!

My husband and I started our drive-in shenanigans long before children, when we were dating and living in Chicago.  As Cincinnatians, we are lucky enough to have two great theaters in the area to visit and take our kids to:

Starlite Drive-In  Amelia, OH
*All photos from Starlite Drive-In’s website.




Holiday Auto Theatre  Hamilton, OH
*All photos from Holiday Auto Theatre’s website




If you have never been to the drive-in before, here are some important guidelines to know before you go:

  • Drive-ins play double or triple features, so two or three full-length movies in a row.  And yes, they are new releases!  (We only plan to stay for the first movie because our older son would never make it through two, but you know your family best!)
  • There’s no re-entry or rain checks. We all know life with kids is unpredictable, but you’re out of luck if you have to leave the theater (or you can pay again to get back in).
  • You can’t reserve spaces. If you are meeting people there, you will want to go together if you’d like to park next to each other (on busy weekend nights…weeknights there is a lot more space and people tend to not park right next to strangers).
  • Use your parking lights when entering or leaving the theater when the movie is running for minimal disruption of other patrons.
  • You can’t leave your car running during the movie.
  • Everyone must wear shoes when outside of your car because of safety.
  • No alcoholic beverages allowed at any time. Open containers violate Ohio state law.
  • The play areas close when the movie begins.  Again, safety!
  • You may not cook, grill or in any way prepare food on the premises.
  • Make sure your child knows to go to the concession stand for help if they lose their car or family.
  • Gentle dogs on leashes are allowed at Holiday Auto Theatre, but NOT at Starlite Drive-In.

In addition to the rules and guidelines provided by the theaters, I’ve got some guidelines of my own to help make your trip to the D-R-I-V-E I-N with kids a success!

D ress Accordingly
Plan for the drop in temperature at night!  Bring layers of clothing and cozy blankets.  Pillows can also be useful if your kiddos want to lay in the back of the vehicle, or if you’re like me and want to cushion your old bones!

R adio Options
The movie audio is broadcast on a radio station that you can tune to in your car.  My husband likes to also bring our stand-alone radio for extra effect, and hand-held radios for the kids would also be fun!

I n case of accidents, park close to the bathroom
Nothing dampens a night quicker than getting peed on.  Literally.  The bathroom is usually in the concession stand.  If you have little ones that are potty training, bring along their little potty if there’s room or have your training pants and extra clothes handy.  Also bring cleaning supplies in case of an accident in the car.

V aried seating options
I don’t know about your kids, but mine won’t sit still.  Bringing options to sit both in and out of the car could save you from hearing a lot of complaining.  If you have an SUV or van, you can park in sections that allow you to open up the back hatches.  You can sit in the back or even lay down the back seats.  If you’re bringing an infant along (yep, we are one of THOSE people), make sure to have things on hand that they will be comfortable in as well.   I like bringing along the rock-n-play or portable swing.  A co-sleeper works well too!

E njoy the experience
Going to the drive-in is not going to be the same experience as going to the theater or watching a movie at home.  There will probably be a lot of interruptions in movie-watching without the ability to pause the show!  Keep in mind that this is about spending time together with your little ones, not necessarily catching every moment of the movie.  You can always rent it later and catch those parts you missed!  Also expect messes.  After all, your kids will be playing and eating in the dark!

I mprovise with other activities
This is especially important if you are bringing young children!  Plan ahead for short or waning attention spans and bring other activities to entertain.  Keep in mind that these activities have to be viable in darkness or the dim dome-light of the car.  Glow sticks, simple coloring, hand-held games, pipe-cleaner sculptures, etc. are great.  For added convenience, make a busy bag for each kid!

N om, Nom, Nom…movie snacks!
You can purchase snacks at the concession stand or you can bring your own!  The purchase of a $5 Food Permit is required when bringing outside food into our local drive-ins, but there is no limit on the amount of food you can bring.  (You can also get a discount at the concession stand by presenting your permit if you decide something extra is needed!)  Again, for added convenience, you can pre-package snacks for everyone.  Sectioned plastic snack containers are perfect for this, giving everyone a variety of snacks and an easy way to hold/eat them.  Having some extras on hand in case of spills is an option, and you will definitely want to bring along wipes or some other cleaning option if you get ice cream from the concession stand!

There you have it, friends!  If you have any other tips for a drive-in adventure with the kids, comment below!


  1. CMB’s Summer Bucket List! {With Printable} | Cincinnati Moms Blog - July 2, 2015

    […] weekend (yes, that’s THREE new release movies!), a snack bar, and a children’s play area.  (Click here to see our Mom’s Guide to the […]

Leave a Reply