Michigan’s Vintage Drive-In Movie Theaters
Nothing says vintage summer night like making plans to roll into a drive-in theater to catch a good flick – or a double feature. Whether you love the nostalgia because you’re of an era where you remember cramming into a car with friends and family to see a show, or you’re doing the drive-in experience for the first time, be sure to leave room on this season’s bucket list for a big-screen adventure.
Something about seeing a movie outdoors on a soft summer night with the stars overhead just gives us all the good-time feels. For many of us, depending on where we live, those opportunities have shrunk in recent decades. While Michigan still has a good handful of vintage drive-in movie theaters, the number of these spots has definitely been dropping across the United States. It’s been more than a half century since drive-ins were at their peak. That was in the 1950s, when more than 4,000 of them dotted the entertainment landscape across the country. Now, there are less than 350 still open, according to DriveInMovie.com, which offers an online list of outdoor theaters in each state. In its heyday, Michigan had more than 100 drive-ins. Now, that’s down to just 11.
What to wear. Unless you’re a tween or a teen cruising the concession area scene, dressing for a drive-in movie means comfort. Some people love to embrace the nighttime theme by wearing matching pajama sets and robes, but any relaxed clothing works well. Remember to bring a jacket – or a blanket – as the air will cool down considerably once the sun sets. Dressing in layers means you can adjust as needed.
What to bring. Being prepared with a few accessories can turn your drive-in experience into a mini-adventure. Some ideas on what to bring:
- Costumes: Dress to the theme of your movie. For example, thrillers or campy horror movies call for wigs, makeup or masks.
- Pillows, blankets or even cushions from your outdoor chairs will keep you relaxed.
- Water or other beverages.
- Snacks: Check out the concessions, but also bring healthy snacks like nuts, pre-cut fruit and popcorn made at home.
Where to find the big screens. Michigan has 11 drive-in theaters. Here’s a rundown of each and some of their amenities:
Cherry Bowl Drive-In, Honor: Take a big step back into the Fabulous 50s’ vibe with this slice of family-friendly fun. All movies here are G, PG or PG-13. Guests can set up lawn chairs in front of their vehicle. If you bring a truck, sitting in the back bed or on the tailgate is allowed, too.
Getty 4 Drive-In, Norton Shores: Hallmarks of this local favorite include a large play area for kids, an arcade and plenty of self-serve concession snacks.
Ford Wyoming Drive-In, Dearborn: This is the largest drive-in theater in the U.S. by capacity, with room for more than 2,500 vehicles. It also has nine movie screens and is open year-round, with in-car heaters available to guests when temps get chilly.
Capri Drive-In, Coldwater: Owned by the same family since the 1960s, this spot is known for affordable family fun.
Hi-Way Drive-In, Carsonville: One of the oldest drive-in theaters in Michigan, the Hi-Way has an all-grass lot and tasty concession treats.
Sunset Drive-In, Hartford: Fridays and Saturdays are movie nights at the Sunset. And if the little ones don’t want to watch what’s on the big screen, a playground is right nearby.
U.S. 23 Drive-In, Flint: Movies are shown on three big screens at this recently-renovated spot.
5 Mile Drive-In, Dowagiac: Fridays and Saturdays are movie nights at this quaint spot. Friendly pets are welcome, too.
Summer Drive-In at USA Hockey Arena, Plymouth: New releases are shown on three screens.
Highway 2 Community Drive-In, Manistique: This one has the distinction of being the only drive-in theater in the Upper Peninsula.
Memory Lane Drive-In, Monroe: Showing new and retro films. This theater opened in 2021 at the spot of another old drive-in, so it’s got a vintage feel in a new package.
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