You just have to smile when a happy-go-lucky hot dog dances across a giant movie screen. Danny Zuko sings his foolish heart out while stranded at the drive-in in the nostalgic blockbuster Grease. The classic drive-in theater, an American pop culture icon, became a cinematic setting for the cult classic film. It gets me everytime!
That scene also makes me long for the concession stand. Seriously, I am craving a giant tub of hot buttery popcorn, a box of Milk Duds and a fizzy fountain drink. Let’s get real. Microwave popcorn just isn’t the same. Some classic food and drink combos are as iconic as the drive-in theater itself.
Times were tough during the depression in 1933 when unemployed inventor Richard Hollingshed Jr. decided to nail a screen to a tree in his yard and fire up a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his family car (where he was seated) to test his concept. Thankfully, he listened to his mother. She told her son that traditional theater seats were terribly uncomfortable, inspiring the idea to watch from the couch-style Cadillacs and Buick back seats.
With backing from his cousin, Hollingshed opened the first drive-in theater where New Jersey patrons paid $1 per carload to watch movies on the 60-ft screen with pretty bad sound blasting from a top-mounted speaker. By 1955, more than 4,500 drive-ins were open and entertaining audiences with personal speakers at every parking space.
During recent COVID19 lockdowns, Americans were forced to get creative again and drive-in theaters experienced a renaissance. In Georgia, five classic drive-ins inspired families and friends to head for their respective rural fields of dreams to escape reality on giant outdoor screens. The charming Baby Boomer “dinner and a movie” date night was back, even if there were a few kids in the back seat.
Looking for the best drive in movie theater Atlanta has to offer? We’ve got it, along with some others across the state of Georgia you don’t want to miss!
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IN ATLANTA: STARLIGHT DRIVE IN THEATRE & FLEA MARKET
Atlanta’s Starlight Drive-In has kept moviegoers entertained since erecting one giant screen in 1949. For more than 70 years, the landmark venue has welcomed loyal patrons to their must-see attraction conveniently located near I-20 and I-285 on Moreland Avenue. The authentic art deco style and lush natural setting creates a nostalgic environment where movies play seven days a week year-round in East Atlanta.
Arrive early and embrace the nostalgic experience. Early birds can secure a prime viewing spot and avoid ticket lines close to showtime. Bring lawn chairs and a blanket to settle in for some prime stargazing before Hollywood celebrities light up the screen.
It is also a good idea to know how your lights work and how to turn them off before you get to the drive-in. Most new cars have lights that stay on after the vehicle is stopped or interior lights that remain on when a door or hatch is open.
Plan an impromptu private party without reservations. Eastbound and down. Arrive together convoy-style (I am looking at you, Smokey and the Bandit fans) and park next to your friends. Share a picnic and hang out. Just remember to respect your neighbors when the movie starts. All parking spaces are first come first serve and the box office closes when the last feature begins.
Of course, I encourage you to visit the concession stand for classic movie snacks. They even have some Mexican favorites. Still, it is nice to know that outside food is also allowed, providing a great option for hungry kids or those with dietary restrictions. Check the website for coupons too.
The Starlight presents new releases and classic films on four screens with an all new digital projection system that delivers the brightest picture and clearest sound ever experienced at the local drive-In.
By popular demand, the Starlight will show double features each week and film buffs get more bang for their bucks. The theater operates in all safe weather conditions and no cash refunds are available. Showtimes vary with the season and day of the week. On Friday and Saturday, gates open 1.5 hours before the movies begin.
The $10 adult ticket (10 years and up) and $1 kids’ tickets (5-9 years) permit guests to watch two movies playing on the same screen. Admission is free for children 4 years and under. Tickets must be purchased at the gate. Most debit and credit cards are accepted, along with cash.
Put your digital devices away. For the ultimate experience, it’s time to get old school. The film audio is broadcast through an FM transmitter, and you need a real radio to listen. If you are worried about draining your car battery, bring a portable FM radio. There is no Wi-Fi and internet radio apps will not work in this retro environment.
After adding new screens in 1983, the Starlight also began hosting a swap meet each Saturday and Sunday from 6 AM – 3 PM. Admission to the quirky flea market is just fifty cents.
Read More: 53+ THINGS TO DO IN ATLANTA YOU SHOULD NOT MISS (FROM LOCALS IN THE KNOW)
DRIVE IN THEATERS AROUND GEORGIA
TIGER DRIVE IN
About 100 miles north of Atlanta and three miles south of Clayton in the Northeast Georgia Mountains, the Tiger Drive-In (TDI) presents new movies, a flea market and classic car shows.
Sherryl Major’s father and two family members opened the Tiger Drive-In in 1954 on land that her grandfather won in a poker game. She treasures her childhood memories and growing up in the magical place. With the introduction of VCRs and other economic factors, the enthusiasm for outdoor movies waned and with great sadness, she watched the drive-in close in the early 1980s.
Sherryl and her husband, Tom, held onto hope and to the fenced property where she learned to be a short order cook. Finally, exactly 50 years later, the couple reopened the Tiger Drive-In as the sleepy town of Tiger celebrated its centennial celebration.
Open seasonally, the picture perfect venue premieres new releases every weekend and is available for custom private events. Mountain movie tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for Children (4-11) and free for children under three.
The TDI Grill, a super-sized snack bar, features an extended casual menu. Get guilty pleasures like hot dogs, burgers, fries, and chicken tenders in addition to regular film favorites.
I am planning to pitch a tent for a scenic sleepover after the show. For an extra $20, outdoor film fanatics can extend their stay by setting up tents to camp for the night. Recreational vehicles pay just $40 per night to park in the back of the lot. The overnight fees include access to hot showers, restrooms, and a barbecue grill. No open flames or campfires are allowed. Families can enjoy the onsite playground too.
Celebrate a birthday or make any occasion special by booking a party package. Receive VIP front deck seating along with two picnic tables and additional chairs. Fifteen guests receive free admission and a $5 food voucher. The guest of honor is recognized with their name posted in lights on the marquee with a live shoutout and song on the PA system prior to the movie. The Tiger mascot will make a special appearance to present a free souvenir tee and frisbee. Packages start at $250.
Read More: NORTH GEORGIA MOUNTAINS: 120+ AMAZING WAYS TO HAVE FUN
SWAN DRIVE IN
You will have a blast at the Swan Drive-in Theatre. Just like the man who built his house upon the rock, the original owners made a wise decision to construct a new outdoor cinema in Blue Ridge, Georgia in 1955. No one said it would be easy. After finally finding a suitable location, the entrepreneurs still had to fight an uphill battle.
While prepping and grading the property, the crew found a slate outcropping that had to be leveled. A local explosives expert placed and detonated a load of dynamite and literally moved part of the mountain. A giant crane was brought in, and locals held their breath as the huge screen tower was assembled and the giant screen was successfully hoisted into place.
The Swan, named after the elegant bird, admired by an owner, was also a short and catchy name that worked well on a neon sign. Like the graceful creature it was inspired by, customers still flock to the Fabulous Swan Drive-In to enjoy the view and to catch the latest films at the classic cinema which is open seasonally. All movies are screened, rain or shine, on weekend nights.
The snack bar is like a fair food fantasy. Funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos, nachos, soft pretzels, and hot dogs are on the menu, along with popcorn and candy. Be prepared to bring some cash. The Swan does not accept debit or credit cards and there is no ATM onsite. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids and free for children under four years old.
Fur babies are welcome. Bring your lounge chair and your best friend, even if he has four legs. Pets are allowed, but they must be kept on a leash without causing a disturbance to others.
Read More: 50+ BEST ADVENTUROUS THINGS TO DO IN BLUE RIDGE GA
WILDERNESS OUTDOOR MOVIE THEATER
Who knew you could go out into the wilderness to watch brand new movies? The Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater gets rave reviews from patrons and pets. Located in Trenton, Georgia about 15 miles south of Chattanooga, this little slice of heaven is a favorite hangout for families, visitors, and their furry friends. The seasonal cinema box office opens at 7 PM and movies begin at 8:45 PM.
Bring your lawn chairs and play fetch or frisbee on the lawn in front of the big screen before the show. The friendly pay booth attendants might even surprise your dog with a special treat and a designated dog walk is also available. Remember, pets must be kept on a leash at all times. The Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater is basically a lovely park that transforms into a screening room beneath the stars.
This popular family hangout offers a great value with $7 adult admission for a double feature. Kids three and under get in free. Bring cash, but do not bring outside food and drink. Concession stand sales help the theater make money, so they can continue to offer this awesome experience. Debit and credit cards are not accepted. Check the website or call the movie line to see what features will be shown during your visit.
The high quality films are projected onto the giant screen and the audio is transmitted through your vehicle’s FM radio. If your car battery dies during the double feature, a staff member will be happy to offer a jump start after the show. You can also bring a portable battery-operated radio to tune in to the soundtrack.
Frankly, the literal wilderness doesn’t usually have super clean, large restrooms and an affordable concession stand menu that rivals a local diner. I know I may be a little obsessed with concession stands, but where else can you order a cinnamon pretzel and a cappuccino in the wilderness? How about a bacon cheeseburger? You can get that too! Be sure to get a cup of coffee since double features end late.
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JESUP DRIVE IN
Happy days are here again in Jesup. In 1948, Georgia’s oldest drive-in screened its first film at the perfectly charming Jesup Drive-in Theater. The United States has 325 drive-ins still in operation, with five in Georgia. Plan a movie night on your way to visit the Golden Isles on the coast.
The retro venue is open year-round and is currently enhancing the nostalgic ambiance by adding décor from the 1950s during a renovation. Be sure to check the movie schedule online and hit the ATM before you venture out. This is a cash only establishment. Adults pay $7 admission for a double feature and kids under three get in free.
Is Fonzie flirting with the Pink Ladies? Step back into a simpler time when carhops in 50s attire take your food orders from the comfort of your vehicle. You can also call in or text your orders, but why would you miss out on this signature service? You may also pay a $5 fee (per carload) for a food permit. This allows you to bring your own food and drinks.
Pack a picnic and a portable radio to enjoy the double feature from the comfort of your lawn chairs while kids play (or sleep) on a blanket. The audio is broadcast through an FM radio transmission, so you need a portable option to enjoy the movie outside of your vehicle.
Get cozy and dress comfortably. No one cares what you are wearing. Most kids wear pajamas which makes it pretty convenient for putting them to bed when you arrive back home. Enjoy the show!
Read More: THE GEORGIA COAST: 47 AMAZING THINGS TO DO ON AND NEAR THE BARRIER ISLANDS
DRIVE IN MOVIE THEATER ATLANTA FAQ
Is the Starlight Drive In still open in Atlanta?
Yes! The Starlight Drive In is still open in Atlanta 7 days a week, 365 days a year!
Do you leave your car running during the drive in movie?
No, you don’t want to leave your car running. You can leave your car in u0022accessory modeu0022 so your engine is off but you can still have your radio on. You can also bring your own portable radio to use for tuning in, so you don’t have to worry about draining your battery.
How many drive-ins are in the state of Georgia?
There are 5 drive-in movie theaters in the state of Georgia!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO GEORGIA
- YOUR GEORGIA VACATION
- WATERFALLS: 33+ Best Waterfalls In Georgia You’ve Just Got To See
- TRAIN RIDES: 28 Memorable Train Rides In Georgia That Kids & Adults Will Love
- AMUSEMENT PARKS: The Lowdown On The Best Amusement Parks In Georgia
- PETTING ZOO NEAR ME: 17 Most Adorable Petting Zoos In Georgia
WHERE TO STAY IN ATLANTA
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