Best Screen Plays: Summer Interest Surges in San Diego County's Drive-In Theaters

San Diego has two retro-vibed drive-ins to choose from, in South Bay and Santee

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Summer nights are here soon, and with a surge swirling around and pain at the pump peaking (hopefully), thousands of San Diegans are looking for options that don't involve indoor dining or bars, or tankfuls of gas for a road trip.

The perfect solution may involve one of the past's favored pastimes and a short drive to Santee or South Bay.

We're talking, of course, about the retro glam on tap at Santee (10990 Woodside Ave. North) and South Bay (2170 Coronado Ave., San Diego) drive-In theaters, where film lovers can take in two moving pictures for the price of one admission. Compared with indoor movie theaters, prices at the drive-in are another nice blast from the past: Admission is $12 per person for Santee and an even lower $10 at South Bay.

Apologies to the movie pros who are reading, but here's how it works: After paying admission, you'll drive to a spot of your choosing, then tune in your radio to the prescribed frequency. You may want to hit the snack bar or restroom — you'll need a mask in South Bay once you leave your car — before you settle in for the night.

The Santee drive-in, which opened in 1958 as a family business and has been passed down for generations, shows films every night of the year, featuring four different movies a night (two per screen) and able to accommodate more than 1,000 vehicles. South Bay drive-in has three screens, so, six movies a night. 

Before You Go

What should you bring? Santee Drive-In's Krista Forte said patrons can bring in their own food and drinks (no alcohol, however), but the theater has a snack bar if you want fresh popcorn or other goodies. Forte said, aside from popcorn and candy, the most popular snacks are the nachos and jumbo pretzels. The South Bay theater also has coupons for free fountain drinks.

Showtimes at both drive-ins are at 8:30 at this point; they recommend arriving around 30 minutes prior early to buy tickets at the gate and find the perfect parking spot. Neither theaters does presales, so it's all first-come. first served. 

Some people worry their car battery may die during the movie from using their car radio, but not to worry: Both locations provide jumper cables and have someone ready to go to help you out. They also recommend bringing a portable radio or buying one at the snack shop. 

Visitors are under no obligation to stay for both entire movies, of course, but if you want to skip the first one, you have to arrive 15 minutes before the second films begin.

Secret tip: Santee’s drive-in theater sometimes runs a a third film on the weekends. So if you’re more of a night owl, you car arrive before the second movie and stay afterward for a repeat of the first movie that was shown. 

And if you're wondering, the movies being screened are the same pictures playing in first-run theaters now.  

Now Playing


  • Thursday Through Saturday: Theater1— Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (8:30) and Death on the Nile (10:45). Theater 2 — The Bad Guys (8:30) and Firestarter (10:25)

South Bay

  • Thursday: Theater 1 — Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (8:30) and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (11). Theater 2 — The Bad Guys (8:30) and Sonic 2 (10:30). Theater 3 — Firestarter (8:30) and Firestarter (10:40)
  • Friday: Theater 1 — Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (8:30) and Uncharted (11). Theater 2 — The Northman (8:30) and Firestarter (11). Theater 3 — The Bad Guys (8:30) and Sonic 2 (10:30)
  • Saturday: Theater 1 — Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (8:30) and Uncharted (11). Theater 2 — The Northman (8:30) and Firestarter (11). Theater 3 — The Bad Guys (8:30) and Sonic 2 (10:30)

More information on what movies are coming up and more can be found on the Santee Drive-In’s website and the South Bay Drive-In’s website.

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