Nothing says summer quite like visiting a drive-in movie theater. San Diego’s gorgeous climate makes the perfect setting to kick back, relax, and enjoy the classic American pastime year-round! Luckily, San Diego has a few incredible drive-in theaters to choose from, so grab some cozy blankets, hop in the car, and head to see a great film at the drive-in!


History of Drive-in Theaters

Classic Cars


Drive-in movie theaters are quintessentially American – they’ve remained a favorite way for families, lovers, and friends to spend warm nights since the 1930s. The first drive-in movie premiered on June 6, 1933, in New Jersey and cost only 25 cents per car! Within a few years, drive-ins began to spring up around Southern California. Drive-ins fell out of popularity for a while but are once again increasing in popularity across the United States. Now, there are around 18 drive-in movie theaters scattered throughout the state of California.


Drive-in theaters in San Diego


If you’re looking to experience the vintage vibes of a drive-in movie without straying too far from America’s Finest city, you’re in luck! San Diego is home to two fabulous theater options, and we recommend visiting both during your stay. A trip to either of the drive-in theaters is the perfect activity for the movie lovers in your life. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly night out or a romantic date night under a starlit sky, nothing beats a trip to the drive-in movie theatre.


South Bay Drive-in Theater San Diego


South Bay Drive-in Theater is the oldest drive-in theater still in operation in San Diego. The theater originally opened in 1953 when drive-ins were in their prime. Having remained in operation ever since South Bay Drive-in has been providing entertainment for San Diego families for generations. Since its opening, the theater underwent several renovations over the years and recently updated its technology to include fully digital pictures and sound. Visitors can enjoy movies playing on three screens that are 100 feet high from the comfort of their vehicles. The theater is open year-round and there are two movies every single night. 


At South Bay Drive-in Theater there is space for 425 cars. Audio from the film is played through your car speakers on an FM radio station so that you can adjust the volume to your preference. Tickets cost $10 per adult and $1 per child ages 5-9. Kids under 5 can attend for free. It’s an affordable activity for the whole family. A snack bar onsite serves movie-theater favorites like candy and popcorn and more filling options like burritos and tacos. Located in Chula Vista, the theater can be reached in about 20 minutes from downtown San Diego.


Santee Drive-in Theatre


On a visit to Santee Drive-in Theatre, you can expect an unforgettable experience under the stars with a friend or a special date. Santee is located in East County, about 25 minutes from downtown San Diego, making it an easy and worthwhile trip. Santee was established in 1958, and the rest is history - it has remained a favorite destination for San Diego locals for decades and it's still family-owned.


There are two screens and four feature films are shown each night. You can choose whichever screen shows the films that match your taste. An onsite snack bar serves up tasty treats and heartier fare like burgers and nachos. Save some money and bring your own food if you want, as outside food and drinks are permitted. Movies rotate regularly, and showtimes start at 8 pm.


Santee is open daily year-round and tickets cost $10 for anyone over the age of 13. $4 tickets are available for kids aged 4-12, and little ones 4 and under are free. You can even bring along your furry best friend - Santee Theatre allows dogs as long as they remain in the vehicle at all times.


Santee Swap Meet



In addition to the fun of seeing drive-in movies, Santee offers a unique shopping experience on weekends. It's the perfect opportunity to shop for antiques and estate items. You might even return home with a one-of-a-kind treasure!


If you're looking for a fun experience in San Diego, hop in your car and head to the drive-in movies! Whether you love the arts, cars, or simply desire a fun and nostalgic experience - San Diego drive-ins are the ideal place to catch some amazing films and create memories with the people you love.