Entertainment & Events

“SD on the Cheap” — The Santee Drive-In

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The drive-in — it is undoubtedly an American classic. For many, the mere mention of the word takes them back to a simpler time, to some distant childhood memory of sitting in their parents’ car watching Hollywood icons on the big screen.

An American classic, yes, but an endangered one. In its heyday, the number of drive-ins across the country reached far into the thousands. Now, in a world stuffed with IMAX theatres, on-demand movie channels and seemingly endless ways to watch films, the number is down into the hundreds. Some drive-ins have been torn down and replaced with large event venues, commercial buildings or residences; others sit abandoned on the side of highways, decaying reminders of a time past.

With so few remaining, it seems extremely fortunate that not one, but two operating drive-ins are located right here in San Diego County.

photo from "slworking2" via Flikr

photo from “slworking2” via Flikr

Being both a movie lover and an outdoors enthusiast, I had to check one out. And so I took a recent trip to the Santee Drive-In, which is located off of CA-67. It was my first time at a drive-in theatre, and I can say wholeheartedly that it will not be my last — there is nothing like watching a movie under the stars.

The “modern” drive-in maintains the spirit of its classic counterparts, but over the years, some things have changed. For example, you no longer pay per car — the current price of admission at the Santee Drive-In is $8 per adult ($4 for children aged 5-12; children under 5 are free). But here’s the good news: For $8, you get to see two current feature films — a far cry from what you’d pay to see the same two movies in an indoor theatre. And unlike the days of old when you hooked a speaker to your car window, the sound now runs through an FM radio station.

Here’s how it works:

The Santee Drive-In has two screens, each offering a different pair of movies. The first round of movies begins at 8:30 p.m., so get to the drive-in around 8:00 p.m. to get a good spot.

Pay admission at the entrance booths and then follow signs to the area for either screen one or screen two (depending on which pair of movies you plan to see). Park in one of the lined spaces and get situated. Note that larger vehicles are asked to park in the back and along the sides of the lot, so they do not block the view of smaller cars. Some people set up shop in the back of trucks or in lawn chairs, others watch the movies from inside their cars. If you are easily distracted by people talking loudly or an occasional helicopter flying overhead (which I am), I recommend staying inside your vehicle to watch the films.

As 8:30 approaches, turn your radio to the designated station. (And remember to be mindful of your battery if you use your car radio!) Then sit back and enjoy a piece of fading American history.

A couple of things to know before you head to the Santee Drive-In:

  • It is cash only, so make sure you visit the ATM beforehand.
  • There is a snack bar, which offers standard movie fare like popcorn (a large runs $5, medium $4, small $2.70); soda (large $4.85, medium $3.75, small $2.70); candy (large $4.30, small $2.70) and nachos ($5.40). But at the Santee Drive-In, you can bring whatever food and drink you want … so I say, why pay for food at the concession stand when you can bring your own? Before you leave the house, stock the car with a late dinner, salty snacks, candy, hot coffee or whatever else you’re craving.
  • No dogs are allowed.
  • There are bathrooms on site.
  • Bring some jackets and blankets — it can get pretty chilly as the night wears on.

The Santee Drive-In is open 365 days a year. For movie listings and times, go to http://www.santeedriveintheatre.com.

Santee Drive-In
10990 Woodside Ave. N
Santee, CA 92071
619.448.7447

2 Comments

  1. Nanette

    July 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I have been looking for a drive-in in San Diego for the longest time! I will definitely check it out and see if it’s as great as the critics say it is…

  2. John642

    July 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Very nice site!

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