Check Out These Drive-In Theaters and Experiences in Las Vegas
Just pull in, and pull out your popcorn.
There’s a long tradition in Las Vegas of living it up, having fun, and stretching the boundaries of excess without leaving your car. Take drive-thru wedding chapels for example -- either at Vegas Weddings or the Little White Wedding Chapel. (At last check, no drive-thru divorce courts were available, but give it time.) In a more recent trend, cannabis dispensaries at NuWu and Thrive have added drive-thru windows to make sales quicker and more convenient. Just do the right thing and wait until you get home before lighting up.
What about drive-in movies? Unfortunately, Vegas has been a bit short in that department. Yet in a new era of social distancing, things are starting to change. But why stop with movies? Las Vegas has a few other full-fledged drive-in experiences to enjoy outdoors. Expect demand to only increase as we begin to cool off from summer and welcome the fall weather.
You’d think a town that’s all about entertainment would have more than one traditional drive-in movie theater. Yet West Wind has been left to carry the flag on its own for a while now. The theater actually dates back to the 1960s, when it was known simply as the Las Vegas Drive-In. A few screens have been added over the years and everything’s all-digital now, but West Wind makes a point to keep a retro image, felt immediately with the tall arches that welcome cars near the front entrance.
West-In has been a source of not only entertainment, but familiarity during the pandemic. After shutting down in March, the theater resumed operations in May with a heavy emphasis on classic movies -- and a few new social distancing guideless. In the past, it wasn't unusual to hang out outside the car and toss a football around before the movie began -- but that kind of stuff is discouraged now. West Wind still makes a point to screen new releases as soon as they become available -- with lower prices than what you’ll typically find at indoor cinemas. In recent months, the venue hosted concerts (on screen, not in person) from big names like Metallica, Blake Shelton, and Garth Brooks, helping to fill a void as shows and other forms of live entertainment remain on hold. For those up north, West Wind has a second Nevada drive-in just outside Reno in Sparks.
After debuting in early 2020, Burger 51 is officially changing its name to Snappy Burger. The concept remains the same: a drive-thru burger joint where you can park your car and watch movies on a big screen, but the new name represents a shift from the original UFO/sci-fi image to something more broad. Owner Jon Basso, also the creative mind behind the Heart Attack Grill on Fremont Street, says he wants Snappy Burger to be an outlet for indie films of all genres.
Specifically, he’s talking about short films. After picking up their food, customers tune into a radio station and listen in while watching a rotating loop of two short films (each typically less than 10 minutes long). Family appropriate selections run from 11am-9pm. Afterward, from 9pm-1am, the movies get a little more intense for an older crowd. The 20-by-35 foot screen uses back-lit technology, allowing the image to remain clear and colorful, even during daylight hours. In addition to burgers, customers can order nachos, popcorn, shaved ice, and vintage candy bars. Wash it all down with your choice of Coke or Pepsi (served in glass bottles and made with real sugar in Mexico). You can even buy $1 comic books, although those aren’t for kids as much as adults looking for a nostalgia fix.
Dreamland Drive-In is the most fun you can have in a warehouse trucking bay. The concept is an extension of Fresh Wata Studios, which specializes in inventive production and exhibit spaces. With conventions and hotel events mostly on hold during the pandemic, the company put its neglected loading docks to good use as a dinner theater with an outdoor drive-in twist. Shows typically mix live music with interactive effects and video projections.
The first production to make a splash was the Drive-In Drag Show, featuring live singing and appearances by Strip and Broadway performers. Dreamland also hosted a guest residency by Sexxy (a steamy all-female revue on hiatus from the Westgate hotel) and a comedy show with 10 comics performing stand-up over three nights. After pausing performances during the hot summer months, Dreamland is picking back up again with Comradery (a tailgating concept for football season), the Nightmare Drive-In for Halloween, and the Holly Jolly Drive-In for the holiday season. A drive-in culinary experience is also in the works. For now, the audience can have food delivered to their car via online ordering and contactless delivery.
When the Majestic Repertory Theatre was prohibited from allowing audiences inside its black box performance space due to COVID-19 restrictions, the troupe took to the streets instead. Or more specifically -- an alleyway behind the theatre in the Arts District. The idea was actually inspired by a strip club in Seattle. In this case, the theater couldn’t sell tickets, but it had a retail license. So it sold masks and t-shirts presented with a full-on performance that included burlesque dancers, lights, smoke, and evil clowns in a post-apocalyptic setting. Upon arrival, cars were questioned by actors in masks, goggles, and hazmat suits before being allowed to pass with a full “decontamination” -- a clever idea that resonated almost too well at the height of COVID panic.
With summer heat fast approaching and protests dominating news headlines, the theater decided to take a break. However, with fall upon us, the company is back with The Parking Lot -- a timely outdoor show about a quarantined couple struggling to make sense of their future. It debuts September 24 with performances twice a night (7pm and 8:30pm) Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are purchased in advance for $50 per vehicle. The theater is also planning ahead to Horrorwood Video, a drive-in version of its annual Halloween show, featuring an old-school video store stuck in a sinister vortex. The theatre notes that cast and crew practice social distancing as much as possible during shows and undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
The Clark County Parks & Recreation district wants you to get out of the house while being as safe and socially distant as possible. It’s hosting a series of free drive-in movies throughout September in different corners of the valley. Vehicles will be allowed in on a first-come, first serve basis -- no reservations needed. Once inside, cars will be directed to park in staggered patterns with at least 10 feet of space between them. Expect at least one or two food trucks on site with ordering and pick-up notices available by text to minimize crowds.
The free drive-in movie screenings include Sing at the Winchester Dondero Cultural Center (McLeod & Desert Inn) on September 11, The Little Rascals at the Hollywood Recreation Center (Hollywood & Charleston), and a movie to be determined (keep up with our weekly event rundowns for the latest updates) at the Walnut Community Center (Walnut & Cheyenne) on September 25. All movies begin at 7:45pm with doors opening at 6pm.
Somewhere between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City is Yonder Escalante. A big road trip is required to get there, but it's totally worth it. The luxury-focused glampground has renovated vintage airstreams and customized tiny homes for accommodations -- or you can just pull in and hook up your own RV. The place was redesigned from an old drive-in movie theater, although locals can't quite agree on how long it’s been around.
The good news: Guests are still welcome to check out outdoor movies on the big screen Thursday through Sunday. For the full experience, rent a vintage car, reimagined as a stylish lounger for $25. Popcorn included. Yonder is planning on putting together themed movie weekends (like Star Wars or National Lampoon’s), but no matter what you watch, the best part is enjoying a flick surrounded by the scenery of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Other perks include telescopes for checking out the constellations at night and dinner kits for cooking meals over a campfire.
Glittering Lights has been one of the most captivating drive-in experiences in Las Vegas for 20 years now. The holiday attraction includes about 2.4 miles of colorful lights that twist and turn throughout the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Drive through them yourself while listening to commercial-free holiday music on the radio and sipping on hot chocolate or munching kettle corn.
Overall, there are more than four million lights and 600 displays -- many of which change from year to year. Expect a nativity scene and an area dedicated to local Las Vegas sports teams. In a nod to current events, don't be surprised if you see Santa Claus in a mask. Money raised from ticket sales (starting at $25 per car) is divided among more than 50 children's charities in Southern Nevada. So check it out. In a year when so many annual events are being cancelled, it’s nice to see something endearing and familiar on the holiday calendar.
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