Entertainment

Check Out These Drive-In Theaters and Outdoor Movies Near San Diego

Just pull in, and pull out your popcorn.

Westfield North County
Westfield North County | Karli Cadel
Westfield North County | Karli Cadel

Remember when you were a kid and the family would all pile into the car and go to the drive-in for a double feature? Drive-ins are experiencing a moment right now, as movie lovers seek out safe options for viewing the latest feature films that don’t include vegging out on the couch with the remote in your hands. And while San Diego’s theaters are slowly reopening, currently at 25% capacity or 100 people (whichever is less), many moviegoers might still hesitate to visit them. 

We may only have two “real” drive-ins here in San Diego, but you can still see new releases, plus your favorite classic and cult films at a rooftop cinema, a retro poolside dinner/movie combo, and a drive-up theater at a North County mall that’s also raising funds for the arts. We’ve done the research, and these are the best outdoor movie theatres in San Diego. Bring on the popcorn!

Santee Drive-in Theatre

Santee
Just a short ride to East County brings you to the Santee Drive-in Theatre, a beloved local destination since 1962. Upgraded with digital picture and sound, the theater plays two movies per screen, rain or shine, every night, including holidays. Capacity has been capped at 350 cars, with spacing in every other parking spot to ensure social distancing, and masks are required whenever you exit your vehicle. A fully loaded snack bar is located in the center, with burgers, pizza, nachos, soda and all your favorite movie candy, or bring your own food in with you. There’s even a portable jump kit available if you accidentally run your battery down. Admission is cash only (although the snack bar does take plastic) and an ATM is available. Tickets are $10 for 13 and older, $4 for kids 5-12, free for 4 and younger. Gates open at 7:30pm and the movie begins at 8pm.
Distance from San Diego: 25 minutes

South Bay Drive-in Theatre

Chula Vista
Built in 1953, during the heyday of drive-ins in the United States, South Bay Drive-in Theatre has undergone several renovations, finally upgrading to fully digital picture and sound, with the brightest picture quality available on three 100-foot screens. You can see a double-feature every day, year round for the  bargain price of $10 for adults and just $1 for kids 5-9 years old. Capacity is at 425 cars for safe distancing. The snack bar covers all your movie faves, plus burritos, tacos and tortas, and they even have email coupons for food discounts, but feel free to bring your own goodies, if you prefer. Audio is played through your car speakers, but if you’re concerned about your car’s battery life, bring along an FM radio - most audio apps don’t work well here. Plastic is accepted for tickets, but the snack bar is cash only. 
Distance from San Diego: 20 minutes

Charles + Dinorah at The Pearl

Point Loma
The sweet oyster-shaped pool and cool retro vibe at Charles + Dinorah make the perfect setting for date night or a special occasion anytime, but join them every Wednesday for Dinner and a Movie, a uniquely themed evening that includes a classic feature film and a curated three-course meal. Seating begins at 7:15pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to sip a cocktail inspired by the evening’s movie. The menu changes weekly but past dinners have showcased dishes like seared scallops, red curry shrimp rice bowls, and an exclusive dessert created by Chef Peter Ziegler, as well as popcorn for every table. With the reopening of indoor dining, it’s turning the bar area into a VIP section, where you’ll have a private screen. Reservations are mandatory, so call 619-226-6100 or email cody@thepearlsd.com to save your spot. Dinner and a Movie is $50 for regular seating and $65 for VIP treatment, not including tax and gratuity.
Distance from SD: None! It’s in Point Loma.

Cinema Under the Stars

Mission Hills
Movie night returns to Mission Hills rooftop theater, Cinema Under the Stars. Every Thursday through Saturday features the best classic, cult, and recent films shown on a 20-foot screen with HD projection and surround sound. Choose from safely distant single or double zero gravity recliners, loveseat cabanas, or deck chairs with ottomans when you make your online reservation. The smallish snack bar serves coffee, tea, soda, bottled water, popcorn and a variety of candy for just $2 each. Masks must be worn at all times, unless you’re in your seat. Come with cash -- your credit card just reserves your seat online and they only accept greenbacks at the door and the snack bar for payment. Tickets are $18 at the box office and $20 online.
Distance from San Diego: None! It’s in Mission Hills.

Westfield North County

Escondido
Westfield North County, in partnership with the California Center for the Arts, Escondido (CCCAE), is hosting drive-in movies and live concerts from September through November. The lineup is family friendly and a portion of ticket sales benefits the CCAE, who raises funds for the Escondido Community Foundation, Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, and visual and performing arts programming at the Center. Head to the Nordstrom parking lot, where more than 250 spaces allow for enjoying the show at a safe distance. Doors open for all shows at 6:30pm on a first-come-first-serve basis with all shows beginning at 8pm. Tickets are $50 per car and are available for purchase online or by calling 800-988-4253. Snacks will also be available online when you reserve your tickets, and Drive-in Dinner Boxes  are available through Westfield North County’s restaurant partners. The schedule of events is continuously updated with new events, so check back often.
Distance from San Diego: 30 minutes

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.