It has been one hot summer and with cooler evenings on the horizon, I am looking forward to taking a nostalgic journey to a part of my youth: Watching a movie in the comfort of my car under the stars at a drive-in theater.

The first drive-in movie theater was opened in New Jersey in 1933 by Richard Hollingshead, who combined his two favorite interests: Cars and movies. Since then, drive-ins have become part of American culture. According to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association (UDITOA), 1958 saw the peak of drive-ins with 4,063 in the United States.

Since then, the overwhelming majority of drive-ins have closed for a variety of reasons. Some went under because increasing land values made it lucrative to sell to developers. In recent decades, many found it difficult to compete against corporate-owned, indoor theaters; movie rentals that can be enjoyed in the comfort of home; and more recently, the digital age where viewers can download and watch a movie held in the palm of their hand.

As of August 2018, UDITOA listed 317 permanently constructed, commercially operated drive-in theaters in the U.S. In Florida, drive-ins should be added to the endangered species list — there are only seven. Luckily, there are several within road-tripping distance or in locations where it is worth an overnight trip.

A couple of the oldest drive-ins are the Ocala Drive-In in Ocala and Silver Moon Drive-In Theater in Lakeland. Both opened in 1948 but took different paths to lead them to today. The former was originally called the Dyer Drive-In, named after the original owners. In April 1948, a double-bill of “Red River Renegades” and “Queen of the Amazons” projected onto the big screen.

The Ocala Drive-In changed hands at least a couple of times before closing in 2002 then reopening a year later until it closed in 2007. The Watzke Family, fourth-generation theater industry veterans, purchased the theater in 2010 then revived and reopened it in 2011. Two screens play first-run double feature films seven nights a week, rain or shine. Outside food is not permitted, but a concession stand sells snacks perfect for movie watching including popcorn, pizza and burgers.

The Silver Moon Drive-In Theater opened April 14, 1948, with “Up Goes Maize.” Today, it is Polk County’s last drive-in theater. Two screens typically screen first-run, double-feature films nightly. Tune in on your FM car radio, or a few rows have in-car speakers available. The snack bar serves refreshments and a dash of nostalgia, with images of drive-in theaters of yesteryear.

Silver Moon and its sister theater, Joy-Lan in Dade City, were saved from permanent closure when in 1996 a gentleman named Mr. Harold Spears formed Sun South Theaters, Inc., to save some of Central Florida’s drive-ins. Both operate as swap shops during the day and drive-ins in the evening. Joy-Lan first opened on Oct. 31, 1950. Today, one screen plays a double-feature Wednesday through Sunday. Leave the food at home; a snack bar serves the essentials.

“Singing in the Rain,” was the first movie the Ruskin Family Drive-In Theater screened when it opened in 1952. This drive-in has been a community gathering place for more than 50 years and calls itself the “last family drive-in in the U.S.A.” The kiddos have a designated play area. A first-run, double-feature typically projects on the big screen nightly. A snack bar serves essentials but if you bring your own food and/or beverages in, a $5 food permit fee is charged. Listen to the flicks on in-car speakers.

For those of us who grew up going to the drive-in, whether with family, friends or budding romances, jumping in the car and heading to one today is the closest thing to hopping in a time machine and revisiting our youth. Except these days, I need a nap before showtime to make it through the night.

Plan Your Visit

Joy-Lan Drive-In

16414 U.S. 301

Dade City, Fla. 33523


Closed Monday and Tuesday

Admission: $5

Children 4 – 9 years old: $2

Ocala Drive-In

4850 S. Pine Ave.

Ocala, Fla. 34480


Open nightly

Admission: $6

Children 6 – 12: $3

Children under 5 Free

Prices reflect 4 percent discount for cash transactions.

Ruskin Family Drive-In Theater

5011 U.S. Hwy. 41 North

Ruskin, Fla. 33572


Open nightly.

Admission: $6 per person

Children 5 – 8: $1

Children 4 and younger: Free

Cash only.

Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre

4100 New Tampa Hwy.

Lakeland, Fla. 33815


Open nightly.

Admission: $5

Children 4 – 9: $2

Note: I encourage you to leave the food at home and budget to dine in at any of the drive-ins — it’s how most fund their operational expenses.

Jennifer Huber is just your average 40-something-year-old gal living life solo and writing about her travels on her blog, Listen to her adventures near and far on the award-winning Solo Travel Girl podcast.


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.