An American Summer Rite-of-Passage

August 27, 2011

Since the 1930′s, it has been part of the American psyche and a summer tradition to view the cinema under the stars. It is immortalized in television, film, and stories, as a way for the family to find frugal entertainment and for adolescents to enjoy young love.

Every year as part of our family’s summer bucket list, we pack up and head out to the Valley Drive-In in Auburn. This is the largest drive-in in all of Washington State and has been a staple in my life since childhood. I remember days when we’d go early and spend time running around with neighborhood friends at the playgrounds that were located below the movie screens. While those playgrounds are long gone, the rest is still there as if locked in a time warp.

Valley Drive-In Sign & Movie Screen

Valley Drive-In Sign & Movie Screen

If its been a while since you’ve been out to the drive-in, now is a prime time to introduce your family to this wonderful rite-of-passage experience. During the dog days of summer (or what little summer the Pacific Northwest has received this year) is a great time to grab kids, stock up on snacks, and head out to catch a show or two! In addition to the movies, there is the classic nostalgic snack bar and a video game arcade.

Snack Bar Goodies and Video Games

Snack Bar Goodies and Video Games

A trip to the drive-in can be as frugal or as extravagant as one makes it. We generally try to help out the facility and “buy local” by making a kitschy night out of it (as evidenced by Bee’s haul of pretzel, blue Slushie, Red Vines, hot dog, and popcorn). In this economy, there is nothing wrong with bringing food and drinks from home as a way to save on the steep markup that the snack bar has (although they do have an unenforced “no outside food or drink” policy). Drive-ins are a dying breed and it is hard to keep them afloat; if you have the means to do so, please consider buying your treats and goodies from inside the cafeteria.

Location: Valley Drive-In
401 49th Street Northeast
Auburn, WA 98002
Phone: 253-854-1250
Daily*: Doors open at 8 AM; First movie showing starts at Dusk.
Showings: There are 2 movies for every screen. You may not mix & match movies between screens. On Fridays & Saturdays, they will show an encore of the first movie right after the second movie.
Cost: $9/Adults (16-59 years), $6.50/Juniors (12-15 years), $6.50/Seniors (60+ years), $5.50/Children (5-11 years), and FREE/Children under 5.
*This is based on their open season which is generally from May through September but subject to change.
Methods of Payment: Cash, Credit (Visa, Mastercard)
Bathrooms/Changing Areas: They have ample bathrooms for everyone to use (men & women). Do remember that this place is “retro” and so are their bathrooms. For kids who are potty-training they actually have older, smaller toilets which are a hit as they are “just their size”. There are also changing stations available.


  • Bring cash if you want to make use of the “Cash Only” lane into the theater (which may/may not save you time getting in).
  • Make sure you have an AM radio to receive their signal.
  • Figure out ahead of time where your antenna is. Most newer cars have them embedded within the body of the car and may be pretty oblivious to you. If you don’t do this step, you may be in a world of hurt later when you can’t find that it is located inside the A-pillar, along the back window, or a signal box on the roof of your car.
  • Bring some electrical, masking, or blue tape in order to connect the signal wires to your antenna.
  • Try to arrive before dusk so you’re not having to do the above steps in the dark!
  • Figure out how to turn on the car without your headlights/parking lights if you have a newer car. It could be something as simple as a switch like European cars or pulling the parking break in Asian cars. You’ll need to know this if at any time you plan on starting up the car (to refresh the battery, warm it up, cool it down, defog the windows, etc). Failure to do this might elicit stares or words from other cars if you interrupt the film with your headlights.
  • If you have a large SUV or Truck they will limit you to parking in the back rows. A bonus is that if you have the trunk/bed space you may park backwards and watch the movie from the rear of your vehicle.
  • Lawn chairs & camp chairs rock for days when the evenings are warm.
  • If you decide to sit outside you might want to bring bug spray.
  • DO BRING sweaters, blankets, or sleeping bags! Even though it is summer, as soon as the sun goes it gets chilly out.
  • Pillows are wonderful to have too! Might as well make it comfy-cozy!
  • Have the kiddos dress in their PJs! Not only is it cute and will the kids feel at home but they will generally not be able to make the one film, let alone two, or will end up falling asleep on the way home.
  • Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash or left in car. When out, they must be cleaned up after.
  • Bring quarters if you’d like to use the arcade.



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4 Responses to An American Summer Rite-of-Passage

  1. E
    August 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Now, I want to go to the drive-in! You make it sound so fun. I recommend not parking in front of/in line with the snack area if you’re like me and don’t like lots of people walking by your car. It makes me nervous!

    • AdventureBee
      August 30, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      Great idea! I didn’t even thinking of the people passing by from the snack bar. Sadly we have the SUV so we’re required to park in back. Generally though we park on the side nearest the exit (and furthest from the cafeteria) so that we can make a quick exit with the tot…just in case!

  2. Lisa
    September 3, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Love this post! Nice pics and tips, too!

  3. October 15, 2011 at 3:56 am

    I think my boys would LOVE a trip to the drive-in. I wish they weren’t such a vanishing breed in these parts (Los Angeles, that is).

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