Put on your PJs and motor to one of these five Puget Sound drive-in movie theaters
A descriptive list of the five remaining drive-in movie theaters in Western Washington, including the Valley 6, Skyline, Rodeo Triplex, Wheel-In Motor Movie and Blue Fox Drive-In.
Special to The Seattle Times
In late May, demolition began on Everett's Puget Park Drive-In, which was sold last year to Swedish Medical Center. Bobbi Rayes, who managed the theater for 17 years, has many fond memories.
When the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies were shown there, Rayes recalls, the grounds were a stage for "pirates" throwing candy and firing toy guns. Blockbusters brought jammed crowds.
"I always looked forward to when the season would start up, to see the kids in their new pajamas and their slippers," she says. "But I'm a granny now, and that's where I think."
Fortunately for fans of an old-fashioned drive-in movie experience, seven operating drive-in movie theaters remain in Washington state, most clustered around Puget Sound. They're close enough that (with a dose of coffee) you can make a night trip out of it, and cheap enough to go every weekend. And while their facades are relics from another era, they all have Facebook or Web pages with updated showtimes — and plenty of fervent fans.
Here's a list of Western Washington drive-ins still in operation. Call ahead to make sure the one you want to attend is open on the day you plan to go:
Valley 6 Drive-In, Auburn
For those in the Everett area who are disappointed about the closure of 42-year-old Puget Park, Valley 6 is the closest alternative. Three screens show double features, and an AM radio is required to tune into the sound. That process can be a bit clumsy: In each parking space, concrete slabs with poles stuck in them hold a wire, which twists around your car antenna. The sound can go in and out this way, but portable radios also work. When we lost the battle with our antenna, we sat outside and listened to everyone else's broadcast.
What really makes Valley 6 worth the trip is the phenomenal, trapped-in-time charm of the snack bar. Directly reflecting its 1968 birth date, it features mod starburst lighting, a ragged stone wall, gold and yellow lacquered tile, and "In" and "Out" doors for the once-busy bathrooms.
March-October at 401 49th St. N.E., Auburn; $2-$8 cash only, free for ages 5 and under (253-854-1250 or www.valleydriveins.com).
Skyline Drive-In, Shelton, Mason County
Puget Park's Rayes says she will most likely make the trip to this single-screen, as most of her equipment went there. Crowned with a spectacular red and yellow sign, the theater was opened in 1962. Its original screen blew down 19 years later, and the replacement still plays double features each night. Listen to them on FM radio.
In addition to that movie staple popcorn, Skyline's snack bar features made-to-order burgers and pizza, and curly fries. Keep up to date on showtimes via its Twitter feed. A recent posting: "I pity the fool that misses the A-Team (PG-13) & Date Night (PG-13)! Open all week, gates at 8."
April-September at 182 S.E. Brewer Road, Shelton; $1-$7 cash only, free ages 5 and under (360-426-4707 or www.skylinedrive-in.com).
Rodeo Triplex Drive-In, Port Orchard
Since 1949, Rodeo Drive-In has been providing three screens of nightly double features near the Bremerton airport. A sunset ferry ride from Seattle is an awesome way to start the evening, but you'll miss the last boat home if you stay for both movies. Driving back through Tacoma is a small price to pay for visiting this way-happening drive-in.
You'll see lovers in muscle cars, station wagons with kids spilling out and teenagers galore in their packed fields. There are even designated parking spaces for motor homes and semitrailers. Almost all of the vantage points are prime, and the Dolby and DTS digital-stereo FM sounds like a dream. Heavy on nostalgia, there's a popular preshow-radio program.
Radio pagers let you order concessions like a 15-inch mega-pizza and wait in your car. On my visit, every kid working the snack bar was having a blast and urged me to try the infamous "pizza dog" — it was fantastic. The urge to crack a beer here is very high, but if you appear intoxicated, "it's highly likely the sheriff will stop by to say 'Hello,' " the theater's website notes.
Mid-March-September at 7369 Highway 3 S.W., Port Orchard; $5-$8, free for ages 4 and under (360-698-6030 or www.rodeodrivein.com).
Wheel-In Motor Movie, Port Townsend
Say you're visiting Port Townsend for one of its many summer festivals. You've just done your best impression of Richard Gere's karate chop in the parking lot of Water Street ale house (where a scene from "An Officer and a Gentleman" was filmed), and now you're looking for another diversion. Head to this single screen, which will celebrate its 60th year of operation in 2012. Vintage commercials play before movies and during intermission. A huge treat for old-timey buffs is the hand-cranked cash register, which can only accept up to seven dollars at a time. That might explain the relative affordability of the concessions.
Nestled among the trees, with room for just 154 cars, Wheel-In is a uniquely intimate drive-in experience. April-August, 210 Theatre Road, Port Townsend; $6.50-$8.50 cash only, free for ages 6 and under (360-385-0859 or www.ptwheelinmotormovie.com).
Blue Fox Drive-In, Oak Harbor
The "Coming Attractions" page of this popular Whidbey Island drive-in has some very good news: "Robin Hood," "Toy Story 3" and, um ... "Twilight Eclipse"! What better atmosphere to contemplate Bella's fate than out under the stars? If you and your posse arrive early (and are at least 56 inches tall), you can zoom Go-carts around a quarter-mile track for $6. A black-and-white checkered snack bar offers Philly cheesesteaks, pizza, churros and slush puppies in 20 flavors (including "Bahama Mama" and "Wanna Doo").
It's safe to say a lot has probably changed since Blue Fox opened in 1959. Alex Vehorn, a Whidbey resident for 18 years, attests to the popularity of this single-screen theater. "I have all sorts of particularly awesome memories, but I don't know if they're fit for print," he says. "Other than teenage groping and some high jinks, mostly just the pleasure of being in your own vehicle with whatever friends you brought. You're not interrupting the movie for other people, and you can do your own running critique."
Open all year, 1403 N. Monroe Landing Road, Oak Harbor; $6.50, free for ages 4 and under (360-675-5667 or www.bluefoxdrivein.com).
The two other operating theaters in Washington state are the Auto-Vue Drive-In in Colville, Stevens County (444 Auto Vue Road, 509-684-2863) and the Vue-Dale Drive-In in Wenatchee (1546 S. Wenatchee Ave., 509-662-7740 or www.ncwmovies.usonline.com).
Jonathan Beeman, a Merchant Marine based in Seattle, has been going to the Vue-Dale Drive-In with his girlfriend-turned-wife since they were teenagers. "We used to take an old Cadillac Coupe de Ville and just see whatever was playing," he remembers. Now the property is for sale, according to the Wenatchee Business Journal. "I heard that this is the last year it'll be open, but we hear that every year."
Check out one of these gems for an economical and highly enjoyable summer outing. It might make memories that will last forever.
"You don't know who's sitting to the left or right of you, but they smile," says Rayes of her experiences at Puget Park. "Everybody is just sitting there and enjoying the evening ... I think so much now the world is so busy, at least to me, we forget to breathe and live life."
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