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The drive-in movie theater is making a come back. Especially as the days of social distancing become the new normal, a new audience will be discovering the appeal of these pieces of Americana. With more than 200 theaters, North Carolina was once one of the top 10 states for drive-in theaters in the country. With just over 300 drive-in theaters remaining in the United States, North Carolina is fortunate to have several outdoor theaters we can all enjoy.

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One of my fondest childhood memories was going to the drive-in movie theater with my parents. We’d pull up in our car, park in a spot, roll down our window, and hook a speaker to the window. We’d eat hot dogs and tons of candy while watching the movie. Inevitably, my brother and I would fall asleep in the back seat of the car.

The experience has remained mostly unchanged, with some modernization. Drive-in movie theaters offer digital, current movies for a fraction of the price of regular movie theaters. And since they usually show two features in a row, the price of admission covers both movies, making it an affordable family and group activity. Here are the best drive-in movie theaters in NC.

Best Drive-In Movie Theaters in NC

TOP 5 DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS IN NC featured by top NC blog, The Common Traveler: image of Raleigh Road Outdoor Theater Screen
Image courtesy of Raleigh Road Outdoor Theater Facebook Page

Raleigh Road Outdoor Theater

3336 Raleigh Road
Henderson
(252) 438-6959

Cost: Adults $8 | Children 3-11 $5 | Under 3 Free
Forms of Payment: All forms of payment Sunday-Thursday; Online tickets only Friday & Saturday.
Credit Cards: Yes
Days: Friday and Saturday during the season. 7 days a week during summer.
Number of Screens: 1
Food: Full concessions. No outside food and beverages.
Playground: Yes
Pet friendly: Yes

The oldest operating drive-in movie theater in North Carolina can be found just outside of Raleigh (and a short drive from Durham). While it may be the oldest, it uses the most updated technology. Tickets can be purchased online. Even concessions can be ordered online, with customers paged when their orders are ready. They’re considering adding a laser show for 2020. Try the Oreo Churros!

TOP 5 DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS IN NC featured by top NC blog, The Common Traveler: image of Hound's Drive-in Theater screen in nountains
Image courtesy of Hound’s Drive-In Theater Facebook Page

Hound’s Drive-In Theater

114 Raven Circle
King’s Mountain
(704) 739-4424

Cost: $20 per carload
Forms of Payment: Cash only at the ticket booth.
Credit Cards: Yes. ATM at the concession stand.
Days: Friday and Saturday during the season.
Number of Screens: 3
Concessions: Full concessions. No outside food and beverages.
Playground: Yes
Pet friendly: Yes

Located just outside of Charlotte is the only drive-in theater with three screens and can easily hold over 1300 cars. They are the newest drive-in theater. Hound’s has become a local fan favorite. In addition to movies, the theater has hosted graduations, comedy shows, and concerts. Customers rave about the food offerings and decent pricing. Try the fried pickles and funnel cakes!

TOP 5 DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS IN NC featured by top NC blog, The Common Traveler: Three images: film camera; Sunset Drive-In Theater marquee; popcorn tubs
Image courtesy of Sunset Drive-In Theater Facebook Page

Sunset Drive-In Theater

3935 Sunset Drive
Shelby
(704) 434-7782

Cost: $15 per carload (estimated — $12 in 2019)
Forms of Payment: Cash only
Credit Cards: No. No ATM on site.
Days: Friday and Saturday during the season.
Number of Screens: 1
Concessions: Grill and snacks. Outside food permitted.
Playground: No
Pet friendly: No

Shelby’s drive-in movie theater has been family owned and operated for 35 years. Three generations now work at the theater. People like the friendly staff and affordable concession stand. Try one of the Sundrop Slushies!

TOP 5 DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS IN NC featured by top NC blog, The Common Traveler: image of Eden Drive-in Theater - cars in front of screen
Image courtesy of Eden Drive-In Facebook Page

Eden Drive-In Theater

106 Fireman Club Road
Eden
(336) 623-9669

Cost: Adults $7 | Children 6-11 $5 | Under 5 Free
Forms of Payment: Cash only.
Credit Cards: No. No ATM on site.
Days: Friday and Saturday during the season.
Number of Screens: 1 (2nd screen coming later in 2020)
Concessions: Grill and snacks. Outside food permitted.
Playground: Yes
Pet friendly: Yes

Plans to expand to two screens this summer have made customers of the Eden Drive-In Theater very happy. Guests report that the theater feels safe and nurtures a family atmosphere. Try the Ice cream and shakes! 

TOP 5 DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS IN NC featured by top NC blog, The Common Traveler: image of Badin Road Drive-in Theater sign
Image courtesy of Badin Road Drive-In Facebook Page

Badin Road Drive-In Theater

2411 Badin Road
Albemarle
(704) 983-2900

Cost: Adults $7 | Children 6-11 $5 | Under 6 Free
Forms of Payment: Cash only.
Credit Cards: No. ATM at the concession stand.
Days: Friday and Saturday during the season.
Number of Screens: 2
Concessions: Grill and snacks. Outside food permitted.
Playground: Yes
Pet friendly: Yes

Not far from family-friendly Concord, is the Badin Road Drive-In Theater, which originally opened in 1948, and re-opened in 1994. Movie-goers love watching movies from the food of their trucks or backs of their cars. Try the chocolate shake!

TOP 5 DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS IN NC featured by top NC blog, The Common Traveler: image of concession area of Hound's Drive in Theater
Concession Area at Hound’s Drive-In Theater – Photo Courtesy of Hound’s

Items to Bring With You to the Drive-In Movie Theater

To make the best of your drive-in movie experience, you’ll want to bring certain items with you. They will create a more enjoyable environment for both you and those around you.

TOP 5 DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS IN NC featured by top NC blog, The Common Traveler: image of couple inside car at drive-in theater
Image by Bernd Schray from Pixabay

Drive-in Movie Theater Etiquette

Each drive-in movie theater in NC has its own set of rules. Please consider them carefully before you go out to each drive-in movie theater to avoid any aggravation. Some general suggestions have been listed below:

  • Arrive early for the best spots – first come, first served!
  • Don’t take up more than one spot.
  • Turn off your car lights (read owner’s manual for instructions ahead of time if unsure!)
  • Turn off loud engines during the movie.
  • Don’t sit on the roof of your car – you’ll block the view of others.
  • Don’t let your trunk or tailgate go higher than your roof – tie it with twine not to block the view of others.
  • The playground closes once the movie begins.
  • Once you enter, there is no re-entry without paying for re-admission.
  • Don’t walk around. Stay in your car.
  • Don’t disturb others.
  • No alcohol permitted.

What about you? Have you visited a drive-in movie theater recently? Do you have other tips to recommend? Tell us in the comments!

If you’re looking for other things to do in North Carolina, check out:

Happy travels,
Annick, The Common Traveler

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Best Drive-in Movie Theaters in NC, including locations, links, basic information, what to bring, and etiquette. #visitnc #driveinmovies #driveintheaters #datenight #familyactivities #ncdriveinmovies #ncdriveintheaters
Best Drive-in Movie Theaters in NC, including locations, links, basic information, what to bring, and etiquette. #visitnc #driveinmovies #driveintheaters #datenight #familyactivities #ncdriveinmovies #ncdriveintheaters