Texas boasts friendly smiles and lots of wide open spaces. When Texans favorited outdoor fun over indoor entertainment, movie goers started rolling into drive-ins across Texas.
As the weather cools and the nights fall earlier, consider loading up and heading to a drive-in. Find a family-friendly environment with a retro vibe. Check out the concession stand and you might be surprised. Some sell beer and wine, then others serve hand-pressed hamburgers, gourmet sandwiches and house-made chili.
History of Drive-Ins in Texas
Back in 1921, Model T’s packed the downtown streets of Comanche, Texas, to see the first film projected outdoors. A silent black-and-white film entertained the residents of the small town.
A New Jersey inventor developed the concept further and perfected the projection, sound and screen requirements. Soon drive-ins started popping up across the U.S.
The Drive-In Short Reel Theater opened in Galveston in 1934. It was the first drive-in in Texas and the third the U.S.
By the 1950s the U.S. had over 4,000 outdoor venues. During that time, Texas boasted close 400 theaters, according to several sources.
Texas and drive-ins go together like boots and jeans. With lots of open space essential for parking hundreds of cars, drive-ins flourished, especially in West Texas. The towering white screens attracted more than bugs. Everyone from convertible driving teens to station wagons packed with pajama-clad kids showed up on weekends.
Though the neon signs started to blink in the late 1960s. And Texas lost most of its drive-ins in the last part of the 20th century. Those close to urban centers got demolished to make way for shopping. Yet everything old becomes new again, especially to a new generation of movie-goers stuck indoors for months.
Visit a vintage gem, packed with mid-century details like neon marquees, starbursts and check board linoleum in the concession stands.
One of the original drive-ins, it’s been family run since 1952. It still keeps its vintage diner vibe in the concession area. It’s the longest continually operating drive-in in Texas.
Located at 1800 W. Pearl St. in Granbury. Open Friday and Saturday for a double feature and Sunday offers a single features. Closed from December 1 until Spring Break. Admission by the carload.
Graham Drive-In Theatre
One of the oldest drive-ins in Texas. First opening in 1948, it still displays movie titles on its red and white marquee.
Located at 1519 4th St. in Graham, south of Wichita Falls. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission per person.
Last Drive-In Picture Show
Opening in 1950, it was originally called the Circle Drive-in. The neon marquee still blinks to life nightly, north of Fort Hood.
Located at 2912 S. Highway 36 Bypass in Gatesville. Open nightly. Admission by the carload. Shows a double feature.
For over 60 years, this Panhandle drive-in lights up the plains with weekend movies. The concession stand hand-presses the patties for made-to-order burgers and uses house-made chili.
Located at 12 Medical Center Dr. in Clarendon. Open Friday and Saturday nights. Admission per person.
The Town and Country Drive-in
Originally opening in 1956, it claimed to be the largest drive-in in Texas. With 1,500 spots, that claim seems legit.
Though the screens went dark in 1981. But a new century brought new life to the Town and Country and it reopened in 2000 with two screens.
Located at 2902 Vogel St. in Abilene. Open nightly. Admission per person.
The New Classics
If filmmakers can shoot a remake then drive-ins can too. Find new versions of the classic concept across Texas.
Big Sky Drive-In Theatre
Won’t have to worry about a tree blocking your view. There’s nothing by big sky out in West Texas. The concession stand serves up boxed dinners and try their specialty—the Chihuahua.
Located at 6200 W. Highway 80 in Midland. Open nightly with three screens. Admission per person. And you can even bring your leashed pet.
Doc’s Drive-In Theatre
More than a drive-in, it’s an experience. Find a menu stacked with gourmet-inspired sandwiches, like the Don Juan. And there’s even a bar.
Make it a weekend with movie-themed mini cabins, like the Audrey Hepburn cabin or Harry Potter cabin.
Located at 1540 Satterwhite Rd. in Buda. Open Tuesday to Sunday and closed Monday. Admission per person. Dog friendly.
What’s better than a movie, well a movie with a ice-cold craft beer. In a new generation of urban drive-ins, find the Coyote just north of downtown Fort Worth.
Located at 223 NE 4th St. in Fort Worth. Open nightly. Admission per person.
The Galaxy Drive-In
Starbursts lead the way. With seven screens, see a different movie every night.
Located at 5301 N. Interstate 45 in Ennis, south of Dallas. Open nightly. Admission per person.
The Globe Drive-In
Drive in for a new blow-up screen showing movies along with themed nights, like Christmas in August. It recently relocated to this Austin suburb.
Located at 8017 Cele Rd. in Pflugerville. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Admission per person.
The Showboat Drive-In Theater
This drive-in features back-to-back screens to show two movies at a time.
Located at 22422 FM 2920 in Hockley, outside of Houston. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission per person.
More Drive-ins for More Fun
Find a few drive-ins have more than one location.
Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in
Celebrating its 10 year anniversary, the Blue Starlite ignited the drive-in movement in Austin. Boasting three drive-in screens along with two outdoor, sit-in screens.
Located at 2015 E. M. Franklin Ave. in Austin. Open nightly. Admission per person.
Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in—Downtown Austin
New to the scene, it’s on a roof-top and it’s a drive-in. Experience outdoor entertainment in the middle of Austin’s downtown skyline.
Located at 300 San Antonio St. in Austin. Open nightly Wednesday through Sunday. Admission per person.
Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in—Round Rock
This Blue Starlite outpost offers a larger area for more cars and patrons can even preorder BBQ for their movie.
Located at 800 Harrell Parkway in Round Rock. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Admission per person.
Rooftop Cinema Club
With three locations open across Texas, the Rooftop Cinema Club started in London. The owner waxed nostalgic for mid-century Americana and wanted to bring the drive-in experience to England.
In cities across Texas, the Rooftop Cinema Club is a mix of pop-up drive-ins and rooftop outdoor cinemas.
The Drive-In at Sawyer Yards
Opening in 2018, the Drive-In at Sawyer Yards is the second installation of the Rooftop Cinema Club in Houston. This location projects movies onto the nearly 100-foot tall silos at Sawyer Yards.
Located at 2301 Summer St. in Houston. Open daily. Admission per carload.
The Drive-In at Fiesta Texas
As a part of the Rooftop Cinema Club, movie goers park in front on a blow-up screen in the shadow of the amusement park rides. This location features a double-sided screen.
Located at 17000 W. Interstate 10 in San Antonio. Open daily. Admission per carload.
The Drive-in at The Central
The newest in the Rooftop Cinema Club group, see the classics from family favorites to late night slashers on a 52-foot blow-up screen.
Located at 2999 North Carroll Ave. in Dallas. Open daily. Admission per carload.
Stars and Stripes Drive-ins
Find two locations in Texas with each 50’s-inspired diners and three screens each.
Located at 5101 Clovis Highways in Lubbock. Open nightly Friday to Sunday. Admission per person.
Located at 1178 Kroesche Ln. in New Braunfels. Open nightly. Admission per person.
Tascosa Drive-In Theater
This theater is for sale after a record-breaking year. A once in a lifetime opportunity to own and operate a bit of cinematic nostalgia.
Located at 1999 Dumas Dr. in Amarillo. Open Tuesday to Sunday. Both carload and admission per person. Concessions available.
Texas Drive-Ins Film Trail
With an eye towards preserving cinema history, the Texas Film Commission developed the Texas Drive-Ins Film Trail. So grab road map and blaze a trail to drive-ins from South Texas to the Panhandle.