Hacking the Drive-In: Seeing a Movie with a Baby in Tow

In the past 15 months, Adam and I have been able to see maybe three movies in the theater. I can honestly only recall two right now (22 Jump Street and Big Hero 6) so I might be a bit optimistic with three. Having the little guy around though has not had an impact our ability to go to the drive-in. We’ve taken Henry to the drive-in when he was just a few weeks old.


The Twin Cities is lucky enough to still have a drive-in movie theater in the east metro that shows three movies every night of the week from early May to late October. We used to have another in the southeast metro but that one closed a few years ago. We make every effort to go to the drive-in when they are showing a movie that we want to see in order to support keeping it in business. We love being able to see a movie without needing to hire a babysitter. Plus, there’s the added benefit of being able to bring your own snacks, dress in your comfiest clothes, snuggle with your favorite blanket and pillow, and set the volume to your liking. (I’ll admit, we’re “old” people, but is no one else bothered by how loud a movie theater is?)

So, what do we do to make our drive-in experience enjoyable for every member of the family?

  1. Don’t stress out about the baby’s bedtime. In the summer months, Henry normally goes to bed between 7:45 and 8:15. When we’re at the drive-in though we don’t even bother getting Henry ready for bed until the sun is close to setting which may not be until after 9, depending on the time year. Henry’s body is very in-tune with the sun; he knows when the sun is up it’s time to play, and when it’s dark it’s time to sleep. Plus he really enjoys watching all of the action from the people near us. He can get pretty upset when he’s being told to go to sleep where there is all sorts of interesting stuff happening around him. We do our normal bedtime routine once it does start to get dark outside.
  2. Recreate the baby’s home sleep environment as best you can. Henry sleeps in his Zipadeezip and with his blankie every night so you can be sure that both of those things are going to be packed. When it gets to be bedtime, we dress Henry in slightly-warmer-than-usual pajamas (depending on the night, it can get a little chilly), zip him up in his Zipadeezip, loosely strap him into his car seat (we tighten the straps once we’re ready to go home), and hand him his blankie. Then we read all of the usual stories and sing all of the usual songs before saying good night. In addition, we keep a small blanket in the car to drape over Henry’s car seat to block out light and sound. It’s big enough to stretch from the driver’s seat headrest to the back seat headrest, and hang down on the sides. If we raise the headrests up, it creates a nice canopy. Henry sometimes can get a little stressed out by the blanket so we will keep one side open until he falls asleep.
  3. Bring your own sound system. Our drive-in got rid of the speaker system that you could hook on the window of your car. Adam and I didn’t use them so we don’t particularly miss them, but I think there have been a few people who have been surprised to find out that the speakers are no longer there. I think the majority of people turn their cars to auxiliary and use their car’s speaker system. This can drain your car’s battery though and leave you with a dead battery at the end of the night. We use a small mp3 player with a built-in FM tuner that we connect to a portable speaker using a standard audio cable. We also have a headphone splitter and some headphones packed in case Henry’s having a hard time sleeping.
  4. Pack snacks. Many people grill out before the movie starts at the drive-in. I’m sure we will in future years, but we haven’t invested in a good portable grill yet. For now our favorite snacks to bring are stove-popped popcorn with just a dash of salt, theater-sized boxes of candy, and “fancy” sodas.
  5. Bring the comforts of home. There’s nothing like sitting down to watch a much-anticipated movie only to be uncomfortable due to not having a supportive seat. Depending on the weather, we might park our car facing forward and sit in the front seats, park backward and sit in the back of our Outback with the hatchback open and part of the back seat folded down, or sit outside in our lawn chairs. We really like our woven folding lawn chairs that we picked up from Target a few years back. They have a firm seat and back so that our backs don’t get sore partway through the movie, and are much better than the collapsible camping chairs. The same goes for being dressed for the weather. Even though summer nights in Minnesota tend to be mild, we always pack blankets and a sweatshirt for ourselves just in case. I honestly don’t remember a time at the drive-in where I haven’t felt some sort of breeze.
  6. Plan some pre-show entertainment. We often arrive at the drive-in at least an hour before the show starts. Typically Adam and I each bring a book to enjoy. As Henry starts to get older and begins to lose interest in watching the people around him, we’ll be packing some games and outdoor activities for him as well.

There are our top 6 tips for hacking the drive-in with a baby. Honestly though, both Adam and I think #3 is the most useful and best hack of them all. Even if you don’t have a baby, everyone would be wise to have some sort of similar set-up. It’s amazing just how much quality audio impacts your drive-in experience.

Are there any hacks we missed or don’t know about that you use?

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