Across from the Madonna Plaza, the large screen shoots up into the sky and the faded red letters of “Sunset” are the usual sight for Highway 101 commuters.
Around 7:30 p.m., as the sun slips behind Madonna Mountain, the headlights of cars can be seen curving around the dirt road leading to the entrance of the drive-in.
Regardless of season, every night the Sunset Drive-In shows a movie at 8 p.m. The movies change weekly and are always first rate.
The drive-in rarely fills its 500-car capacity, but at 7:30 p.m., when the gates open, cars waiting to nab the “perfect space” snake down Elks Lane. Spaces are aligned in rows away from the screen and are designated by white polls holding speakers to place on the side of cars.
A word of advice: take advantage of the radio station airing the sound of the movie. The speakers are old and do not hang easily on the side of a car or truck.
Arriving early also ensures that you won’t have to irritate other movie-goers by driving around with glaring headlights. But if you do happen to fall into this predicament, expect honks and yells.
There are many different seating choices in a drive-in. The best seems to be in a truck with a flatbed or an SUV with a back door that flips up. Many college students unload couches and chairs to lounge in.
Of course, there’s always the old fashioned car.
“In a car you can recline the seats,” said Katie Cowley, 22, an agriculture business senior. “But the center console is bad.”
There are the normal amount of previews before the start of the movie and this is a great time to get situated in your vehicle. Lay out the blankets, situate the pillows so the metal of the truck or car isn’t digging into your back and zip up your hoodies because it is usually pretty chilly after dark.
There are plenty of snacks and refreshments to buy at the snack bar located at the back of the rows of spaces. However, most people take advantage of the fact that it’s a drive-in and bring their own food and drinks.
Also, since it is a drive-in, you don’t have to worry about disrupting anyone.
“The greatest thing about the drive-in is that you can talk during the movie to your friends,” said Laura Flowers, 22, a math senior.
After the first feature there is a 15 minute break before the start of the second feature. The typical dancing popcorn and sodas appear on the screen and every five minutes a countdown appears until the start of the next movie.
The bathrooms are attached to the snack bar and the lines can be long during the break. The best bet is to hit the row of porta potties lining the road into the drive-in.
Some people leave before the start of the second feature, but a majority stay to get their money’s worth out of the $6 entrance fee per person. Children 11-and-under are free.
“The cheap price is the best,” Cowley said. “And the fact it’s an American icon.”
Some things to bring to the drive-in include plenty of blankets, pillows, popcorn and other snacks, beverages and a sweatshirt or light jacket.