Oct. 15 2013 06:32 PM

South Bay and Santee battle for best drive-in

Nothing says “romance” like the South Bay Drive-In.
Photo by Alex Zaragoza

My wife doesn't like to go out to the movies. You might think that—due to my love of pop culture and movies—this would cause a rift in our relationship, but it's actually one of her traits that I find endearing. It might be an "opposites attract" kind of thing, or a fear of being with someone who shares my admittedly questionable taste (I wouldn't go out with me), but I'm completely fine with the occasional solo trip to the movie theater. Besides, she's always down for a drunken trip to the Redbox, and if that isn't love, then I don't know what is.

However, all her qualms about the theater experience—expensive snacks, annoying audience members, sitting in the dark for two hours without being able to nap—quickly disappear when we go to the drive-in.

Going to the drive-in has become one of our favorite date-night activities because there's actually little movie-watching happening (easy there). You can bring a pizza, sneak in some beers (you didn't hear that from me), and crack jokes without disturbing any of your neighbors. Plus, each show is a double feature. 

There are two quality local drive-in theaters to choose from: South Bay Drive-In (2170 Coronado Ave. in Imperial Beach) and Santee Drive-In (10990 N. Woodside Ave.).

South Bay holds a special place in my heart because of its proximity to the ocean. If you're looking for romance, it's hard to beat watching the latest Michael Bay flick on a summer evening with a warm, Pacific breeze rolling through. It also has three screens and a generally better movie selection. Don't expect to catch any art-house fare, but with three screens, your choices aren't always restricted to "children" or "adult" movies.

That said, almost every time I've been to South Bay, there seems to be a dozen kids running around, regardless of the movie rating. There's nothing that ruins the mood quicker than the frightening sound of children's laughter as they circle your car in a makeshift game of tag.

Santee's drive-in is not without its charm. The mountains provide a nice backdrop, and there's a distinct woodsy smell that makes everything feel more autumnal. Hell, we even saw stars when we went in early October. All these factors significantly heighten the chance of some serious snugglage. 

At Santee, there's also the opportunity to see some pretty souped-up vehicles, if that's your kind of thing (honestly, what self-respecting film connoisseur isn't into souped-up things?). We even saw a dune buggy! 

The snack bars at both places are fine, but Santee's is just a little bit cleaner. Not that that's a huge deal—after our dinner of salted pretzels and a cup of nacho cheese, our stomachs were the equivalents of frowning emoticons in breakup texts. And all romance-points accumulated were quickly dashed by mutual pleas for Pepto.

The winner: It's a tight match, with a lot of different factors to consider but—wait, South Bay's ticket prices are $7 per adult and Santee's are $8? South Bay Drive-In.

Write to ryanb@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford


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