Heading to the movies with little ones sounds better in principal than in reality. Between bathroom breaks, begging for treats and your basic “I want to sit there” battles, sometimes it’s just easier to Netflix and Chill. Enter, the drive-in theater: it’s the parent’s answer to not having to constantly shush your kids/sneak in outside food/carry your 5-year-old down the dark aisle. Read on for how to prepare for a great drive-in experience.

drive in theater photo: Thomas Hawk via flickr 

Reality Check
First things first. Find the bathroom. Map it, visit it before the movie starts, and retrace your steps. Most movies start after dark or at least at dusk. This can be dangerously close to bedtime. If you’ve got wee ones that still nap, see if you can push the nap time back an hour or so, giving them a little more staying power for the film and make sure the day-of isn’t an overactive one. Dress kids of all ages in their PJs for the movie, and pack toothbrushes for after-Red Vine frenzies.

drive in theater photo: Kyle Jones via flickr 

Cozy Up
Pack blankets and pillows for each person and an extra layer or two. Today’s drive-in is a little different than when you were a kid: many places allow families to put up lawn or camp chairs and “tailgate” for the film. It’s pretty nice to have a little snuggly action in the car too.

Switch It Up
Let the kids sit in the front while mom and dad sit in the back. They’ll have a better view and you can whisper to one another while your kiddos are engrossed. It’s like a totally fake date night.

Super-hack: If you have more than one vehicle or go with a friend, try stringing a hammock up between the two cars for the actual best seat in the house. 

Santa Fe Springs, CA drive in theaterphoto: David Gutierrez via flickr 

It’s the Little Things
In addition to the above mentioned items, little things that make a big difference include:

Cash for the snack bar.

Garbage bags for easy clean-up.

Sippy cups or cups with lids so the back seat doesn’t get sticky.

Coloring books, crayons, pens for pre-movie doldrums.

A board game the family can play if there’s a spot to spread a blanket.

Wipes (but you never leave home without those).

drive in theater tacoma waphoto: Jim Culp via flickr

Nom, Nom, Nom
Easiest option: eat at home before you leave. Worst option: dining only from the snack bar. No matter what, save yourself money and scary sugar-overload by packing extra snacks. Take advantage of all that extra space you have for storing grub. You can even pop up a big batch of popcorn at home and bring it with.

Superhack: Some drive-ins actually allow grilling in the truest tailgate sense. Yep. Just check it out first with whatever drive-in your attending. 

Still Not Convinced? 
If you’re still not sure a drive-in is the ideal family outing, or if there isn’t an outdoor film series or drive-in near you, you can hack it at home by dragging in their mini-cars or cardboard boxes and setting up a home-made drive in right in your own home. Line up vehicles and stuffed animals for the crowd. This is a great way to test-drive the idea with the tots.

Have you gone to the drive-in with your kids? Tell us about it in the comments below.