There are only 336 drive-in theatres in the entire United States left, 3 years ago there were 348, in 1980 there were over 2400. It is a dying pop cultural theatre technique and you should take your kids to a drive-in before they are all gone! With movies going digital, it is too costly for drive-in’s to convert and more and more of them are closing. Georgia has 4 remaining drive-in theaters: Jesup, Atlanta, Tiger, and Blueridge. If you live in Atlanta, you know about the iconic 6 screen theater located here. Does the thought of going to Starlight Drive-in, in south Atlanta kind of scare you? After all, it is in a pretty rough part of Atlanta and my cop husband says, “absolutely not” to it. Like me, do you really want to cross
Watch a Movie at a Drive-in” off of your bucket list? Well, there is another drive-in that is within driving distance of Atlanta, up in the rural mountain town of Blue Ridge, GA. Come take a tour of Swan Drive-In Theatre with me.
The theatre was established in 1955 by Jack Jones and W.H. Tilley, Jr. Dang those Tilley’s and Stanley’s they have their hands in everything up here in these mountains! If you haven’t read my ghost story about the Tilley’s click here. Mr. Tilley named the drive in Swan because while stationed in England he liked to watch swans elegantly swimming. They were so beautiful and peaceful he suggested this name “Swan” for the new drive-in. He also thought a nice short name would be easy to light up in neon lights.
Today, more than 62 years later, it still has a “retro” feel. You enter through a single gate that accepts cash only and as you wait for the movie to begin, oldies play on your car radio. You can almost picture the jocks, the leathers, the good girls and not so good girls, hanging in their t-birds, coups, and daddy’s Oldsmobile’s. I could picture Danny singing, “stranded at the drive-in” and Risso making the walk of shame from the ladies room as all the kids spread gossip about her from car to car. “News sure travels fast!”
There is one screen at this drive-in and the lot is pretty small, but the view of the screen is pretty awesome no matter where you park. When you pull into your parking slot, pull up the little “hill” as it angles your car up for a better view for those in the back seat. Protip1: Park as close to the white PVC pipe as possible. The spaces are wide enough to fit two cars and the lot gets pretty crowded, you will be asked to readjust if you aren’t close to the poles. Bonus: You also get a great view of the setting sun while you wait for the movie to start.
The concession building lies in the middle of the lot and offers up all kinds of yumminess at affordable prices. To add to the experience, I recommend feeding the kids at the theatre. Skip the healthy for one night and indulge in hot dogs, corndogs, nachos, and burgers, popcorn, funnel cakes, and deep fried Oreo’s (oh.. my… gaw…). The Oreo’s are a large quantity, 6 lovely, puffy pastry, warm, good cookies so you will want to share those. They are rich.
- Protip2: Swan does not take debit or credit. Cash only. Grab it before you arrive as there isn’t an ATM in sight. They keep it as true to the era as possible.
- Protip3: If you have a car full, it is difficult to see from the backseat, bring chairs and a radio to listen. If you have a van or SUV: park backward, open the hatch and pile in the back with pillows and blankets. This will thrill the kiddos. We even saw a couple snuggled up in the bed of a truck. They had an air mattress with pillows and blankets piled up. FUN!
- Protip4: Did I mention the deep fried Oreo’s from the concessions. Get them, you won’t regret it.
The theatre plays a double feature on Friday and Saturday night so you get two movies for the price of one. The first movie doesn’t start until dark so be prepared for a late night. A single movie plays on the giant single screen on Sunday night and if you don’t like what is showing then tough Oreo cookies. Some nights it is a kid-friendly movie, other nights, not so much. Make sure you check what is showing before bringing kids. The night we went it was not kid-friendly.
We saw Steven King’s “It” while visiting the theatre. I was not overly thrilled to see a horror movie at a drive-in surrounded by woods. But Shane and Julia were pretty stoked as they like horror. I opted to sit in the back seat, where I could hide behind the passenger seat if I got freaked out.. which I did…
About 1/3 of the way through the movie Julia stated matter-a-factly, “why is there someone outside our car carrying a red balloon“. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! The theatre had workers tie red balloons to posts beside vehicles while people were distracted by the movie as a fun prank. What an awesome touch! In addition, they added clown heads outside the main gate as we were leaving. Niiiiceee touch. I said a few choice words when I saw it. Just what we needed to see as we were headed back to our campground to sleep in a tent in the woods. I honestly figured Julia would end up in Shane and my tent that night, but she braved it out alone in her small 2 man tent.
My honest opinion on a drive-in theater:
- It is fun to do, but am much more comfortable in a theater in an actual seat. Maybe it was because I was in the back seat of the car. Maybe if I was snuggled up in the back of a truck it would have been even better.
- This is a historic theatre that gives children the opportunity to see a movie the way their grandparents used to see it. An opportunity to relive the past.
- It was creepy as hell to watch a scary movie at a drive-in and if I were to do it again, we would bring chairs and a radio to sit out in the cool mountain air at night.
- It was a neat experience and Swan Drive-in Theatre truly goes all out to keep the authenticity of the drive-in and made it fun for the customers.
- Have a baby but no babysitter? This is an opportunity to see a movie without disturbing others around you. The baby can sleep blissfully or scream their head off and only you will have to deal with it, no one will scowl at you. (While in the military, Shane and I used to go to the drive-in with a couple who had a baby. We never heard the baby from our car parked beside them, it was awesome for all of us because they got a date night and we all enjoyed dinner before the show and conversations afterward!)
- Because the sound comes from the car radio you have to leave your car running which is really bad for the environment. We have a hybrid so our car is very quiet and was using electricity the majority of the time, but there was a monster diesel truck beside us that was loud. We had to roll up our windows to drown it out. Once the windows were up and the radio was on, we couldn’t hear the truck.
Protip5: You may want to bring a battery operated radio along for sound if you do not want to leave your car running or have a loud truck.
There are novelty items in the concessions such as tee-shirts, mugs and water bottles with the drive-in logo. They even were selling, “I saw “IT” at Swan’s Drive-In” tee shirts while we were there.
Want to see what is currently playing? Check out their website
Cost for Admission
CHILDREN AGE 4-11 $5.00
CHILDREN 3 and under FREE ADMISSION
Interesting fact: The Swan Drive-In was featured in the Movie, “Need for Speed”, as “Mt. Kisco Drive-In. If you are on the Georgia film trail known as Y’allywood make sure you visit here.
Have I interested you in a drive-in? Are you looking for a Drive-In in your state? Click here
Keep the Lust for Wandering, Y’all!
Fran, Shane, and Julia
- Thank you to Swan Drive for the history of the theatre
- Thank you to Quartz for information on the disappearance of Drive-Ins.
- Thank you to Mentalfloss.com for an interactive map of all drive-in’s in the US