Useful tips about an evening at the Wellfleet Drive-in Movies

  Cape homes in the Cape Cod National Seashore

Wilson Ave.,  S. Wellfleet, MA  

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Drive-in marquee

When Drive-In movie theaters began to lose popularity in the 1970's, they would try different promotions to increase business.  One of these would be "one price per carload."   Well, you won't find that in Wellfleet.  No sir.  Here they count every person in the car at the entrance and charge accordingly.

Still, as Alice Hoffman explains in the article that follows, it is worth the price to experience a piece of Americana that is otherwise difficult to find.


When the Wellfleet Drive-In Movie Theater was built in the 1950's there were no such things as SUV's and monster trucks.  Today, drivers of 'over-sized vehicles" are made to park at the ends of the rows or in the back row of the drive-in so as to not obstruct the view of the other patrons.

Tip:  If you want to park in the best spots for movie viewing, leave the Hummer and Lincoln Navigator at home.


While the snack bar in the Drive-In offers a great variety of treats, it must be said that the convenience store at Maurice's Campground (located just down the street from the theater's entrance) does a brisk business selling candy and other snacks to moviegoers before they enter the drive-in property.  Known for the least expensive lobster rolls in town, Maurice's Store also sells beer and wine.


The drive-in does broadcast the movie's sound on a frequency that can be picked up on your car's radio.  If you feel uneasy about having your car key turned to "on" and using your car's battery for two movies, you can bring a battery powered boom box to tune in the sound.   The staff at the theater will, however, give your car a free jump start if you do, in fact, drain your battery and cannot start your car at the end of the second feature. They typically have to jump start one or two cars per night.

   Your other option, of course, is to use the old fashioned drive-in movie window speakers which are still available. While nostalgic, their sound quality is sadly lacking by today's standards. (No Digital, Dolby, THX, surround-sound, stereo etc.)


If your vehicle's seats aren't the most comfortable for 3 or 4 hours of sitting, you might want to bring along a pillow or two or a lawn chair to sit outside your car.  Keep in mind that not only in the springtime but also beginning in late August, Cape Cod nights can get quite chilly.  A jacket, sweatshirt or sweater just might come in handy around 9:30 or 10:00PM.

Another comfort issue is mentioned in passing in the article below:  mosquitoes.  Since there are salt marshes nearby, the Wellfleet Drive-In Movies can be buggy on some nights.  It's usually the hot, muggy nights, when you want all the car windows open, that the mosquitoes and "no-see-'ems" (gnats) can become quite a distraction.  Other nights, when it's breezy and comfortable, there won't be a bug for miles.
   Recommendation:  Bring insect repellant but don't put it on unless you need it.

The following is an excerpt of an article by Alice Hoffman that
was originally published in 1988 in
nytimes article

....The last remaining drive-in on Cape Cod, the South Wellfleet Drive-In, no longer stands alone. Beside it is a four-screen air-conditioned complex, which local residents allowed to be built only when the owner agreed to keep the theaters open year round. But once you have maneuvered past the multiplex and .... the miniature golf course, the drive-in is exactly as you remembered it, no matter where you grew up.

The drive-in is a unique piece of Americana in which real life and movies collide. The playground and the snack bar, the lover whose hand you hold and the baby you rock to sleep in the back seat, all deepen the movie going experience with impact and immediacy. And, in spite of any distractions, nowhere do movie stars look larger than when they appear on a drive-in screen, surrounded by the night.

Moviegoers at the South Wellfleet get to the drive-in early, because they've come for more than the show. The blank screen looms above the asphalt, but no one looks up until dark. While the sky is light there is much to do. In the center of the lot is the playground, perfect for older children and toddlers already dressed in pajamas, soon to be ready for the blankets and pillows set out in the back of their parents' station wagon. Not far from the metal swings and wooden seesaws is the snack bar, and one wonders if it is simply nostalgia that makes for the long lines and the craving for pepper steak and popcorn and Raisinets.

The South Wellfleet Drive-In, built in 1957, continues to be a place sacred to disjointed universes: young love and family togetherness; upscale couples and fishermen's children. It is here beneath the white screen that people who would ordinarily have little to do with each other share a night, whether they are assembling a picnic ... on the hood of their BMW or setting out plastic lawn chairs in the back of the pickup truck. 

 Eleanor Hazen, manager of the South Wellfleet Drive-In, insists that a major reason for building the cineplex was the fact that distributors continually refused the drive-in first-run features.

The prejudice remains: the South Wellfleet had trouble getting its biggest grossing film of the summer, ''Who Framed Roger Rabbit,'' until distributors were advised of the drive-in's success with ''Three Men and a Baby.'' Even for those who do not believe that drive-ins somehow demean cinema, there are distractions not found at any Cineplex: the sky turning a luminous blue, laughter from a parked jeep, the moon hanging above you.

As with watching a VCR, at a drive-in you can do all the things you do at home while watching a movie. You can eat your supper, yell at the kids, sit on your boyfriend's lap. But while the VCR isolates, the drive-in forms a community. You are in this together. Children make fast friends at the playground, you can gauge your neighbor's reaction to any scene in the movie through an open car window and, when the movie is late, headlights flash simultaneously in a show of unity and expectation.

Now, when it may be too late, many of us are rediscovering the sheer joy of the drive-in. Those of us who spent our childhoods in summer places, or who grew up in the suburbs, are nostalgic for earlier summers, for Julys when medical waste did not appear on the beaches, for Augusts which were not as fitful and hot. The drive-in has come to symbolize not only those past summers, but all that was good about suburbia. It retains a purity untarnished by 50's angst, 60's upheaval, 70's ennui, and, we may as well admit it, 80's dread.

Within the confines of the drive-in parking lot it is easy to imagine yourself in the back seat of your old Chevy, when your greatest responsibility was a midnight curfew. Those who arrive in the drive-in in a BMW or a Mercedes escape from the burdens of their success; teen-agers find a moment of freedom; parents and children lie in the back of station wagons, so close together it's difficult to judge who is the child and who is the adult.

And that is the magic of the drive-in: it can, for a brief time, make you forget who you are. Even those of us who did not experience the drive-in in our youth may find ourselves longing for a past we never had..... After all, when you pay your money and enter the gates of a drive-in theater, you are arriving not just at a space, but a time. You are driving back into summers lost, to barrels of popcorn and root beer with ice, to mosquitoes and real movie stars, back to the child you once were.

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