Florida’s Outdoor Theaters: A Double Dip for Film & Nature Lovers
By Jodi Mailander Farrell
On a balmy Florida evening, nothing beats watching a movie under the stars.
Drive-in or dive in, al fresco cinemas and movie nights across Florida combine the state’s great outdoors with film at drive-in theaters, pools and parks. Here are 10 unique open-air settings that will make your movie-going memorable.
1. Urban Chic: Pack the picnic basket, wine and hors d’oeuvres, and head to the lawn of New World Center, the Frank Gehry-designed concert hall in the heart of Miami Beach. Starting every year in October, the SoundScape Cinema Series casts free weekly films onto the center’s outdoor, 7,000-square-foot projection wall at 500 17th St. The lineup features a mix of classics with popular new releases. Find the schedule here.
2. Garden Party: Minutes from downtown Orlando, the lush, 50-acre botanical oasis of Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave., is the setting for a Date Night series of classic and current films that start at dusk on the first Friday of every month. Adult admission is $6. Check the gardens’ website for upcoming flicks.
3. Back to the Future: After years in the dark, the old-fashioned Ocala Drive-in Theatre, 4850 S. Pine Ave., now shows mostly first-run films on its IMAX-sized screen. Patrons tune into a local FM radio station for clear movie sound at the beloved spot, first opened in 1948. Info at ocaladrivein.info.
4. Old School: Hop in a time capsule to visit the first (and last) drive-in theater in Lakeland. Opened in 1948, the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre, 4100 New Tampa Hwy., uses FM car radio for sound, but some rows still feature old-fashioned portable speaker boxes, which blare out doo-wop hits of the 1950s before show time. Its two screens usually show first-run movies, with double features every night. Although the original 35-cent admission fee is part of the past, it’s still a bargain at $5.
5. Make History: St. Augustine’s Amphitheatre – built in 1965 to commemorate the city’s 400th Anniversary as our nation’s oldest permanent European settlement – doubles as an open-air movie theater. The 16-acre section of Anastasia State Park that makes up the amphitheater grounds includes an old quarry with coquina rock used to build early homes, businesses and the Castillo de San Marcos fort. The park offers free classic movies and parking on select Fridays and Saturdays, often combined with special events like food truck roundups and chili cook-offs. Check the amphitheater’s website for movies and events.
6. Take the Plunge: Movie goers lounge on floats at Grapeland Water Park, 1550 NW 37th Ave., where the City of Miami Parks & Recreation Department hosts an outdoor movie night every last Friday of the month. The water park opens at 5:30 p.m. so kids can enjoy the slides and pools of Pirate’s Plunge and Shipwreck Island. At 7:30 p.m., the slides close and everyone moves to Captain’s Lagoon pool for the film. Admission is $5.
7. Dog-Friendly: Even pooches (on leashes) are welcome at the Ruskin Family Drive-In Theatre, 5011 N. U.S. Highway 41, which has been “reeling” in the years in Ruskin, 16 miles south of Tampa, since it opened in 1952 with “Singing in the Rain.” Catch a double feature for only $6. Check the schedule here.
8. Go Big: The self-anointed “world’s largest drive-in,” the Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale, 3291 W. Sunrise Blvd., has 14 drive-in movie screens with a slate of new releases and blockbusters that change weekly. The complex, which is a giant flea market by day, has been around since the 1960s. Adults pay $5, children ages five-11 pay $1.
9. Classic: The City of Winter Park, just north of Orlando, and Enzian, Central Florida’s only full-time alternative cinema, collaborate to produce a cinema series in Winter Park called Popcorn Flicks. The classic films – everything from “The Quiet Man” to “Moonstruck” – are shown in Winter Park’s beautiful Central Park, 251 S. Park Ave. The free movies usually start at 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month. Check Enzian Theater’s website for movies and times.
10. Americana: When the Joy-Lan Drive-In Theatre opened in 1950 in Dade City, an hour north of Tampa, the admission was 35 cents. Today, the ultimate small town drive-in experience boasts the largest digital screen in Pasco County and shows new releases that are still a bargain: $5 for ages 10 and up, and only $1 for ages 4-9. The theatre, 16414 U.S. Highway 301, is a flea market Saturdays and Sundays before it gets dark.