This story originally published on Little Lake County in 2015, it has been updated to reflect current information.
Nostalgia at its best: the sound of crickets in the peacefulness of summertime, feeling the warm breeze under a starry sky, and your entire family cuddled up together under the tailgate watching a first-run film. Nobody is kicking the back of your seat, not a soul shoots you a dirty look to keep your toddler still, and you can let your kids fall asleep while enjoying two current movies and spending just $12 for adults and $6 for kids. (Ages 3 and under are free.) Sounds too good to be true, right?
Luckily for us, it’s not! At the McHenry Outdoor Theater, this can happen any day of the week, May through mid-October. When my family first discovered this amazing spot that is frozen in time, I had to belt out “Stranded At the Drive-In” a la Danny Zuko. One of the few remaining drive-ins in America, this place is truly a throwback to the ’50s and I was beyond excited to see that it is so accessible to our home in McHenry County. The Theater originally opened as the Skyline Drive-in in 1943, and the speakers on the pole date back to their original installation. The original sign is currently being restored to add to the authenticity of the experience. The theater won a nationwide contest sponsored by Honda in 2013 which allowed for the conversion to a digital projector, enabling this drive-in to stand the test of time.
All summer long, you can experience the outdoor theater with your family and enjoy one of your most memorable nights of the year. Put on the kids’ (and your) pajamas, grab the bug spray, bring some snacks and drinks (or enjoy the variety of food conveniently offered at the vintage concession stand) and get ready to play.
The theater is a time-capsule, and the atmosphere is something you won’t find elsewhere. As you pull into the drive, music from the ’50s and ’60s fills the air, and you start singing along and “Rockin Around the Clock!” It is truly an evening you and your children won’t soon forget. Once mid-August hits, the throwback films they show through mid-October are a blast. Double features such as “Musical Movie Night” or “Back to the Future Night” help us show our kids the movies that WE grew up with. My personal favorite was the “Grease” and “Dirty Dancing” double feature. Fan.Tas.Tic.
Last summer, we attempted to go to the outdoor theater with a group of 20, 12 of whom were children nine and under. We arrived early and were able to secure front-row parking. This allows less stress of cars passing, plenty of green space in which the kids can run around, play frisbee or tag and toss a ball, and I guarantee, your children have never seen such a huge screen in their lives so up close and personal. The speakers that are provided give a great soundtrack, yet you can also tune into your car radio, so even if your baby decides to scream, nobody will complain that they can’t hear the movie, because they most definitely can.
Bathrooms are clean and toilets flush, always a positive when kids with aromatic cargo and urgent bathroom needs are involved.
There are typically two features, which change out either every week or every other week depending on the popularity of the film, and movie titles are released on Monday morning for the week. Typically the first feature is G-rated and kid-friendly, while the 2nd feature is geared toward older children and adults. The only potential downside of the outdoor theater experience for young kiddos is that movies cannot start until dark, so in the summer months, start times are 8:30-9:00 p.m. Nevertheless, if your kids fall asleep in the car on the way there, then you just scored yourself a romantic and beautiful date night seeing not one but two new movies AND saving yourself babysitting costs. Win-win, I say.
Have you been to the McHenry Outdoor Theater? Share your favorite memory in the comments!