This retro cinematic experience made a big comeback in 2020. Find out what your family needs to know before catching a movie at Newberg’s historic 99W Drive-In.

Many of us, especially those of us with kids, have been watching more movies than ever. We watch them on our computers, iPads, phones and, of course, on our televisions. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the one place we’re not seeing them is at movie theaters. So, despite the fact that it was a dreary, rainy evening, it was quite a thrill to pack two of my boys in the car to venture out to the 99W Drive-In in Newberg.

My boys weren’t so sure, firstly, because it was drizzling and cold. Won’t it be too cold? We’ll dress warmly and bring blankets. What if we have to pee? They have bathrooms. Why can’t we just rent the movie at home? It’ll be more fun to watch it on the big screen. What about snacks? (This answer was the answer that sold them.) They have a snack bar with popcorn, drinks, candy, ice cream bars and even full-fledged food items like pizza, hot dogs and burgers.

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So, they happily came along for the ride — although just the novelty of leaving the house was probably lure enough. Luckily, our arrival was perfectly timed (due only to sheer luck) to the immediate start of the film: the holiday classic Elf. Right away, my boys were enthralled. In fact, the first question from my boys, even before the request to hit the candy line, was: Why haven’t we done this before?

Now, our standards for fun are probably a bit low — quarantining for months on end has relegated our family outings to walking the dog and other close-to-home, socially distant outdoor adventures. 

That said, we had a blast. Despite having seen this particularly awesome movie multiple times and the fact that my boys are sometimes squirrelly movie watchers (which is why we opted not to stay for the double feature), they were both thrilled from beginning to end. Being in our car made it extra fun because we could talk (or sing) at will throughout the film without ever worrying about disturbing any other moviegoers, which made it stress-free for me. 

We’d been missing going to movie theaters and being out in the real world with a crowd, and this adventure really hit the spot on both counts. The drive-in isn’t exactly like the “before times” movie-theater experience we’ve been pining for, but it was close enough. Even better, it felt also utterly new — watching a movie, cuddled up in our very own car, with our dog to boot (“well-behaved” pets that stay in the car are welcomed), which made it all the more exciting, enjoyable and cozy. 

The drive-in was the perfect combination of a pleasingly public and safe outing. So, while they watched the movie, I watched their smiling out-in-the-world faces — triumph enough these days. 

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The 99W Drive-In has been continuously operated by the same family since 1953, and the business was put on the national registry of historic places in 2014. A stop in the retro concessions area tells you why. 

And stop in the snack shop we did. In fact, we got all the candy — and popcorn and drinks. What’s a drive-in without treats? (Be forewarned that the concessions line is a bit poky. However, unlike at a regular movie theater, you are also free to bring your own, ahem, healthier snacks, if you prefer.) 

We enjoyed how at-home we could be in our car. In addition to the freedom to chat, we could climb over each other to swap seats, pass our dog around, and reach for different snacks or sips of drinks. If we wanted the audio louder, we could just turn it up. 

Plus, unlike watching a movie on the couch at home, there were no outside distractions. There was no one walking in and out, no delivery person coming to the door, no laundry to fold, no other screens, no lure of anything besides the movie right outside the windshield. So, everyone was focused on the screening. And we had the whole ride home to talk about the experience, which took us about 40 minutes each way and made the outing seem extra special.

“Mom, this is actually really fun,” said Noah, my 11-year-old, from the backseat, where he was snuggled up with our 4-year-old labradoodle, Bucky, who was beyond thrilled to be along for the ride. But the best endorsement of all came once I was tucking my boys in for the night. Just as I was shutting the door, Walter, my 9-year old, said, “Mom, can we go again tomorrow?”

Before You Go:

 99W Drive-In, 3110 Portland Rd., Newberg. 503-538-2738, newberg-movies.multiscreensite.com

Hours vary based on when it gets dark, so check the website. Usually open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with double features Friday and Saturday and single showings on Sunday, beginning in March. (They may start earlier than March in 2021.) Again, check the website for the weekly schedule.

The theater and snack bar typically open 1½ to 1 hour before showings. The line tends to fill up early, so be advised that the available car slots may sell out. Once you drive past the ticket window, you will be directed by staff where to park. Prices are $14 for vehicles with one passenger. For two or more passengers, entry fees are $9 for 12 and older, $5 for kids 6-11, and free for 5 and under. Snack bar prices are quite reasonable compared with first-run, indoor theaters, with drinks and candy ranging between $2 and $3.50, popcorn costing between $4 and $6, and ice cream bars from $1 to $2.50 and pints for $6. Pizzas, soft pretzels, nachos, burgers and corn dogs can all be had for between $2 and $9.

You’ll need a car radio (or you can tune in via your phone) to hear the movie’s audio. This activity is not ideal for large groups in one car, as you’ll want to make sure everyone will have an unimpeded view. Be sure to bring warm layers or blankets as needed on cooler days. You are allowed to bring in your own food.

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