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California Bucket List

Here’s your daily travel guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State. Each of these essential California adventures has been tried and tested by a Travel section staffer or contributor.

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Inland Empire

Pile the kids in the car, head to Riverside and catch a drive-in movie while you still can

A drive-in theater in 2014 (Associated Press)
A drive-in theater in 2014 (Associated Press)
The entrance at the Van Buren Drive-In. (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)
The entrance at the Van Buren Drive-In. (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: What could be more of a California experience than a Hollywood double-feature viewed from the comfort of your car?

What: In the 1950s, drive-in movies were a staple of American pop culture. These days, they are a novelty. One of the last remaining hot spots lives on at the Van Buren Drive-In in Riverside.

Put the kids in their PJs and pack up the lawn chairs for a fine family getaway at the Van Buren. Opened in 1964 on the site of former orange groves, the three-screen drive-in remains a vibrant local hangout at half the price of your local multiplex. You can even bring your own food.

On weekends, arrive 45 minutes before show time to ensure a decent spot, especially if you’re going to sit outside in your lawn chairs. By showtime, the three lots serving the three screens resemble tailgate parties, with families wrapped in blankets and settled in for a double feature.

 (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

SUVs or pickups often pull in with the tail hatch facing the screen, so kids with blankets or sleeping bags can turn the experience into a slumber party.

There’s the traditional snack bar, and prices are fair, at least by movie theater standards. But waits can be 20 to 30 minutes on weekends. Check here for express pickup

Keep in mind that you’re experiencing a rare phenomenon these days. Once numbering 4,000 across the country, drive-ins are now down to 400 or so. Catch one while you can — not just for the sense of nostalgia, but for a memorable evening at a very fair price.

Where: 3035 Van Buren Blvd., Riverside, 55 miles southeast of downtown L.A. Plan on a drive of 90 minutes to two hours in evening traffic.

How much: Admission is $9 per person; children ages 5 to 9, $1. Major credit cards and debit cards accepted. Open seven days a week. No pets.

Info: Van Buren Drive-In Theatre

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