Madera Drive-In: oldest in California and still drawing a crowd

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Summer movie season is in full swing. But next time you hit the box office, why not think outside the box?

Madera is home to California’s oldest drive-in theater and it’s been drawing a crowd for generations. Employees said on peak nights the shows are sold out before the gates even open.

It’s a pastime many people have been enjoying for years.

“We’ve been doing this for quite some time now. We’ve been doing this since 2015. So we just like to come to the drive-in. It’s very nostalgic,” Michael Rubalcaba said Wednesday.

It’s where the past meets the present.

“This is the oldest drive in in California. It was built in 1948. So everything here you see pretty much is from 1948,” manager Luis Bravo said.

The vintage environment is part of the charm. Bravo said on Fridays and Saturdays the lots are packed with about 300 cars.

“We get people from Visalia. We get people from Clovis, Fresno. We get them all around town,” Bravo said.

Bravo said cars start lining up an hour to an hour and a half before showtime.

“It’s special to Madera. It makes us different,” Valerie Ornelas said.

While the movies come and go, it’s the setting that keeps people coming back.

“I mean we’re outside. The sun’s going down. It’s beautiful. It’s just a really cool environment,” Ty Hall said.

Employees said there are two important things for people to remember if they come out: It’s cash only and have an FM radio to get the best sound quality.

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