Goleta’s drive-In theater becomes coronavirus hit
When the Santa Barbara area first entered into Stage 3 of the county’s reopening plan, it looked like locals could enjoy the latest summer blockbusters after all as theaters prepared to open with strict social distancing and sanitization protocols.
Unfortunately, Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed the decision Wednesday, seemingly keeping the summer movie magic at home for 2020.
Luckily for Santa Barbara, we now have another option: the recently reopened West Wind Santa Barbara Drive-In Theater at 907 S. Kellogg Ave. in Goleta.
The theater closed in April 2019, but thanks to calls from the community to reopen and an opportunity to “corner the market” on moviegoing during COVID-19, West Wind began screening movies once more on Memorial Day.
Now that it has reopened, the theater has proved a popular activity during the coronavirus pandemic, offering the community a chance to get outside the house to enjoy a classic American experience.
Every night of the week, families and friends have been piling into sedans, SUVs and pickups and lining up in rows in front of the giant old screen right by the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. Moviegoers can choose to stay in their car seats, bring beach chairs or face their trunks towards the screen and spread out in the back. Visitors can also grab popcorn and candy at the retro snack stand before heading back to their cars and tuning into 102.1 FM to hear the movie through their car stereo.
Tickets are $8.75 and $2 for children 5 to 11. The West Wind theater is featuring a variety of family-friendly movies like “The Jungle Book,” “Jurassic World,” “Knives Out” and “Kung Fu Panda.” Some of the most popular showings have been “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Star Trek” (2009) in a double feature with “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013).
“I love it!” said Amanda Payatt, a longtime West Wind Drive-In fan. “I like to get there early and kind of walk around. It’s just wonderful and uplifting to see all these families and friends and couples having fun enjoying the communal experience, even if everyone is wearing masks and parked 6 feet apart, and they’re having people park away from each other. You can still see everybody and it’s a wonderful kind of expression of community,”
Ms. Payatt and her family have been visiting the drive-in since they moved to Santa Barbara 25 years ago.
“It was fun! We’d go with our son. We get there early, and people are running around in the back where there are no cars and throwing frisbees and playing games. It’s a really nice experience,” said Ms. Payatt.
Many moviegoers at the West Wind have fond memories of visiting the drive-in in their youth, both here in Goleta and in their hometown.
Garrett Headley visited the drive-in all throughout his childhood in Santa Barbara and during his college years at UCSB, and was thrilled to find out it had reopened.
“I was totally excited. I check pretty much every night to see what’s going to be here,” he told the News-Press.
The communal experience of the drive-in sticks with locals more than any particular movie.
“We’d play in between movies and hang out. My brother and I would hang out while my mom and dad were in the car. We’d be in our pajamas and when the movie started we’d probably fall asleep,” said Elaine Fragosa, who visited Thursday with her family.
“That’s really all I remember; playing in the playground then getting in the car and falling asleep.”
On Thursday, there were even visitors who were experiencing a drive-in for the first time. A German couple who has been traveling the U.S. by van for the past six months discovered the theater using the iOverlander app and decided to try it out.
“It’s our first time at all doing something like this,” said Suse Gocke.
“In Germany we don’t have a theater like this,” explained Christoph Ebisch.
Visitors to the West Wind seemed relieved to be out of the house and relished the chance to see a movie on the big screen under the stars with family and friends.
“It’s more of an event. Right now when we have a time when we have no events at all, it’s just really fun to do something,” said drive-in fan Sasha Ablitt. “In Santa Barbara, we have so much to do all the time under normal circumstances, and you forget about these little fun things that are just so normal.”
Benjamin Stafford, who visited the drive-in Thursday with the Fragosa family, said even though one could stream movies at home, many people need a break from the isolation.
“We’re at home all day long every day now. We’re both working from home and we love our house, but we get tired of doing the same thing over and over, so this is a nice change. It’s nice to be out but still get to be safe, still get to see family, still get to see friends,” said Mr. Stafford.
Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, many would likely still visit the drive-in over a traditional movie theater.
“I’m not a huge fan of the actual movie theater. I like the drive-in better. I like the experience more and how you can just be in your own space and be a lot cozier and bring your dogs,” said Kira Davirro.
“At a regular movie theater, you can’t really chat because other people are sitting right around you and you can disturb them, but if you’re in a car, you can laugh about the movie and chat or allow yourself to get distracted from the movie without worrying about disturbing people in the next car,” said Ms. Payatt.
As theaters eventually open, the Santa Barbara community wants the West Wind Drive-In to remain and hope that the renewed interest will continue to sustain it.
“I was sad to see that they closed before, so I’m hoping they stay open. Hopefully this can bring them enough business to do that,” said Mr. Stafford.
To find showtimes and more information, visit https://www.westwinddi.com/locations/santa-barbara-di.