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A Local’s Guide to the Vali-Hi Drive-In Theater (Tips & Tricks!)

As a Wisconsin native, Vali-Hi Drive-In Theater in Lake Elmo has been one of the first landmarks to welcome us back to the Twin Cities from a trip to the Dairy State since moving to Minnesota in 2005. 

While I don’t consider myself a thrill-seeker, I do have a love for “one-of-a-kind” experiences and off-the-beaten-path adventures.  As the closest remaining drive-in movie theater in the Metro, Vali-Hi definitely finds a home on my summer bucket list every year!

(Psst – Don’t miss our guide to all the best drive in theaters near Minneapolis.)

The History of Vali-Hi

Vali-Hi opened to customers in 1966 and has been showing movies dusk-to-dawn on summer nights for over 50 years.  As soon as the snow melts, this longtime classic opens up to deliver a double-feature, complete with popcorn, candy, and all the vintage goodness you can muster.

Before the pandemic, the sprawling parking lot could hold nearly 800 vehicles (and as many passengers as you can cram in the car).  Vali-Hi now hosts around 375 cars for a night of vintage fun under the stars with some extra room for social distancing.

What to Expect On A Visit to Vali-Hi

vali hi location

Turning off I-94 to Vali-Hi is a bit like turning back time to the 1950s.  On long summer nights, the movies at Vali-Hi don’t start rolling until 30-45 minutes after sunset, meaning there’s plenty of time for relaxing and fun. The parking lot starts as a combination backyard BBQ, tailgate grill-out, and community block party, just like my grandparents would have enjoyed way back when.

When the movies do start, so does my favorite part of the drive-in experience.  I love to roll down the car windows at the start of the movie to hear the credits and soundtrack coming from every car stereo in the lot. When you’re parked in the middle of the open field, it’s throwback fun at its finest.

What to Bring

Even though Vali-Hi has a great concession stand (see below), there are no restrictions on what you can carry in.

Dedicated fans show up early with everything for grilling out; you’ll smell charcoal, steaks, and sausages, and tailgates with all the fixings.  Don’t forget the coolers, baseball gloves, frisbees, and corn hole.  The lawn area under the big screen clearly is a crowd-favorite for the youngest movie go-ers.

Some choose to enjoy the movie in lawn chairs or a blanket.  We’ve also seen pick-up trucks and SUVs decked out with a full mattress, blankets, and pillows.  Vali-Hi has a ‘whatever makes you happy’ attitude in how you choose to watch.  (As long as you remember to shut off your car lights as you leave and don’t run car exhaust into your neighbor’s space!)

what to bring

The Location

Vali-Hi Drive-In Theater is located on Hudson Boulevard in Lake Elmo. Although you can see the movie theater from I-94, to find the entrance, take the exit for Keats Blvd or Manning Avenue to reach the frontage road and driveway for the theater.

True to its vintage roots, Vali-Hi has a small entrance and lacks the long row of cashiers selling tickets. On weekends in the summer, expect cars lined up for miles in both directions on Hudson Boulevard waiting to turn into the drive-in entrance.  It’s not the most fun part of the evening, but the line tends to move steadily, and for the most part, everyone uses their best “Minnesota Nice” behavior to get through the back-ups.

The Movies

Beginning at dusk, Vali-Hi plays two or three feature movies. The first movie is generally geared toward younger audiences and maybe the latest animated film.  The second and third showings are usually the most popular box-office movies currently out.

Vali-Hi only shows one set of selections each week, so you may have to wait a few weeks before the latest release shows up.

Wait…When does the last movie start?!?!

vali hi last movie

It takes a bit to process just how late the movies can go at Vali-Hi.  In the middle of the summer, the first film starts well after 9 PM.  If each movie lasts roughly 1.5-2 hours, the last showing finishes somewhere around 3 AM!

I’ll be honest that we’ve never made it to the end of the night in all the times we’ve been to Vali-Hi.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of cars still lined up until the wee hours of the morning.

The Cost

Vali-Hi charges $10 per person 12 and older.  Children 6-12 get in for $1.00, and 5 and under get in free.

We’ve all heard the stories of cramming extra people in the trunk to pass through the gates of the drive-in for a discount, but no need with Vali-Hi priced at or below the same as other movie theaters in the Twin Cities.

Remember also, the $10 admission counts for all three movies shown in the evening.  It’s one of the more affordable, family-friendly activities or date nights in the Metro.

The Concessions

As advertised, the concession stand at Vali-Hi has everything you’ll need for a night at the movies.

A tribute to their 1960’s roots, the menu’s highlights include a $1 hot dog and a $1 box of popcorn.  You can also count on the Milk Duds and Raisinettes of your childhood, along with every other movie theater candy option you could imagine. The rest of the menu’s choices for ice cream, nachos, and pizza are what you might expect at any bargain theater—nothing fancy but satisfying at the 2 AM intermission.

Plan on Arriving Early, Like Really Early

By now, you’re thinking, “What’s not to love about the drive-in?” and you’d be right.  Mostly.

The one downside to Vali-Hi is how early people start showing up during the peak summer weekends.  Some recent social media posts show that the entrance gate backs up as early as 4 PM, with sell-outs happening by 6 or 7.  Reminder, that’s for a movie that’s not going to start until close to 10 PM!

That’s fine for an all-evening affair, but we don’t always make our plans to catch a movie that far in advance.  There are no reservations or claiming a spot at Vali-Hi either. Plan on arriving early or seeing a movie on the shoulder seasons (April or September) when it’s a little less crowded.

tips

Other Tips:

  • Vali-Hi operates just on cash. No credit cards are accepted at the gate or concession stand.  There is an ATM on site.
  • Where to park is a personal preference at the drive-in. However, parking spaces tend to fill up in the middle and towards the entrance gate.  We recommend driving to the far end of the lot and looking for room there first. It’s closer to the exit, so you don’t have to wait as long as the credits roll at the end of the night.
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