Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre – Montclair, CA

Hey, it’s my 100th post! For this little milestone I wanted to feature a tiki spot that’s quickly grown dear to my heart: The Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair, which is just past Pomona (home of the LA County Fair).

Maybe it’s all the Oldies (courtesy K-Earth 101) I listened to as a kid, but I’ve always been fascinated by classic drive-in movie theatres. (If you hadn’t noticed, I seem to have a thing for fads of the mid-century.) There’s only about two dozen drive-ins still open in all of California. Many were demolished, burned down under suspicious circumstances or are now “dark” and only host weekend swap meets, like the Santa Fe Springs Drive-In I always see along the 5 freeway.

By happy coincidence, one of the closest drive-in movie theaters to Los Angeles is also tiki-themed! The Mission Drive-in has been around since the 1950s, and in 2006 it was refurbished, upgraded for better sight and sound, and given a tiki makeover. The ticket kiosks are thatched huts lit up with glowing fish floats.

Adults are $7 per person and kids are just a buck, so a lot of families come here. Past the entrance on the left there’s a little hillside with a few Easter Island-style moai among the greenery.

The parking spaces are all inclined so that your car tilts upwards, giving you a better angle to look at the screen. Most people tend to sit in the backs of trucks or bring lawn chairs to sit out in the open air, though you’ll have to stay close to your car so you can hear the audio from your radio.

Each screen shows a double feature of one new release and a slightly older movie in a similar genre. For a few years Mission Tiki had partnered with TCM to do a month of classic movies, but apparently that’s no more — here’s hoping they bring that back sometime.

There are four screens, one in each corner, and a snack bar/projector building in the middle that’s decorated with island-themed murals, tiki pillars, and tiki masks, plus a smattering of bamboo and lauhala matting on the inside.

The snack shack serves up your standard fare of popcorn, pretzels, pizza and hamburgers, along with tacos, asada fries and horchata (mmm). Next time I’m going to have to go for the “Tiki Dog,” a.k.a. a bacon-wrapped Danger Dog.

By the counter there’s a little gift shop (cash only!) that’s open before the movies start. It sells signature t-shirts, hats, posters, and multi-colored plastic Ku cups, but the best is their logo tiki mug clutching a bag of popcorn. Tiki Diablo designed it, and I think there’s still a few up for grabs from the edition run of 150.

Mission Tiki Drive-In Movie Theatre
10798 Ramona Ave.
Montclair, CA 91763

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Tiki Luau Night at the Egyptian Theatre: The Mighty Uke

Tiki Luau Night at the Egyptian Theatre

Every summer for the past five years, the American Cinematheque has hosted a Tiki Luau Night at the Egyptian Theatre with an alfresco dinner followed by a tiki-themed film. (Tickets are available for each part separately, but I’d definitely recommend going to both.)

Fun fact courtesy of Wikipedia: The Egyptian Theatre is the older sister of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and was the site of the first Hollywood premiere in 1922.

Courtyard of the Egyptian Theatre

The food was dished out buffet-style in the theater, while the courtyard lent itself for seating, the luau performances, and some shopping opportunities from folks like Eric October.

Yum!

Our plates were piled with Thai noodle salad with peanut dressing, cabbage/mandarin orange salad, somewhat stale Hawaiian roll, a big hunk of sweet glazed pulled pork, very tasty chicken pineapple sausage, and a big white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. Did I mention we each also got two glasses of rum punch?

King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis

The evening’s house band, King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis were great, and the Polynesian Paradise Dancers accompanied a few tunes. We especially enjoyed hearing “Hi’ilawe”—made us feel like we were in The Enchanted Tiki Room.

The Mighty Uke poster

A series of short clips from some of the films they’ve shown in the past preceded the main event: a screening of “The Mighty Uke” followed by a Q&A with director Tony Coleman, who flew in from Canada for the occasion.

Jake Shimabukuro - Photo by Ryota Mori, 2007

To be honest, I initially wasn’t all that jazzed about watching a documentary about ukuleles. But all that changed as soon as the film started with a recording of a live concert of virtuoso musician Jake Shimabukuro. He’s ridiculous!

Ukulele Lady

“The Mighty Uke” follows the ukulele’s origins in Portugal and Hawaii to its popularity in America in the 1920s to its subsequent decline as the guitar became the stringed instrument of choice for many.

Marilyn Monroe playing ukulele in Some Like it Hot

Now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have been so quick to write off the subject matter, especially considering “Some Like it Hot” is one of my favorite movies, and the most memorable moment from seeing Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Bowl was when he brought out a ukulele to play “Something” as a tribute to George Harrison.

James Hill and Anne Davison - Photo from www.mightyukemovie.com

Anyway, along the way we were introduced to musicians like James Hill, who composes classical-style concerti featuring the ukulele, music educators who make the case for replacing elementary schools’ recorders with ukes, and lots of folks who just love to jam. (A bunch of cinema-goers even brought their ukes to do so after the movie!)

Uni & Her Ukelele - Photo from www.myspace.com/uniherukelele

Also making the much maligned instrument look cool was Uni & Her Ukelele, she struck me as an awesome mix of equal parts Lady Gaga and Rainbow Brite. I bet you that after watching “The Mighty Uke” you’ll be tempted to get a ukulele too. (Personally, I’d love this one.)