We all spend plenty of time looking at our phones and computer screens. Why not change up the type of screen during your next outing? Think big and head to a drive-in theater to catch the latest blockbuster movies. Or grab some quarters and hit up an old-school arcade to put your pinball skills to the test.
These retro activities are seeing renewed interest, so there are plenty of spots sprinkled around the Hawkeye State to find some throwback fun. If you’re interested in adding a little game time and nostalgia to your life, pop into one of these arcades or drive-in theaters for your next dose of screen-time entertainment.
P.S. It’s a little known piece of trivia that Ottumwa, Iowa, is billed as the “Video Game Capital of the World” thanks to Walter Day, who opened an arcade in the small town back in 1981 and created the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard, which became the internationally known Twin Galaxies’ Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records. Today, Ottumwa is home to the International Video Game Hall of Fame & Museum.
1228 US-61, Delmar
There’s something special about seeing a movie on a big screen in the middle of the Iowa countryside. Head to Voy 61 Drive In just outside of Maquoketa, where each weekend evening they show a double feature for just $9 for adults and $5 for kids. The theater has an awesome selection at their concession stand and there’s a whole host of pre-movie activities including a mini-train, tetherball, volleyball, a swing set, and more. Tickets are first come, first served, so get there early. This family-friendly spot has been around for more than 70 years and remains a classic.
1482 300th Ave., Spirit Lake
Near Spirit Lake you’ll find the Superior 71 Drive-In, where they like to bring back good, old-fashioned family fun come “rain or moon shine,” as the website reads (there are absolutely no outside beverages allowed, so don’t bring moonshine). With tickets going for $10 for adults and $5 for kids, you’ll see two shows in one evening. There are two screens to choose from, but once you’ve chosen a double feature you have to stick with that screen—a rule you’ll find at most drive-ins with multiple screens. The concession stand offers everything from popcorn and ice-cream sandwiches to coney dogs and fried pickle chips. The drive-in offers radio rentals until they run out.
774 W. Mayne St., Blue Grass
You can’t miss this unique venue featuring a massive, four-sided movie screen in the countryside near the Quad Cities. Open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from March through October—and nightly from May through August—the Blue Grass is currently wrapping up its ninth year of service for local residents. As with many of the drive-ins on this list, moviegoers can enjoy two movies for the price of one: $10 for adults and $5 for children. Their concessions are top-notch, including the pizza, and you can order them from the comfort of your car. The drive-in also hosts birthday parties, private events, and has an option to put a message like a birthday shoutout or pre-show proposal up on the screen.
4074 Highway F48, Newton
What’s cool about the Valle Drive-In near Newton is that it’s the only drive-in in the state that allows you to purchase and reserve a parking spot in advance. You will pay a $5 reservation fee per vehicle (in addition to your $8 adult and/or $5 child ticket fee) to get your tickets online, but it’s a nice modern upgrade to a throwback activity. The oldest drive-in in Iowa, Valle continues to show double features nightly and has a full-service concession stand. Just head down Highway 61 and look for their big, neon sign—the original signage from the 1948 opening.
312 Main St., Cedar Falls
121 E. College St., Iowa City
Also lovingly referred to as Tap Tap, this popular beercade has locations in both Cedar Falls and Iowa City for gamers to check out. Of course, there are a variety of beers on tap, but there are also retro games, current games, pinball, skee-ball, and shooters—50 games in all—to keep your fingers tapping. They run a variety of special events, tournaments, and leagues. Don’t forget to grab a pizza as well. Drawing in the college crowd and geared toward adults, the arcade does offer family hours on Sundays.
500 East Locust St., Des Moines
Another hip new beercade, Up-Down is located in downtown Des Moines, where you’ll find 60 arcade games from the ’80s and ’90s, pinball machines, three classic skee-ball alleys, Nintendo and Sega gaming consoles, plus life-size Jenga and Connect Four. And all you need is a quarter per game. The bar offers daily drink specials, while on Friday nights the first 100 people through the door get 20 free tokens. This is a 21-and-over establishment only, so leave the kids at home and tap back into the kid you once were. If you do have children who are salivating to have a go at some of the games, keep an eye out for their monthly family day.
333 E. 10th St., Dubuque
Backpocket Brewery decided to turn their Dubuque taproom into a gamer’s delight. Not only can you sample their local brews, made at the Coralville location, but also get in a game of pool, shuffleboard, skee-ball, or hop on one of the many pinball games in the retro arcade. They recently added duckpin bowling, which features shorter lanes, fatter pins, and balls that are a bit smaller and easier for kids to lift. Games are just $5 a person and it’s tons of fun. All ages are welcome at Backpocket until 9 p.m., at which time the under-21 crowd does have to leave and the grown-ups can hog the games all they want.
302 Brady St., Davenport
Any visit to Davenport should always include a trip to Analog Arcade Bar, another 21+ establishment, meaning you won’t have to argue with the kids over whose turn is next. They only serve beer and cocktails but welcome customers to bring in their own food or have it delivered to the bar. As for the games, there is an ever-changing roster of pinball and other arcade games. Analog also runs a skee-ball league for those looking for some competition and extra fun.
371 7th Ave., Marion
Tiny but mighty, this small arcade has been in business since 2017. Named for Super Mario Bros., this retro arcade runs fully on quarters and includes such timeless, iconic classics as Donkey Kong and Frogger. These folks will not let a game hit their floor if it’s in bad condition. They pride themselves on only offering restored games with perfectly working buttons and joysticks and sharp, bright monitors to maximize your gaming experience. Get competitive with local gamers for high scores or bring the young gamers in your life. When you need a quick break, there’s a Mexican restaurant, laundromat, and comic book shop next door, making this the perfect one-stop shop for your food and entertainment (and laundry) needs.
Locations in Grimes, Oskaloosa, and Ottumwa
With several locations around central Iowa, Old School Pinball Arcade takes gaming seriously. No matter which location you drop by, you’ll quickly see the venue’s mission is to bring families and friends of all ages together to enjoy the image and nostalgia of a 1980’s-themed arcade. The best part is that all 60 games are free to play—no quarters required. You’ll pay an admission fee when you arrive (ranging from $5 to $14 depending on the location and day), but save some dough for an old-fashioned malt or milkshake while you play.
616 2nd Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Quarter Barrel is what you find when you combine a brewery, a pizzeria, and an arcade in one. The lineup of more than 40 games covers both arcade and pinball, particularly from the golden era of video gaming, which according to the folks at Quarter Barrel was 1978-1986. Grab one of the dozen craft brews made onsite while you play, or something from the full restaurant menu which includes delicious pizza, pasta, and sandwiches. Quarter Barrel regularly hosts themed trivia nights if you like to test your knowledge that way. It’s a family-friendly spot so grab the kids and the quarters and get your game on.
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