The Bay Area’s Best Outdoor Movie Series

Where to watch movies outdoors this summer, in the East Bay and beyond.

One of the main tenets of summer is that any activity you ordinarily do inside needs to be experienced outside — and that extends to movie-watching as well. Whether you’re looking for a family outing, a good date activity, or just an opportunity to drink in a park with friends, there’s nothing quite like lounging on the grass, munching on some popcorn, and watching a movie. Here are our top picks for places to see movies outside this summer:

Waterfront Flicks

Jack London Square’s Waterfront Flicks series started six years ago with a screening of a movie appropriate for the location — Jaws. The series quickly took off in popularity, and now draws crowds of more than four hundred people to the Jack London Ferry Lawn (Clay and Water sts., Oakland) for every screening. This year’s lineup includes recent blockbusters (Gravity, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), family-friendly films (Despicable Me 2, The LEGO Movie), and cult classics (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). The series’ success prompted organizers to start Sing-Along Cinema, at which audiences are encouraged to dress up like their favorite characters and sing along to the songs from popular movie musicals. The selection will include the Wizard of Oz, Chicago, and — because you haven’t heard enough renditions of “Let It Go” yet — Frozen.

Waterfront Flicks: June 12-August 21. Sing-Along Cinema: August 13-October 10. Sundown, free.

Temescal Street Cinema

If you’re looking for an outdoor movie series that’s more locally focused, Temescal Street Cinema is a good choice. Co-founded by Oakland artist Suzanne L’Heureux in 2008, the series only features films made by Bay Area filmmakers, and is described as “part block party, part public art intervention.” The movies are projected onto the wall of the Bank of the West building (49th St. and Telegraph Ave.), and before the main feature, there is usually live acoustic music. Shapeshifters Cinema will also be curating a series of opening shorts to highlight the work of emerging artists. Some of this year’s main attractions include Banker White’s The Genius of Marian, Sara Dosa’s The Last Season, and Regan Brashear’s FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. Moviegoers can bring their own picnics, but organizers also give out free popcorn, and this summer, Hella Vegan Eats will sell food as well.

Thursdays, June 19-July 24. 8 p.m., free.

Film Night in the Park

There are plenty of places to see outdoor movies in the East Bay, but if you’re feeling some wanderlust, your best bet is Film Night in the Park, which takes place in San Francisco and Marin County. The film series began as a movie night at a cafe in San Anselmo 23 years ago and has steadily grown in popularity, particularly in the city, where screenings can draw thousands of people. In San Francisco, films are shown at Dolores Park (19th St. and Dolores St.), Union Square Park (333 Post St.), and Washington Square Park (Union St. and Columbus Ave.), and in Marin County at Creek Park (Sir Francis Drake Blvd. and Center Blvd., San Anselmo), China Camp State Park (101 Peacock Gap Trail, San Rafael), Peacock Gap Park (298 Peacock Gap Dr., San Rafael), and Central Field (Broadway Blvd. and Bank St., Fairfax). This year’s lineup includes a broad mix of movies, appropriate for both kids and grown-ups, such as Ghostbusters, Monsters University, The Apartment, Clueless, Silver Linings Playbook, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. While the turnout in Marin is mostly families, the San Francisco screenings tend to attract the twenty- and thirty-something crowd.

June 13-September 27. Sundown, free.

Starlight Movies in the Park

For parents looking for an evening activity to do with their kids, Alameda’s Starlight Movies in the Park series is an excellent option. The organizers generally only choose family-friendly movies, and this year, the lineup features Despicable Me 2, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Back to the Future. Before the movie starts, there will be games (such as tug-of-war) and arts and crafts activities for kids. The city’s youth committee also runs a snack bar, which offers items including ice cream or hot chocolate (depending on the weather). Movies will be screened at Alameda Point Multi-Purpose Field in June and July (West Redline Ave.) and at the Leydecker Field (325 McCartney Ave.) in September. Organizers institute a no-alcohol rule and discourage bringing pets as well.

Fridays, June 20, July 25, and September 12. 6:30 p.m., free.

Redwood Heights Movies in the Park

If you’re looking for an outdoor spot to watch a movie that’s less of a scene, the movie series hosted by the Redwood Heights Recreation Center (3883 Aliso Ave., Oakland) is a low-key, modest affair. When the film series began six years ago, movies were shown on a homemade “screen” made of plywood painted white, although the organizers have since upgraded to a proper movie screen. Most of the movies being shown this summer are family friendly (Holes, The Croods, and We Bought a Zoo), but organizers are throwing in some cult classics as well, such as Top Gun and The Addams Family. Before the screenings, which begin at dusk on the lawn outside the recreation center, moviegoers can participate in field games and activities and buy concessions, the proceeds of which go toward a scholarship for the center’s after-school programs and summer camp.

May 16-October 17. Sundown, free.

Looking for more opportunities to see movies outside this summer? There’s also Hayward’s Outdoor Movies Around the District series, which will screen family-friendly movies at Adobe Park (20395 San Miguel Ave., Castro Valley) on June 13, Hayward City Plaza (777 B St.) on July 18 and August 8, and Mervin Morris Park (Nielsen and Grant aves., San Lorenzo) on September 12. For those who prefer to watch a movie while floating on water rather than sitting on grass, Oakland’s Aquatics Unit is hosting its Family Dive-In Movies series at the deFremery Pool (1269 18th St.) on June 28 and July 19, the Fremont Pool (4550 Foothill Blvd.) on July 5, and the Lions Pool (3860 Hanly Rd.) on July 12. And during Oakland’s Friday-night food-truck series Bites Off Broadway, the Studio One Art Center (365 45th St.) will host family-friendly movie screenings on June 20, July 11, August 22, and September 12.


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