In San Francisco you’ll find a screen to catch a big budget or indie flick in just about any corner of the city. Here, restricted land use and population density helped small, independent theaters (many built from 1910-30 as the street car lines spread and created more neighborhoods) survive the national shift to centrally located multiplexes. This is your handbook to the city’s movie theaters, from an Art Deco movie palace to a former vaudeville house.
Film Buff Haunts
Where local cinephiles get their fix.
This contemporary independent theater in Japantown has a full bar and a bistro on the balcony in addition to gourmet concessions, and for the +21 showtimes you can bring your glass of wine or artisan beer into the theater to enjoy in your comfy seat. It shows an excellent mix of first-run and art films, and ticketholders reserve individual seats. The theater also houses an art gallery featuring local artists and hosts screenings for the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Asian American Film Festival, often drawing A-list stars and directors to present their latest work. 1881 Post St., 415.346.3243
Recently renovated, this luxe theater on the third floor of the One Embarcadero Center office and retail complex is a convenient downtown spot to catch the latest high-profile independent and foreign films. 1 Embarcadero Center Promenade Level, 415.352.0835
Near Civic Center, the city’s political and cultural headquarters, this four-screen theater is quiet and cozy. Catch a cool documentary or indie flick on the tail end of its SF run and grab a snack at local favorite Philz Coffee before or after. 601 Van Ness Ave., 415.771.0183
More than just places to see movies, these are local cultural institutions.
One of the best places to get a taste of the stylish San Francisco life and its world-class food scene, this gorgeous restaurant on gritty Mission Street is also a destination for artistic films, which are projected in the sheltered courtyard, with speakers at each table. 2534 Mission St., 415.648.7600
This Art Deco movie palace inspired by Mexican cathedral architecture contains more than more than 1,400 seats, a spectacular sinking pipe organ (opening most shows) and an ornate chandelier. Its iconic retro neon sign has come to symbolize the Castro neighborhood, and it was the site of the 2008 world premiere of “Milk” starring Sean Penn. It regularly screens cult-favorite films and hosts campy sing-alongs, drag stage shows and events for the San Francisco International Film Festival, SF Sketchfest and San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. 429 Castro St., 415.621.6120
The oldest operating theater in the city is found in the Mission District. Built in 1908 as a vaudeville house, the ornate structure seats just under 500 and currently presents plays, concerts and theatrical performances of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in addition to film screenings. 2961 16th St., 415.863.7576
This funky, retro theater on a colorful corridor in the Mission neighborhood is the oldest continuously operating cinema in the country, founded in 1909. Today it’s a non-profit known for avant-garde, exclusive programming and film festival participation. 3117 16th St., 415.863.1087
Low in price and high in charm, these movie houses will transport you to another era.
This beloved independent theater in the Outer Richmond was saved and restored thanks to a Kickstarter campaign in 2013. Built in 1926 with the same architects behind the Cliff House, Fairmont San Francisco Hotel and Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park, it still plays double features of second-run movies. The Popcorn Palace series at 10 am on Saturdays combines a kid-friendly movie like “Neverending Story” or “Harry Potter” with popcorn (locals rave about the topping offerings) and a drink for $10. 3630 Balboa St., 415.221.8184, cinemasf.com
This picturesque vintage one-screen movie theater in posh, leafy Presidio Heights is one of the city's oldest operating cinemas, showcasing a diverse mix of classic and newly released films. It’s known for Woody Allen pictures and hosting the annual Mostly British Film Fest. 3290 Sacramento St., 415.346.2228
Catch an old classic or current foreign or art house film at this charming single screen from 1910 on well-heeled Fillmore Street, and then get dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants. The theater offers a monthly screening of “The Rocky Horror Show.” 2261 Fillmore St., 415.561.9921
Either of these two quaint cinemas in the heart of the Marina District on Chestnut Street, which is lined with excellent restaurants and teeming with good-looking people in their 20s and 30s, is a perfect spot for a dinner-and-a-movie date. 2149 Chestnut St., 415.345.1323; 2340 Chestnut St., 415.776.2388
Where to watch the latest movies on the biggest screens.
This four-story theater by Moscone Center and Yerba Buena Gardens has an IMAX screen with reserved seating. Sharing the building are City Target, the CityView event space, and a number of fast-casual eateries including Super Duper Burgers. 135 4th St., 415.369.6201
Get tickets for a summer blockbuster and a big tub of popcorn at this enormous, ornate Art Deco building right on Van Ness Avenue. 1000 Van Ness Ave., 415.674.4630