Al Fresco Cinema: The Best Outdoor Movie Spots in the Country

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IMAX and 3-D attempted to amp up the movie-going experience, but for our money, nothing beats watching a movie under the stars in the great outdoors — or local city park, for that matter. Putting a refreshing spin on cinema, the following al fresco spots are our favorites in the nation. Pack a picnic and make a date. To pack in even more refreshing summer fun, NYC & LA culture vultures should check out our custom Flavorpill summer guides. From flicks to food and comedy, we’ve rounded up the top events of the season.

Rooftop Films (NYC, NY)

High school rooftops, loft-tops, and parks around NYC get stormed by filmmakers, musicians, and cinephiles every summer thanks to Rooftop Films. They’ve been showing “underground movies outdoors” since 1997, staying true to their independent spirit by screening only indie shorts, docs, ‘toons, and features. Most events also include a Q&A with the filmmakers, offering film fans a unique insight you don’t often get from the multiplex.

Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre (Montclair, CA)

[img via] Drive-in theaters are sadly a dying breed in the US, but Mission Tiki is keeping the flame alive, in all its kitschy glory. Opened in 1956, the drive-in has been showing double features every night since. Yup, that’s right: each $8 adult ticket gets you a seat (in your own car) at two first-run films. Now that’s a bargain.

Flicks on the Bricks (Portland, OR)

For the last ten years, Flicks on the Bricks has transformed Portland’s Pioneer Square into the city’s largest cinema. Guests are encouraged to “make the Square their living room,” so naturally, the phenomenon has already been spoofed by Portlandia. Residents vote each spring for the films that will be shown over four Fridays in July and August, all for free.

Film Night in the Park (San Francisco & Marin, CA)

Film Night in the Park actually takes place in multiple parks around SF and neighboring Marin County. Film classics like The Apartment and The Birds screen alongside family fare like Monsters Inc., cult faves Ghostbusters and Fifth Element, and new hits like Moonrise Kingdom and Skyfall. There’s something for pretty much every cinematic taste, with a dramatic backdrop (like Dolores Park, Union Square, and China Camp State Park) to match.

NoMa Summer Screen (Washington, DC)

We’re fans of Summer Screen (in DC’s NoMa — that’s “North of Massachusetts Ave” — ‘hood) because food trucks feature prominently. Not content with mere BYO options, Summer Screen boasts up to five different trucks at each movie night. Because Back to the Future really is better with a lobster roll. Or pho. Or BBQ. Or all of the above. Double bonus: dog friendly!

SoundScape at New World Center (Miami, FL)

SoundScape is almost certainly the only outdoor cinema spot on this list designed by a Pritzker Prize-winning architect. Films (as well as concerts, art, and video installations) are shown free-of-charge for the public on the side of Frank Gehry’s New World Centre. And thanks to the balmy Miami weather, these flicks screen from December through May.

Cinespia (Los Angeles, CA)

No architecture awards here, but how about some really famous dead people? Cinespia cinema series screens flicks at LA’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the eternal resting place of movie stars like Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Hattie McDaniel. Pack up a picnic to enjoy under the stars and above Tyrone Power (just kidding; you’ll be on a lawn adjacent to said legends). DJs score the pre- and post-show, and themed costumes are encouraged, so break out your dapper jammies for Rear Window (May 31).

SummerScreen (Brooklyn, NY)

Bryant Park’s summer movie series might be what started this whole outdoor cinema trend (drive-ins not withstanding), but our allegiance lies with SummerScreen at Williamsburg’s McCarren Park. Not quite as family friendly (John Waters movies, yay!), and with the welcome addition of live music before each film, Northside Group’s hump-day series is one of our favorite things about summer in Brooklyn. Playing to our love of nostalgia, this year’s picks include Heathers, Cry-Baby, and Zoolander.

For even more refreshing event options, head to our Summer Guides for NYC & LA, brought to you by our friends at Starbucks.