If blockbuster films weren’t enough reason for movie lovers to look forward to summer, there are also flicks under the stars. From the National Mall to San Francisco’s Union Square, we scouted some of the country’s best places to catch a movie outside after dark (and fantastic hotels to stay in along the way). Here’s what to see and where to bring your own popcorn. Warning: With spots this scenic, you may not want to leave when the credits roll.
Where to see a movie: You have options when it comes to open-air films in outdoorsy Seattle. Fremont Almost-Free Outdoor Cinema shows mostly cult favorites and pop-culture throwbacks every Saturday night from July 13 through August 24; this year’s lineup includes Superbad, The Avengers and the 21-and-over Stay Classy: Anchorman Movie Party and The Dude Fest Big Lebowski Party—expect costumes and sing-alongs. In the Sand Point neighborhood, Thursday nights bring PEMCO Movies at Magnuson Park. The dog-friendly series, which includes food trucks (think The Grilled Cheese Experience and Crisp Creperie), movie trivia and acrobats, will screen Skyfall, The Sandlot, Raiders of the Lost Ark and more from July 11 through August 29.
Where to stay: Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Pan Pacific Seattle, located in the trendy South Lake Union area, offers luxurious accommodations within walking distance of downtown and the Space Needle. Head to the hotel’s Lobby Bar patio every Tuesday through August 27 for Sips of Summer, a meet-and-greet with Washington winemakers complete with tastings and live music. Wineries big and small are slated to host, from the Columbia Valley’s well-known Chateau Ste. Michelle (on July 9) to Lake Chelan’s boutique Hard Row To Hoe Vineyards (on July 16).
Where to see a movie: Screen on the Green, from mega-sponsors HBO and Comcast, celebrates its 15th year in Washington with four Monday-night screenings, on July 22 and 29, and August 5 and 12. As always, the films are classics—E.T., Norma Rae, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Tootsie—and picnicking (with non-alcoholic drinks) is welcome. The location, between 7th and 12th streets on the National Mall, may well be the most majestic setting in the country for an outdoor movie—you’ll be gazing at the U.S. Capitol just behind the screen.
Where to stay: You can walk to Screen on the Green from Forbes Travel GuideFour-Star Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C., which is located off 12th Street just 10 minutes south of the Mall. In a city with its fair share of luxury hotels—heads of state have to sleep somewhere—this one boasts unique views of the Tidal Basin, as well as a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant, CityZen by Eric Ziebold, and the Four-Star Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C.
Little Rock, Ark.
Where to see a movie: Every summer Wednesday at sundown, Little Rock movie buffs grab seats in the amphitheater at Riverfront Park for Movies in the Park. This year’s lineup runs through August 7 and focuses on family favorites such as Big, Finding Nemo and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with more mature flicks (The Notebook, The Dark Knight) mixed in. Bring your own food and drinks and settle in for entertainment on the banks of the Arkansas River.
Where to stay: Reserve an upper-floor room at Capital Hotel, a five-minute walk from the amphitheater, and enjoy vistas of Riverfront Park and the river. The recently renovated Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is a fantastic find for history enthusiasts too; since its 1870s opening, it’s hosted the likes of Ulysses S. Grant and enjoyed fame for having been an early adopter of electricity. Be sure to eat at the hotel’s Capital Bar and Grill for a mean Southern gumbo and chess pie.
Where to see a movie: San Francisco’s annual outdoor movie ritual, Film Night in the Park, goes beyond city limits to include locales in Marin County, meaning there’s quite a selection of screenings and settings to choose from. The packed schedule runs from June through September and includes films at San Francisco’s Union Square (Vicky Christina Barcelona on July 13), Dolores Park (The Princess Bride on August 3, and Skyfall on September 21) and Washington Square (Moonrise Kingdom on September 7).
Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, located three blocks from Union Square on Nob Hill, has a look unlike any other luxury hotel in the city—it occupies a neoclassical mansion built in the early 1900s. One of the best perks of a stately stay here is easy access to the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Parallel 37 restaurant. Charlie Trotter alum Michael Rotondo became chef de cuisine in January and has since revamped the menu to include an eight-course chef’s tasting menu focusing on seasonal ingredients—think live scallops cooked in the shell with a miso crust.
Where to see a movie: Art Hill, home of the Saint Louis Art Museum, screens classic movies every Friday in July in a party-like atmosphere complete with food trucks and local bands. Festivities begin at 7 p.m. and the films — Casablanca, West Side Story, The Princess Bride and Roman Holiday — roll at 9 p.m. The St. Louis museum, which celebrates the grand opening of its new David Chipperfield–designed East Building on June 29, will stay open until 9 p.m. on Fridays, with its main level remaining open until 10 p.m. — and, as always, admission is free.
Where to stay: The Chase Park Plaza is located just across Forest Park from Art Hill; though since this St. Louis park is 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park, you may want to take a cab. The historic, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel is the perfect summer retreat; you can cool off by catching an indoor movie in its five-screen movie theater or by taking a dip in its Mediterranean-style outdoor pool.
Photos Courtesy of iStock, fintastique, bosenok, compassandcamera, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group