Summertime Movies with the Munchkins: Where to See Free Movies Outside

Break the bedtime rules and live it up! Summer is here and that means it’s time for some outdoor movie fun all over the Bay Area. Pack up the blankets, popcorn and kids and head to one of these many spots where you can see some great flicks at a great price—FREE!

union square movie night Diana B via YelpPhoto credit: Diana B. via Yelp  

San Francisco

Three San Francisco parks play host to this year’s Film Night in the Park series – a summertime tradition attended by thousands of moviegoers since its start in 2003. Getting there early will give you the best chance of a good view as these events get pretty crowded. The 2015 movies are still TBD so check here for updates as the dates get closer. In past years the movies were geared more towards older kids and adults than the little ones. This year’s schedule and locations:

August 22 – Union Square
September 12 – Washington Square Park
September 26 – Dolores Park

Dining: A block from Dolores Park, stop by Bi-Rite Market or Dolores Park Café for a quick and tasty bite to go. Bring along an extra grown-up to wait in line at the Bi-Rite Creamery right on the corner of 18th and Dolores. At Union Square, grab a meal to go at The Cellar at Macy’s (or skip directly to dessert at the Tout Sweet Patisserie).

outdoormoviePhoto credit: waferboard via Flickr creative commons

East Bay

Danville
The EB hamlet of Danville presents Moonlight Movies on the Town Green on Friday nights. Sweltering East Bay days usually mean blissfully warm summer evenings, so no need to swap out the shorts and t-shirts for this post-sunset excursion. The best part just might be the kids crafts and activities starting at 6:30 and running up until movie time (sundown). This year’s movies:

June 12 – Big Hero 6
June 26 – When the Game Stands Tall
July 17 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
July 31 – Hook
August 14 – The Lego Movie

Dining: On nearby Railroad Ave. try La Boulange de Danville (part of the popular chain) which has a great selection of kids items on their menu, not to mention killer treats for after dinner (a rainbow of macaroons, maybe?) Chow Danville (part of the Park Chow clan) is open late and offers American/California cuisine with lots of options for the kiddos.

Oakland
Jack London Square hosts Waterfront Flicks on Thursdays throughout the summer. Get there early to play trivia games or take in the waterfront. This year’s picks include:

June 11 – Jurassic Park
June 25 – Maleficent
July 9 – Mrs. Doubtfire
July 23 – Night at the Museum
August 13 – Finding Nemo
August 27 – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dining: Right at Jack London Square, you will find lots of dining options, from takeout to food trucks to sit-down dinner.
moviesonthesquare Redwood CityPhoto credit: Redwood City 

Peninsula

San Mateo
Head to Bay Meadows for a night that doesn’t involve horses! For two night this summer, Bay Meadows hosts Movies in the Meadow. Come early for all-ages lawn games, live music and even face painting for the shorties. Film trivia and the always-fun photo booths will keep you busy until showtime. This summer’s flicks are:

July 18 – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
August 15 – Grease

Dining: Food truck fare brought to you by Off the Grid will be in full-effect. Plus, moms and dads can head to the beer and wine garden for some adult beverages.

Redwood City
Redwood City offers Movies on the Square, located right in the middle of town at the quaint Courthouse Square in front of City Hall. Movie nights here are super kid-friendly and well attended. Camp chairs are allowed at this venue. The 2015 lineup, which includes some vintage films along with newer hits, goes well into September when we get some of our best summer weather. All movies are Thursdays at sundown. Check here for the full list. Top kid picks include:

June 18 – How to Train Your Dragon
July 9 – Despicable Me 2
July 23 – Big Hero 6
August 6 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Dining: Downtown Redwood City has a number of restaurants a mere stone’s throw away so grab some take-out and head over. Just take note that there are a limited number of tables and chairs available on the Square. Right on Broadway you’ll find the kid-friendly Old Spaghetti Factory with pastas and salads served family style. A few blocks away try The Sandwich Spot,open from 10 a.m. – 12 a.m. and specializing in sandwiches and build-your-own salads.
outdoormovie1

Photo credit: Timoth Vollmer via Flickr creative commons

South Bay

Los Altos
August is movie month in Los Altos where every Friday at 8:30 p.m. brings you a new free flick. Head to the intersection of Main Street and 3rd Street where you can set up your chairs and blankets as early as 6 p.m. (they close Main Street to traffic starting at 5 p.m.). 2015 movies are still TBD but check here for updates as we get closer to August.

Dining: Skip’s Place Pizza is small but service is fast. Order ahead and they’ll have your order ready when you arrive. Armadillo Willy’s is also a good bet for quick service and kid-friendly fare.

San Jose
Throughout the summer, the parks of San Jose come alive with In the Park After Dark Movie Night—a movie marathon sponsored by the Santa Clara County Parks. Starting with Ed Levin County Park on June 12 and ending with Santa Teresa Park on August 22, you can see family favorites in a picturesque setting (which changes every week). Check here for the locations and movies (which are still TBD). At some locations food vendors will be available.

Sunnyvale
From July through mid-August, Sunnyvale hosts outdoor movie nights every Friday at various parks throughout the city. This summer’s flicks are:

July 10 – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day (at Cuesta Park)
July 17 – How to Train Your Dragon 2 (at Sylvan Park)
July 24 – The Little Rascals (at Eagle Park)
July 31 – Penguins of Madagascar (at Stevenson Park)
August 7 – Mr. Peabody and Sherman (at Whisman Park)
August 14 – Big Hero 6 (at Rengstorff Park)

Saratoga
For three Fridays this summer, you can enjoy movies at El Quito Park in Saratoga. Pre-movie entertainment is provided by Dottie the Clown. This summer’s movies are:

June 19 – The Lego Movie
July 17 – Wreck-It Ralph
August 21 – Big Hero 6

Dining: Head to nearby El Paseo de Saratoga where there are many kid-friendly options including Pizza My Heart and Red Robin.

larkspur movie night

Photo credit: Film Night in the Park by Olma M. via Yelp

Marin County

This area is basically the mecca of outdoor film nights, with tons of Friday and Saturday showings at different parks, as well as mid-week options at slightly earlier times. Some flicks run all the way into September, and nearly all are totally kid-centric.

Larkspur
Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur presents Movies on the Green. Kids can sit on mini-directors chairs on the lawn while parents can sit back on blankets and picnic and chat. The schedule this year includes some classic films from your own childhood:

June 17 – Fantastic Mr. Fox
June 24 – Antz
July 1 – The Land Before Time
July 8 – Shrek
July 15 – The Sound of Music
July 22 – Charlotte’s Web
July 29 – Curious George
August 5 – Babe
August 12 – Wizard of Oz
August 19 – The Muppet Movie
August 26 – Bee Movie

Dining: You don’t have to go far for a bevy of awesome choices, since this is right at the Mart. Try take out from BelcampoRustic Bakery, or El Harache Loco.

Fairfax and San Anselmo
On balmy Friday and Saturday nights, June through September, Film Night in the Park offers films at two different locations: Contrati Ball Field in Fairfax and San Anselmo Creek Park. The majority of these movies are geared toward kids, but you can check here for the full schedule and locations. Movies go on at sunset and you should plan to arrive about an hour early as there are fun drawings and other pre-show surprises. Low chairs are okay here, along with blankets. Highlights of the movie round-up include:

June 26 – The NeverEnding Story
July 11 – Bedknobs and Broomsticks
August 8 – Box Trolls
August 14 – Toy Story

Dining: Movie snacks and drinks are for sale at the events, but for heartier fare you’ll want to stop by one of San Anselmo’s great restaurants for some take out, or pack a nice picnic dinner.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Bring a flashlight for walking out at the end of the night, especially if you’ll be carrying tired little ones through the park. Headlamps are super handy.
  2. Leave strollers and taller chairs at home; unless otherwise mentioned they probably aren’t allowed. Bring plenty of blankets and low-back chairs. Camping pads make it extra comfy.
  3. Check with the venue’s policy about dogs (some parks do not allow dogs).
  4. Put the kiddos in PJ’s before you get there – makes it easier to roll them into bed when you get home.
  5. Bring in the majority of your food/dinner to make it easy to settle in with the kids. If your venue offers food vendors, bring cash as some don’t take plastic.
  6. Make a donation. These are free events, but they do cost money to run. Even $1 helps make sure families can enjoy these evenings summer after summer.

What movie will you be seeing out in the fresh air this summer? Let us know in the comments below!

—Kate Loweth & Amber Guetebier