Movie Night With Your Little Stars: Free Outdoor Films for Kids

The days are getting longer and bedtime is getting later, so if you’re looking for some after sunset entertainment, an outdoor flick just might do the trick. Grab your blankets and your picnic dinners and head to one of these Bay Area parks for some summertime cinema under the stars (or the fog). Full of scenic backdrops for the big screen, these family friendly outings offer a number of kids movies, and you can’t beat the price: free!

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

San Francisco

Stake out your spot on one of SF’s famous lawns on select Saturdays from June through September. Dolores Park and Union Square both play host to SF Film Night in the Park. We recommend arriving early to get a good seat for these popular events geared more toward older kids and grown-ups. Bring an extra blanket to stay warm when Karl the Fog comes rolling over to say hello and leave the taller camp chairs at home for these venues. For the full schedule, including grown-up flicks perfect for date night (there are additional screenings in Washington Square Park), and for recommended MUNI lines, click here.  All shows begin at dusk (exact time subject to the sun). Kid-centric selections include:

Jun. 14 Ghostbusters in Dolores Park
Jul. 12 Frozen in Union Square
Aug. 2 Clueless in Dolores Park
Aug. 23 Bullitt in Union Square

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 (um, there’s a Pinkberry and a Ben and Jerry’s) or the food court at the Westfield Shopping Centre on Market Street.

Good to know: Yes, Dolores Park is under renovation but movie night is still happening! Arrive extra early and let kids bounce around the awesome playground (or give them a break from the movie if they get ants in their pants.) Union Square has minimal grass, so bring an extra blanket or camping pad to sit on.

Dolores Park Movie Night Ed U. via YelpPhoto credit: Ed U. via Yelp 

East Bay

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:

Jun. 13 The Croods
Jun. 27 The Secret Live of Walter Mitty
Jul. 18 Independence Day
Aug. 1 The Goonies
Aug. 15 Rio

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.

WaterfrontFlicksJack London SquarePhoto credit: Darrell Sano

In 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:

Jun. 12 Gravity
Jun. 26 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Jul. 10 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Jul. 24 Despicable Me 2
Aug. 7 Man of Steel
Aug. 21 The Lego Movie

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

Waterfront Flicks.June 12 (4)Photo credit: Darrell Sano

South Bay/Peninsula

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 2014 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:

Jun. 28 Frozen
Jul. 10 E.T.
Jul. 17 Turbo
Aug. 7 The Wizard of Oz
Aug. 21 The Croods
Sep. 4 Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Sep. 25 Muppets Most Wanted

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.

moviesonthesquare Redwood CityPhoto credit: Redwood City 

Downtown San Jose is home to Starlight Cinemas, a traveling outdoor cinema. This year they will kick off with a soccer theme in honor of the World Cup and then move on to 1980s films. Each movie night includes relevant trivia and themed crafts, like making a hover-craft (Back to the Future II) and a treasure-hunt (Indiana Jones). Be sure and check their link here for start times and cool activities, but most movies start at dusk and pre-show festivities begin at 7 p.m. Nights of the week vary, too, and the schedule below includes both weeknight and weekend showings. Best kid-picks:

Jun. 14 Bend it Like Beckham at Cesar Chavez Park
Jun. 22 Back to the Future II at St. James Park
Jul. 16 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at St. James Park
Jul. 23 Ghostbusters at San Pedro Square Market
Jul. 30 Pee Wee’s Big Adventure at St. James Park
Aug. 6 Pretty in Pink at San Pedro Market Square
Aug. 13 Gremlins at St. James Park

Dining: There are plenty of options around the three different venues, as all are located in the heart of downtown San Jose. Grab a burritos from one of the many taquerias along Santa Clara Street. There is a Johnny Rockets for burgers, fries, and shakes on S. 1st Street just a couple blocks off Cesar Chavez Plaza. For a map of downtown San Jose dining options click here.

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.

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:

Jun.18 Dennis the Menace
Jun. 25 Charlotte’s Web
Jul. 2 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Jul. 9 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Jul. 16 The Red Balloon
Jul. 23 The Cat in the Hat
Jul. 30 Fantastic Mr. Fox
Aug. 6 Babe
Aug. 13 Bee Movie
Aug. 20 Stuart Little
Aug. 27 Horton Hears a Who

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 Belcampo, Rustic Bakery, or El Harache Loco.

film night marin via yelp imelda jPhoto credit: Imelda J. via Yelp 

On balmy Friday and Saturday nights, June through September, Film Night in the Park offers films at four different locations: Contrati Ball Field in Fairfax; Peacock Gap Park and China Camp State Park in San Rafael; and San Anselmo Creek Park. The majority of these movies are geared toward kids, but you can check here for the full schedule and exact locations. Most movies go on around 8 p.m. and you should plan to arrive about an hour early. There are fun drawings and other pre-show surprises. Low chairs are okay here, along with blankets. Highlights of the movie round-up include:

Jun. 13 UP
Jul. 11 Despicable Me 2
Jul. 12 Monsters University
Jul. 19 The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Jul. 25 The Beatles’ Let it Be
Aug. 16  To Sir With Love
Aug. 23 The Legend of Hercules
Sep. 6 The Iron Giant
Sep. 13 Wreck-It Ralph
Sep. 26 The Lego Movie
Sep. 27 Frozen

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 or San Rafael’s great restaurants for some take out, or pack a nice picnic dinner.


Tips and Tricks

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.

Leave strollers and taller chairs home; unless otherwise mentioned they probably aren’t allowed. Bring plenty of blankets and low-back chairs. Camping pads make it extra comfy.

Check with the venue’s policy about dogs (some parks do not allow dogs).

Put the kiddos in PJ’s before you get there: makes it easier to roll them into bed when you get home.

Bring in the majority of your food/dinner, but most events sell some concessions (bring cash).

Make a donation. These are free events, but they do cost money to run. Even $1 helps make sure yours and other families can enjoy these evening again and again.

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

~Amber Guetebier & Laure Latham