20 Best Summer Outdoor Movie Events in the United States

by Jessie Frizzell  |  Published July 4, 2023

Whether it’s something fun to do with friends or simply a chance to partake in a quintessential American activity, outdoor movies are a great way to spend an evening this summer.

Rooftop Cinema Club San Diego (Photo: Rooftop Cinema Club)

Catching an outdoor movie has been a much-loved American summer past-time for time immemorial. The iconic image of the Drive-In Movie Theater has long been a motif that oozes nostalgia in the minds of those from across America itself and far beyond. But while wistful images of teenagers packed into classic cars like sardines, each juggling a mountain of buttered popcorn, have endured in our minds, the tangible demand for open-air cinematic experiences has waned over the decades. Nonetheless, the unparalleled magic of watching a movie outside continues to carry sufficient allure that you can still find stubborn vestiges of this timeless American tradition dotted around the county – in local parks, parking lots, and other self-contained settings – that invite movie-goers to watch the silver screen under the silver stars.

TravelMag has compared all outdoor movie theaters across the United States that are offering at least 7 screening days this summer. The criteria for consideration included the theater’s overall setting, food and beverage options, supporting programming, and variety of movies being screened. Below you can find our top picks, ordered geographically from East to West Coast.

Prescott Park Arts FestivalPortsmouth, NH

Prescott Park Arts Festival (Photo: Clear Eye Photo)

One of America’s oldest cities, Portsmouth has been home to the Prescott Park Arts Festival for nearly 20 years. Every summer, hordes of tourists and locals flock to a picturesque green space found on the banks of the Piscataqua River for theater shows, concerts, and movies, all available to attend on a pay-what-you-can basis, honoring the organisers’ mission of making the arts accessible for everyone. They screen a variety of movies, ranging from much-loved classics like Hook to more recent releases like A Quiet Place. There’s also a concession stand selling all of your cinema snack essentials.

Mayor’s Movie NightsBoston, MA

One of the things that makes Boston so fascinating is the varied make-up of its neighborhoods. The Mayor’s Movie Nights both honor these differences and embrace the unity of the city by hosting movie nights in parks in different neighborhoods. Movie-goers this summer can watch The Rise of Gru while looking out onto the historic Boston Harbor (the one where they dumped the tea in 1773) or any number of family favorites across city parks. Each of the events is in a different location, but all start at dusk (around 7.45pm). Bring your blankets, chairs, and snacks and cosy up for an evening of filmic fun.

Rooftop Cinema Club New York City, NY

Rooftop Cinema Club New York (Photo: Rooftop Cinema Club)

Rooftop Cinema Club has fast become a nationwide favorite and has cropped up in major cities across the country. Their NYC location is located in Midtown and features a wide variety of movies with several screenings a day, all summer long, and fun events like Wine Wednesdays with Blockbusters showing major hits like Moulin Rouge. There are also Ballpark-style concessions (hot dogs, popcorn, and the like) with a full bar available too. Guests can enjoy an immersive experience by using noise-canceling headphones that drown out the pulsating mayhem of New York as you relax into your lounge chair and drift into the intoxicating world of cinema.

Free Summer MoviesNew York City, NY

Organized by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, free movies are screened in parks across all five boroughs from June through August. The New York City program is one of the most diverse anywhere in the nation, highlighting champions of international cinema such as Poliana as well as films for all ages like Inside Out and Enchanted. In classic NYC style, push cart and food truck fare is available, and guests are also able to bring their own snacks. The NYC summer movies offer a great way to see different neighborhoods and enjoy them amid the inimitable atmosphere of a New York City summer night. Be sure to check out the website for a full list of screenings, times, and locations.

Columbia Pike Movie NightsArlington, VA

Columbia Pike Movie Nights (Photo: Columbia Pike Movie Nights)

Located just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, Arlington, Virginia offers a delightful escape from the city. Fridays starting in July and through the month of August, the Arlington Mill Community Outdoor Plaza will be screening a mix of new and classic family-focused movies. On Saturdays, Penrose Square Outdoor Plaza will host movies for a slightly older crowd (mostly PG-13 rating) like Back to the Future. All of the screenings start at dusk (between 8 and 8.30pm) but the best spots fill up quickly so to secure a good one be sure to arrive early with your chairs, blankets, and snacks. To increase accessibility, all films are free and feature Spanish subtitles.

Movies on the Beach and BandstandTown of Bethany Beach, DE

The tiniest state in the US happens to put on one of the most exciting outdoor film events on the east coast. The town of Bethany Beach in Delaware offers a wide selection of movies from the last decade that everyone can enjoy. Every Monday night from June through August, movie-lovers can come and pull up their towels and beach chairs and enjoy an evening screening right a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. When the weather starts to cool down in September, the town hosts screenings every Friday at the historic bandstand. There is limited bench seating, so come prepared with your own chair, snacks, and beverages.

Moonlight MoviesGreenville, SC

Moonlight Movies (Photo: Fidelity Investments Moonlight Movies)

With the warm weather continuing beyond August in Greenville, South Carolina, Fidelity Investments Moonlight Movies takes the opportunity to host outdoor screenings well into October. Movies are shown every Thursday, with a local food truck and Poppington’s Popcorn on hand with refreshments, but guests are welcome to bring their own refreshments as well. For those wanting to bring alcohol, $1 wristbands are available on-site too. Past screenings have included iconic films such as Singing in the Rain and Hidden Figures. Movies begin at sundown, but revellers are encouraged to come early for pre-screening trivia.

*Official screening list announced later on in the summer

Movie Nights in the DDetroit, MI

Campus Martius Movie Night in the D (Photo: Movie Night in the D Downtown Detroit Partnership)

Named the number 1 “Top Public Square” in the US by USA Today, Campus Martius Park acts as a community hub for the city of Detroit. On summer evenings, this green space turns into a free festival for all ages, with live music, a weekly beach party, and movies. All films are free and start at 7pm, and some are preceded by on-site activities starting at 6pm. For example, before the screening of Spider-Man No Way Home, the Michigan Philharmonic will be playing a free concert featuring scores from superhero movies. Popcorn and drinks are available for purchase within the park.

Night out in the ParksChicago, IL

Night out in the Parks Chicago (Photo: Pxfuel / CC BY 2.0)

For a decade, Chicago has been putting on Night Out in the Parks, a city wide festival offering community and culturally-based events that highlight the different make-up of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods while also bringing together the city as a single, unified community. Spread out across parks, beaches, and public spaces, movie-goers can choose from over 100 films like Cassablanca or Encanto this summer. Movies begin at varying times and are screened all over the city so be sure to check the website for updates. Snacks are allowed, but guests are encouraged to try one of the many renowned restaurants in this food-centric city. In efforts to continue their mission of making the arts accessible, every event is completely free.

Bayshore Family FlicksGlendale, Wisconsin

Hosted on the beautiful lawn in the heart of the Bayshore community, Bayshore Family Flicks are offering G and PG-rated movies all summer long from June through August at The Yard in Glendale, Wisconsin. Surrounding the venue are local food trucks and vendors along with fantastic restaurants where you can order take-out and bring your meal to a spot on the lawn. Screenings begin at 5pm and are oriented around family-friendly tastes. Kids are well catered for by vendors too, though you can get alcoholic drinks-to-go for adults. In addition to movies, Bayshore also hosts a series of free live music events every Thursday, turning this community hub into an all-summer-long festival.

Backyard Movies at Screenland ArmourKansas City, Missouri

Screenland Armour is a year-round cinema house in Kansas City that hosts outdoor movies on Fridays and Saturdays in their parking lot in association with Cinder Block Brewing Company. They are set to screen an array of beloved classics this summer like The Princess Bride and Grease, with showings well into the fall. No outside food and drink is allowed (other than water) but there is plenty of food and refreshments available for purchase that guests can then bring to their seats. Movies are only $5 and, as a bonus, dogs are welcome too. All screenings start at sundown (a little before 9pm).

Outdoor Family Film Series at Mission Marquee PlazaSan Antonio, Texas

Outdoor Movie Series at Mission Marquee Plaza (Photo: Courtesy: City of San Antonio)

Known as the Gateway to Texas, San Antonio features some of the most beautiful scenery in the state and one of the most beloved summer movie events. From May through November, The City of San Antonio World Heritage Office presents their annual Outdoor Family Film Series at Mission Marquee Plaza. The program begins in May and runs through November, with three movie screenings a month including favorites such as The Outsiders and new releases like The Little Mermaid (2023). Parking is free and available on-site and pets are welcome, too.

Movies in the ParkPortland, Oregon

Portland has long been heralded for its strong community ties and the summer season is when it comes into its own. In 2007, the city launched Movies in the Park, which offers free screenings of films beginning at sunset and live performances from local musicians starting at 7.30pm before the movie. Screenings take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with a program boasting a great range of films from The Incredibles to the 1990s cult classic, Jumanji. Many of the movies feature Spanish subtitles and, vice versa, there are even some Spanish films with English subtitles. And if that’s not enough, movie-watchers can tuck into complimentary popcorn for all.

Sundown CinemaSan Francisco, CA

SF Parks Alliance & Alamo Drafthouse Present Sundown Cinema featuring free outdoor movies in public parks around San Francisco all summer long. The event plays host to music, food and drinks from local vendors, and plenty of community engagement. The 2023 film program is full of diverse movies, including favorites such as Mamma Mia! Screenings are free to the public, but premium seating can be purchased, with proceeds going towards the SF Parks Alliance. Movie-goers are encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transit. Snacks are also available from concessions around the parks.

Movies on the SquareRedwood City, CA

Movies on the Square Redwood, City (Photo: Joe Wade)

Every Thursday throughout summer, community members head over to Courthouse Square in Redwood City for Movies on the Square. They offer a varied program of films, from kids movies to independent films at 8pm and ending with a feature film at 8.30pm as the sun sets. All showings are free but make sure to get there early to secure the best view of their giant LED screen. Food isn’t available on-site, but guests are encouraged to pick up take-out from one of the many great eateries in the area.

CinespiaLos Angeles, CA

Cinespia (Photo: Kelly Lee Barrett)

Cinespia is a Los Angeles institution having shown films since 2002. Today their program is much more expansive and they even partner with L.A. the Christopher Street West Association (the producers of L.A. Pride) and this year will host a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in honor of Pride. They screen movies across the whole of Los Angeles but are primarily based in LA State Historic Park and Hollywood Forever Cemetery for showings of time-honoured favorites. Tickets are available on their website and refreshments can be purchased on-site. Some events even include fireworks, so be ready for a true night of magic and awe in the City of Stars.

Street Food CinemaLos Angeles, CA

Street Food Cinema (Photo: Street Food Cinema)

Street Food Cinema has been a part of the LA arts and culture scene for over 10 years, offering outdoor movies all across the city. Screenings are augmented by local food trucks offering a wide variety of cuisines and bites, but you can bring your own picnic supplies as well. Before the films, there are DJ sets, live music, and plenty of opportunities to explore some of LA’s most stunning and expansive green spaces. This year’s program features classic films, both old and new, such as La La Land, The Parent Trap, and Dirty Dancing. Tickets book up fast, so be sure to reserve in advance.

Sunset CinemaOrange County, CA

Spread across seven different parks in Orange County, The County of Orange and OC Parks will host 14 free outdoor movies at sunset on Fridays from June to September. Featuring a mix of old and new, this summer series is a finely curated array of crowd-pleasing films like Clueless and Top Gun: Maverick, all set against a backdrop of the area’s most beautiful parks. Each location has a variety of food options from local vendors and a beer and wine garden for those over the age of 21. Friday nights are for cinema, but on Thursdays, you can catch live music performed by both local and national artists.

Rooftop Cinema Club San DiegoSan Diego, CA

Rooftop Cinema Club San Diego (Photo: Rooftop Cinema Club)

Rooftop Cinema Club, San Diego offers a sumptuous outdoor movie experience. Their seating arrangements are made up of comfy chairs, with the option to upgrade to premium lounge chairs. This summer, the program features beloved films and events including their popular Y2K Tuesdays featuring iconic comedies from the 2000s. Screenings start in the afternoon and continue well into the night, with the eye-catching San Diego skyline as the backdrop. There’s also a wide selection of food and beverages at the venue and tickets sell out fast so be sure to book in advance.

Prince Waikiki Summer Flix – Honolulu, HI

Presented by the Hawaii International Film Festival, Prince Waikiki Summer Flix features box office hits, while also highlighting local films with talk story sessions from filmmakers and industry professionals. Prince of Waikiki screens the films on their protected outdoor Muliwai Deck overlooking a swimming pool and the picturesque Honolulu Harbor. Seating is first come, first serve, with all films and talk story sessions completely free to the public.