San Francisco's Best Indie Movie Theaters

By Antonio Barrios of The St. Regis San Francisco
San Francisco's Best Indie Movie Theaters
David Gallagher, Flickr
Inside The Castro

San Francisco has more independent cinemas than most cities its size. How these single-screen treasures survive at all is a miracle — especially in an age of multiplex cinemas, on-demand home movies, YouTube, you name it... But throughout the city you can visit some of the most charming one-of-a-kind movie theaters in America:

One of the city's oldest theaters, The Clay, opened in 1910 and remains one the most loved. Located right in the thick of all the action on Fillmore Street — the commercial thoroughfare of Pacific Heights — the cinema was the first in San Francisco to introduce midnight movies (with the premier of John Waters' Pink Flamingoes in 1972). The Clay has also hosted its outrageously festive Rocky Horror nights for the past 35 years.

The Castro is the undisputed grandaddy of historic picture palaces, right in the heart of America's most celebrated gay neighborhood. It's owned by the same family who built it in 1922, and seats over 1,400 in a lavish setting that features an original Art Deco chandelier and two dramatic staircases studded with vintage film posters and gold-framed mirrors. Famed for its mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ (which is played nightly before the first evening show), the Castro is the first place I recommend to guests looking for that old-time movie house experience.

Approaching its 100th birthday, The Vogue is the city's second oldest operating movie theater (the oldest is the Roxie in the Mission). Saved from going under in 2007, the Art Deco gem was bought and preserved by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation (the same folks behind the city's popular "Film Night in the Park" annual series).

The Vogue really is a true neighborhood delight: located on Sacramento Street in the tony Presidio Heights area, it's a small, laid-back theater, and nothing like the mob scene that most cinemas descend into on a Friday night. Most of the movies screened are current releases but look out for special runs, like the "Mostly British Film Festival" starting February 3.