The Best Arthouse Cinemas in San Francisco

Castro Theater | © Benson Kua / Flickr
Castro Theater | © Benson Kua / Flickr
Photo of Justine McGrath
30 April 2017

You’ve admittedly seen every Fast and the Furiousmovie and internally cried tears of joy at the announcement of the next live action Disney flick, but you also enjoy visiting an arthouse cinema from time to time. These venues screening independent films aren’t intended to woo the masses, but instead, they try to make us think about the world around us in a different light. If you find yourself in San Francisco, California, and are itching for a bit of enlightenment, visit one of these eight stellar arthouse cinemas.

Castro Theatre

Park, Theater, Movie Theater, Theatre
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Built in 1922, the Castro Theatre is now considered a historic landmark within the city. Designed by Timothy L. Pflueger, who would later go on to become a renowned Bay Area architect, the theater features a massive screen that’s framed by organ grills. The theater streams independent films as well as major releases. Plan on attending if you’re looking for a night at the theater with a little extra pizazz.

Embarcadero Center Cinema

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Located in the heart of the Financial District, the Embarcadero Center Cinema is an ideal destination for busy bees looking for a moment of pause. With five screens in-house, you’ll find everything from foreign films to 3-D diversions. Not only will you find your chair comfortable and an abundance of screens to choose from, but the theater also offers gourmet concessions and alcoholic beverages.

Opera Plaza Cinema

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With two large auditoriums screening the latest and greatest independent films, Opera Plaza Cinema is a no-brainer for your next arthouse binge. Additionally, the theater is within close distance to San Francisco’s Civic Center, Davies Symphony Hall, and City Hall if you’re in the mood for a bit of sightseeing before the show.

Foreign Cinema

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If you’re looking for a truly swanky experience, look no further than Foreign Cinema. The venue screens stellar independent films while operating as a gourmet restaurant. Arrive early and dine on oysters, charcuterie boards, and rare ahi tuna before washing your meal down with a glass of champagne and heading inside the theater. Movies are more entertaining with a full stomach, after all.

Balboa Theatre

Cinema, Theater
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When the historic Balboa Theatre was founded in 1926, its owner aimed to make the venue feel less like a cinema and more like a home theater. Consider that mission accomplished, because watching a movie inside the Balboa is as comforting as spending the weekend under a quilt at your parents’ house while binge watching Netflix.

Clay Theatre

Theater
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The single-screen Clay Theatre is easy enough to find on Fillmore Street. With its brightly lit marquee and air of old-timeliness, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into simpler times. Every Saturday at midnight, the theater hosts an interactive screening of TheRocky Horror Picture Show.Come dressed in your flashiest duds and prepare to do the “Time Warp,” again.

Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Theater, Movie Theater
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Spending the day in Japantown? Why not wrap up your evening with a trip to Sundance Kabuki Cinemas? Screening independent films and film festival entrants, this theater is a perfect place to get your culture on. Not to mention that the Sundance Kabuki serves alcoholic beverages – your weekend plans just made themselves.