Years ago, when we were newlyweds, my husband and I took a trip to San Diego. Of all the things we did during our few days here, we made sure to visit Coronado, go to the Flower Show and Book Sale (perfect weekend!), and walk along the beach by the Del.
One of my favorite memories from that trip was also the evening we spent at an open-air cinema in Mission Hills, a neighborhood just north of Old Town and next to Hillcrest. The movie theater, called Cinema Under the Stars, has been in operation for over 10 years and continues to draw a loyal crowd every weekend night. That night years ago, I remember seeing 500 Days of Summer with my new husband as the stars twinkled overhead in the sky.
This past weekend, my husband and I returned to Cinema Under the Stars for the first time, now as Coronado residents, experienced San Diegans, and also parents of three children (so we really needed a date night). Cinema Under the Stars did not fail to charm and delight, just like the first time. It does have some unique aspects, though, which you might like to know before you go.
The first and most unique thing about this movie theater — besides the retractable roof for star gazing — is the seating. There are no traditional movie theater seats here. Instead, the courtyard has 60 chairs, most of them zero-gravity recliners that allow you to lie almost flat. Each comes with a soft blue-and-white-striped bolster pillow and a red fleece blanket in a zippered plastic bag. For those who love to snuggle, there are a few doublewide zero-gravity chairs, but they are a hot commodity and must be reserved online soon after the reservations open on Wednesdays before the weekend movies. There are also six single chairs with ottomans and side tables, and in the back of the theater are two “cabanas” (love seat-sized couches) and one “skybox” (a couch on a platform for optimal viewing).
All that said, reserving your seats is recommended. You can reserve online with a credit card beginning on Wednesday before the weekend. Your credit card will only be charged if you are a no-show, however. You must pay by cash or check when you arrive at the theater. Members pay $16, and tickets are otherwise $17 at the box office and $19 with online reservations.
Snacks are also cash or check only, $2 each for each item. There is a rack with generous-sized boxes of candy (Milk Duds, Good ‘n’ Plenty, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups) as well as a couple of fridges with cold teas, juices, bottled waters, and sodas. No alcohol. If you are worried about nodding off in those comfy recliners, there are also carafes of fresh coffee and tea. The most popular item is the popcorn, which is microwaved in individual bags, but it is good, and I liked it better than whatever microwave popcorn brand I’ve purchased lately.
The retractable roof was closed that night, and I learned it is usually closed during the winter months and heat lamps are used for comfort. During the summer the roof is almost always open, and movies begin as the sun goes down. Showtimes are listed here.
After we settled in our zero-gravity recliners with our snacks, pillows, and blankets, the owner of the theater introduced himself and the movie we’d be seeing that night: Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. As usual, the theater shows recently-released movies that have just left theaters, or older classics. The show always starts with a short from a vintage cartoon; this time the choice was a hilarious and somewhat hair-raising Betty Boop clip.
The movie began at last, and the sound quality (HD surround sound) was excellent, although perhaps not quite on par with a full-fledged theater. The screen is the same size as at a regular movie theater (20 feet), and there was not a bad seat in the house — or a seat too close or too far from the screen, either. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to get as comfortable as we would be at home (or maybe even more so), and also to enjoy a new release in a memorable al fresco setting. As the website proclaims, and I can attest, they “have perfected the outdoor movie experience.”
Cinema Under the Stars will begin showing all the Oscar nominees in April. If you didn’t get to catch La La Land or Hidden Figures in theaters, now is your chance to enjoy a totally unique theater setting for these movies. View the schedule and reserve your seats now on the Cinema Under the Stars website.