San Francisco is often used as a backdrop for films of all kinds. Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope Studios are here (in the oddly-shaped building at Kearny and Columbus), as is Lucasfilm (in the Presidio). Unfortunately, neither give tours, but for any film lover with a good visual memory, walking around town is like one big movie tour, anyway.
5 Great Things for Film Lovers to Do in San Francisco
- Vertigo Film Sites: One of the most quintessential San Francisco films in terms of the number of San Francisco sites it portrays, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo draws devoted fans to see its locales. You can take our self-guided tour, or save the trouble driving around and contact A Friend in Town tour company whose owner has been showing fans Vertigo locations for more than 10 years.
- Sundance Kabuki Theater: If you're lucky enough to live in a city where the cinema is evolving into a new kind of experience, you can skip it - but if your movies are all in the local multiplex, you'll enjoy this new-generation movie house. If the film that's playing in their Auditorium 1 is of interest, you're headed for one of the finest movie-going venues we've seen. Reserve a seat in the balcony, stop off in the bar for your beverage of choice and enjoy the experience. Get there early to eat a light meal, or order it to take inside with you. If you're running late, they'll give you a (quiet) pager so you know when it's ready.
- Castro Theatre: The Castro's calendar looks like it was assembled by an eclectic film-lover, with a mix of classics, sing-along film showings and campy little-knowns. Their 70mm mini-film fests also afford an extraordinary opportunity to see films like Lawrence of Arabia as their makers intended.
- San Francisco Movie Tours: We haven't had a chance to try them yet, but this looks like a fun way to see the city's film sites.
- Movie-Making, Disney Style: You'd expect to find it in SoCal, but it's actually in the Presidio. For a look at the life of Walt Disney and the history of making animated films, you can't beat the Walt Disney Family Museum. While you're in the Presidio, you can stop at the Letterman Center to see the Yoda Fountain at Lucasfilm's headquarters (Building B courtyard, 1 Letterman Drive).
- San Francisco Movie Sites: Our guide will help you find locales from Dirty Harry, Bullitt and more classic San Francisco films.
- Movie Palaces in the San Francisco Area: Palo Alto's Greek/Assyrian-style Stanford Theatre mounts regular tributes to film stars and directors, often showing them in double features. In the East Bay, the Orinda Theatre is an art deco icon. You can get to Palo Alto using Caltrain or to Orinda by BART.
Annual San Francisco Film Events You Should Know About
- San Francisco International Film Festival, April-May: It claims to be the world's longest-running film fest, started in 1957.
- San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, June: Screens at San Francisco's Castro Theater as well as other area venues.
- Noir City, January: This festival celebrates the stylish crime dramas of the mid-twentieth century. You know the ones: low-key, black-and-white filming, gritty crime stories, full of moral ambiguity.
If that's not enough, the San Francisco Film Commission lists more film fests in and around San Francisco.
While it's not a real movie-going experience, the films flickering on the walls at Foreign Cinema will keep your film theme going while you fuel up. Kabuki Cinema serves gourmet chocolate and Peet's coffee in their snack bar.
Where to Stay
San Francisco is a compact city, so almost anywhere in town will work out fine. Check our recommended hotels.
San Francisco is 87 miles from Sacramento, 385 miles from Los Angeles and about 200 miles from Lake Tahoe.