San Diego's Best Movie Theaters

The old AMC Fashion Valley 4 theaters was San Diego's first multi-plex in an era when large single screen cinemas were the norm. Four screens! Oh, but how things have changed. Now 20-screen multiplexes are the norm. Here are some picks for San Diego's best movie theaters.

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    The Gaslamp Quarter
    ••• The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Reading Gaslamp 15 is located smack dab in the bustling Gaslamp Quarter and harkens back to the grand old movie palaces of the golden age, even though it's a fairly new movieplex. Sweeping staircases, red velvet curtains, wood and guilding make taking in a movie at the Reading Gaslamp feel like grandeur. And being in the middle of the Gaslamp's nightlife adds a whole new dimension to a movie night out on the town.

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    AMC Otay Ranch 12 isn't the largest in terms of the number of screens, but like most of the newer AMC theaters, it's a great place to watch movies. With "just" 12 screens, the auditoriums are all large or of decent size with stadium seating and extra wide rows -- no more tripping over feet when find a seat. And the picture is great. Everything is digitally projected so the films are all in high-def quality so you don't put up with scratchy prints. After the show, a walk through the unique Otay Ranch Town Center makes moviegoing a pleasurable experience.

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    It barely has a lobby, the seats and rows are cramped and, oh yeah, it has only one screen. And for those very reasons, the Ken Cinema is a must-do movie experience. The owners at Landmark appreciate the Ken Cinema's history and its long reputation as an art house, and it's an excellent place to take in an obscure independent film. 

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    The neighborhood movie house is a dying breed in San Diego; most local screens have long gone dark and given way to the gargantuan multi-plex we're all familiar with. In 2009, the Vintage Village Theater in Coronado fell to this fate, and the shuttered building was destined to become a memory. But thanks to renovation, the Vintage Village Theater re-opened in June 2011 as a mini tri-plex with a nifty art-deco style decor and a brand new life. It's a perfect reason to head across the bridge to Coronado for an evening of entertainment.

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    A sure sign that a mall is going under a serious makeover is if it adds a sparkling new multiplex, and Westfield's recent renovation of its Plaza Bonita mall includes an AMC 14-plex. And being that malls now consider themselves full-service entertainment-plexes, adding an attraction like a movie theater is a sure way to make a familiar mall new again. So, Plaza Bonita now has 14 screens, and like the nearby Otay Ranch 12, it offers digital presentation, so you get the crystal clear viewing experience.

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    When the Landmark Hillcrest opened in 1991, there was a cry of outrage from "filmgoers." How dare they show obscure art films in a "multiplex?" But Landmark knew it couldn't act so precious about where it screens films. As it turned out, the Landmark Hillcrest has become a popular destination. The theaters are nothing special -- not even stadium seating -- and you have to wait in lines down an outdoor staircase. Not to mention the parking structure is cramped for any vehicle larger than a Honda Fit. But it is in the middle of bustling Hillcrest -- a perfect setting to watch "films" instead of movies.

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    Edwards Mira Mesa 18 is located in a pretty robust shopping complex that includes restaurants. But what makes the Edwards 18 stand out is that it also houses an IMAX theater that screens those blockbuster movies available in the IMAX large screen format. Parking can get crowded on a weekend night, and it does get overrun with adolescents on date night, but if you're in the north San Diego Inland area, this is where you're likely going to head to see a movie.

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    It's a long way from the days of the Fashion Valley 4 theaters and its four shoebox auditoriums. The Fashion Valley 18 has kind of a funky decor, but is not that different from any other multiplex, though you actually have to take escalators down to most of the medium sized auditoriums. What does distinguish the theater is that it is in upscale Fashion Valley mall, so an excursion of shopping, dining and movies is a winning combination.

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    The Reading Cinemas Grossmont Center 10 is a hodgepodge of the newer stadium seating auditoriums and the older traditional auditoriums. It's typically not very crowded plus has lots of parking. Add that to the fact that there's a good selection of sit down eateries and it make the a Reading Cinema Grossmont Center 10 a good choice for a no-hassle night at the movies.

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    The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park is home to the world's first permanent IMAX Dome Theater. Although it primarily shows nature and science-oriented IMAX films, it does occasionally show entertainment films. It's a cool way to view a film, in a large format projected on the dome as you watch everything surround you up above.

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    It may not have digital projection and THX surround sound and the seating is only as good as your vehicle, but a movie at the Santee Drive-in is something you'll want to experience and fun throwback way to spend a weekend night. 

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    Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas

    Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas in Carlsbad and Del Mar are a luxury movie-going experience. Lounge chair seats have tables and buttons you can push to call a server to your seat, from whom you can order drinks (including alcoholic ones if in a 21+ theater) and food. You are also able to reserve your seat in the theater beforehand if purchasing tickets online. This may be a more expensive movie night out, but you'll feel much more pampered and relaxed while taking in the big screen. 

    Edited by Gina Tarnacki on October 31, 2016.