Ever experienced vacation fatigue – that overwhelmed sensation when there’s too much to see and all the relaxation you have to squeeze in just stresses you out? In this lifelong traveler’s opinion, the best parts of every trip come when you stop focusing on crossing off the must-see list and start living off the schedule. My favorite way to cross over, even if for a few hours, into the world of ‘the local’ is to pop in to a movie theater. For a more relaxing evening on the town – and for a lot cheaper than a Broadway show – check out one of America’s old movie palaces, many of which will offer you beautifully restored décor, unexpected history lessons, and movies you can’t see anywhere else. Should you experience vacation fatigue on your next action-packed CitySampler trip, just follow this list to the nearest beautifully lit marquee.
For those enjoying the endless family fun that the Tampa Bay area has to offer, the showstopping Tampa Theatre has grand décor and a dazzling ceiling painted to look like a sky full of stars – and it’s been wowing people since 1926! Today it shows indie and classic movies and occasionally hosts live performances. If you’re staying in South Florida and want a little less faux-Mediterranean stucco and a little more taste of community, check out the Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale or the Tower Theater in Miami. Come to the Gateway, established 1951, to hang out in the kooky retro lobby and see a mainstream or indie movie, followed by a stroll through the Victoria Park neighborhood to admire some classic Florida architecture. Or for a taste of local culture, follow up a Cuban dinner on Miami’s Calle Ocho with a trip to the landmark art deco Tower Theater, built in 1926. You can check out movies in Spanish and English or cultural programming run by Miami Dade College in what USA Today calls ‘one of the ten great places to see a movie in splendor.’
Originally opened as the Lagoon Theater in 1916, the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis showcases indie and classic movies and serves beer, wine, and cocktails. As well as its grand lighted marquee, the Uptown is known for its balcony (seating there costs $2 extra). The Uptown is one of the oldest theaters in the Twin Cities area and the only one with a balcony. After a show, wander around the Uptown neighborhood and take in the shopping, nightlife, and counterculture attitude – come in August to experience the Uptown Art Fair.
Portland, Oregon’s Bagdad Theatre, with its ornate Middle Eastern-inspired décor, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Build in 1927, it currently shows first-run movies and features a pub with beer on tap and billiards room as well. The Bagdad occasionally offers book readings in partnership with Powell’s Books.
To relive the grandeur of New York’s movie-star past, there’s no better place than the Ziegfeld Theatre, New York’s last single-screen movie palace. Opened in 1969 in Midtown Manhattan, the Ziegfeld’s 1,131 seats have seen many movie premieres and film festivals. Or for the one-of-a-kind Village vibe, head downtown to this author’s local hangout, the Sunshine Cinema. The Sunshine’s unique building has been around since 1898, but was only converted into an indie movie theater in 2001. Come for the gourmet concessions and 10 dollar midnight cult classics, but come fast – the Sunshine building is going up for sale next year.
Head west about an hour from Bismarck and you’ll run into the little town of Hebron, ND. Its home to a classic, with many stories to tell. But the real story is how the Brekke family purchased the Mayer Theatre for the locals to run and call their own. With help from the Grand 15 theatres in Bismarck, the venue sports new sound equipment and a new projector. This wonderful vintage 1949 main street movie house is open for business… but don’t be surprised if they ask you to help sell popcorn!