The Del Mar Theatre: 5 Unique & Overlooked Facts

Del Mar Theatre Santa CruzThe Del Mar Theatre was once called the “crown jewel of Pacific Avenue.”

Some might argue that it still is.

As the oldest theatre in the city of Santa Cruz, the Del Mar combines rich history with modern technology and comfort. Most locals know the Del Mar Theatre as an illustrious old fashioned 3-screen theatre where you can catch the best independent films, or a midnight movie.

The Del Mar also has a few well kept secrets that many locals are unaware of…

The Snacks

Have a craving for nachos with plastic cheese and a slushy that’s more chemicals than ice?

Then the Del Mar Theatre concession counter isn’t for you. But if, like many Santa Cruzans, you like to eat local and organic, then this is just the right spot.

Among some of the most popular items are vegan brownies from the local Black China Bakery, frozen treats from the Penny Ice Creamery that come in flavors like bitter caramel and whiskey cream, and, of course, the popcorn.

This isn’t your standard Orville Redenbacher fare — the Del Mar recently switched to organic, GMO-free kernels popped in organic canola oil, and continues to proudly serve real butter (no “butter flavoring” here!). And don’t forget the full spice rack, which includes the best-unkept secret in Santa Cruz: nutritional yeast. If you can’t get enough out of the shaker, go ahead, take the top off and dump it on. Trust me, nobody will judge you.

The Projector

In 2011, the Del Mar and its sister theatre, the Nickelodeon, switched their projectors from film to digital, as part of a necessary effort to keep up with the times. But the Del Mar hung onto to its old 35 millimeter film projector, and still uses it for some special occasions.

The merits of digital versus film are often debated, but most everyone concedes that film provides a less crystal-clear, yet ultimately warmer image. If you’re lucky, you might come to the Del Mar for a midnight movie or special event sometime and get to see for yourself.

The Star Power

About the only thing Santa Cruz shares in common with Hollywood are the yoga-loving health freaks, but that doesn’t mean the Del Mar hasn’t gotten love from a few celebrities.

Former Saturday Night Live star Andy Samberg worked there briefly as a ticket taker during his time at UC Santa Cruz.

Parks and Recreation star and Santa Cruz native Adam Scott was spotted watching Hugo at the Del Mar a couple years ago and was nice enough to pose for pictures with fans, and share stories from his childhood when he would try to sneak into multiple different movies in one trip. Some things never change.

The Secret Film Festival

The only thing more insane than choosing to pull an all-nighter in a movie theatre is not even knowing which films you’ll be watching beforehand. But that’s what makes the annual Secret Film Festival, which happens every April, so fun.

All the films chosen make their Santa Cruz debut at the festival, and many are future cult classics. Past showings include Rubber, Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, and God Bless America.

The concessions stand sells energy drinks and chocolate-covered espresso beans to help make it through the night, but unavoidably, a few film fans end up asleep on the criminally comfortable couches in the upstairs mezzanine before the sun comes up.

History of the Del Mar Theatre

Most everyone in Santa Cruz knows that the Del Mar is, “like, really old” — but how old exactly?

Well, it was built in 1936 and was intended to be a vaudeville theatre. Those plans didn’t last long, but there are still some creepy, stark-empty white rooms in the backstage area that used function as dressing rooms.

For a while the theatre was a run-down AMC, but in the early 2000’s it narrowly avoided being turned into a parking structure with help from the city of Santa Cruz, and the Nickelodeon, which purchased the theatre. It was renovated in 2002 but still retains much of its original design.

The Del Mar continues to usher in new generations of movie lovers, but it is also a connection to the past for older moviegoers who come to the Del Mar to buy their discounted tickets, and reminisce about going to the movies when they were young.

The Del Mar will likely be around for a long time to come, inspiring both young and old Santa Cruzans.

About Blair Stenvick

Blair Stenvick is a freelance writer who has lived in Santa Cruz for four years.

  • James says:

    I’ve been there in Santa Cruz what my experience was awesome. 🙂

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