Editors' Pick

Best Theater for a Cultural Experience

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center Avalon Theatre

What could be better than sipping Chardonnay in a plush seat while enjoying an intriguing Swedish murder mystery? Those of us who love watching movies on the silver screen are fortunate to have two upscale options: AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring and the Avalon Theatre near Chevy Chase Circle in Washington, D.C. Both are historic cinemas that have been restored to create a first-class experience.

At AFI, three comfortable theaters offer an eclectic movie selection, and the concession stand sells wine and beer to provide filmgoers with a civilized night at the movies (mostly minus texting teens). Marquee films are shown in the huge, original space, restored to its 1938 splendor, while independent films tend to screen in the smaller, more intimate theaters. With film fests year-round that occasionally attract top stars and directors walking the red carpet—and with plenty of public parking nearby for the hoi polloi—the AFI is a top-rate scene-stealer.

Certainly the Avalon gives AFI a run for its money, however. The neighborhood theater, which first opened in 1923, nearly became a symbol of a bygone era when its owners declared bankruptcy and closed the doors in 2001. But neighbors, local foundations and the D.C. government banded together, preserving a gem that has offered first-run commercial movies and independent and foreign films in two theaters since 2003. No time for dinner before a show? Stop by the Avalon Theatre Café to pick up a glass of wine and a homemade pastry or specialty sandwich before heading in.

General admission tickets are $12 at AFI and $11.50 at the Avalon.

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, 301-495-6700, www.afi.com/silver; Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-966-3464, www.theavalon.org