20 Great Film Festivals in Vacation Destinations

With so many incredible film festivals in the United States alone, it’s a real conundrum to figure out where to enter. You have many variables to consider, including travel stipends, prizes, audiences, networking opportunities and industry attendance. 

But there’s an X factor you shouldn’t forget: Sometimes a film festival can also be a vacation. Local communities certainly view film festivals as tourism, and maybe you should, too. MovieMaker tapped filmmaker surveys, traveler reviews, and in-person visits to evaluate what film festivals are especially worth the travel. 

Yes, you’ll remember the networking, the great Q&A about your film, the awards. These things are very important. But there’s also something to be said for eating a real California burrito in San Diego. 

Here’s our list of 20 Great Film Festivals in Vacation Destinations. 

ASPEN SHORTSFEST

The Wheeler Opera House is one of Aspen Film Shortfest’s gorgeous screening venues. Courtesy of Aspen Shortsfest

Location: Aspen, Colorado

Dates: April 1-7, 2024

Camera-worthy setting: ​​Take a ride on the Silver Queen Gondola and enjoy views of Maroon Bells,  two peaks in the Elk Mountains.

Nice spot for writer’s block: The John Denver Sanctuary includes the singer’s lyrics inscribed on boulders throughout the beautiful park.

What filmmakers say: “This is hands-down one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended. They take incredibly good care of the filmmakers and I think that’s why so many actually come out in person. There was no shortage of things to do in Aspen, but more importantly, the festival experience didn’t overwhelm your time while you’re there. It was a great balance of events and time to enjoy Aspen as you saw fit. The entire team is lovely and created a wonderful space to enjoy great films, network, and celebrate all the hard work that got everyone there in the first place.” – Director Alex Ross (“The Social Chameleon”) on FilmFreeway

BEAUFORT INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Woods Memorial Bridge in Beaufort, South Carolina, featured in Forrest Gump. Photo by Ken Hawkins

Location: Beaufort, South Carolina

When:February 20-25, 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: Beaufort Tours offers walking and golf cart tours showcasing the film history in the area. Movies filmed locally include Forrest Gump, The Big Chill and Prince of Tides.

Camera-worthy setting: The Spanish Moss Trail is a greenway along the former Magnolia Rail Line. Visitors can enjoy marsh and creek views, wildlife, and majestic Spanish moss.

What filmmakers say: “The Beaufort International Film Festival was magical. Everyone we met was so warm, kind, and supportive — the atmosphere was beyond our wildest dreams. … Screening Storming Caesar’s Palace with you — and being honored with the Best Feature Documentary award! — was an unforgettable experience. Sondra [Phillips-Gilbert, a participant in the film] and I had a fabulous time, seeing films, making new friends, and soaking up the rich culture of Beaufort and the surrounding areas. This festival is a treasure and we hope to return again soon!” — Director Hazel Gurland (Storming Caesars Palace) on FilmFreeway

BIG SKY DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

Garnet Ghost Town in Drummond, Montana. Courtesy of Montana Bureau of Land Management

Location: Missoula, Montana

When: February 16-25, 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers:Yellowstone locations abound in Missoula, including Ruby’s Cafe, where festival goers can fill up on biscuits and gravy before a day of movie watching.

Camera-worthy setting: Get spooked at nearby Garnet Ghost Town, an abandoned mining town from the 1860s.

What filmmakers say: “The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is like a nonfiction filmmakers’ paradise. We went for the past two years, first as a pitch presenter for Jack Has a Plan and then to screen the film. Both times revealed that Big Sky is a true filmmakers’ festival with a jam-packed schedule of screenings of amazing films, workshops, and parties. During the festival, everywhere you turn in Missoula is filled with talented, dedicated working doc makers who are eager to share their experiences and love of storytelling. These conversations take place at official venues but also in dive bars, local craft breweries, and backyard bonfire confabs — into the wee hours. If you want to share your movie with the smartest people in the business and to recharge your batteries for more doc filmmaking, set aside a freezing February week every year for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. It’s the real thing.”— Director Bradley Berman (Jack Has a Plan) on the festival’s website

CATALINA FILM FESTIVAL

Andy Garcia, Emmy Rossum, William H. Macy and Roman Coppola arrive at the 2014 Catalina Film Festival Premiere of ‘Rudderless’ on September 27, 2014 in Catalina Island, California. Courtesy of Catalina Film Festival.

Location: Avalon, California

Dates: 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: Take a tour with Catalina Island Company and search for wild American bison roaming the island. The bison may have first arrived on the island for the 1925 film The Vanishing American.  

Camera-worthy setting: Hike up to the Buena Vista Point Scenic Overlook for unreal views of Avalon Bay.

For more than popcorn: Grab a bite and put your feet in the sand at Descanso Beach Club. It offers specialty cocktails, sea-inspired salads and much more.

What filmmakers say: “This is an amazing festival, especially for the L.A. area! The volunteers are incredibly helpful and host great Q&As. This film has been accepted into 35 festivals and this one is top 5. The panels are the best I have been to at a festival; the caliber of talent on the panels and the organization are amazing. It is well attended by other filmmakers, which makes it a great fest to network at.” -— Director Regina Pigsley (“The Phoenix”) on FilmFreeway

FLORIDA FILM FESTIVAL

Jaws at Universal Studios Orlando, near the Florida Film Festival. Photo by Paul Mannix

Location: Maitland, Florida

Dates: April 12–21, 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers:Feel like a kid again and enjoy rides and attractions inspired by The Simpsons, Harry Potter, Men in Black and more at nearby Universal Studios Florida.

Camera-worthy setting:Visit the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey to learn about conservation and see bald eagles, ospreys, kites, owls, falcons and more up close.

What filmmakers say: “Highly highly recommend Florida Film Festival! From communication to networking to some of the most unique and diverse programming I’ve seen, Florida is one of the best festivals I’ve had the pleasure to screen at. The programming team is top shelf and the enthusiasm of everyone there is infectious!” —Director Jenn Harris (“She’s Clean”) on FilmFreeway

Also Read: 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2023

HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The Pollock Krasner House in East Hampton, N.Y. Photo by Capt. JayRuffins

Location: East Hampton, New York

Dates: 2024

Artistic inspiration: The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center gives visitors a glimpse into the working lives of artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner.

Camera-worthy setting: The East Hampton Village Nature Trail and Wildlife Sanctuary is a small slice of nature with an adorable duck pond, perfect for some fresh air between films.

For more than popcorn:Try the delicious dosas at Hampton Chutney Company.

What filmmakers say: “Hugely enjoyed screening at this festival. Exceptional programming and a great selection of events to network with other filmmakers. Great communication from the team, and a beautiful setting for a film festival!” —Writer-actor-producer Duncan Moore (“Reasons”) on FilmFreeway

HAWAI’I INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Manoa Falls in Oahu, Hawai’i. Photo by Eli Duke

Location: Based in Honolulu, with screenings in several locales

When: October 12-November 5

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: Kualoa Ranch is known as the Jurassic Valley for its part in multiple Jurassic Park films. Jumanji and Kong: Skull Island also filmed at the private nature reserve.

Camera-worthy setting: Don’t miss Manoa Falls, a 150-foot waterfall accessible via a nearly one-mile hike through rainforest.

What filmmakers say: “I’ve had the pleasure of screening with HIFF a handful of times now and it is without a doubt, my most favorite festival. They put on an incredible event with amazing special guests from across the world, awesome parties/gatherings (from sunset cocktail parties to karaoke nights), and a wonderful lineup of films. I always have a blast and feel so well taken care of by their team.” —Director Erin Lau (“Inheritance”) from the festival’s Instagram page

KEY WEST FILM FEST

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida. Photo by H. Gruber

Location: Key West, Florida

When: November 15-19

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: The Florida Keys’ Seven Mile Bridge is like no other, suspending drivers in ocean blue. It’s been in movies including License to Kill, True Lies, The Haunted Mansion, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Mission: Impossible III.

Nice spot for writer’s block:The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where he wrote some of his most famous novels.

What filmmakers say: “Loved the Key West Film Festival. Everyone was so nice and inclusive on top of the beautiful location that is Key West. The films selected were very beautiful and I am so grateful to have my film shown at this festival.” —Director Justin Hollis (“Leave a Message”) on FilmFreeway

LAKE PLACID FILM FESTIVAL

Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York. Courtesy of Michelle Frechette

Location: Lake Placid, New York

Dates: October 26-29

Camera-worthy setting: Mount Jo is nestled in the Adirondack Mountains and the hike to great views is quite manageable.

For more than popcorn: Enjoy a beautiful view of Mirror Lake while you enjoy a tasty meal at the Cottage Cafe, which has something for everyone.

Nice spot for writer’s block:The Bookstore Plus is a family owned and operated music, art and book store in the heart of the Olympic Village.

What filmmakers say: “Lake Placid is an ideal spot for a film festival. The movie theaters so close to hotels and eateries and main venues for all that’s going on. The people were terrific. Communications and staff were really great.” —Director Rich Allen (“Escuela de Corte – Last Time We Play Hooky”) on FilmFreeway

MARTHA’S VINEYARD AFRICAN-AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL

Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Photo by Don Ramey Logan

Location: Vineyard Havens, Massachusetts

Dates: August 2-10, 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: Edgartown stood in as Amity Island in Jaws and many of the locations still stand. Swing by the iconic American Legion Memorial Bridge and then rewatch the scene where Brody’s son witnesses a shark attack.

For more than popcorn: Score some, well, chowder, at Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company.

What filmmakers say: “Filmmakers are treated like royalty. I’ve never made more connections and enjoyed myself at a film festival more than this one. It was truly an unforgettable experience and I’m happy I was able to share my short film “Reggie & June” with everyone. I look forward to coming back!” —Director Brandon Thomas (“Reggie & June”) on FilmFreeway

MCMINNVILLE SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

Filmmakers at the McMinnville Film Festival. Photo by Katie Carodine, courtesy of McMinnville Film Festival.

Location: McMinnville, Oregon

Dates: February 23-25, 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: The 1983 Helen Hunt film Quarterback Princess shot entirely in McMinnville. It’s a deep cut, and fun to watch before visiting, so you can spy spots from the film all over town.

For more than popcorn:Take advantage of Oregon wine country and visit one of the spectacular wineries in the region, including Yamhill Valley Vineyards, the oldest in the area, or the stunning Maysara Winery.

Camera-worthy setting: Visit the Erratic Rock State Natural Site, a state park featuring a glacially deposited rock from the last ice age. The name alone is full of intrigue. 

What filmmakers say:“A fantastic festival run by wonderful people who want to help you succeed! I am so grateful and thrilled that McMinnville exists and hosted us at their festival. Intimate filmmaker networking events, great wine, compelling films, everything I crave in a festival. If you get into this festival, you should be proud, and you should definitely GO! Attending this was one of my favorite experiences.” —Director Izzy Stephens (“Seafoam”) on FilmFreeway 

NAPLES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Naples International Film Festival attendees Brett Wagner, Peter Murphy, Dava Whisenant, Jamie Unruh, Johanna Putnam, Brennan Brooks, Eric Elterman. Courtesy of Artis—Naples.

Location: Naples, Florida

Date: October 26-29

Camera-worthy setting: Meander along the boardwalk at the nearby Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to see an abundance of birds and wildlife in a serene setting.

For more than popcorn: Cool down with a delicious pistachio or dark chocolate almond gelato at Cesibon.

What filmmakers say: “Hands down, full stop, NIFF indulged us with the best world premiere of our debut feature film we could possibly have imagined. From the judges to the audiences to our fellow films and filmmakers, the festival was curated to embrace passionate, dynamic, original cinema. Panels, galas, philharmonic-accompanied screenings, Airstream lounges, extended talkbacks, wee hour pow-wows in the fest hotel lobby… the celebration is unparalleled. Submit your film. And know you’ll be considered by the most thoughtful, diligent, supportive team out there. Endless gratitude and beyond.”— Director Johanna Putnam (Shudderbugs) on FilmFreeway

PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL SHORTFEST

Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs, California. Photo by Jarek Tuszyński

Location: Palm Springs, California

Dates: June 18-24, 2024

Must-see attractions for movie lovers: It’s not quite the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but the Palm Springs Walk of Stars is an easy stroll in downtown Palm Springs and highlights over 400 accomplished individuals. 

Camera-worthy setting: There is no shortage of desert landscapes, but Joshua Tree National Park is special, and only about an hour away.

What filmmakers say: “Great films, incredible filmmakers, and the friendliest programmers around — this festival is a MUST. Thanks for having us, Palm Springs. We can’t wait to come back.” —Director Haley Alea Erickson (“Call Me Mommy”) on FilmFreeway

SAN DIEGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Cliffs in San Diego. Photo by Chris Bruce

Location: San Diego, California

Dates: October 18-22

Must-see attractions for movie lovers: There’s plenty of options if you feel the need to speed over to some of the locations from Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick. They include the Kansas City Barbeque, where the “Great Balls of Fire” scene was filmed.

Camera-worthy setting: For expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and sandstone cliffs, visit Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

For more than popcorn: Save room for a California burrito from one of the dozens of excellent spots in the area, including Lucha Libre and Rigoberto’s.

What filmmakers say: “My team had a great time in San Diego! It definitely exceeded our expectations in terms of audience turnout and hospitality. I’d say the people at the festival were my favorite part; the programmers and volunteers were all so warm and friendly. They made us feel welcome instantly and comfortable to mingle and to enjoy the festival to the fullest. They tried their best to listen to all our requests and were incredibly accommodating in every aspect. Highly recommend this festival to all filmmakers who want to enjoy a wonderful week of films and great weather in a beautiful city, with very cool people from all around the world.” —Director Christine Ko (The Woman in the White Car) on FilmFreeway

SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara. Photo by Dale Cruse

Location: Santa Barbara, California

Dates: February 7-17, 2024

Nice spot for writer’s block: Chaucer’s Books is a locally owned, independent bookstore known for its knowledgable staff.

For more than popcorn: Stop by the Cold Spring Tavern, an 1868 stagecoach stop, and dig into hearty fare like wild game black bean chili and tri tip sandwiches.

What filmmakers say: “We had an absolute blast at SBIFF. The programming team and their army of enthusiastic, cinema-loving volunteers went above and beyond to make this a special experience for all of the filmmakers and attendees at the festival. Packed houses for the shorts blocks too, even the weekday matinee! That’s what it’s all about.” —Director Austin Kolodney (“Two Chairs, Not One”) on FilmFreeway

SEDONA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

A packed house at the Sedona International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Sedona International Film Festival

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Dates: February 24–March 3, 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: The Sedona Heritage Museum is great for local history, and includes a telegraph office film set used in many Westerns shot in Sedona in the 1940s and ’50s.

Camera-worthy setting: The red rock monoliths of Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock are mesmerizing, and possibly healing, as both are considered vortex sites (mysterious spots where energy is either entering or exiting the earth).

What filmmakers say: “Of all the festivals I’ve attended, I make it a point to have a new script or film I can submit to Sedona to return and enjoy their unequivocal events and hospitality and to network with filmmakers and celebrity talent. And being a day’s drive from Los Angeles makes it an enticing venue for any SoCal-based filmmakers to attend.” —Writer Jake Thomas (South of Normal) on FilmFreeway

SONOMA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The Sonoma International Film Festival. Photo by Jill Golden

Location: Sonoma, California

Dates: March 20-24, 2024

For more than popcorn: There are wineries everywhere in Sonoma County, including Gundlach Bundschu, Buena Vista and Bartholomew Estate. Double down and check out Francis Ford Coppola Winery about an hour away from the festival.

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: The Coppola-produced, George Lucas-directed American Graffiti filmed all around the area. Go cruising and see some of the locations in Sonoma and nearby towns.

Nice spot for writer’s block:The Jack London State Historic Park shares the story of writer-adventurer London (The Call of the Wild) who made the Sonoma Valley his home. The park includes historic buildings, exhibits, hiking trails, and farmlands. 

What filmmakers say: “I was so honored to have my animated short ‘Little Hurts’ screened at the Sonoma Festival! The Just for Fun Shorts, programmed by Oscar Arce Naranjo, was an amazing afternoon of films. Everyone working and volunteering at the festival was welcoming and so friendly and there were so many opportunities to meet other filmmakers. Outside of the festival, the food in Sonoma is truly extraordinary! We took day trips to visit gardens and really this festival has it all – I hope I am able to return with my next film! —Director Debra Solomon (“Little Hurts”) on FilmFreeway

SUN VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL

The Sawtooth Range. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State

 Location: Ketchum, Idaho

When: February 28-March 3, 2024

Nice spot for writer’s block: Ernest Hemingway lived here as well as in Florida — and he also died here. You can visit his grave at Ketchum Cemetery. 

Camera-worthy setting: The Sawtooth National Recreation Area has bountiful acres of lakes, trails and trees.

What filmmakers say:Sun Valley is a top-tier film festival that is easily one of my best festival experiences I’ve had. The chosen films are beautifully curated, and the staff works overtime to make all visiting filmmakers feel special and included. The whole community really shows up to support the festival as well, and that fact makes the experience all the more special.” —Producer Lovell Holder (Midday Black Midnight Blue) on FilmFreeway

TELLURIDE HORROR SHOW

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Photo by John Fowler

Location: Telluride, Colorado

Dates: 2024

Must-see attraction for movie lovers: Take a scenic ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, featured in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Camera-worthy setting: The Jud Wiebe hiking trail offers glorious views of the town and surrounding mountains.

What filmmakers say: “Great audience, and goddamn, Telluride is a slice of heaven.” —Director Greg McLean (The Belko Experiment, Wolf Creek) on the festival website

WOODS HOLE FILM FESTIVAL

Pie in the Sky Bakery in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Photo by Chris Rycroft

Location: Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Dates: July 27-August 3, 2024

For more than popcorn: Pie in the Sky Bakery has perfect slices of pie, but also sandwiches, smoothies and more, all made on site.

Artistic inspiration: Woods Hole Handworks is a co-operative art gallery that has been bringing local arts and crafts to the community for nearly 40 years.

What filmmakers say: “The whole town of Woods Hole gives itself over to this force. The films were all curated with tremendous care and the programming was spot on. So many opportunities for a filmmaker to socialize, network and enrich their experience. Terrific organization! A wholly worthwhile experience!” —Writer Susannah Nolan ( “How Do You Type A Broken Heart?”) on the festival’s Facebook page.

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