San Francisco

Sophisticated, offbeat, and often ahead of the curve, San Francisco's performing arts scene supports world-class opera, ballet, and theater productions, along with alternative-dance events, avant-garde plays, groundbreaking documentaries, and a slew of spoken-word and other literary happenings.

The heart of the mainstream theater district lies on or near Geary Street, mostly west of Union Square, though touring Broadway shows land a little farther afield at big houses like the Orpheum and Golden Gate. But theater can be found all over town. For a bit of culture shock, slip out to eclectic districts like the Mission or Haight, where smaller theater companies reside and short-run and one-night-only performances happen on a regular basis.

The city's opera house and symphony hall present the musical classics, and venues like the Fillmore and the Warfield host major rock and jazz talents, but the city's extensive festival circuit broadens the possibilities considerably. Stern Grove is the nation’s oldest summer music festival that remains free to this day; Noise Pop is the premier alt-rock showcase putting such acts like Modest Mouse on the map; and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a beloved celebration of bluegrass, country, and roots music, attracting hundreds of thousands of attendees from all over the nation every year.

The range of offerings is just as eclectic on the film front. San Francisco moviegoers love blockbuster hits like everyone else, but they also champion little-known indie and art-house flicks and flock to the interactive sing-along musicals presented at Castro Theatre. Nearly every month an important film festival takes place. During warmer months, many of the city’s parks host free movie nights outdoors showcasing film classics or pop-culture favorites.

San Francisco also has a rich dance scene, from classical dancers to jugglers. And it doesn't take stadium seating to make a performance space. Cafés, clubs, and bookstores often host poetry readings or author lectures.

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  • 1. Castro Theatre

    Castro | Film

    A large neon sign marks the exterior of this 1,400-plus-seat art-deco movie palace whose exotic interior transports you back to 1922, when the...

    A large neon sign marks the exterior of this 1,400-plus-seat art-deco movie palace whose exotic interior transports you back to 1922, when the theater first opened. High-profile festivals present films here, along with classic revivals and foreign flicks. There are a few cult-themed drag shows every month. Lines for the Castro's popular sing-along movie musicals often trail down the block.

    429 Castro St., near Market St., San Francisco, California, 94114, USA
    415-621–6120
    View Tours and Activities
  • 2. City Arts & Lectures

    Haight | Readings/Lectures

    Each year this program includes more than 20 fascinating conversations with writers, composers, actors, politicians, scientists, and others...

    Each year this program includes more than 20 fascinating conversations with writers, composers, actors, politicians, scientists, and others. The Nourse Theater, in the Performing Arts Center, is usually the venue. Past speakers have included Salman Rushdie, Ken Burns, and Linda Ronstadt.

    Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., San Francisco, California, USA
    415-392–4400
  • 3. Orpheum Theatre

    Tenderloin | Theater

    The biggest touring shows, such as Hamilton and The Lion King, are performed at this gorgeously restored 2,200-seat venue. The theater itself...

    The biggest touring shows, such as Hamilton and The Lion King, are performed at this gorgeously restored 2,200-seat venue. The theater itself, opened in 1926, is as much an attraction as the shows. It was modeled after a 12th-century French cathedral and is considered one of the most beautiful theaters in the world; the interior walls have ornate stonework, and the gilded plaster ceiling is perforated with tiny lights.

    1192 Market St., at Hyde and 8th Sts., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    888-746–1799
  • 4. San Francisco Ballet

    Civic Center | Dance

    For ballet lovers, the nation's oldest professional company is reason alone to visit the Bay Area, as SFB's performances under the direction...

    For ballet lovers, the nation's oldest professional company is reason alone to visit the Bay Area, as SFB's performances under the direction of Helgi Tomasson have won critical raves. The primary season runs from February through May. The repertoire includes full-length ballets such as Don Quixote and Sleeping Beauty; the December presentation of The Nutcracker is truly spectacular. The company also performs bold new dances from star choreographers such as William Forsythe and Mark Morris, alongside modern classics by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Tickets are available at the War Memorial Opera House.

    War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., at Grove St., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    415-865–2000
  • 5. San Francisco Opera

    Civic Center | Opera

    Founded in 1923, this internationally recognized organization has occupied the War Memorial Opera House since the building's completion in 1932...

    Founded in 1923, this internationally recognized organization has occupied the War Memorial Opera House since the building's completion in 1932. From September through January and June through July, the company presents a dozen or so operas. SF opera frequently collaborates with European companies and presents unconventional, sometimes edgy projects designed to attract younger audiences. Translations are projected above the stage during most non-English productions.

    War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., at Grove St., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    415-864–3330-tickets

    Arts/Entertainment Details

    Rate Includes: Box office: 199 Grove St., at Van Ness Ave.; open Mon. 10–5, Tues.–Fri. 10–6
  • 6. San Francisco Symphony

    Civic Center | Music

    One of America's top orchestras performs from September through May, with additional summer performances of light classical music and show tunes...

    One of America's top orchestras performs from September through May, with additional summer performances of light classical music and show tunes. The orchestra and its charismatic music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, known for his daring programming of 20th-century American works, often perform with soloists of the caliber of Andre Watts, Gil Shaham, and Renée Fleming. The symphony's adventurous projects include its collaboration with the heavy-metal band Metallica. Deep discounts on tickets are often available through Travelzoo, Groupon, and other vendors.

    Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., at Grove St., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    415-864–6000
  • 7. SFJAZZ Center

    Hayes Valley | Music

    Jazz legends Branford Marsalis and Herbie Hancock have performed at the snazzy center, as have Rosanne Cash, Dianne Reeves, and world-music...

    Jazz legends Branford Marsalis and Herbie Hancock have performed at the snazzy center, as have Rosanne Cash, Dianne Reeves, and world-music favorite Esperanza Spalding. The sight lines and acoustics here are impressive, as are the second-floor tile murals. Shows often sell out quickly.

    201 Franklin St., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    866-920–5299
  • 8. Stern Grove Festival

    Sunset | Festivals

    The nation's oldest continual free summer music festival hosts Sunday-afternoon performances of symphony, opera, jazz, pop music, and dance...

    The nation's oldest continual free summer music festival hosts Sunday-afternoon performances of symphony, opera, jazz, pop music, and dance. The amphitheater is in a beautiful eucalyptus grove, perfect for picnicking before the show. World-music favorites such as Ojos de Brujas, Seu Jorge, and Shuggie Otis get the massive crowds dancing. Shows generally start at 2 pm, but arrive hours earlier if you want to see the performances up close—and dress for cool weather, as the fog often rolls in.

    Sigmund Stern Grove, Sloat Blvd. at 19th Ave., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    415-252–6252
  • 9. War Memorial Opera House

    Civic Center | Arts Centers

    With its soaring vaulted ceilings and marble foyer, this elegant 3,146-seat venue, built in 1932, rivals the old-world theaters of Europe. Part...

    With its soaring vaulted ceilings and marble foyer, this elegant 3,146-seat venue, built in 1932, rivals the old-world theaters of Europe. Part of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, which also includes Davies Symphony Hall and Herbst Theatre, this is the home of the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet.

    301 Van Ness Ave., at Grove St., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    415-621–6600
  • 10. 42nd Street Moon

    Financial District | Theater

    This group produces delightful "semistaged" concert performances of rare chestnuts from Broadway's golden age of musical theater, such as Fiorello...

    This group produces delightful "semistaged" concert performances of rare chestnuts from Broadway's golden age of musical theater, such as Fiorello! and Follies in Concert.

    Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco, California, 94111, USA
    415-255–8207
  • 11. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

    Mission District

    For a dinner and movie combo, visit this art-deco landmark theater, which features new American cuisine, craft beers, and a hip selection of...

    For a dinner and movie combo, visit this art-deco landmark theater, which features new American cuisine, craft beers, and a hip selection of films, including new releases, indie favorites, and cult classics. Be sure to save room for a boozy milk shake, like the Alpine Lift.

    2550 Mission St, at 21st St., San Francisco, California, 94110, USA
    415-549–5959
  • 12. Alonzo King LINES Ballet

    SoMa | Dance

    Since 1982 this company has been staging the fluid and gorgeous ballets of choreographer and founder Alonzo King, sometimes in collaboration...

    Since 1982 this company has been staging the fluid and gorgeous ballets of choreographer and founder Alonzo King, sometimes in collaboration with top-notch global musicians. Ballets incorporate both classical and modern techniques, with experimental set design, costumes, and music. The San Francisco seasons are in spring and fall.

    26 7th St., San Francisco, California, 94103, USA
    415-863–3040
  • 13. American Conservatory Theater

    Union Sq. | Theater

    One of the nation's leading regional theater companies presents about eight plays a year, from classics to contemporary works, often in repertory...

    One of the nation's leading regional theater companies presents about eight plays a year, from classics to contemporary works, often in repertory. The season runs from early fall to late spring. In December ACT stages a beloved version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

    415 Geary St., San Francisco, California, 94102, USA
    415-749–2228
  • 14. American Indian Film Festival

    Festivals

    Presented by the American Indian Film Institute, this event has been based in San Francisco since 1977. Each November the festival takes over...

    Presented by the American Indian Film Institute, this event has been based in San Francisco since 1977. Each November the festival takes over various venues, including the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.

    San Francisco, California, USA
    415-554–0525
  • 15. Balboa Theatre

    Richmond | Film

    This historic theater, which just celebrated its 88th birthday, features a combination of classic movies, second-run hits, local documentaries...

    This historic theater, which just celebrated its 88th birthday, features a combination of classic movies, second-run hits, local documentaries, and art-house favorites.

    3630 Balboa St., at 37th St., San Francisco, California, 94121, USA
    415-221–8184
  • 16. Berkeley Repertory Theatre

    Theater

    This Tony Award–winning group is the American Conservatory Theater's major rival for leadership among the region's resident professional companies...

    This Tony Award–winning group is the American Conservatory Theater's major rival for leadership among the region's resident professional companies. It performs an adventurous mix of classics and new plays from fall to spring in its theater complex, near BART's Downtown Berkeley Station. Parking is difficult, so arrive early if you're coming by car.

    2025 Addison St., Berkeley, California, 94704, USA
    510-647–2949
  • 17. Berkeley Symphony Orchestra

    Music

    The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra rose to prominence under Kent Nagano's baton and continues to prosper with Joana Carneiro at the helm. The emphasis...

    The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra rose to prominence under Kent Nagano's baton and continues to prosper with Joana Carneiro at the helm. The emphasis is on 20th-century composers. The orchestra plays a few concerts each year, in the University of California–Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall and elsewhere in Berkeley. The acoustics in Zellerbach Hall are poor; sit in the front or middle orchestra for the best sound.

    ,
    510-841–2800
  • 18. Cafe International

    Haight | Readings/Lectures

    It's a chill café during the day and a performance venue at night. There's an open-mike session here every Friday night, where spoken-word...

    It's a chill café during the day and a performance venue at night. There's an open-mike session here every Friday night, where spoken-word performances are interspersed with acoustic musical acts.

    508 Haight St., at Fillmore St., San Francisco, California, 94117, USA
    415-552–7390
  • 19. Cal Performances

    Cultural Tours

    Held at various venues on the University of California–Berkeley campus from September through May, this popular series offers the Bay Area's...

    Held at various venues on the University of California–Berkeley campus from September through May, this popular series offers the Bay Area's most varied bill of internationally acclaimed artists in all disciplines.

    ,
    510-642–9988
  • 20. Chanticleer

    Music

    A Bay Area treasure, this all-male a-cappella ensemble stages lively and technically flawless performances that show off a repertoire ranging...

    A Bay Area treasure, this all-male a-cappella ensemble stages lively and technically flawless performances that show off a repertoire ranging from sacred medieval music to show tunes to contemporary avant-garde works.

    San Francisco, California, USA
    415-252–8589

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