73 Best Performing Arts Venues in San Francisco, California

Castro Theatre

Castro Fodor's choice

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.

Buy Tickets Now

City Arts & Lectures

Civic Center Fodor's choice

Each year this program includes more than 20 fascinating conversations with writers, composers, actors, politicians, scientists, and others. Past speakers have included Diane Keaton, Ken Burns, and Patti Smith.

Orpheum Theatre

Tenderloin Fodor's choice

The biggest touring shows perform at this gorgeously restored 2,200-seat venue. The theater, 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.

Recommended Fodor's Video

San Francisco Ballet

Civic Center Fodor's choice

For ballet lovers, the nation's oldest professional company is reason alone to visit San Francisco. The primary season runs from January through May with a repertoire including 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.

San Francisco Opera

Civic Center Fodor's choice

Founded in 1923, this internationally recognized organization has occupied the War Memorial Opera House since the building's completion in 1932. From September–December and June–July, the company presents a wide range of operas, from Carmen to an operatic version of It's a Wonderful Life. The opera often takes on ambitious world premieres as well as unconventional, edgy projects designed to attract younger audiences. Translations are projected above the stage during most non-English productions.

San Francisco Symphony

Civic Center Fodor's choice

One of America's top orchestras performs from September through May, with additional summer performances of light classical music and show tunes. The symphony is known for its daring programming of 20th-century American works, often performed with soloists of the caliber of André Watts, Gil Shaham, and Renée Fleming.

SFJAZZ Center

Hayes Valley Fodor's choice

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.

Stern Grove Festival

Sunset Fodor's choice

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.

War Memorial Opera House

Civic Center Fodor's choice

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.

42nd Street Moon

This group produces delightful "semi-staged" concert performances of rare chestnuts from Broadway's golden age, such as Fiorello! and Anything Goes.

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 films, including new releases, indie favorites, and cult classics. Be sure to save room for a boozy milk shake, like the Alpine Lift.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet

SoMa

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 and visual artists. Ballets incorporate both classical and modern techniques, with experimental set design, costumes, and music. The San Francisco seasons are in spring and fall with performances at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

700 Howard St., San Francisco, CA, 94103, USA
415-863–3040
Performing Art Details
Rate Includes: Tickets from $40

American Conservatory Theater

Union Sq.

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.

American Indian Film Festival

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.

Balboa Theatre

Richmond

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

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

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.

Berkeley Symphony Orchestra

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.

Cafe International

Haight

It's a chill café during the day and a performance venue at night. Weekends bring live jazz, open-mic sessions, and acoustic musical acts.

Cal Performances

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.

Chanticleer

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.

City Box Office

Civic Center

This charge-by-phone service sells tickets for many performances and lectures. You can also buy tickets online, or in person on weekdays from 9:30 to 5:30.

Commonwealth Club of California

Embarcadero

The nation's oldest public-affairs forum hosts speakers as diverse as Jane Goodall and Bill Gates, covering topics from culture and politics to economics and foreign policy. Events are open to nonmembers, and lectures are broadcast on NPR.

Curran Theater

Union Sq.

Some of the biggest touring shows come to this local gem, which has hosted classical music, dance, and stage performances since its 1922 opening. Productions are of the long-running Broadway musical variety, such as Stomp and The Book of Mormon.

Embarcadero Center Cinemas

Embarcadero

Shows often sell out at this extremely popular five-screen theater, which screens the best in first-run independent, art-house, and foreign films.

Ethnic Dance Festival

Marina

About 30 of the Bay Area's ethnic dance companies and soloists perform at this event, which takes place over three weekends in June. Some performances may offer half-price tickets for children under 16 years of age.

Film Night in the Park

One of the best times you can have watching a movie in San Francisco—and it's free—the Film Night in the Park is wildly popular. Put on by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, the event shows free films throughout the city from mid to late summer. Films like The Graduate, JAWS 3 in 3D, Sixteen Candles, and Citizen Kane are screened in outdoor spaces such as Union Square or Dolores Park. All shows begin at dusk. Bring a picnic, but chairs are not welcome.

Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse

Some of the most talented practitioners of folk, blues, Cajun, and bluegrass perform at the alcohol-free venue.

Golden Gate Theatre

Tenderloin

Stylishly refurbished, this movie theater is now primarily a musical house. Touring productions of Broadway shows and revivals are its mainstays.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival

The city's top free music event, as well as one of the greatest gatherings for bluegrass, country, and roots music in the country, takes place in late September or early October. Roughly 50,000 fans turn out to see the likes of Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Del McCoury at Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadows) in Golden Gate Park.