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...Read More

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  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 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...Read More

  • 11. 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...Read More

  • 12. 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...Read More

  • 13. 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...Read More

  • 14. Balboa Theatre

    Richmond | Film

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

  • 15. 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...Read More

  • 16. 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...Read More

  • 17. 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...Read More

  • 18. 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...Read More

  • 19. Chanticleer


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

  • 20. City Box Office

    Civic Center | Tickets

    This charge-by-phone service sells tickets for many performances and lectures. You can also buy tickets online, or in person on weekdays from...Read More

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