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San Francisco - United States

Since the days of the Barbary Coast, San Franciscans have packed blues and comedy clubs, plays, movies, and the opera into their nightly routines. The city also has a long tradition, by American standards, of celebrating a vital visual art scene.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) and its excellent temporary exhibitions draws tens of thousands of San Franciscans who might not otherwise bother to come to an art show. Across 3rd Street, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has interesting exhibitions, often of larger multimedia installations and kinetic sculpture, in its two-floor gallery. The De Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (a handsome classical pavilion with Rodin's "The Thinker" at its entrance) are San Francisco's fine art museums. The world-famous Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center is also a must-see.

Most of San Francisco's private art galleries are clustered downtown, to the east of Union Square on Geary and Sutter Streets. The more experimental galleries operate in SoMa lofts and Potrero Hill.

San Francisco's other museums include the Museo Italoamericano and the African-American Historical & Cultural Society Museum, both at Fort Mason Center, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and for natural history, the California Academy of Sciences. Zeum and the Exploratorium are designed for kids but are great for grown-ups, too. Kids will also love the Musee Mechanique, a fabulously low-tech collection of arcade games from the turn of the 20th Century. Formerly located at the Cliff House, the Musee can now be found at Pier 45 on Fisherman's Wharf.

San Franciscans seem to enjoy movies more than most, and popular features can be sold out for weeks. New theaters open all the time to meet the demand, with the AMC Van Ness 14 offering 14 screens, and the AMC Lowes Metreon 16 housing 16, including one IMAX. These city-dwellers love independent cinema, too. In spite of the multiplex phenomenon, San Franciscans strongly support quirky rep houses like the Castro, with its mighty Wurlitzer organ, and the Roxie, with its funky and eclectic programming.

Many of San Francisco's Standup Comedy Competition winners have virtually been guaranteed television contracts. Cobb's and the Punch Line are two of the oldest, and most popular, comedy clubs where many got their start.

San Francisco Ballet has long been one of the world's premier companies. The globe trotting and award-winning ODC/Dance also make San Francisco their home base. More experimental modern dance has found a friendly venue at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater.

The American Conservatory Theater (ACT) presents innovative productions of excellent plays, both old and new, at the Geary Theater. The Curran puts on commendable plays and musicals. Aside from the big touring productions at the Orpheum Theatre and the cavernous Golden Gate Theatre, and a handful of small houses like the Theater on the Square, there is quite a fringe theater scene in San Francisco. The Magic Theatre, a leading interpreter of Sam Shephard plays, and a few independent, theater-less companies do mount entertaining productions here and there. Performance spaces, such as The Marsh in the Mission, occasionally host experimental plays.

The award-winning San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performs at the ultra-modern Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. Touring soloists and symphonies play at Davies, Masonic Auditorium, and other venues throughout town. In the summertime, the natural amphitheater at Stern Grove (on Sloat Boulevard in the Sunset District) features outdoor concerts by the Symphony, the Opera, and other performers.

San Francisco is inextricably linked with the history of rock 'n roll. The Fillmore Auditorium (of Hendrix fame) is a boon for rock fans. Slim's and the Great American Music Hall are engaging venues for performances on a smaller, but no less intense, scale.

There are nightclubs all over the city, but locals especially favor North Beach and SoMa. While these clubs mostly have DJs running the show, live bands are still common. Bimbo's 365 Club (a sexy, must-see, retro fantasy spot that puts on more blues and jazz than it does rock 'n roll), the Independent, and the Studio Z have all hosted well-known acts that draw the crowds and pack the halls.

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