Since the days of the Barbary Coast, San Franciscans have packed blues and comedy clubs, plays, movies, and the opera. The city also has a long tradition, by American standards, of a vital visual art scene.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
(SF MOMA) and its excellent temporary exhibitions have drawn tens of thousands of San Franciscans who might otherwise not have bothered to come to an art show. Across 3rd Street, the Yerba Buena centre 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 honour (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 centre is also a must-see.
Most of San Francisco's private art galleries are clustreed 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, to mention but a few, the Museo Italoamericano and the African-American Historical & Cultural Society Museum both at Fort Mason centre, the Jewish Museum, California Academy of Sciences (for natural history) and, designed for kids but great for grown-ups, too, Zeum and the Exploratorium. Kids will also love the Musee Mechanique, a fabulously low-tech collection of arcade games from the turn of the 20th century. Formerly found at the Cliff House, the Musee is now in new quarters at Pier 45 (Shed A at the end of Taylor Street).
San Franciscans seem to enjoy movies more than most, and popular features can be sold out for weeks. New screens open all the time to meet the demand, with the AMC 1000 on Van Ness offering 14 screens, and the Sony theatres Metreon housing 16, including one IMAX. San Franciscans love independent cinema, too. In spite of the multiplex phenomenon, San Franciscans support quirky rep houses like the Castro, with its mighty Wurlitzer organ, and the Roxie, with its funky and eclectic programmeming.
The San Francisco International Film Festival, the oldest film festival in the Americas, draws filmmakers, critics and movie buffs from all over the world. There are also more specialized film festivals operating throughout the year, including the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, the Jewish Film Festival, and the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the oldest of its kind anywhere. The Yerba Buena centre for the Arts
also presents a frequently changing programme of experimental and documentary films.
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.
San Francisco Ballet has long been one of the world's premier companies. The globe trotting and award-winning ODC, also make San Francisco their home base. More experimental modern dance has found a friendly venue at the Yerba Buena centre for the Arts
theatre The American Conservatory theatre
(ACT) presents innovative productions of excellent plays, old and new, at the Geary theatre. The Curran puts on both commendable touring 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 theatre on the Square, there is quite a fringe theatre scene in San Francisco. The Magic Theatre
, a leading interpreter of Sam Shephard plays and a few independent, theatre-less companies do mount entertaining productions here and there. Performance spaces, such as The Marsh
in the Mission, host occasional experimental plays.
The Music Scene
The award-winning San Francisco Symphony Orchestra plays at ultra-modern Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. Touring soloists and symphonies play at Davies, Masonic Auditorium, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and other venues throughout town. In the summertime, the natural amphitheatre at Stern Grove
(on Sloat Boulevard in the Sunset District) features outdoor concerts by the Symphony, the Opera, and other performers.
One of the best jazz club in the Bay Area, Yoshi's, is across the Bay in Oakland and books top national jazz acts. Jazz fans also delight in the annual San Francisco Jazz Festival. It features legends as well as lesser-known, more experimental performers. Jazz at Pearl's in North Beach features absurdly talented local talent in a swanky dinner club setting.
San Francisco is inextricably linked with the history of rock n' roll. The Fillmore Auditorium
(of Hendrix fame) is a boon for rock fans. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is another venue for big shows. The Maritime Hall has become popular for mid-sized shows. Slim's
and the Great American Music Hall
are good settings for performances on a smaller, but no less intense scale.
There are nightclubs all over the city, but locals favor North Beach and especially SoMa. Most clubs have DJs running the show, but live bands are 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 have packed the hall.