Art and Culture in San Francisco

Art and Culture in San Francisco

As a hub for the arts in Northern California, the Golden Gate city has a long history of being on the cutting-edge of culture and providing a welcome home for minorities to explore their creative freedom. This means that if you're looking for things to do in San Francisco involving the arts, there's a huge array of exciting venues to explore.

Art and Culture in San Francisco

San Francisco is alive with creative energy that continues to inspire its residents and visitors every day. From museums to murals, art can be found everywhere you look. The world-class museums offer rare installations and exhibits that range from fine art to interactive science programs. Step outside the museums and visitors can experience the arts that fill the city. The long-standing tradition of public art has turned San Francisco into a canvas.

Murals cover the sides of buildings, while larger-than-life sculptures can be found in the parks. If you are interested in live performances, then you have come to the right city. Several award-winning theaters perform Broadway shows and so much more. For those interested in music, be sure to attend a concert at Davies Symphony Hall, where the San Francisco Symphony has won fifteen Grammy Awards. Visitors will be astonished at the visionary and creative art that makes this extraordinary city so unique. 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

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The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — Conveniently located in the SoMa neighborhood, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the leading destination for art enthusiasts. It was the first museum on the West Coast dedicated to modern and contemporary art when it opened its doors in 1935. The seven floors contain collections purposefully wide-ranging in scope that focus on four main fields: architecture and design, media arts, painting and sculpture, and photography. Some of the notable contemporary artists featured in the museum are Paul Klee, Andy Warhol, and Jackson Pollock.

In total, the museum’s collection contains over 33,000 works of art. This includes the gorgeous Living Wall. Over thirty-feet-tall – the Living Wall is the largest of its kind in the United States. It is made with over 19,000 plants making it one of the many breathtaking exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art. After a full day of exploring the museum, stop at Cafe 5 on Floor 5 for a delicious bite to eat. They use high-quality seasonal ingredients while providing stunning views of San Francisco. 


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Fort Mason Center For Arts And Culture — Formerly used as a military outpost for the US army in the 18th and 19th century, the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture transformed in 1977 into the hub of the artistic movement that stands there today. It is a 13-acre complex that hosts an ever-changing rotation of cultural programmes. This includes art installations, theater performances, dance performances, and educational and cultural classes. While partnered with the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the center is located in the Marina District directly on the waterfront.

The center attracts upwards of 1.2 million visitors every year. One of the many notable venues in the complex is the Magic Theater. Since opening its doors the same year as the center, the Magic Theater has been dedicated to cultivating bold new plays and playwrights. The theater’s plays have received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Award.

Another renowned landmark of the center is the Greens Restaurant. Since 1979, the Greens Restaurant has become known for its distinctive culinary style of “celebrating vegetables.” Over the years, the restaurant has garnered multiple honors, including a Michelin Guide recommendation and a top 100 Bay Area restaurant.

California Academy of Sciences

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California Academy of Sciences — located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution. It is an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum all rolled into one epic complex. The Academy was founded in 1853 and opened its new state-of-the-art building in 2008.

The building has earned double LEED Platinum ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council for its sustainable design and operations. One of the top attractions in the institution is the Kimball Natural History Museum. A towering T-Rex replica greets visitors as they explore the past, present, and future of life on Earth. 

A popular exhibit in the natural history museum is the Color of Life, which illustrates color’s powerful influence on animal behavior. The Steinhart Aquarium is another favorite of the museum. It is one of the most biologically diverse aquariums with over 40,000 live animals, with some displayed nowhere else in the world.

Fueled by cutting-edge research, the Morrison Planetarium visualizes the latest findings and discoveries about our Universe by projecting the cosmos onto a 75-foot screen. After wandering through the galaxy, explorers can then enter the Osher Rainforest, where 1,600 live plants and animals thrive in the 90-foot dome. No other museum in the United States allows visitors to discover the different aspects of our Earth, quite like the California Academy of Sciences. 

Orpheum Theater

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Orpheum Theater — Built in 1926, the 2,203 seat Orpheum Theater is an official San Francisco Historical Landmark. While it hosts spectacular performances, the architecture alone is enough reason to pay the theatre a visit. It is often referred to as the city’s Spanish-style theater but in reality, the Orpheum was modeled after a 12-century French cathedral and was designed by the respected architect B. Marcus Priteva as a commission for Alexander Pantages.

The building’s plush red and gold interior features an ornate vaulted ceiling, the beautiful facade is easily the most impressive on Market Street as well. Initially used as a venue for vaudeville and silent films – today, the Orpheum theater is owned by SHN, a major theater production company. Thanks to SHN’s investment, the Orpheum Theater continues to attract popular traveling Broadway shows such as Wicked, The Lion King, and Phantom of the Opera. Nestled in the bustle of the Civic Center, the theater is conveniently accessible by public transportation.

The Embarcadero


The Embarcadero — To view multiple different public art pieces, visitors to San Francisco should take a walk on the Embarcadero. The Embarcadero is the boulevard that stretches along the waterfront of San Francisco from the Bay Bridge down to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. It is well known for being one of the city’s best walks with its gorgeous San Francisco Bay views. What few people realize is that this stunning walk is sprinkled with various installations of public art. One particularly popular piece is Cupid’s Span.

A  60-foot tall outdoor sculpture that depicts Cupid’s bow and part of an arrow. Another remarkable piece that sits along the Embarcadero is Sea Change. Installed in 1995, it is an elegant kinetic sculpture that can be seen from blocks away. Sea Change is 70-feet tall and has a circular top that moves with the wind. An evening visit to the Embarcadero will reveal the Bay Lights. At dusk, the Bay Lights turn the unremarkable San Francisco Bay Bridge into an iridescent and shimmering light sculpture, in fact, it is the world’s largest light installation.

The Mission District Murals

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The Mission District Murals — San Francisco’s tradition of public art has turned the city into a technicolor canvas. The Mission District boasts the largest concentration of street art throughout the world. The variety of murals range from social movement and political statement depictions to mosaics. Some of the murals even have pieces with 3D elements. In the Mission District, there are two well-known alleys with a large amount of street art.

The first is Balmy Alley between 24th and 25th streets, and Treat and Harrison streets. Murals first started popping up in this alley in the early 1970s but became a ubiquitous part of the area in the mid-1980s. Artists used the alley to express their outrage over human rights violence and political abuse in Central America. Today, topics have expanded to gentrification and police brutality. 

The second area is Clarion Alley between 17th and 18th streets, and Mission and Valencia streets. Clarion Alley was created in large part due to the inspiration that seeped from Balmy Alley. Since 1992, more than 700 murals have been painted with social, economic, and environmental justice themes.

A brilliant and iconic fixture of the Mission District Murals is the Women’s Building MaestraPeace. Painted in 1994, this mural made a statement against gender inequality and social injustice. It incorporates a variety of cultures, accomplishments, and belief systems of women throughout the world. Often referred to as an open-air museum, a walk through the Mission District Murals is a cultural experience not to miss. 

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts

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Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts — Located in the core of the Mission District, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts is a hotbed for artistic and educational development. The center was established in 1977 with a vision to promote and preserve the Latino arts that reflect the experiences and living traditions of the Chicano, Central and South American, and Caribbean people.

The MCCLA makes the arts accessible as an essential component to community development and well-being. It has a gallery that provides year-round exhibitions, multicultural events and is home to Mission Grafica –  a printmaking studio that offers etching and relief printmaking along with screen printing. 

Since 1977, Mission Grafica has cataloged over 4,000 posters in its archive. These posters are a critical collection of Latino works of historical significance since it preserves a visual reminder of the Latino struggle and roots. The MCLAA also has over 50 artistic classes for both adults and children. The courses include visual arts, music, drama, dance, media arts, and special workshops. The MCLAA is an important cultural center for locals and serves as a place to develop new artistic skills while supporting established artists. 

Geary Theater


Geary Theater — During the earthquake and fire of 1906, San Francisco faced a performing arts crisis. The city lost all eight of its downtown theaters in the destruction. With the reconstruction of the city, San Francisco placed a high priority on replacing performing arts buildings. In January of 1910, the Geary Theater finally opened its doors. Only the Geary Theater remained in full-time operation as a professional theater from 1910 to 1989.

Today, the theater is often regarded as one of America’s finest performance spaces. Its seating capacity can hold 1,040 guests. In 1975, the Geary Theater was awarded a place on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places and was named a landmark of California. Since 1967, the theater has been the permanent home to the legendary American Conservatory Theater. 

The Tony Award-winning group quickly established itself as the city’s premier resident theater group and one of the nation’s best. A few of the American Conservatory Theater training programs’ celebrated alumni include Elizabeth Banks, Nicholas Cage, and Danny Glover. The A.C.T has executed over 320 productions at the Geary and has reached a combined audience of over 7 million. The Geary Theater is located in the center of the Union Square shopping and theatrical district. It is close to public transportation and some of the city’s most excellent restaurants and hotels. 

Davies Symphony Hall


The de Young Museum — In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum is the city’s flagship art institution. It was first founded in 1895 as a temporary exhibition at the California Midwinter Centennial Exposition. In 1921, the museum became a permanent part of the community, and in 2005 it re-opened in a new state-of-the-art building. The new facility integrates art, architecture, and the natural landscape, so the building itself is a work of art. The museum showcases American art from the 17th through 21st centuries.

The de Young has art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The exhibits include modern and contemporary art, photography, international textiles, and costumes. The ninth floor of the building is the Observation Level, it provides breathtaking 360-degree views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the special exhibits that come to San Francisco are hosted at the de Young Museum. A few notable special shows include work by Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe. The museum also offers an impressive range of permanent collections from many different parts of the world. For a bite to eat, visitors should stop at the Museum Cafe. It has excellent food, and it’s a beautiful place to view the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden. 

Davies Symphony Hall

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Davies Symphony Hall — Home to the San Francisco Symphony, the Davies Symphony Hall is a must-visit while exploring the city. Founded in 1911, the San Francisco Symphony provides energy-packed live performances with a diverse programme of events throughout the year. The orchestra has won fifteen Grammy Awards, while the chorus has won a total of eight. The concerts they perform range from pop to Mahler.

With this spectrum, everyone can find a performance to enjoy. Throughout the year, the San Francisco Symphony produces special events as well. During the holiday season, programs are put on so families with young children can enjoy the extraordinary music. In October, the San Francisco Symphony even plays a spooky orchestral show with music from classic Halloween films. The Davies Symphony Hall is a sight to explore itself. Located in the Civic Center, the venue seats 2,739 guests. Concert-goers should be sure to head up to the second floor during intermission for a spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline