san francisco arts and culture guide
San Francisco is the West Coast of the United States’ arts mecca. Its friendly, free-thinking people who share ancestries from all over the world and its eclectic history merge to create a one-of-a-kind Californian culture that welcomes visitors with open arms. Between the murals that enliven the streets of the Mission District to the museums of SoMa, the arts pervade the San Franciscan lifestyle and resonates through the city.
The San Franciscan arts tradition stretches back to the origins of the city. Since the Gold Rush, early groups such as the San Francisco Women Artists Collective have fostered fine arts in the city. In 1894, a local newspaper publisher helped to bring the World’s Fair to the fledgling metropolis, and the MH de Young Museum is a permanent exhibition that remains today to commemorate the event. The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition brought with it the construction of the Palace of Fine Arts, which is today home to a world-class theatre, and the science and arts museum the Exploratorium.
The San Francisco Ballet now performs at the War Memorial Opera Center in the Civic Center, which was completed in 1932. Adjacent to the Opera Center is the Davies Symphony Hall, where the San Francisco Symphony plays under the directorship of Michael Tilson-Thomas. San Francisco’s theatre scene is one of the most lively in America, and within walking distance from Union Square visitors can find the American Conservatory Theater, Cable Car Theater, Curran Theater, Mason Street Theater and Theater on the Square.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is located in the heart of the lush Yerba Buena Gardens, centrally-located just south of Market Street and the city’s downtown. SFMOMA is the only museum on the West Coast solely devoted to art from the 20th century onward and attracts more than 600,000 visitors every year. Nearby are the Jewish Museum and the Mexican Museum, while the central city is also home to the Craft and Folk Art Museum and the free-of-admission Cable Car Museum.
San Francisco’s musical legacy is most notable in the rock ‘n roll genre. Several significant rock bands from the 1960s until today were formed in San Francisco, including the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Others, including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, sought the freewheelin’ lifestyle that the city offered during the 1960s. Today, the Fillmore district is still alive with many nightclubs that perform a variety of different musical genres, and the district still contains a number of jazz clubs that play the music that made the district famous during the 1940s and 50s.
San Francisco’s literary tradition also stretches back to the origins of the city. Mark Twain once gave readings in the city, while John Steinbeck worked in the city whilst writing his most famous works. The crime author Dashell Hammett set many of his gritty dramas in the city, including The Maltese Falcon. The city is perhaps most famous, however, for housing the Beat Generation writers, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, during parts of the 1950s and 60s. Lit buffs will want to pay a stop to Ferlinghetti’s iconic City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue, the location of many famous poetry readings during the city’s Bohemian days.