The densely populated city of San Francisco may be small in size, but it more than makes up for it with an incredible array of art and culture. As a hub for the arts in Northern California, San Francisco 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.
Most tourists to San Francisco will want to check the Golden Gate Bridge and a ride on a cable car off their list, but after you’ve done that, there’s plenty to explore in order to get a deeper feel for San Fran’s cultural scene. While there are many great museums in San Francisco, there’s an equal amount of theaters and art centers that host a wide range of rotating exhibitions and performances. This means that they’ll always be something incredible on view as you spend time in the city.
As you’re getting ready to plan your next visit to San Francisco, be sure to check out the calendar of events at these iconic arts institutions in order to gain a deeper appreciation of what San Francisco has to offer.
Planning a trip to San Francisco? Make sure you check out these art and cultural institutions.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
If you love modern and contemporary art, you can’t visit San Francisco without spending some time at SFMOMA. The museum’s collection contains over 33,000 paintings, sculpture, photography, design, and media arts, making it a premier collection in the United States. Works by Paul Klee, Alexander Calder, Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, and Jackson Pollock are just some of the spectacular items on view in the newly renovated museum space. (Buy tickets to SFMOMA)
Tip: Looking for more museums? Check out our list of San Francisco’s best art museums.
Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture
This enormous 13-acre complex is a hub of cultural activity in San Francisco. Located on the waterfront, these former military buildings have been transformed into a venue for numerous arts organizations. Visitors will find a rich schedule of concerts, theater performances, exhibitions, and culinary events year-round. Upcoming initiatives at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture include an artist-designed outdoor roller-skating rink with special DJs’ sets and performances throughout the Fall season.
African American Art & Culture Complex
The African American Art & Culture Complex is a non-profit cultural organization that seeks to “nurture and facilitate the empowerment of our community through Afro-centric artistic and cultural expression.” The venue hosts exhibitions by emerging artists, as well as theater performances and classes for teens and children.
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
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Explore one of San Francisco’s most vibrant neighborhoods and its cultural roots with a stop at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Established in the late 1970s as part of a cultural renaissance in the Mission, the center helps cultivate and promote Latino cultural arts. They regularly hold exhibitions for emerging artists, as well as concerts and dance performances. In terms of education, there is a rich program of classes as well as studios available for rent and an artist in residence program. If you happen to be in town for Día de los Muertos, be sure to stop by to take in exhibitions and participate in special events centered around the holiday.
California Academy of SciencesLocated in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s largest natural history museums. The complex also includes a planetarium, enclosed rainforest exhibit, and the Steinhart Aquarium. The museum is known for its innovative programming to engage both children and adults. This includes special adults-only Thursday evening events where participants can sip cocktails and craft beer while taking in live bands surrounded by the beauty of the museum’s collection. (Buy tickets to NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences)
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
This multi-disciplinary contemporary arts center is located in downtown San Francisco and has a full program of events throughout the year. Spread across two buildings—one housing galleries and the others a theater—YBCA supports music, dance, fine arts, and film. With a huge range of free events and paid performances, you’ll be sure to find a cutting-edge event here that will enrich your cultural experience while in San Francisco.
American Conservatory TheaterThis non-profit theater company was founded in 1965 and hosts both classical and contemporary performances across two venues. Its main location is the historic Geary Theater, which was built in 1910 in a late Victorian Style and is now a designated landmark. The American Conservatory Theater is also a reputable acting school, so it should come as no surprise that the performance quality is quite high.