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Culture of San Francisco

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A San Francisco cable car

The culture of San Francisco is major and diverse in terms of arts, music, cuisine, festivals, museums, and architecture but also is influenced heavily by Mexican culture due to its large Hispanic population, and its history as part of Spanish America and Mexico. San Francisco's diversity of cultures along with its eccentricities are so great that they have greatly influenced the country and the world at large over the years. In 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek voted San Francisco as America's Best City.[1]


Palace of Fine Arts

The Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) contains 20th Century and contemporary pieces. It moved to its building in South of Market in 1995 and attracts 600,000 visitors annually.[2] The California Palace of the Legion of Honor contains primarily European works. The De Young Museum and the Asian Art Museum have significant anthropological and non-European holdings.

Palace of the Legion of Honor

The Palace of Fine Arts, a remnant of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, used to house the Exploratorium, a popular science museum dedicated to teaching through hands-on interaction, which moved to a new location on the Embarcadero in 2013. The California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum and hosts the Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world.[citation needed] From 1958 until 2003 the collection was housed in a wing of at the original de Young in Golden Gate Park. When the de Young closed while constructing a new building, the Asian Art Museum moved to the former San Francisco City Library building, which was renovated for the purpose under the direction of Italian architect Gae Aulenti who had previously overseen the conversion of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

The red brick and central circular structure of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as seen from Yerba Buena Gardens. The Art Deco-style Pacific Telephone Building (1925) rises behind the museum.

The San Francisco Zoo cares for a total of about 250 animal species, 39 of which have been deemed endangered or threatened.[3]

Other museums include the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Museum of Craft & Folk Art, the Cartoon Art Museum, and the Mexican Museum. Some "offbeat" museums and galleries dealing in unconventional topics include the Antique Vibrator Museum, the Musée Mécanique (dedicated to penny arcade machines), the Museum of Ophthalmology, Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, the Stamp Francisco/Stamp Art Gallery (rubber stamps not postal stamps), the Tattoo Art Museum (old tattoo machines and instruments), the UFO, Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster Museum, and the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf.

Music and nightlife[edit]

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Classical and Opera venues in San Francisco include the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet. They all perform at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center. San Francisco's Ballet and Opera are some of the oldest continuing performing arts companies in the United States. San Francisco is the birthplace and home city of the vocal ensemble Chanticleer. The city is also home to the American Conservatory Theater, also known as A.C.T., which has been routinely staging original productions since its arrival in San Francisco in 1967. Additionally, the New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC) is known for being an intimate theater that routinely stages original productions by the local, national, and international LGBTQIA+ community. Hundreds of smaller, alternative theatres also attract a significant portion of the audience given their historical role in the San Francisco performing arts culture. The oldest of these are Intersection for the Arts, founded in 1965, and the Magic Theatre, founded in 1967. A major player in the promotion of theater in the Bay Area is Theatre Bay Area (or TBA). A non profit organization, Theatre Bay Area has members from more than 365 Bay Area theatre and dance companies, is the publisher of Callboard Magazine, and runs San Francisco's Half-Priced Ticket Booth.

The Fillmore is a music venue located in the Western Addition. It is the second incarnation of the historic venue that gained fame in the 1960s under concert promoter Bill Graham, housing the stage where now-famous musicians such as the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane first performed, fostering the San Francisco Sound. Beach Blanket Babylon is a zany musical revue and a civic institution that has performed to sold-out crowds in North Beach since 1974. Bimbo's 365 Club, in North Beach, is one of the city's oldest entertainment venues and plays host to music shows of all genres. Most nightclubs in San Francisco are exclusive to audiences age 21 and older; the two most prominent nightclubs in the city which are open to ages 18 and older are 715 Harrison (known locally by its two event names Club X and City Nights) as well as DNA Lounge.[4][5] Nightlife venues occasionally have a strong affiliation with a certain theme or culture, such as 1015 Folsom, which has a history with BDSM culture,[6] or Temple, noted for its futurism and energy-generating dance floor.[7]

Additionally, San Francisco is home to the 200-member San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, the world's first openly gay chorus, as well as the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. Two additional gay choruses, the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco and Golden Gate Men's Chorus,[8] also perform throughout the year.


San Francisco has a large number of theaters and live performance venues. Local theater companies have been noted for risk taking and innovation,[9] as documented in the film Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco. The Tony Award-winning non-profit American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) is a member of the national League of Resident Theatres, and has been in San Francisco since it moved from Pittsburgh in 1967. Other local winners of the Regional Theatre Tony Award include the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and Berkeley Rep in nearby Berkeley.[10] The Magic Theatre was the home theater of the playwright Sam Shepard during his most productive period, and many of his plays were first staged there. San Francisco-based SHN hosts productions of Broadway shows in its vintage 1920s-era venues in the Theater District: the Curran, Orpheum, and Golden Gate Theatres.

San Francisco has had a thriving improv theatre community, with a distinctly different style of improv than much of the rest of the country[citation needed]. Unlike Chicago where one venue will host three 30-45 minute shows in one evening, most San Francisco improv shows are 2 hours long, complete with their own intermission. And while Chicago and New York are full of improv companies who perform formats based on the Harold (with multiple storylines going on at the same time), San Francisco is full of improv shows with single-story formats. Often referred to as play-length improv shows, these improv shows are rooted in the idea that if someone can perform something scripted (like a play, movie, or musical) then it can also be improvised just as well. Some groups that define the improvisation scene in San Francisco are: BATS Improv, The Un-Scripted Theater Company, and The San Francisco Improv Alliance.

San Francisco theaters frequently host pre-Broadway engagements and tryout runs,[11] and some original San Francisco productions have later moved to Broadway.[12] Plays and productions that have been staged in San Francisco (or nearby) prior to their Broadway productions include the following:

Popular music[edit]

San Francisco has often hosted influential rock music trends, starting with the San Francisco Sound during the 1960s. Two of the most influential bands from that era, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, started out in San Francisco in 1965. Other groups include rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, soft rock band Pablo Cruise and Journey, seminal punk band the Dead Kennedys, and alternative metal band Faith No More. It is the birthplace of thrash metal with bands such as Metallica, Testament, Exodus, Slayer, Death Angel, Megadeth and latterly Machine Head. San Francisco has had significant influence on punk rock in California since the late 1970s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s it was somewhat influential in rave and electronica. Activity in the Goth/industrial scene has been continuous in the city since then, with it being home to the world's second longest running goth club after Slimelight in London, England. Gentrification during the late 1990s is said to have forced many performers to move away.[citation needed] However, San Francisco is still home to a number of respected music acts, such as Chuck Prophet, Lords of Sealand and John Vanderslice, and especially in the Fillmore and Hunters Point districts, San Francisco is the home of numerous rappers, including Messy Marv, RBL Posse, Rappin' 4-Tay, HughEMC, San Quinn, Andre Nickatina, Big Rich, JT the Bigga Figga, Ant Rich 415, and Paris. San Francisco DJs and electronic musicians are credited with defining the laid-back, dub-influenced sound of the West Coast house music.[citation needed] Prominent DJs and artists include Kaskade, Miguel Migs, Mark Farina, and DJ Garth. Dub Mission is among the city's regular music parties. Since 2000 San Francisco has hosted the How Weird Street Faire, claimed to be the longest-running electronic music street festival in North America.

Famous songs about San Francisco include Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", the Scott McKenzie song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)", People Under The Stairs' "San Francisco Knights", Chris Isaak's "San Francisco Days", Journey's "Lights", "Fake Tales of San Francisco" by the Arctic Monkeys, and "Save Me, San Francisco" by Train.


Comedian and actor, Robin Williams helped San Francisco become recognized as a good town for comedy clubs. He rose to fame, having gotten his early start in San Francisco clubs such as the Holy City Zoo, the Punchline and The Other Café in the '70's.[60] He also shot seven films on location in San Francisco.[60]


The city is the birthplace of the local variety of sourdough bread, the Mission burrito, and steam beer. Fisherman's Wharf has served local specialty Dungeness crab for decades. Food companies include Anchor Brewing Company, Boudin Bakery, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Famous past and present restaurants include the Tonga Room, Fleur de Lys, Greens, Original Joe's, Stars, Vesuvio Cafe and the Top of the Mark. California Cuisine and fusion cuisine are prominent in the city. Food trucks are a source of ethnically diverse, and gourmet street foods, with concentrations of various trucks at regular times and places.[61][62] Notable grocery stores, which often focus on locally-grown organic produce, include the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative and Bi-Rite Market. Johnny Kan opened one of the first modern Chinese restaurants, in Chinatown in 1953.

Festivals and street fairs[edit]

San Francisco is home to many different and unique street festivals, parties and parades. Most famous are its gay pride parade, held every June; the Folsom Street Fair held every September; Chinese New Year Parade held in February; Carnaval, held during the spring; Litquake and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in October. It used to host a North American version of the Loveparade electronic music festival (later known as the "Lovefest" and "LoveEvolution"), held in late summer/early fall, until city officials revoked the event's permits due to safety concerns in 2009.[63] Since 2000 San Francisco has hosted the How Weird Street Faire, claimed to be the longest-running electronic music street festival in North America. Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in the city is the largest independently owned music festival in the United States. San Francisco is also home to running races such as the Bay to Breakers and the San Francisco Marathon. During Labor Day weekend in 2008, the city played host to the first Slow Food Nation, the first major public event for Slow Food USA and one of the largest food events in the nation.

Many neighborhoods in San Francisco have annual street festivals featuring live music, arts and crafts vendors, and community organizations. Among the largest of these are Castro Street Fair, Union Street Art Festival, North Beach Festival, and Haight-Ashbury Street Fair. The San Francisco Opera company puts on an annual free Opera in the Park performance in Golden Gate Park. The San Francisco Symphony does likewise on several dates in July, including one as part of the Stern Grove Festival. On the Fourth of July holiday, there are fireworks shows over Fisherman's Wharf and Marina Green. Another fireworks show is held every May as part of the KFOG: Kaboom!.

Architecture and tourist attractions[edit]

Coit Tower is a major landmark.
The Transamerica Pyramid, completed in 1972, has become an iconic symbol of the city.

San Francisco contains a plethora of unique architecture that serve as tourist attractions in their own right. They include its Civic Center, Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill, the Ferry Building on its waterfront, the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge, the twisty and windy Lombard Street in Russian Hill, "Painted Ladies", terraced victorian houses that can be found citywide, the San Francisco cable car system, the abstract San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, the ruins of the once great Sutro Baths, Chinatown, and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Cultural Enclaves[edit]

San Francisco has long been home to many different ethnicities and nationalities from around the world as well as sexual and gender identities, and have developed unique cultural neighborhoods (either naturally or through redlining) over its time.

Cultural Enclaves in San Francisco
Enclave Name Neighborhood Community Represented Official Recognition or Dedicated District
Asian/Pacific Islander Ethnic Enclaves
Chinatown Chinatown, San Francisco & North Beach Chinese Americans in San Francisco, Hong Kong Americans Yes, 1848
Clement Street Richmond District, San Francisco No
Japantown Japantown, San Francisco Japanese Americans Yes, March 28, 1968
Little Saigon Tenderloin, San Francisco Vietnamese Americans Yes, 2004
Manilatown Manilatown, San Francisco Historically Filipino Americans Yes, 2005
SoMa Pilipinas South of Market, San Francisco Filipino Americans Yes, May 2014
Pacific Heights, San Francisco Asian/Pacific Islander American No
Bayview–Hunters Point Pacific Islander Americans No
African and African American Ethnic Enclaves
Harlem of the West Fillmore District, San Francisco African Americans in San Francisco No
Bayview–Hunters Point, San Francisco No
Latin American/Caribbean Ethnic Enclaves
(Calle 24) Latino Cultural District Mission District, San Francisco Mexican Americans primarily, Californios, and Latin Americans Yes, May 2014
Chilecito / Little Santiago North Beach, San Francisco Chilean Americans No, but commemorated by the Chilean Consulate in 2003
European/Middle Eastern Ethnic Enclaves
Belden Place / French Quarter Belden Place French Americans Informally
Little Italy North Beach, San Francisco Italian Americans Yes, 1924
Slovenian Hill Potrero Hill Slavic Americans No
Sunset District Eruv Sunset District, San Francisco Jewish Americans
Richmond District Eruv Richmond District, San Francisco
LGBTQIA Enclaves
The Transgender District Tenderloin, San Francisco Transgender American Yes, 2017
Castro LGBTQ Cultural District Castro District, San Francisco LGBT Americans Yes, 2019
LGBTQ Leather Cultural District South of Market, San Francisco Yes, 2018

See also[edit]


  1. ^ San Francisco Is America's Best City in 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek. Accessed January 16, 2013.
  2. ^ Corporate Sponsorship (SFMOMA Facts and Audience) Archived December 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Accessed September 1, 2006.
  3. ^ About the Zoo: Media Center (Press Kit) Archived 2006-09-09 at the Wayback Machine San Francisco Zoo. Accessed September 3, 2006.
  4. ^ "Just Dance: Reviews of some of the hottest 18-and-over clubs in the Bay Area – The Campanil". Retrieved 2023-04-28.
  5. ^ SFGATE, Dianne de Guzman (2019-12-11). "I returned to City Nights, the nightclub people love to hate — it's still thriving after 34 years". SFGATE. Retrieved 2023-04-28.
  6. ^ "Tour digs up SOMA's gay past". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  7. ^ "This Club's Tech Tricks Include an Energy-Generating Dance Floor". PCMAG. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  8. ^ Golden Gate Men's Chorus. GGMC. Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
  9. ^ Liang, Evelyn. "Stage Left: San Francisco's Theater History. 7x7
  10. ^ Jones, Chad. "Tonys By the Bay". Theatre Bay Area Magazine, May/June 2014.
  11. ^ "S.F. raises curtain for Broadway hits". Bizjournals.com. March 31, 2005. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
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  13. ^ A Chorus Line (Broadway Revival, 2006). Ovrtur. Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
  14. ^ American Idiot (World Premiere, 2009). Ovrtur. Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
  15. ^ Beautiful (Original Broadway Production, 2014). Ovrtur. Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
  16. ^ Bernard Weiner (January 17, 1990). "The 'Boys' Are Back in Town, Controversial Gay Play in SF Revival". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  17. ^ Bring It On - The Musical at Orpheum Theatre San Francisco, CA - tickets, information, reviews. San-francisco-theater.com (2012-01-07). Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
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  20. ^ Choir Boy. Marin Theatre Company. Retrieved on 2018-11-09.
  21. ^ Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance Begins Pre-Broadway Run in San Francisco Aug. 31. Playbill.com (2004-08-31). Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
  22. ^ Lincoln, Ivan M.. (1997-09-07) `Defending the Caveman'. Deseret News. Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
  23. ^ Diversions & Delights Archived 2015-06-30 at the Wayback Machine. Thesoundofvincentprice.com (1977-07-11). Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
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  28. ^ Daily Independent Journal from San Rafael (July 19, 1972, p. 19). Retrieved on 2017-04-17.
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  30. ^ [1]. Amazon.com. Retrieved on 2019-01-08.
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  35. ^ Season History 2007. Shnsf.com. Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
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  55. ^ Bak, John. Tennessee Williams: A Literary Life. 2013, p. 222
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  57. ^ [5]. "At Berkeley Rep, Constitution is ‘steamy,’ but ‘Constitution’ is hazy", San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 2018. Retrieved on 2019-03-17.
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  61. ^ Food Informants: A Week In The Life Of Off The Grid Founder And Owner Matt Cohen. Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved on 2015-10-27.
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