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San Francisco’s Arts Scene Draws Visitors’ Applause

Historic cable cars, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and bustling Chinatown are "must sees" during any San Francisco visit, but any trip to the City is incomplete without an infusion of culture. There is a tantalizing array of options available to art lovers.

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Historic cable cars, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and bustling Chinatown are "must sees" during any San Francisco visit, but any trip to the City is incomplete without an infusion of culture. There is a tantalizing array of options available to art lovers. Within San Francisco’s 49 square miles are some 200 arts organizations responsible for a menu that incorporates everything from the performances of a renowned symphony to the newest collection in an offbeat sculpture garden. Discovering them is as easy as visiting www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com, the official Web site of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (SFCVB).

More than 225 organizations receive support from Grants for the Arts of the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund (GFTA), reflecting the importance San Francisco places on having a thriving arts community. GFTA is an internationally admired model of municipal funding. In 2007/08 over $11 million has been allocated to arts and cultural organizations. This economic investment in diverse arts and promotional organizations enhances the City’s attractiveness to visitors and provides employment and enrichment to the City’s residents. Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund revenue derives from a portion of the 14% room tax levied on local hotel and motel bills.

The City’s diversity and cosmopolitan mix of lifestyles are reflected in a liberal and varied mix of cultural experiences. Even an hour between business meetings is enough to explore a small downtown museum, but for those with a bit more time, the possibilities are endless. To note just a few:

  • The San Francisco Opera’s season, which runs September through December, includes more than a dozen productions glittering with big-name stars, renowned scenic artists and acclaimed conductors. (www.sfopera.com)
  • The New York Times calls the San Francisco Ballet "a truly national ballet company." December visitors to the city will be able to see the ballet’s annual production of "The Nutcracker," complete with lavish costumes. The ballet’s regular season runs from February through May. (www.sfballet.org)
  • A world-renowned orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony’s season runs from September through June, with summer pops concerts in July. (www.sfsymphony.org)
  • There are dozens of live theater groups in San Francisco. One of the most popular is the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), whose season runs from October through May. (www.act-sf.org)
  • Theatrical productions of international stature are regularly staged in San Francisco. For a glimpse of a Broadway show visit the Curran, Golden Gate, or Orpheum Theatre. (www.shnsf.com)
  • San Francisco’s collection of museums is what one would expect from one of the world’s great cities. Within the boundaries of Golden Gate Park alone are several of sterling reputation: the California Academy of Sciences, and the internationally acclaimed de Young Memorial Museum. With a CityPass visitors can enjoy all three museums in the east end of the Park, plus the Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers, at a savings of 30% off the regular adult admission price. The pass is for sale at any of the participating attractions and at the SFCVB Visitor Information Center at Powell and Market or at www.citypass.com/san-francisco.
  • The Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens is in the dynamic South of Market District on Third Street between Mission and Howard streets. Part of the 22-acre Yerba Buena Gardens development, the complex overlooks the Esplanade, a five-acre downtown park which includes terrace cafes, an outdoor performance area with lawn seating for 5,000 and a walk-through waterfall memorial dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King. Center for the Arts features diverse programming in dance, theater, music, visual arts, films, installations and festivals. For tickets to events, call 978-ARTS (www.ybca.org).
  • The Yerba Buena neighborhood is the cultural heart of San Francisco with 12 world-class museums and a variety of galleries. Home to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (www.sfmoma.org), Museum of the African Diaspora (www.moadsf.org) and the California Historical Society (www.californiahistoricalsociety.org) among others. The Contemporary Jewish Museum (www.thecjm.org), will further add to the cultural landscape when it opens in June 2008.
  • Numerous specialty museums are dotted around city neighborhoods and are every bit as worthy of the visitors’ attention. A few of these include the Chinese Historical Society (www.chsa.org) the GLBT Historical Society (www.glbthistory.org) and the Center for the Book (www.sfcb.org) and the San Francisco Railroad Museum (www.streetcar.org).
  • Festivals celebrating the City’s heritage are frequent in San Francisco and always include an emphasis on the arts. Among these annual celebrations are Chinese New Year, the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Columbus Day Celebration and Carnaval.
  • Outdoor arts presentations are plentiful during the summer in San Francisco. Two of the most popular are the Stern Grove Music Festival (www.sterngrove.org) and the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival (www.sfhsakes.org).
  • For advance ticket information to arts performances, visitors can contact organizations directly. Advance planning isn’t essential, however; those who arrive in town with a sudden yearning to see a critically acclaimed play aren’t necessarily out of luck. The TIX Bay Area ticket booth at Union Square on Stockton Street sells half-price tickets to local shows on the day of the performance. Payment is cash only; phone 415/433-7827 or www.theatrebayarea.org for details.

Planning ahead allows visitors to book their trips to include special events that particularly interests them. The San Francisco Book, a quarterly magazine published by the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, lists seasonal performance schedules for live theater, concerts, dance performances and cultural festivals, as well as detailed information on museums and special exhibits.

For a copy, send request to vic1@sanfrancisco.travel or call 415-391-2000. Or visit the Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St., at the corner of Powell and Market streets, lower level, Hallidie Plaza.

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