SF ballet dancers holding hands on a red background

San Francisco Ballet Guide:
What to Know Before You See a Performance

To help you plan ahead and get the most out of your visit to the San Francisco Ballet, we offer you these tips and essential information.

A trip to San Francisco is always a treat and attending a performance by the San Francisco Ballet during its repertory season, January-May, shouldn't be missed. The annual "Nutcracker" performance in December is also a holiday tradition for many. To help you plan ahead and get the most out of your visit, we offer you these tips and essential information.

History of the San Francisco Ballet

Professional ballet came to San Francisco in 1933 as part of the San Francisco Opera Ballet, making it the oldest professional ballet company in the United States. In the beginning, the San Francisco Ballet trained dancers to perform in opera productions. It separated from the opera in 1942 and undertook the first full-scale productions of such ballets as "Swan Lake" and "Nutcracker" ever performed in America.

The ensuing 75 years saw the San Francisco Ballet grow and mature under the direction of such masters as the Christensen brothers (William, Lew and Harold), Michael Smuin and Helgi Tomasson. The Ballet has consistently won awards, including an Emmy for costume design for 1981's "The Tempest" and a Laurence Olivier Award for its 2004 season at Sadler's Wells Theatre.

The troupe has traveled extensively, including engagements in major American, European and Asian cities, and many ballet lovers consider the SF Ballet a true national treasure.

The Home of the San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco's beautiful Beaux Arts War Memorial Opera House has been the home of both the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet since it opened in 1932. Today, the Opera House retains its Old World charm and glamour. The grand main lobby is spectacular, with its ornate decorations and 28-foot ceiling. The performance space was refurbished in 1989 and outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, 3,200 plush velvet seats, expanded access for people with disabilities and refreshment bars for intermission.

Insider Tips

You can get even more enjoyment out of your trip to the San Francisco Ballet by checking out these insider tips.

Get the Very Best Seats

You can choose some really good seats from the online inventory or by talking to a ticket agent. Regular patrons recommend the Grand Tier or the Orchestra, especially the front of the Orchestra. The San Francisco Ballet website has seating maps with view-of-the-stage images from the various sections to make it easier to choose your seats.

Attend Opening Night Gala

If your visit to San Francisco coincides with the start of the repertory season in January, consider buying tickets to the opening night gala. Depending on the type of ticket you choose, you are offered valet parking, a cocktail reception, select dinner seating, select performance seating, an after party and an invitation to an exclusive pre-gala party.

Navigate the Opera House

Here are some additional tips to make it easier to get to and move around the venue:

  • Rent opera glasses at the coat check.
  • Ask a doorman to reserve a taxi for after the performance.
  • Accessible seats, restrooms and listening devices are all available on request.

What to Wear

You'll see all kinds of apparel at the Ballet, from very formal to very casual, but you'll probably be most comfortable wearing a simple button-down shirt and slacks for men and a knee-length skirt or dress for women.

Ticket Information

Purchasing tickets is simple by using online forms or by calling the box office. You can have your tickets delivered, or you can pick them up before the performance at the box office in the lobby of the Opera House. The box office is only open on performance dates. 

Buy ballet tickets

451 Gough St.

Monsieur Benjamin

From the mind of Chef Corey Lee, comes his take on the French Bistro. Inspired by the traditions of French cuisine and the spirit of Parisian bistro culture, Monsieur Benjamin utilizes the abundance of great products in the Bay Area to offer a menu of classic French dishes, from steak tartare, duck confit and steak frites, alongside tastefully modernized recipes.

Eat at Monsieur Benjamin
330 Gough St.


If you're feeling fancy, head to Nightbird, an elegant restaurant in the heart of the Hayes Valley neighborhood that offers a whimsical tasting menu. Nightbird's menu celebrates the best of California's diverse cultures and natural landscape. The entire experience takes more than two hours, so plan ahead before your show.

Eat at Nightbird
398 Hayes St.

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar

Within easy walking distance of the Ballet, this popular restaurant serves French brasserie and Northern Italian dishes with an American touch. Enjoy the creative cocktails — yes, some include absinthe, while you relax after the performance.

Eat at Absinthe
199 Gough St.

Rich Table

Rich Table is the culinary vision of Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich. With over three decades of combined experience in San Francisco and New York high-end restaurants, the team brings a wealth of talent, knowledge of quality foods and wine, and connections with the best farms and purveyors. Some must-have dishes are the sea urchin tonnarelli, dried porcini doughnuts and sardine chips.

Eat at Rich Table
1658 Market St.

Zuni Cafe

One of the most classic restaurants in San Francisco is Zuni Café, and it’s just around the way from Rich Table. The late Judy Rodgers created some timeless signature dishes, including the famed roasted chicken for two and Caesar salad. The oysters are wonderful, the bar is friendly, and the corner location simply reeks of city glamour. They’ve also got late night hours.

Eat at Zuni Cafe
600 Polk St.


For drinks before or after the ballet, check out Whitechapel. This lounge specializes in gin, with the largest selection of gin in North America made into the most amazing cocktails. Bonus: You can Uber Eats, Grubhub or Doordash.

Drink at Whitechapel

Whether you choose to just see a matinee or go all out for the opening night gala, no other experience is quite like attending a ballet. The San Francisco Ballet is unarguably one of the world's best and is sure to provide you with memories to last a lifetime.

Dan Rosenbaum Headshot
Dan Rosenbaum

Dan is the Vice President, Global Marketing, at San Francisco Travel. San Francisco has been his home for over a decade (that makes him a local, right?). On the weekends, you can find him with a cup of craft coffee in hand, a playlist of good vibes, a growing list of books to read, or out at the city's hottest new restaurant or bar.

The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset with a multicolored sky and the San Francisco Bay in the foreground.
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