San Francisco Ballet

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March 11, 2019

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

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 over the years, 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 to be 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 using the 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.

Dining Before or After the Ballet

Make your attendance at the SF Ballet even more unforgettable by dining before or after the performance at one of these fine San Francisco restaurants not far from the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.

Jardiniere (300 Grove St.)
For great food and easy access to the theater, nothing beats Jardiniere, situated right across the street from the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center. Jardiniere is owned by chef Traci Des Jardins, who offers dishes using modern French techniques and a touch of San Francisco. For the theater crowd, the restaurant offers a multi-course tasting menu and pre-theater plates, and it also features romantic dining and a cocktail lounge.

Reserve a Table at Jardiniere

YamaSho Japanese Restaurant (1161 Post St.)
For aficionados of Japanese cuisine, nothing is more authentic than YamaSho. Select delicious items from the sushi, yakimono, agemono and gohanmono menus, and afterward, enjoy karaoke in one of the 10 karaoke lounges.

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar (398 Hayes St.)
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.

Reserve a Table at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

White Chapel (600 Polk St.)
For drinks and a selection of pub fare 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.

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.

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