San Francisco Culture

San Francisco Culture

San Francisco’s cultural tapestry is brilliantly interwoven with threads from the visual arts, architecture, performing arts, and an abundance of fine museums. There’s nothing drab or commonplace about San Francisco’s cultural life.

While not quite on the scale of New York City, San Francisco nevertheless, is a kindred spirit culturally. SFMOMA, San Francisco’s incredible modern art center, has an impressive collection of art from the 20th and 21st centuries, post-Impressionism to now. Its collection is well represented by Rothko, Warhol, Picasso, Klee, Georgia O’Keefe, Mondrian, Diego Rivera, Jasper Johns and current artists like Barry McGee, who started out as a street and graffiti artist. Hours are 11a.m.-6p.m., Thursday until 9 p.m., closed Wednesday and major holidays. Admission: Adults $12.50, seniors (62 and over) $8, students with ID $7, kids 12 and under free with an adult. Free on the first Tuesday of the month. 415/357-4000.

The Legion of Honor exhibits 18th and 19th century European works by Degas, Monet, Boucher, El Greco, Rembrandt, and Rubens. and the largest collection of Rodin sculptures in the U.S. including, Rodin’s, The Thinker, c. 1880. Hours are Tues-Sun. 9:30 a.m.- 5-15 p.m. 415/750-3600.

The De Young Museum, located in Golden Gate Park, contains American art from the 17th into the 21st centuries as well as textiles from the Americas. Hours are Tues-Sun, 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m., Fri. until 8:45 p.m. 415/750-3600.

Other but no less important museums abound throughout the city. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (200 Larkin Street) exhibits Asian art, with a collection of more than 17,000 objects from over a 6,000 year time span. Hours are Tues-Sun, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays until 9 p.m. from Feb. through Sept. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for seniors, $7 for 13-17 and for college students with ID, $5 after 5 p.m. on Thurs. Children 12 and under are free. First Sunday of the month is free. Even cartoons are represented with the Cartoon Art Museum, at 655 Mission Street, which is the only museum west of the Appalachian Mountains to exhibit, preserve and educate the public about the art form. Rare, original art is displayed. Open daily from 11 a.m.-5p.m. Closed Monday and holidays. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, $2 for children 6-12 and under 5 free. 415/227-8666.

The Exploratorium, located at the Palace of Fine Arts, is a hands-on, fascinating voyage into science and how it works. This is supposed to be a place for kids but adults will find it entertaining, too. Open year-round, Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission (18-64) is $14, seniors ( 65+), students with ID and youth (13-17), are $11. Children (4-12) are $9 and children age 3 and under are free. There is a separate admission for the Tactile Dome, $17, and is recommended for ages 7 and over and includes museum admission. The Tactile Dome is described as “an interactive journey where your sense of touch becomes your only guide.” Advance reservations are required. Call 415/561-0362. Information about the Exploratorium is available at 415/561-0356 or at The website offers special online exhibits, live webcams, calendar of events, and more. Note: The first Wednesday of every month is free.

One of the best things about San Francisco is that the idea of diversity applies to all levels of life in the city. Culture can be high-brow or low, museums can showcase fine art or cartoons, sculpture or clay animation. Graffiti art can coexist with Old Masters. There is always something new and different emerging from the artistic sensibilities of the city’s inhabitants. For example at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a current year-long project is a female scribe writing out the text of the Torah while on public view. (This writing of a Torah scroll is not traditionally done by a woman.)

The Walt Disney Family Museum at 104 Montgomery Street, located at The Presidio is a new interactive museum detailing the animation pioneer’s life and legacy. Included in the exhibits are original animation art from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, film clips, a hand-crafted model of Disneyland, and even Walt Disney’s train, the Lilly Belle. Open Wed-Mon, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and on Jan.1, July 4, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is adults $20, seniors (65+) and students with ID, $15. Children ages 6-17 is $12.50, and children under 6 are free with an adult. Note: Admission is by timed-entry tickets available online up to 60 days in advance. It’s best to get tickets in advance because tickets may not be available at the door.

Besides a wealth of unique and world-class museums, San Francisco has no end of examples of fabulous architecture, historic buildings and iconic structures. Besides the Mission, impressive churches and phenomenal hotels, there are the charming Victorian “painted ladies,” under colorful, gingerbread trim. Surprisingly, though the 1906 earthquake and fire wiped out over 500 blocks of San Francisco, 14,000 Victorians survived in many areas of the city, including Pacific Heights, Haight Ashbury and the Mission District. A prime example of an elegant, stately Victorian is the Haas-Lilienthal House, built in 1886, at 2007 Franklin Street, which is also a museum open to the public.

Instantly recognizable and among the more modern city buildings is the Transamerica Pyramid. With its 48 stories and triangular shape piercing the San Francisco skyline, the tallest building in the city at 600 Montgomery Street between North Beach and the Financial District, has become a landmark and symbol of the “City by the Bay.” Construction started in 1969 and took three years to complete. The pyramid’s architect, William Pereira, not only designed the dramatic tower but shared an Academy Award for his underwater special effects work on the 1942 John Wayne action film, “Reap the Wild Wind.” (Even though the pyramid is no longer owned by Transamerica the name has been retained by the current owner, Aegon NV, a Dutch insurance firm.)

The ultimate San Francisco architectural icon is the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. Beautiful from any angle, the sunset-hued expanse traverses the 1.7 miles across the strait named by western explorer John C. Fremont. Although it was eventually surpassed in length by the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the American Society of Civil Engineers named the Golden Gate one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.”

The theater scene is also a prominent aspect of the cultural life of the city. The San Francisco Opera Company is the second largest in the United States, and its season encompasses 75 performances. The American Conservatory Theater is based in the Geary, rebuilt in 1910 after the great earthquake took all eight of the city’s theaters. The Curran and the Golden Gate stages play host to traveling Broadway shows. The Lorraine Hansberry Theater features productions by black playwrights.

Independent galleries also contribute to the cultural richness of San Francisco. While the fine art pieces in SFMOMA, de Young and the Legion of Honor are out of reach, there are galleries where collectors can still buy work by art world super-luminaries such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Renoir, Lichenstein, Dali, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.

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