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The Best Things To See & Do In San Francisco’s Civic Center
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The Best Things To See & Do In San Francisco’s Civic Center

Picture of Devon Delfino
Updated: 6 January 2017
Located between Hayes Valley and the Tenderloin, Civic Center (though oftentimes overlooked in lieu of neighborhoods like North Beach and the Mission) is the heart of the city’s history, culture, and government. Home of the Opera House, Symphony Hall, and Asian Art Museum, this slice of San Francisco will always supply a dose of culture for the discerning patron. Here is our list of the top venues, locations, and events to see in Civic Center.

Visit the San Francisco Public Library

For the introspective city dweller the Public Library is the perfect hangout for those chilly San Francisco mornings. Check out one of the many exhibitions held by the library, like ‘Faces of Fracking,’ ‘Body by Derby: LGBT Athletes’ or ‘WWII in the Philippines.’ With over two million books in its main circulation (plus over 800,000 resources in e-circulation) and tons of classes, exhibits and events, it’s the perfect place for anyone interested in injecting a bit of education and fun into everyday life.

San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA, +1 415 557 – 4400

Check Out the SFJAZZ Center

The SFJAZZ Center is home to some of the most innovative and transformative musical works in the city. Check out the SFJAZZ Collective (with shows all through October) for a truly unique experience—but be sure to book your tickets early, as their shows have been known to sell out. Be sure to head up to the second floor to see Sandow Birk & Elyse Pignolet’s ceramic tile murals ‘Jazz and the City’ (which features local clubs like Jimbo’s Bop City and the Keystone Korner) and ‘Jazz and the Nation,’ which gives a broader historical significance to the revolutionary genre.

SFJAZZ Center, 201 Franklin St, San Francisco, CA, +1 866 920 – 5299

Enjoy a Performance at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall

The classical music buff will love the Davies Symphony Hall, which features the works of greats like Chopin, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, performed by San Francisco’s most renowned classically trained musicians. This Halloween, check out the San Francisco Symphony’s screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show (in honor of the film’s 40th anniversary), with an orchestral pre-show featuring music from horror films like Poltergeist, Psycho and Beetlejuice. Or check out their other screenings with symphonic accompaniment, including The Nightmare Before Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA, +1 415 864 – 6000

Relax in Civic Center/United Nations Plaza

The open space of the Civic Center and UN Plazas is perfect for basking in the warm, sun-filled days for pedestrians and bike-riders alike and provides a look at the iconic buildings that are often associated with the downtown area. Be sure to catch a summer concert (running through October) for an extra dose of entertainment. Or enjoy a bite to eat from one of Off the Grid’s food trucks, which set up every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the UN Plaza. Check out their website to see which vendors will attend or sample them all and discover a new favorite!

McAllister St, San Francisco, CA, +1 415 831 – 2700

Visit the War Memorial Opera House

Head to S.F.’s War Memorial Opera House for a night of music and drama, including shows like The Magic Flute, or (for the especially ambitious) an educational workshop on directing. You can also catch a performance by the San Francisco Ballet, including the Christmas classic The Nutcracker, for the perfect introduction to the elegance and grace of ballet. Or simply take a tour of the building (with its gorgeous architecture and backstage perks, it’s sure to be an enlightening experience!)

301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA, +1 415 621-6600

Take in a show at the SNH Orpheum Theater

A city icon for theater and drama, the SNH Orpheum Theater (short for Shorenstein Hays Nederlander) is the ultimate thespian spot. Check out If/Then (which runs from November 10 through December 6) for the chance to see Tony-Award winning actress (and voice of Frozen’s Elsa) Idina Menzel in action. If you’re in a pinch, try attending a preview show (a public performance of a show prior to opening); it’s almost like getting to see a run-through and the tickets are often discounted.

1192 Market St., San Francisco, CA, +1 888 746 – 1799

Explore the Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum is home to over 2,000 works of art from Asian cultures and offers insight into the past, present and the future. With its vast array of workshops and lectures, it’s bound to appeal to nearly everyone and is a must-see for every San Francisco resident and visitor alike. Stop by Café Asia after your visit for an Adzuki Almond Cookie flavored scoop of ice cream, created by local ice cream chain Humphry Slocombe in honor of the Museum’s 50th anniversary.

200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA, +1 415 581 – 3500

Grab a bite at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market

Located on the United Nations Plaza, the farmers’ market sets up every Wednesday and Sunday morning (year round) and is a fantastic way to get to know the neighborhood. Take a walk down the promenade as you peruse the various stands and vendors at this non-profit event. Also, due to its proximity to the Tenderloin (one of the poorest districts in the city), there’s an extensive ‘market match’ program for those with an EBT card that has helped raise $280,000 for those with food insecurity. It isn’t called the ‘Heart of the City” for nothing!

UN Plaza, San Francisco, CA, +1 415 588 – 9455