Sophisticated, offbeat, and often ahead of the curve, San Francisco's performing arts scene supports world-class opera, ballet, and theater productions, along with alternative-dance events, avant-garde plays, groundbreaking documentaries, and a slew of spoken-word and other literary happenings.

The heart of the mainstream theater district lies on or near Geary Street, mostly west of Union Square, though touring Broadway shows land a little farther afield at big houses like the Orpheum and Golden Gate. But theater can be found all over town. For a bit of culture shock, slip out to eclectic districts like the Mission or Haight, where smaller theater companies reside and short-run and one-night-only performances happen on a regular basis.

The city's opera house and symphony hall present the musical classics, and venues like the Fillmore and the Warfield host major rock and jazz talents, but the city's extensive festival circuit broadens the possibilities considerably. Stern Grove is the nation’s oldest summer music festival that remains free still to this day; Noise Pop is the premier alt-rock showcase putting such acts like Modest Mouse on the map; and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a beloved celebration of bluegrass, country, and roots music, attracting hundreds of thousands of attendees from all over the nation every year.

The range of offerings is just as eclectic on the film front. San Francisco moviegoers love blockbuster hits like everyone else, but they also champion little-known indie and art-house flicks and flock to the interactive sing-along musicals presented at Castro Theatre. Nearly every month an important film festival takes place. During warmer months, many of the city’s parks host free movie nights outdoors showcasing film classics or pop-culture favorites.

San Francisco also has a rich dance scene, from classical dancers to jugglers. And it doesn't take stadium seating to make a performance space. Cafés, clubs, and bookstores often host poetry readings or author lectures.