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A Weekend of Culture in San Francisco

A weekend steeped in San Francisco's vibrant art scene includes opera, drama, dance, storytelling, modern paintings, Egyptian art, and more.

California Palace of Legion of Honor, image
Photo caption
The California Palace of Legion of Honor sits on a bluff with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, and San Francisco.

A real reason to come to this jewel of a city and plunk down your heart is for the chance to steep yourself in the arts. Any weekend, any season, is the right time to revel (nay, wallow) in San Francisco's wealth of cultural offerings, whether your taste runs to classical sculpture, video art, lushly staged opera, solo dance, or offbeat theater. But especially in the summer, when Old Man Fog regularly rolls in at teatime on Friday and loiters long past Sunday supper, there's nothing like spending a few cozy hours meandering through galleries, or losing yourself in a play, or enjoying a concert, to refresh the spirit and warm the soul.

Here's a tiny sampling of the cultural possibilities (some old favorites and a few lesser-known treasures) vying for your attention this summer:

Thanks mostly to the expansive—if expensive—vision of David Ross, its recently departed director, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art now has a robust collection to match its landmark edifice. Along with the excellent Diebenkorns, Klees, and Kahlos, look for new installations such as Sarah Sze's Things Fall Apart, a testament to the futility of consumer excess, which dangles several stories down the central staircase. And don't miss Yes Yoko Ono, the first American retrospective of the artist's 40-year career, on loan this summer from the Japan Society in New York. While you're in the neighborhood, visit the smaller—and, some argue, spunkier—galleries at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Its performance spaces host a variety of programs, including dance and music. Yerba Buena also presents films in conjunction with local organizations such as the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and San Francisco Cinematheque.

If all that dancing with the abstract wears you out, sit a spell with Rodin's Thinker. You can do that and take in a view of the Golden Gate at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. A 1924 gift to the city from Alma Spreckels, wife of the sugar magnate, the Legion displays 1,400 works of mostly European art.

On Tuesday, admission is free. Beginning August 10, the Legion features Eternal Egypt, a special exhibition spanning 35 centuries of Egyptian art.

You can take in the season's final performances of Carmen, Madama Butterfly, and Giulio Cesare at the San Francisco Opera or step across the street and immerse yourself in the big sound of the San Francisco Symphony. In July, it will kick off its Summer in the City series, a popular string of classical favorites and the best of Broadway.

Don't leave town without attending the theater at least once. To enjoy a nostalgic dose of old San Francisco, start with American Conservatory Theater, which will be performing the Sam Shepard classic Buried Child in its handsomely refurbished 1910 auditorium, the Geary Theater.

Anyone who loves language and dramatic storytelling should see Word for Word, an accomplished theater company that transforms short stories into fully fleshed-out and costumed plays. On July 25, the group will premiere three stories by Tobias Wolff at the Magic Theatre, a longtime venue for provocative works.

Photography courtesy of sailko/Wikipedia

This article was first published in July 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.