With its vibrant, diverse cultures, San Francisco has influenced the culture of America and the world far more than its small size would suggest. Visitors to the City By the Bay can experience San Francisco’s mixture of fine art and wild street culture by visiting some of its main attractions and touring its colourful neighbourhoods.
The arts are an important part of San Francisco’s sense of civic pride, and the city boasts some of the West Coast’s finest museums, performing arts venues and art galleries. The de Young Museum, located in Golden Gate Park, houses mainly American art, while the Palace of the Legion of Honour hosts a collection of European art including major works by Monet, Rodin, Degas and El Greco. The Asian Art Museum celebrates art from the far east and is an important part of the city’s Asian-American cultural heritage. Lovers of modern art can’t afford to miss the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), located south of Market Street, not far from the railway station.
Performing arts as well as visual arts are an important part of the city’s culture: the city’s symphony, opera and ballet are all major cultural landmarks. San Francisco Opera in particular has been part of the city’s cultural landscape for 90 years, with its opening night each year being one of San Francisco’s biggest social and cultural events.
It isn’t all opera and fine art in San Francisco, however: in fact, the city is probably better known for its lively, creative — but sometimes strange — counterculture. This counterculture extends to the city’s museum scene, with museums devoted to subjects as diverse as tattoo art, antique arcade machines and even sex toys.
San Francisco is known throughout the world as a centre of gay culture and community. Each June sees the San Francisco Pride parade, the largest LGBT pride festival in the nation. From its humble origins in 1971, Pride has gone on to become one of the major events of the San Francisco calendar, a festival in which not only San Francisco’s LGBT community but straight San Franciscans participate.
San Francisco’s Chinese-American community has had a rocky history, sometimes being the victims of severe discrimination. Today, the city celebrates its Chinese-American heritage, and Chinatown, centred on Grant Street, is one of the city’s most popular walking tours. The sounds, scents and sights of Chinatown combine Chinese and American elements in a way that is uniquely San Franciscan.
Although its notorious hills can be a challenge, San Francisco is still one of the West’s most walkable cities. Alternatively, for those who want to explore Northern California a car hire with Avis makes San Francisco the perfect base. Walking through San Francisco’s neighbourhoods can immerse the visitor in the city’s modern cultures or its rich heritage. For example, the Haight-Ashbury or Upper Haight district, centred on the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, was one of the most important locations in the 1960s hippie subculture. Even today, the area has a bohemian character, with alternative clothing shops and superb independent record stores. The famous “painted ladies,” brightly-decorated Victorian houses, are nearby.
Alamo Square, in the Western Addition, preserves more of these beautiful buildings, which have come to be distinctive symbols of San Francisco. Other great walks for architecture lovers in San Francisco include Market Street, the city’s main business street, which combines frankly bland modern architecture with beautiful older buildings, many of them erected in the wake of the catastrophic 1906 earthquake. And no visit to San Francisco is complete without a trip to Golden Gate Park, particularly the Japanese Tea Garden. Founded in 1894, the Japanese Tea Garden is an oasis of tranquillity in the heart of a vibrant and busy city.
With cultural attractions ranging from high art to outrageous counterculture, San Francisco packs a wide range of different cultural experiences into a small space. It’s no surprise that the city is one of America’s cultural trendsetters.