The Best Places for Culture and Nightlife in San Francisco in 2019

By Wendy Bowman | June 25, 2019 | Lifestyle Story

Live Theater: American Conservatory Theater’s The Geary and The Strand theaters
After operating for 50-plus years, this Tony Award-winning institution has solidified itself as a staple of the local arts scene. Internationally recognized for its groundbreaking productions of classic works and bold explorations of contemporary playwrights—at not one, but two different venues—A.C.T. produces seven mainstage shows a year, plus an annual presentation of A Christmas Carol. But that’s not all. … The dynamic organization also serves 3,000 students per year as part of its actor-training programs. Be sure to catch recently named Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon and Executive Director Jennifer Bielstein leading an exciting 2019-20 season showcasing Richard O’Brien’s cult classic The Rocky Horror Show, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls and more. 415 Geary St.; 1127 Market St.; 415.749.2228

Interactive Museum: Exploratorium
This isn’t your typical science museum. Instead, it’s a curiosity-inspiring learning lab where visitors can touch a tornado, stroll on a fog bridge, sense their way through a pitch-dark Tactile Dome and much more. With 650-plus hands-on exhibits, plus special events and programs, there’s something eye-opening for everyone. Every Thursday night, the museum offers its adults-only After Dark event, where friends can enjoy a drink, listen to guest speakers and see unique films and exhibits. Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, Exploratorium’s summer 2019 exhibition—Self, Made—runs from May 23 to Sept. 2 and includes costumes worn by Shuri and T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther. Pier 15 (Embarcadero at Green Street), 415.528.4360

Fine Art Museum: de Young Museum
While the world-class exhibitions and collections alone would be enough to set this museum apart from its peers—think Monet and a conversation-sparking examination of contemporary Culture and Night-life in S.F. 2019 Muslim fashion—its other offerings are unrivaled as well. There’s the breathtaking views via the glass-walled Hamon Observation Tower; a café serving up menus inspired by special shows; and a prime locale in Golden Gate Park, where visitors can stroll the grounds or visit the neighboring Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers. All this, and the striking copper-clad attraction also recently opened its doors to local residents for free every Saturday for general admission to the permanent collection galleries. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, 415.750.3600

Modern Art: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
Touted as the largest museum of modern and contemporary art in the U.S., SFMOMA houses an impressive assemblage of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design and media arts in seven floors of galleries within a LEED Gold-certified building designed by noted architects Snøhetta and Mario Botta. Highlights include the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection of postwar and contemporary art. There’s also nearly 45,000 square feet of public space with an outdoor sculpture garden, the country’s largest living wall (at 30 feet), a trio of eateries (including Michelin-starred In Situ) and incredible views. It’s open until 9pm Thursdays, making it a great date night or postwork stop. Now on view: an exclusive West Coast Andy Warhol retrospective through Sept. 2, complete with new early-access private tours. 151 third St., 415.357.4000

Community Space: for Performing Arts Public Works
For the past eight years, this community-minded nightclub, live music venue and event space has set its sights on building artists, audiences and communities, all with an eye toward presenting interesting and boundary-pushing programming and content. Not only have many of the acts seen on its stage gone on to headline arenas and festivals—including Mumford & Sons, Bob Moses, Claptone, Bonobo and Desert Hearts—but the organization also provides room for local nonprofit groups to produce events ranging from Odd Salon to SF Opera Lab Pop-Up. With a calendar of events that covers a wide yet sharply curated swath of interests from internationally known DJs to food and wine tastings, panels, screenings, comedy shows and storytelling, there’s indeed something for everyone. 161 Erie St., 415.496.6738

Wine Bar: Verjus
When it comes to all things vino, this standing dining counter experience meets retail wine shop has it all covered. It’s a one-stop shop created by Michael and Lindsay Tusk (owners of Quince and Cotogna), where customers can select from a 400-plus bottle collection rarely seen on the West Coast (including wine from France’s Loire Valley, Spain’s Catalonia region and California’s Sierra Foothills), peruse a wealth of artisan-made home goods (like custom knives from local artisan Galen Garretson and tinned seafood from Portugal) and enjoy an rotating menu of French- and Spanish-influenced small plates (like the crowd-favorite pâté en croûte, French omelette boursin and manchego cheese sausage). Just in: a subscription wine club. 528 Washington St. (at the Eclipse Champagne Building), 415.944.4600

Karaoke: The Mint Karaoke Lounge
Once simply a steakhouse and piano bar, this establishment added Karaoke to its lineup in 1993 and has since become known as one of the top singalong lounges among Bay Area residents and visitors alike. Think travelers from around the world heading straight to the award-winning venue as soon as they step off the plane, hotel guests arriving via concierge suggestions and friendly locals dropping by their favorite haunt several times a week. The draw? Continually updated song books boasting 25,000-plus tunes from all genres of music, along with really cool bartenders serving up special seasonal cocktails. It’s also open seven days a week, with free karaoke-singing privileges and only a two-drink-per-person minimum (cash only, with an ATM in the lounge). 1942 Market St., 415.626.4726

Rooftop Bar: Rooftop 25
After only a year in business, this beautifully designed outdoor destination at SoMa’s multilevel dining and drinking establishment 25 Lusk has emerged as one of the city’s see-and-be-seen hot spots. Consider a blockbuster wine selection (including a 2000 Château Margaux priced at $3,250) paired with seasonal and expertly crafted cocktails, an exceptional roundup of beer and an inspired culinary program. In addition to this wine list, guests can ask for Rooftop’s full wine list, which it typically offers in its lower-level restaurant. Among the most popular items: The SF Yacht Club (citrus meets mint, cucumber and vodka served over ice), spicy frozen passion fruit margarita and Neapolitan-style pizzas. Also known for customizing the guest experience, the Game of Thrones pop-up, Taste of Thrones, was a huge hit, replete with a spitting-image throne and 17-foot-long dragon. 25 Lusk St., 415.495.5875

Jazz Club: Boom Boom Room
Founded in 1997 by late Mississippi bluesman John Lee Hooker, this intimate, down-home juke joint pairs cocktails and dancing with everything from original get-down and shake-it-hard electric boogaloo to New Orleans funk to new-genre music and much more six nights a week (4pm to 2am, Monday through Thursday; 4pm to 3am-plus, Friday and Saturday) from its home in the old Fillmore District. Known as “San Francisco’s Funkiest Club,” the seriously legit performance venue is a local icon that has hosted national headliners, legends and fast-rising stars from Elvis Costello, Buddy Miles to Dr. Lonnie Smith and The New Mastersounds—all amid a groovy atmosphere sporting red walls, velvet curtains and photos of famous musicians that have graced the stage. Not to miss: the free live hip-hop show every Sunday. 1601 Fillmore St., 415.673.8000

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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Photography by: Verjus Courtesy of Verjus; SFMoMA by Henrik Kam; Exploratorium Courtesy of Exploratorium; Rooftop 25 Courtesy of Rooftop 25; Public Works Courtesy of Public Works