Want to be at the heart of the action on your next San Francisco trip? Make some time to explore the incredible Civic Center area. The neighborhood’s central location makes it a great base for exploring the city, but with wonderful architecture, interesting museums, and a buzzing entertainment and gastronomy scene, you might not want to leave this bustling area!
Spend your days ticking off top tourist spots like San Francisco City Hall and the Asian Art Museum. Then it’s time to hit the town! Music lovers will have endless options in Civic Center, San Francisco. Catch incredible classical music at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, have a night at the opera at War Memorial Opera House, or get down and boogie at SFJAZZ. Or enjoy more theatrical pursuits at top venues like the Orpheum Theatre. With endless options for pre-show dinner and drinks, you can make every evening in Civic Center magical.
Ready to suss out this neighborhood’s best spots? Follow along with this complete guide to San Francisco’s Civic Center with advice on what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay.
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What to see & do in Civic Center
San Francisco City Hall
Tick off an iconic city landmark at the San Francisco City Hall. As well as being the seat of government for city and county, this building is an architectural delight and steeped in history. Get lost in the stunning public spaces or take a guided tour to learn more about the building and the city.
Take the time to appreciate this piece of Beaux-arts architecture, offering a wonderful example of the American Renaissance movement. During this time, architecture represented national self-confidence, with influences from the opulence of the Greeks and Romans. It’s easy to see this in San Francisco City Hall. The whole place is dripping with grandeur, with a 42-foot dome, imposing columns, and a treelined entrance.
Step inside for even more beauty, with grand staircases, gilded balconies, and intricate marble carvings. On a tour, a knowledgeable guide will take you through the building’s history, including a huge rebuild after an earthquake and fire in 1915.
Asian Art Museum
Explore the creative soul of the Far East at the Asian Art Museum, offering the most valuable collection of Asian artworks outside of China. Over 18,000 works span 6,000 years of history and take you on an adventure through China, Japan, India, Korea, Southeast Asia, and beyond.
At the Asian Art Museum, you can immerse yourself in exciting new cultures and ideologies. Marvel at Korean celadons from the Goryeo dynasty or Chinese Neolithic work dating back to 5,000 BC. The huge collection of Japanese artwork demonstrates strong roots in tradition, discipline, and technical skills.
Jump into the unknown at one of San Francisco’s favorite museums with a large collection from Persia and Western Asia. These often-forgotten countries were once on the affluent Silk Road trade route. Admire the lavish collection of ceramic vessels, metalwork, and jades. Or, uncover the rich traditions and cultures of Southeast Asia, from Buddhist and Hindu sculptures to impressive theatrical puppets.
War Memorial Opera House
Why not catch a show during your stay in San Francisco? The War Memorial Opera House is one of the biggest performing arts centers in the United States, offering a variety of performances and cultural events for all tastes. Even if you can’t snag a ticket, you should still swing by, as this is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
The War Memorial Opera House was built as a memorial to honor the lives lost in WWI. The dazzling Beaux-Arts style architecture is a haze of marble columns and shimmering ceilings. Whether you’re stopping for a photo or are attending a show, you can’t help but get caught up in the vintage glamor.
Some of the most prestigious talent in the city performs at the War Memorial Opera House. Delight in the elegance of the San Francisco Ballet or in the passion of the San Francisco Opera. The venue also hosts regular concerts, musicals, and performing arts tours.
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall
Lose yourself in the music at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. This magnificent concert hall has great acoustics, perfect for hosting a variety of orchestral concerts, chamber music, and contemporary musicians. It’s also the permanent home of the San Francisco Symphony. Don’t miss a chance to see one of the finest orchestras in the world perform in the flesh!
Leading architect Pietro Belluschi helped to design the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. As well as being a beautiful piece of modern architecture, every aspect of the design maximizes the acoustic potential. The sparkling performance hall features a cloud of acrylic panels to fine-tune the frequency and intensity of every note.
Take a seat among the splendor and get ready for a night of incredible music. Whether you’re looking for a classic symphony or a contemporary masterpiece, let some of the top talent in the country take you to a musical utopia.
You can’t help but tap your feet after a visit to SFJAZZ. It started as a two-day festival in 1983 but was so successful it became a permanent institution. Today, this state-of-the-art concert hall hosts over 300 events a year and is one of San Francisco’s coolest places to visit for music fans.
SFJAZZ is the world’s largest non-profit jazz presenter, attracting top talent from across the globe. Whether jazz, blues, or Latin gets your soul going, there’s a variety of acts performing throughout the year. The venue is committed to showcasing the full spectrum of jazz, from its African-American and Afro-Caribbean origins to the diversity on display today. With an auditorium big enough to create an atmosphere but small enough to maintain intimacy, you can completely immerse yourself in the music.
SFJAZZ hosts lively festivals and events throughout the year. Check their events schedule to see if there’s anything special happening during your stay.
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Get an extra musical treat at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. This fun venue hosts a variety of acts in a high-quality setting. It’s also a historic building that has witnessed many culturally significant moments over the years.
The beautiful Beaux Arts building will set the tone for your glamorous night out. From its impressive marble façade to the vast white ceilings of the main stage, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium guarantees an atmospheric experience. As well as hosting some of the greatest names in music, it has seen major events take place, including a speech from Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964.
There’s always an incredible act on at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Why not check the schedule to see what’s on during your stay? You’ll find top artists from all genres of music, whether you love pop, rock, electronic, or classical.
A night at the Orpheum Theatre is a theatrical treat. Amongst the prestige of this San Francisco Historical Landmark, you can watch a variety of vibrant performances. Whether you’re watching a lively musical or a dark drama, its incredible design will immerse you in every moment.
The Orpheum Theatre has been a shining star in San Francisco’s entertainment offerings for over a century. Famous theatre architect B. Marcus Priteca designed the building to create the very best audience experience. Today, it’s one of the last atmospheric theatres in the world. Ornate wall carvings, plush furnishings, and a sparkling ceiling transport the audience to faraway lands night after night.
Snag tickets to the great program on offer at the Orpheum Theatre, from gripping plays to the latest indie arthouse hit. Sing along to the country’s top Broadway productions, including Hamilton and Wicked. Laugh along to top comedians or enjoy music from your favorite artist in a beautiful and immersive setting.
If you don’t like the options on offer at Orpheum Theatre, check out Herbst Theatre instead! Another beautiful venue with architectural flair and rich history, the theater offers a diverse list of events, giving you an opportunity to experience everything from music and dance to major cultural events.
Opened in 1915, this beautiful performance space quickly became a local favorite. The Herbst Theatre has hosted huge cultural events, including performances from the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Ballet. It got a new name in 1977 to honor Herman and Maurice Herbst, two important San Francisco philanthropists.
To add to the historic grandeur, 100-year-old murals line the Herbst Theatre. Famous artist Frank Brangwyn painted the pieces for the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. Among these paintings of epic events, gilded fixtures, and shimmering chandeliers, you can settle in and enjoy the show. Delve into a world of contemporary dance, exciting plays, or enchanting classical music.
Heart of the City Farmers’ Market
Experience a warmer side to the Civic Center neighborhood at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market. This wonderful farmer’s market is a wholesome combination of independent, farmer-operated, and non-profit. Every Sunday and Wednesday, the United Nations Plaza transforms into an emporium of local produce and artisanal goods.
The Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has spent decades serving the local community. A couple of hours here is an opportunity to support local entrepreneurs and sustainable living. Add a personal feel to your purchases as you enjoy chats with local farmers and small businesses.
Foodies will have a fantastic time sampling all the farm-to-table delights. Pick up fresh fruit, bread, and spreads for a perfect San Francisco picnic. There are also lots of lesser-known vegetables and spices to help you create an Asian feast back at your apartment. Why not pick up a colorful bouquet of fresh flowers as a souvenir?
Where to eat & drink
As a huge hub for government, business, and entertainment, it’s no surprise that Civic Center has an incredible choice of top restaurants and fine dining options. But there’s much more to discover, from quirky bars to chilled-out cafes.
For a laid-back local eaterie, check out the Local Diner. This no-frills joint specializes in serving tasty American classics. Tuck into an all-day breakfast or choose from a fun choice of burgers.
Dreaming of the Caribbean? Get yourself down to Chao Pescao. The restaurant’s Cuban and Columbian home cooking will have you booking flights to Latin America. When you’re done eating, the colorful décor and inventive twists on classic cocktails get the party started.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar is full of turn-of-the-century French flair. Find a nook in the cozy wooden interior where you can sip on classic cocktails and browse the classic French brasserie menu.
If you’re craving sushi, make it a luxurious dinner at Robin. This hip Japanese restaurant provides a personalized omakase experience with a California twist. A chic design and elegant plates deliver the ultimate aesthetic.
Beer lovers should check out Fermentation Lab. This cool brewpub has a warm but minimal interior where you can sit back and concentrate on their excellent choice of California craft beers.
Get a taste of the seven seas at Smuggler’s Cove. This fun bar takes the nautical theme to the next level with an interior that makes you feel like you’re on an ancient pirate ship. Smuggler’s Cove offers the largest collection of rum in the country, and their cocktails draw inspiration from three centuries of rum history.
The adorable Sugar Lounge is a top spot for a date night or girls’ night out. It’s the place to be for cute décor and great cocktails.
Or embrace the retro feeling at Mr. Tipple’s Jazz Club, a suave venue with live music, craft cocktails, and Dim Sum.
Where to stay
Located in the heart of the city, Civic Center is one of the coolest neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco. The accommodation selection here, however, is limited, with only a handful of top-rated hotels and vacation rentals.
If you run out of options here, expand your lodgings search to neighboring areas like Tenderloin or Nob Hill, or further afield to other areas in Downtown San Francisco like Union Square, South of Market (SoMa), Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill, Chinatown, and North Beach.
Around the corner from the War Memorial Opera House, this fun 60s-style building is in a top location for exploring Civic Center. This hotel has decked-out large rooms, a wood-paneled bar, and an elegant parlor with lots of classic furnishings, so you can enjoy a luxurious stay.
This building on the National Register of Historic Places blends its past with exciting design throughout the ages. Curl up by the fire pit, graze New American cuisine, and take in glorious cityscape views from the rooftop bar. Or keep up your workout routine in the gym with yoga classes and personal trainers.