How To Get Cultured Without Going Broke in San Francisco

It's the classic dilemma for visitors to any big city: do you take in all the high-culture highlights a metropolis has to offer, or keep the vacation budget under control? In San Francisco, the pull of the arts is particularly strong, and the price tag can be especially intimidating. 

Luckily, if your budget isn't quite as high-end as your taste in entertainment, we’ve got you covered. Read on for our guide to getting cultured without going broke in San Francisco.


Davies Symphony HallStrings, wind, brass, empty wallets: they all seem to go together when you’re looking at a night out. But an evening spent listening to San Francisco’s award-winning, hundred-year-old symphony doesn’t have to break the bank. Browse the symphony’s online calendar and you can often snag “terrace seating” tickets for an affordable $15. Terrace seating puts you behind the stage, where you get a great view of the conductor’s expressions and gestures, in addition to an earful of the same music everyone else is paying a whole lot more for.

No terrace seats left on your day of choice? Not to worry: when enough seats are available, the symphony also offers a limited number of “rush tickets” that will only set you back $20. Rush tickets can only be purchased in person on the day of the performance, but you can call the Symphony’s hotline at 6:00 p.m. the night before to find out what will be available.

Check out all of the SF Symphony’s budget-friendly ticket options.


War Memorial Opera HouseNothing says classy like a night at the San Francisco Opera, and nothing says savvy like getting your tickets for a song. Students with a valid student ID can stop by the War Memorial Opera House box office at 11:00 a.m. the day of a performance to score $25 rush tickets for that night. Even if your student days are behind you, you can still get a great deal. Starting at 10:00 a.m. on the day of each performance at the opera house, 200 standing-room-only tickets are available for a rock-bottom $10.


As the oldest professional ballet company in America, the San Francisco Ballet has quite the reputation. Since its founding in 1933, the company has appeared on camera and on stage around the world. Today it calls the stunning, Beaux-Arts-style War Memorial Opera House home, and you can see the company perform there for less than the cost of a movie at the multiplex.

To score the best deal, you’ll have to be a full-time student and plan a bit ahead. Your prep work, though, will earn you a sweet reward: $11-$22 tickets that can be purchased ahead of time online, no box-office wait time necessary. Just fill out and submit a registration form on the ballet’s website before you head to San Francisco. Once the organization’s confirmed your full-time student status, you’ll receive an e-mail with instructions for buying your tickets online. 

Like the Opera, which performs in the same venue, the Ballet also offers about 200 standing-room tickets on the day of performances. Story ballets will set you back $20, mixed-bill ballets a measly $15. Standing-room tickets get you a spot at the back of the main orchestra level or the back of the top balcony and are sharply discounted because – you guessed it – you’ll be on your feet the whole time. 


SF Jazz CenterFor jazz, Latin tunes, and other forms of global music, the line-up at the San Francisco Jazz Center can’t be beat. While tickets normally start at around $20 depending on the performance, middle-school, high-school, college, and even grad-school students with valid ID can buy last-minute tickets at 50% off. 




New York and Los Angeles may get all the notoriety, but San Francisco could give the big boys a run for their money in the drama department. The easiest way to save on show tickets is through Tix, which offers admission to theater, dance, and other cultural events at about 50% off. Options run the gamut from splashy stage productions to plays by small, independent companies. You can buy tickets ahead of time online through the Tix website, or wander over to the Tix booth in Union Square for same-day discounts. Students with valid ID should also check out the SF Playhouse, where remaining tickets go for $15 at the box office ten minutes before show time. 


Yerba Buena Center for the ArtsEver get to a new city and suddenly feel as if you’re burning through your whole budget on trips to the Louvre, the Guggenheim, or the Prado? You don’t have to add San Francisco’s museums to that list. Some of the city’s finest institutions offer free days each month, so you can soak up as much culture as you like and still have money left over for a dinner out.

At the Asian Art museum (located particularly close to HI-San Francisco City Center), admission is totally free the first Sunday of each month. The first Tuesday of each month, many of the city’s other museums – including the Legion of Honor, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the de Young museum – all follow suit. 

Want more information on how to get the best of SF culture on the cheap? Check out our map of all the places mentioned in this story. 

If You Go 

Stay at one of HI's three San Francisco Hostels