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Education and Cultural Life in San Francisco

Updated on April 22, 2014

The cultural climate of San Francisco is reflected not only in its support of art, music, and the drama but also in its appreciation of good food and wines and other adjuncts to gracious living.

Education in the city is a more than usually complex operation because of the diverse racial backgrounds of its residents. The city maintains a comprehensive public school program ranging from kindergarten to college level. It also provides a variety of courses for non-English-speaking groups, both children and adults.

Colleges and Universities

The largest school of higher education in the city is San Francisco State University, part of the California State University system, dates from 1899.

San Francisco State University
San Francisco State University | Source

Other institutions of higher education include the city-supported City College of San Francisco and the long-established University of San Francisco (founded in 1855). The city is the site of the San Francisco Art Institute, and a number of departments of the University of California, among them the Hastings College of Law and the schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing. Elsewhere in the bay area are the Berkeley campus of the University of California, Stanford University, Mills College, and the Catholic schools of St. Mary's and Santa Clara.

Cultural Diversity


Perhaps to a greater extent than any other American city, San Francisco's population is made up of people of many racial strains. This is due in part to its geographical position and to its long-standing trade with countries bordering on the Pacific. Even in days before the gold rush, the residents, then predominantly of Spanish ancestry, included a sprinkling of Americans, Europeans, Kanakas from the Hawaiian Islands, natives of Chile and other South or Central American countries, and an occasional Chinese. It was, however, the discovery of gold that gave the city the markedly cosmopolitan quality it has retained to this day.


The varied cultural and racial heritage of San Francisco residents is reflected in the number and variety both of its newspapers and its churches. There is one major daily -the Chronicle. The city also has more than a dozen daily or weekly papers published in Chinese, Japanese, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, and the Scandinavian languages.

Most groups also have their own places of worship. In addition to the many churches and synagogues there are several Chinese temples and Buddhist shrines.

San Francisco Art Museum
San Francisco Art Museum | Source

Museums and Libraries

Millions of people annually visit the three leading art galleries -the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Art Museum in the Civic Center, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. Other collections of artistic, historical, and scientific material are on display at the California Historical Society, the Society of California Pioneers, and the California Academy of Sciences.

The public library system consists of the main library in the Civic Center and more than 20 branches throughout the city. There are also a number of important private libraries, including that of the Mechanics' Institute, which has been in existence since 1855.

Performing Arts

In the forefront of musical activities are the city-financed symphony orchestra and opera company, both nationally recognized for the quality of their productions. The city also maintains a municipal chorus and, through its Art Commission, sponsors an annual outdoor art show in the Civic Center.


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