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San Diego is a laid-back surfer city known more for its beaches than its cultural scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of any arts. Sure, its California counterparts like glitzy Los Angeles and arty San Francisco get all of the kudos, but San Diego has undergone a cultural transformation over the past 20 years and is gaining on them.
San Diego has theater cred thanks to the distinguished Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. It is a big attraction for locals and tourists, who fill seats in three theaters to see Shakespearean offerings as well as more modern works like Studs Terkel’s Working and The Rock Horror Show. But the city is also home to theater up-and-comers like Mo’olelo, a troupe that uses works from contemporary playwrights who tackle issues of race. For a real piece of theater history, head 20 minutes north to the Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse, which was co-founded by actor Gregory Peck. Known as one of the best regional theaters in the country, the Playhouse stages everything from Broadway classics (Jersey Boys debuted here before heading to the Great White Way) to new plays like Little Miss Sunshine.
There is certainly no shortage of museums in San Diego, so spend an afternoon or a day checking out some of the city’s most prized cultural gems. Scenic Balboa Park offers 15 museums, but the standout is the San Diego Museum of Art. Stop in to see works like Georgia O’Keeffe’s The White Flower and El Greco’s The Penitent Saint Peter. With locations in La Jolla and downtown San Diego, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego boasts an array of avant-garde works from 1950 through today. Check out its Pop Art and its collection of work from San Diego and Tijuana artists for some local flavor.
No matter which genre you prefer, San Diego is home to a number of impressive music venues that allow the city’s vibrant personality to shine through. If your tastes run classical, be sure to get tickets for the San Diego Opera, Lyric Opera San Diego or San Diego Symphony. Should you be in the mood to rock, head to the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. Dance fans can catch go classic with the San Diego Ballet or contemporary with Culture Shock San Diego, whose members went on to win America’s Best Dance Crew. Not bad for a surfer city.