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Best Budget Cultural Events In San Francisco

Experiencing high culture doesn't always mean breaking the bank. Rather, with a little effort, you often can get in for close to nothing by volunteering as an usher or a greeter to get free admission to world class events in opera, ballet, dance, theater, lectures and interviews. If working your way in isn't your thing, you may be able to take advantage of student, child, senior or military discounts, and there's always the option of standing room and rush tickets. In any case, there's no need to sit home or miss out the culture San Francisco has to offer, even if you're on a budget.

See volunteer ushering information

Opera tickets can cost up to $330, but standing room runs only $10 cash if you grab tickets right before the performance. Ballet tickets are also affordable, starting at around $20. The ballet season runs January 27 to May 6, so there's plenty of time to catch a show.

For the spring and fall months, the best free events are picnics. Try September's Opera in the Park at Sharon Meadow in Golden Gate Park, or the spring and fall Opera at the Ballpark by San Francisco Opera. Last September featured Turandot, a matinee with family activities in the park. SF Opera requires online registration for the baseball park.

See volunteer ushering information

ACT's volunteer ushers get to catch dramas and comedies by award-winning playwrights and a captivating core acting company for free. Main stage shows generally start at $10 and range to $85. ACT also offers discount tickets such as 10UP balcony ticket prices for $10, and there's even a "pay what you can" performance.

See discount and group sales information

2012 events at Cal Performances include Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, an evening with Garrison Keillor, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. The best part is volunteer ushers may see these thrilling and diverse performances for free. Cal Performances has a full roster of volunteers for 2012, but you may add your name to the list for the future by emailing Tickets at Cal Performances are meant to make art accessible and start at $30, but can cost up to a flat $100 for special events.

Last-minute rush tickets cost $10 for UCB students, $15 for UCB faculty, staff and seniors age 65 or older, and $20 for all other community members. Students and children under 16 get 50 percent off tickets for some matinees.

Related: Best outdoor theater in the Bay Area.

See volunteer ushering information

At BATS, volunteer ushers get free admission to Theatersports—a fun night of improv theater presented as a competition in which the audience decides the victors. Because the outcome of the show depends on the chemistry the actors have with the audience, no two performances are alike. If you're not volunteering, tickets are still reasonably priced at $17 online or $20 at the door.  

In Civic Center.
To usher at Davies Symphony Hall, (415) 503-5325
Rush Information Hotline at (415) 503-5577

The home to the San Francisco Symphony, Davies Symphony Hall offers upscale events in a spectacular round glass hall that volunteer ushers see for free year-round. Many events are family-friendly and Davies offers tickets at fifty percent off for children 17 and under. Rush tickets go for only $20, and tours of the 20-year old Symphony Hall cost only $5 for general admission and $3 students and seniors.

Head to CBS San Francisco's Best Of page for more local tips on family fun, shopping, nightlife, food, culture and more!

Cindy Warner is a San Francisco Bay Area native. Cindy has covered SF theater and opera for via her bicycle since January 2009. Check out her work on

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