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  • Best Museum Sideshow

    Cartoon Art Museum

    Most San Francisco museums are big on heart and low on funds, such as the Cartoon Art Museum, which has absolutely no collections budget. On any given day, sole curator Andrew Farago can be seen managing the archives, planning shows, hosting readings, painting the exhibition halls, building cases, and mounting art. He might even be found manning the register at the museum's excellent, large bookstore. And yet, despite being spread so thin, it remains the preeminent cartoon museum in the... More >>

  • Best Publisher

    McSweeney's

    Perhaps the only West Coast publisher playing a pivotal role in the American literary scene, McSweeney's has a catalog that lacks the fashionable, impetuous hardcovers that clutter most lists. It's definitely pushing boundaries — with dos-a-dos children's books and Beck's Song Reader — but it's not doing it in the name of publicity. Readers know they can count on form and content from established writers, including Michael Chabon and Joyce Carol Oates, and can also discover worthy new talent. Writer... More >>

  • Best Archive Full of Tricks

    San Francisco Public Library

    Heat rises, and so does the quality of materials at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library. The San Francisco History Center is tucked behind closed but not locked doors on the sixth floor, where the entirety of the city and county archives live. The research collection includes police records on prostitutes and pickpockets of the Barbary Coast, aerial views taken in 1938, 19th-Century menus, more than 10,000 postcards, 600 broadsides, sheet music from 1847, and "pocket lawyers"... More >>

  • Best Fortune-Telling Show

    Dark Room Theater

    After years of bouncing around among venues such as the Odeon, S.P.A.C.E., and 12 Galaxies, the venerable Ask Dr. Hal show has found a new home at the equally venerable Dark Room. Accompanied by strange sounds and visuals, the Church of the SubGenius's astonishing orator Dr. Hal will answer any question posed to him, and will do so in the most entertainingly purple, poetic and potentially profound manner possible. The more money you include with your question, the funnier his... More >>

  • Best Audio Three-Ring Circus

    Radio Valencia

    Of all the community radio options in the Bay Area, Radio Valencia in San Francisco is the best value for your free radio-listening dollar. As is appropriate for a station whose studio is above a Bikram Yoga joint in the Mission, Radio Valencia offers a wide range of bizarre aural spectacles, particularly the free-form Nose Hair Lint Gland and KrOB's mind-bending Stimulus Regression Programming. Such shows will leave with you more questions than when you started, questions you can then... More >>

  • Best Screening Room With a (No-Touching) Petting Zoo

    Variety Club Preview Room

    The next time you need a 47-seat state-of-the-art venue in which to watch a movie or sporting event on a theater-quality screen, the Variety Club Preview Room is your best bet. (After the screening, pretend you're an old-timey movie mogul by turning around saying "Can you run that again, Charlie?") Making it all the more special is the lush reception lounge, which is lined with colorful oil portraits of lions, giraffes, and other animals, leading to a bigger-than-life Kung Fu... More >>

  • Best Late Night Movie

    Dolores Park

    Although the days of the drive-in are pretty much over, for people nostalgic for the carnival experience, Film Night in the Park is the next best thing. If you're a sucker for a summertime show, you can see entertaining film classics at Dolores Park where admission is free. The programming features action flicks like Jaws and Top Gun, or feel-good throwbacks including Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club on a big screen. For the forty milers and newcomers to Film... More >>

  • Best Place For Carnival Games

    Musée Mécanique

    Try your luck at San Francisco's best midway, the Musée Mécanique, a collection of more than 300 vintage coin-operated arcade games. Admission is free, so step right up and pay a nickel (times five) to fire up the old favorites like Arm Wrestling, have your destiny revealed by the Fortune Teller, or take snapshots in the photo booth. Our favorites are Susie the Can-Can Dancer, Laffing Sal, and, of course, the Carnival. Founder Edward Galland Zelinsky began collecting the unique... More >>

  • Best Circus Game

    Circus Atari

    The circus has come to town — or at least to your mobile device. Circus Atari is the millennium's version of sideshow games: the digitized Barnum & Bailey. Compatible with iPhones and iPads, the latest version of Circus Atari has a four-star rating, not to mention it'll only cost you a couple clicks on your phone to play. You're the ringmaster of the biggest spec under the big top. Use the cannon to shoot the clown through the big ring.... More >>

  • Best Theatrical Sideshow Company

    The Thrillpeddlers

    This is not some sideshow; the Thrillpeddlers are the main event. But their joyful, tasteless camp is subversive like the freak shows of yore. They titillate perverse urges; they indulge forbidden fantasies. They glitter their unmentionables and tassel their sexual organs. They specialize in grisly deaths with lakes of fake blood, grislier sex scenes, and, in a recent and highly successful departure from their canon, Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade. Many of artistic director Russell Blackwood's performers are stars of SF's drag... More >>

  • Best Theatrical Sideshow Company

    The Thrillpeddlers

    This is not some sideshow; the Thrillpeddlers are the main event. But their joyful, tasteless camp is subversive like the freak shows of yore. They titillate perverse urges; they indulge forbidden fantasies. They glitter their unmentionables and tassel their sexual organs. They specialize in grisly deaths with lakes of fake blood, grislier sex scenes, and, in a recent and highly successful departure from their canon, Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade. Many of artistic director Russell Blackwood's performers are stars of SF's drag... More >>

  • Best Escape Artist in Comedy

    The Purple Onion

    This historic local "comedy club" has gone through several iterations since its founding in 1952, including a stint as a grunge music club in the '90s. It holds a special place in the hearts of the local comedy scene, and it can never die. Even when the building was sold late last year, signaling the inevitable demise of the club, the comics picked up the famous name and set up shop with The Purple Onion at Kells. Like alumni offering... More >>

  • Best Comedic Variety Show

    Don't Watch This Show LIVE!

    Founded in 2012 by comedians Ryan Cronin and Bert DiVietri, Don't Watch This Show LIVE! is like Saturday Night Live meets Funny or Die meets a Wednesday night in a little theatre in the Mission. This live monthly stand-up, sketch, improv, and all-around hilarious comedy show features an array of improv stars, stand-up favorites, and talented actors from around the Bay Area. The eclectic troupe was featured in SF Sketchfest 2013 and included special guest Brody Stevens in starring sketch... More >>

  • Best Comedy Troupe

    Sylvan Productions

    This comedy powerhouse not only produces dozens of shows around the city, but it also brings comedians together to live in a sort of "comedy frat house" of inspiration and support. Members of the Sylvan House work together to support each other's professional paths and to produce some of the best comedy in the Bay Area on stage and film. Staple member OJ Patterson curates the popular Courting Comedy blog that gives a behind-the-scenes peek into the local stand-up scene.... More >>

  • Best Chameleon Comic

    Miles K

    Miles K weaves his clever, twisted humor into everything he does, whether it's live or video sketches, stand-up, Twitter, blogging, or satirical journalism. His performances range from clever hipster cynicism to wacky and upbeat characters, ever unpredictable and always hilarious. While many Bay Area comedy fans might know him from the stage at Punch Line or Cobb's, Miles will delight comedy fans of any ilk with his bag of tricks on and offline. With his stand-up featured at SF Sketchfest,... More >>

  • Best Sexy Stories

    Bawdy Storytelling

    Themes like "Starf*ckers," "Cockblocked," "Cut-Rate Coitus" and "Bottoms Up!" — "true stories of anal, alcohol, and submission (why pick one?)" — make each Bawdy Storytelling event a remarkably coherent selection of salacious tales. Storytellers perform live, so anything at all can happen, although the lovely host Dixie de la Tour helps each one practice their performance ahead of time. Dixie also makes the event extra engaging with crowd-mingling games, giveaways, and other charming activities. Many storytellers are professional writers or... More >>

  • Best Variety Hour

    Make-Out Room

    "Variety is more than just having sex dressed as Alien Greenspan every once in a while," declares the website for Writers With Drinks, the once-monthly literary variety hour at the Make-Out Room. Our host, the astonishingly vivacious Charlie Jane Anders, writes about science fiction for io9.com. But Charlie doesn't hold with genre limitations. WWD features writers from all walks of life ... although sometimes you have to check their websites to figure them out, because Charlie's brilliant and hilarious introductions... More >>

  • Best Place to Hear Jazz

    SFJAZZ Center

    For 30 years, ever since founding the San Francisco Jazz Center, Randall Kline wanted a home base. Now, he's got it, with the country's first standalone jazz center. Kline worked with a theater designer, sound engineer and an architect to create the best possible space to hear jazz. SFJAZZ's Robert Miner Auditorium combines the intimacy of a club with the acoustics of Carnegie Hall. It took its influences from New England town meeting halls and Unitarian churches — places about... More >>

  • Best Theater for Writers

    Magic Theatre

    It's called the House that Sam built — as in Sam Shepard. The Magic Theatre isn't just about the actors. The people who write the words those actors say on stage play an important role as well. Because of the theatre's support of writers, nationally recognized playwright Octavio Solis left Texas to come to San Francisco more than 20 years ago to find a home for his writing at the Magic. Artistic Director Loretta Greco, (who is opening next season... More >>

  • Best Use of Silk Trapeze

    Labayen Dance/SF's Tears

    Enrico Labayen's lament for his sister begins with tiny movements of the hand and foot — subtle signs of life that we seek in our departing loved ones. The dancers are sphinxes commanding silence, then break into individual phrases commemorating multiple moments and moods of life. The slap of their outspread arms against the floor is vulnerable and defiant, a reminder of our earthly origins — a reminder, too, that the floor is the dancer's tool, even as it is... More >>

  • Best Whirling Dervish

    The Milissa Payne Project's Revolve

    Milissa Payne Bradley makes a Lazy Susan work in her quirky piece Revolve. In this excerpt from Up in the Air, Payne Bradley's colorful evening-length ballet about the wonders of hot air ballooning, Jamielyn Duggan spins upon a homemade disc in the center of the floor with daring, devil-may-care glee before leaping directly into precise, speedy footwork. In a piece about choices and change, the chance revolutions of the disc evoke a wheel of fortune that the dancer attacks from... More >>

  • Best Use of Paint and Improvisation Since Jackson Pollock

    Tigre Bailando

    Hypnotic improviser Tigre Bailando is his own work of art. Using his body as a canvas, the artist/dancer/preschool teacher greets each day with a new design in a practice he calls "Everyday Warrior" to honor the ceremonial painting of indigenous peoples worldwide. He names mythology, graffiti, poetry, folktales, cultural artifacts, and the natural world among the multitudinous inspirations that radiate out in his prints, sculptures, masks, jewelry, paintings, and digital art. As with all improvisation, the watchword is "play," to... More >>

  • Best Place in the Haight to See Hippie Plant Art

    1012 Masonic Avenue

    Tenants in this building have "potted" three plants into old jeans that line the front steps, right next to the street. It's the funkiest fashion in the Haight. When the tenants water the plants, the jeans hold the water because the pant legs are tied into knots. A poppy plant occupies one pair of jeans, while an ice plant anchors another. The plant in the third pair is a wisp of undetermined genus. Lots of passersby walking south to Haight... More >>

  • Best Place to See Street Art Close to a Federal Building

    530 Turk Street

    The walls in the parking lot across from the Phillip Burton Federal Building are a forest of memorable street art — put there in plain view of federal employees who'd never tolerate a tag on their pristine building, which has cameras that monitor all street-level activity. At 530 Turk, though, wild green lettering zigzags across the back wall, while the right wall has two sections of art that demand perusal: a panorama of a brown city, with large charcoal columns;... More >>

  • Best Place on Market Street to See Thought-Provoking Sculpture

    720 Market Street

    The entranceway here contains a tall Stephen De Staebler's "angel" sculpture that seems ready to fly away. With no obvious eyes and no obvious mouth, this winged sculpture is a bit of a puzzle, but it's an inspired puzzle that regularly causes people to do a double-take as they walk between Kearny and Grant. Last year, the de Young Museum exhibited De Staebler's angels and other sculpture in a major show, "Matter + Spirit: The Sculpture of Stephen De Staebler,"... More >>

  • Best Aquarium Turned Dance Floor

    California Academy of Sciences

    One of the weirdest dancefloors ever installed anywhere was made of Plexiglas and stretched across a 20,000-gallon tank filled with sharks at Qua in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, it's now closed, but you can experience the next best thing at the California Academy of Sciences' weekly "Nightlife" events. Every Thursday evening the museum converts into a makeshift discotheque, using its various rooms to host DJs pulled from the city's best parties. Venture downstairs to Steinhart Aquarium, and, on select nights, you... More >>

  • Best New Community Theater

    Z Below

    Z Space recently opened its new theater, Z Below, "to be a catalyst for the creation of new works." It's well on the way. The 88-seat theater has already hosted two great reading series, and when PianoFight used Z Below to test a new format with Variety Show Death Match, the show sold out. Now it's moving to the larger theater upstairs. In June, Z Below will host the Writing Outside the Box series, which invites well-known writers and filmmakers... More >>

  • Best Masked Band

    The Residents

    This avant-garde band, founded in Louisiana but bred in San Francisco thanks to a van that broke down in the Bay Area in 1966, has been infamously anonymous for at least four decades. The Residents call 2013 their 40th anniversary, marked by the international Wonder of Weird Tour, but it's likely that the band has been together for longer than that. Many brilliant disguises have been donned over the years, but their eyeball-as-face masks, crowned with a jaunty top hat,... More >>

  • Band Most Likely to Become a Circus

    Gooferman

    The self-proclaimed "kings of klown-fi" have gone through an awful lot of pancake makeup since forming in San Francisco in 2001. The liberal use of white faces and red accents might draw a lot of visual comparisons to the slightly sinister Midwest act Insane Clown Posse. But sonically, Gooferman is much more from the school of Red Hot Chili Peppers punk funk, albeit balanced atop circus pillars. The band already has a motley crew of circus performers who enhance the... More >>

  • Best Podcast About Whores to Be Personally Endorsed by Ira Glass

    The WhoreCast

    Earlier this year, threats of legal action from Chicago Public Media forced local podcaster, porn star, activist, musician, and part-time mermaid Siouxsie Q to change the name of her podcast from This American Whore to The Whorecast. She may have lost the name, but in exchange she got national press and an endorsement from Ira Glass himself, who called the show "charming." He couldn't have chosen a more apt descriptor. The Whorecast's cult following is largely due to Siouxsie Q's... More >>

  • Best Film Festival by and for Sex Workers

    San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival

    Founded in 1999 by "unrepentant whore" and activist Carol Leigh, the biennial San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival is the one of the longest-running of its kind. According to Leigh, it's rivaled only by one in Calcutta, founded in 1997. The festival, now in its eighth incarnation at the Center for Sex and Culture, includes an exploration of personal and political issues of sex workers around the world through film, lectures, and performances. The films include programs on... More >>

  • Best Leap Into Relevance

    San Francisco Magazine

    As San Francisco magazine's truly terrible web address reveals, the publication is better known as the place to get the scoop on who's decorating City Hall rather than who's running it. But this is changing. Newish editor Jon Steinberg is a news guy, not a luxury guy. Under his watch, the magazine has consistently published incisive and relevant stories about both the quotidian and longstanding goings-on in this city. And, yes, you can still find crap about "Shaker-inspired armchairs" and... More >>

  • Best Music Biz Dog-and-Pony Show

    Hotel Kabuki

    Part tech-geek confab, part self-promotion contest, and all good excuse to drink beer and eat brownies while talking to people you've never met before, the twice-annual SF MusicTech Summit provides a fascinating window into the tech side of today's music industry. The highlight of each edition is usually the inevitable shouting match between tech whiz-kids who believe The Internet Rules All and rock codgers who wanna know where their fat royalty checks went. There are always a few fun (and... More >>

  • Best Place to Train for the Center Ring of Rock 'N' Roll

    San Francisco Rock Project

    Good parents wants their kids to be rock stars, right? Right — or at least they should. And there's no better place to sow a stage-strutting future for young Johnny or Sally than the San Francisco Rock Project, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching kids the musical skills needed to become the golden gods of the next generation. In a sense, S.F. Rock Project is your basic music school, albeit a louder one: Kids attend weekly private lessons on the rock... More >>

  • Best Tourist Circus That's Worth it for Locals

    Beach Blanket Babylon

    It's kinda expensive, the seating is tightly packed, and you have to wait in line for an hour or more to get in — so why don't more San Francisco locals appreciate the wonder that is Beach Blanket Babylon? Part of it must be the musical comedy show's reputation as a must-do for visitors. But the same could be said of Blue Bottle Coffee — and Beach Blanket Babylon is way more memorable. Perhaps San Franciscans fear that a comedy... More >>

  • Best Inspiration

    City Arts and Lectures

    It's easy to tune in to this series of inspiring lectures from heavy-hitters in the fields of art, science, literature, and culture on KQED, but even better to see it in person. With over 50 lectures every year, City Arts & Lectures packs the Herbst Theater with luminaries like Gloria Steinem, Michael Chabon, Cheryl Strayed, and more. Best of all, the "On Arts" series benefits 826 Valencia's scholarship program — so although you'll have to shell out for a ticket,... More >>

  • Best Local Hip-Hop Truth Serum

    The Coup

    Oligarchs, capitalists, and coke-addled trust-fund brats, radical Oakland rap outfit the Coup is coming for you. Led by charismatic propagandist/MC Boots Riley, the group uses live instrumentation and electric wordplay to make hella fun songs about fighting the man: "Your Parents' Cocaine" is a goofy piano-and-kazoo anthem about the spoiled offspring of snow-sniffing WASPs, while "The Guillotine" reprises that most symbolic of execution tools to warn of would-be oppressors: "They got the TV/We got the truth/They own the judges/And we... More >>

  • Best Singer With a Disappearing Act

    Morrissey

    It would have been funny twice, mildly annoying three times, and a serious bummer the fourth. But when Morrissey canceled his fifth and six Bay Area shows in a row this spring, he made the leap from pop star prima donna to somewhat talented asshole. Supposedly touring the U.S. this year, the vegan Brit managed to bring the songs of his deep, beloved catalog to the live stage in L.A and Denver, but not Oakland or S.F. Often, his cancellations... More >>

  • Best Circus Theater

    Sweet Can

    Sweet Can brings that Montreal circus flavor without overdoing it. Its shows take Cirque du Soleil-sized skills, and fit them into small, intimate venues. The company is not as busy as some other local circus troupes — it takes its time developing new work — but its shows typically sell out. Sweet Can's first show Habitat, and its second show Yes Sweet Can, were both extended beyond their initial run, and its latest holiday cabaret, Mittens and Mistletoe, charmed the... More >>

  • Best Job of Filling Big Clown Shoes

    Circus Bella

    The Pickle Family Circus is San Francisco's most enduring circus legacy. It "reinvented the circus" long before that phrase was a buzzword in the circus community, and its one-ring, animal-free show helped inspire the two street performers who founded Cirque du Soleil. The Pickles started in 1970s San Francisco, and reflected the times. Their shows were held in public parks, and always benefitted a good cause. They opened the San Francisco School of Circus Arts in 1984 (now Circus Center),... More >>

  • Best-Looking Show on Earth

    Vau-de-Vire Society

    Vau-de-Vire might have started out with a reputation as a ragtag circus bad boy, but thanks to constant practice, and the sheer determination of director Mike Gaines, the group is now a force to be reckoned with. Its revealing costumes blur the line between circus performers and go-go dancers, but its skills have landed it on the Las Vegas strip. This year, Vau-de-Vire helped take over the lease of the former art center CELLspace when it fell on hard times,... More >>

  • Best Way to Pass the Time When Dragged to Fisherman's Wharf by Out-of-Towners

    Pier 39

    The Bush Man might get all the press, but of all the groups performing at the Wharf, none can match the wit, athleticism, and sheer hilarity of the Sardine Family Circus. Born to a circus family in the U.K., Alex, Orion, and Meisje Griffiths grew up performing on the streets, and it shows. They've added and lost some members over the years — Orion is on sabbatical for a turn on Broadway — but the show hasn't missed a step.... More >>

  • Best Rock 'n' Roll Whipcracker

    Hether Fortune of Wax Idols

    By Ian S. Port No one in the Bay Area music scene metes out painful pleasure, or pleasurable pain, like Heather Fedewa, aka Hether Fortune. She's best known as the leader of Wax Idols, an all-female rock band that explores the fine line between noirish pop and ear-shattering punk. But when she's not recording or touring, Fortune beats men for money as a professional dominatrix. It's an outlet for her long-running interest in the aesthetics of sadomasochism. And, as she... More >>

  • Best S.F. Comics to Watch in 2013

    By Dana Sitar From up-and-coming open-mikers to rookie pros, keep an eye out around town for these fast-rising stand-up stars. Brendan Lynch An unassuming facade and unapologetic snark make Lynch a favorite at clubs and showcases around the Bay Area. David Gborie Gborie lights up the local open mic scene and deserves to be known for his talents beyond it. He explodes on stage with passion, frightening and igniting a captive audience with laughter. Matt Rath Rath's unique stand-up and... More >>

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