Whether you’re listing to soothing ocean sounds or your favorite album, it’s easy to understand the powerful effect that sound has on us. San Francisco is home to a treasure trove of incredible audio experiences ranging from evocative string quartets to immersive theaters of sound. Here are a few must-visit immersive experiences in SF for you and your favorite audiophiles to visit.
1. Concerts by candlelight
The extremely popular concert series known simply as Candlelight is a heartfelt and powerful experience. You’ll enjoy events that celebrate artists ranging from Vivaldi to Taylor Swift played by a talented string quartet, in an intimate environment surrounded by hundreds of luminous candles.
Locations: Grace Cathedral, St. Ignatius Church, Great Star Theater, and more.
Located inside The Midway music and arts venue, Envelop occupies an internal room outfitted with 32 speakers that are positioned to create an immersive audio experience that allows audiences to “be within the music.” Events range from sound baths and ocean soundscapes to intimate listening events for popular albums like Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon or Frank Ocean’s Blond. It’s an incredible way to experience your favorite album. The space has yoga class energy with a no-shoe rule and comfy seating on the floor.
Location: 900 Marin Street
There’s no place like Audium. The space, built in 1975, is dedicated to the creation and performance of spatial sound art and is performed in a custom-built facility. A visit to Audium starts in the lobby where sound, video projections, and art set the tone for the experience. After a walk down a darkened hallway, you’ll be seated in a 49-seat theater where 176 speakers fully immerse you in sound. The current performance at Audium features three local sound artists who have created original spatial works over the course of a three-month residency program. They’ll use this one-of-a-kind space to take you on an unforgettable sonic journey.
Location: 1616 Bush Street
4. Sound Bath at Grace Cathedral
SF’s Grace Cathedral is a magnificent Episcopal Church that’s also known to host frequent yoga classes, arts, and music events. Fractals of Sound hosts a monthly sound bath in this palatial space, using light and the natural acoustic of the cathedral to create a deeply relaxing and unique experience. This collective of musicians draws inspiration from a variety of musical traditions across the globe, incorporating crystal bowls, sitar, djembe, and many other instruments to create a unique sonic environment. During the performance, you’re invited to “sink deep into the primal sounds of creation, all from the comfort of your yoga mat or sleeping bag.”
Location: 1100 California Street
5. Sound Healing at The Center SF
The Center is a community hub in Hayes Valley that is dedicated to personal, spiritual, and social transformation. They host a variety of events including sound baths and sound healing sessions throughout the month. These events often incorporate reiki and live musical performances to help soothe anxiety and increase creativity. They also house a wonderful tea house and yoga studio that’s open to the public.
Location: 548 Fillmore Street
6. SFMOMA – The Visitors
Back by popular demand, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors has returned to SFMOMA. The exhibition features nine large video screens projecting Kjartansson and eight of his friends as they present an intimate musical composition. The result is an hour-long piece in a single take, presented from nine different musical perspectives that are both highly individualized and inextricably linked. The piece invites you to appreciate both individual and collective performances as the piece explores layers upon layers of sound and feeling over the course of an hour. Tickets are required to view this exhibit.
Location: SFMOMA, 151 3rd St
7. The Wave Organ
Perch yourself on edge of the bay and let the ocean take the stage. This acoustic sound sculpture, brought to you by The Exploratorium, is activated by waves crashing over its 25 organ pipes. As the tides change so do the subtle harmonies, making you feel like you’re tuning into nature. The wild invention constructed from leftover marble and granite of a bulldozed cemetery may just be the best free show in the Bay.
Location: 83 Marina Green Drive
8. Osher Rainforest and Morrison Planetarium at the CA Academy of Sciences
This four-story indoor rainforest is one of the most famous exhibits at the Academy. Guests step inside a lush 90-foot-diameter glass dome filled with 1,600+ live plants and animals including 250+ free-flying birds and butterflies. You can come face-to-face with two blue-and-yellow macaws, poison-dart frogs, sun beetles, leafcutter ants, brilliant blue morpho butterflies and more exciting species.
While there you’ll also want to visit Morrison Planetarium, which is one of the largest all-digital domes in the world, giving guests an unparalleled perspective at the depths of our universe. Many of the jaw-dropping shows on view are created right here in San Francisco, by the Academy’s own in-house visualization studio who uses cutting-edge data and technology to transport you to the furthest reaches of the cosmos.
Location: Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr, Golden Gate Park
9. Mercury Soul: The music of Stranger Things at The Midway
The composers behind the iconic Stranger Things theme will make a rare concert appearance at The Midway in San Francisco. The Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated musicians will showcase their innovative and dynamic use of synthesizers in conjunction with a pipe organ. This all-ages audiovisual experience is happening for one night only on June 4, 2023.
Location: The Midway, 900 Marin St
10. Yoga classes at Temple Immersive
These magical yoga classes at Temple SF transport you to a variety of sceneries while you enjoy your yoga practice. Flow through your sun salutations while surrounded by a dynamic rainforest environment, stretch out beneath the Northern Lights, or let loose with some smooth beats at their Soul Funk Flow practice.
Location: Temple SF, 540 Howard St
Written by Jamie Ferrell and Grant MacHamer