The Nutcracker

Parent Q&A

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  • SF Ballet Nutcracker

    (14 replies)

    I wanted to treat myself and didn’t think through. I bought tickets to SF Nutcracker for my birthday. I was really excited and then doubt started to set in. 

    Is a full length ballet ok for a 10 year old who has never been to a full theater production (not even a musical)? They have been to a circus and Disney on Ice but they are a very different experience, as they can snack through the whole show. 

    Should I have gotten orchestra seats so the kid can see the details better? Personally I prefer Grand Tier or Dress Circle for ballet. I do have opera binoculars. 

    I told my spouse and kid about my birthday plan and spouse was apprehensive and kid was disappointed that you cannot eat while watching the show. 

    Buyer’s remorse is setting in. Am I setting myself up for a disappointing birthday? The show is at 2 pm on a weekend, so at least if things go wrong, we have time to come home, eat dinner and ice cream in PJs and recover. But, it is not cheap and this would be my first trip to the War Memorial in over 7 years! (I used to go often before having a kid.)

    Have you taken your child to SF Nutcracker? Any tips on making this exciting and enjoyable for the whole family? (We do plan to preorder concession.) Should I cancel? Is Grand Tier ok for kids? Are they really strict about snacks? I am hoping to doll out some treats / offer drinks during the less exciting part, if the kid gets really impatient. But that would be the last resort as we also plan to be masked. 

    Are there nice outdoor heated dining options nearby?

    Thank you. 


    I don’t know about food options nearby because it’s been a while since I’ve been out for a meal in that neighborhood. But I can tell you that I loved going to the ballet when I was 10 years old. It was a special experience and I love dressing up and I love ballet. Is that have a storyline. I think you should try it out. If it is a disaster, you can always leave early. 


    When my daughter was 6 we took her to the SF Nutcracker. She dressed up in her princess dress and she absolutely loved it. She sat stil through the whole show (and she is usually very energetic). There were a lot of kids there and all seemed to enjoy it. I recall the prices being pretty expensive, so we picked balcony seats. It was perfect and we could see everything. My daughter loved it so much, we were planning on making it a yearly tradition, unfortunately  due to Covid we couldn’t, but we plan to go again this year. Have fun while making great memories with your kiddo! 

    I think it depends on the kid, but for what it's worth I randomly bought not that expensive nutcracker balcony seats to the BAM production (in Brooklyn). Took my kid when she was a bit younger than 10 I think. She was absolutely on the edge of her seat captivated, way more so than I expected. The first half has some scenes that are not all long dance numbers, and she was really into those. I think in the second half she started to be a little more tired (just leaned back in her seat, not asking to leave). So anyway I remember being surprised by how much she liked it and your kid might just love it too. 

    On treats, I would say offer a nice treat at the end of the show if everything goes well. Once kids get their mind on treats instead of the show there isn't much chance they focus on the show. If my kids think treats are coming up at any point they just sit there wondering when the treats are coming and when they can have more. So I have way better results by saying there will be absolutely no treats during the show and if there is no problem during the show there will be treats afterwards. This way the kids can try to focus on the show and hopefully enjoy it without being distracted by treats. 

    In other unsolicited advice, if my 10 YO and/or spouse were not supportive of my choosing something nice for my birthday I'd be having a serious talk with them. Every kid is different, but I would've told my 10 YO that it was about me and not them, that I don't like all their birthday choices but their birthday isn't about me and that I expect them to enjoy the show because it's amazing but if they didn't I'd expect them to pretend really hard that they did so that I had a great birthday. Usually this doesn't actually result in my kid's behavior improving, but at least I feel like I've tried.

    Hope it's an amazing birthday! 

    I brought my 5-year-old last year and she loved it. We did have a hunger melt-down on the bart ride home (both of us, ha!) - during intermission the cafe gets overwhelmed and only has cookies, coffee, tea and wine - so pack snacks/water in your purse for the break. It's visually exciting enough she was super into it, plus we got nutcracker books at the library before so we were anticipating each scene. That said I saw some parents having a not-so-good time. My daughter is pretty relaxed in general, if you have a high energy kid who is disinterested in ballet you might have a different experience. 

    I'm sure this depends on your kid, but I took mine for the first time when he was newly six and he loved it; the length and lack of snacks wasn't a problem. You can see enough from the upper seats for it to be exciting. I did prep him with the story ahead of time (I think we took a picture book of the story along) so he would know what was going on. We got a sweet treat at intermission. Just be clear about what the expectations are on the front end. We dressed up and it was a new, exciting experience so that made it an adventure. We ate in the little cafe in the War Memorial Building, but I think that's closed now (and it was indoors--this was pre-COVID). There's a fancier restaurant there, but also indoors. Another option if you can easily cancel your tickets is the Oakland Nutcracker--we've done that one too. It's closer, costs less, is still in a fancy theater by my kids' standards, and is near a number of restaurants. Main downside is that it only runs for a few days vs. the weeks-long run of the SF performance. It's also a more modern performance, but my kid enjoyed comparing it to SF from the year before.

    The Nutcracker is great for kids!  There will be kids in all sections, and not all of them will be perfectly behaved.  I wouldn't worry about it.

    A few hints/ideas: 

    1.  Get there early enough that you can pre-order treats for intermission.  If you  pre-order, your stuff is ready and waiting when intermission starts.  No waiting, and something to look forward to.

    2.  Max's Opera Cafe (about 2 blocks away) is very kid friendly, but still nice.  It feels upscale, but they serve things like hamburgers as well as steaks and eggs benedict.  Not sure if they currently have outdoor dining.

    3.  Don't stress. This show is aimed at kids, your child will be one of hundreds.  And it's a fun enough show that they should be able to watch it without needing snacks (especially if they know they get a snack at intermission)

    Have a great time!  

    The Nutcracker is a great way to introduce kids to a more formal performance experience and SF Ballet is very aware that there will be more children at this ballet than your performance at the War Memorial! As such, they have some pretty great resources to help you prepare your child for the performance and decide whether they are ready. 

    Personally, I would start with a community production before jumping to this to help kids get ready and try out sitting still for longer. Is there an option to try that ahead of time? If not, maybe you can make the more formal elements of this part of the fun and a new family tradition: dress up, go out for a nice meal before or after, order hot chocolate to be waiting for you at intermission, watch other recordings of the Nutcracker before, listen to the music at home, talk about why you like a grand theater experience and why you want to share it.

    That said, this is your birthday. Could you let spouse and kid stay home and invite two friends who would appreciate it more so that you can just enjoy? Arbor on Hayes has a beautiful back patio and there are lots of options around that area.

    We last went 4 years ago, with my mom, when my kids were 10 and 7 and they really enjoyed it. There was no issue with them sitting still for the whole time, the production is beautiful, there are lots of things to look at on-stage and the sets/costumes/dances change pretty frequently, keeping everyone engaged. There are a lot of kids of all ages there. It is fun to go early and have a snack in the cafe, we didn't pre-order concession, but that sounds like a good idea. I think you will have a great time as a family!

    Please don't fret. I have been more than 30 times with children of all ages, as young as 3-4, and the audience is at least half young kids and families (more so at matinees). The performance is very engaging and is meant for kids. The entire performance is about 90 minutes, including intermission. You'll be out by 4 PM, which may be too early for dinner. 

    We took our son and daughter to the Nutcracker year after year, from age 6-12.  So your 10 year old surely should be able to handle it.  In our family, we would all get dressed up -- dresses and sports jackets/ties-- and eat out somewhere nearby before or after, although I don't recall where.  Please don't let your child eat during a performance-- it's distracting and disrespectful to the others around you.  Intermission is a great time to get up and stretch your legs and get something to eat or drink.

    Do not cave to husband and child whining - especially get the guy on board. This will be a magical experience for all if you both make it so! I saw the nutcracker  as a child, as did my husband multiple times - we loved it!! My husband took our son 2-3 x when he was 10 or younger and they both loved it! The theater is amazing and yeah it’s not snacking in front of the TV - it’s special. Dress up. Bring something naughty for intermission (like candy, if no whining). I know it’ll be a lovely adventure !

    I think that 10 years is a perfect age for the Nutcracker, but this is kid-dependent.  My child made it through at age 5 and enjoyed almost all of it.  And the audience of for a performance of the Nutcracker is full of children.  The good thing about that is although it's important to have respectful theater manners, there's probably a little more understanding that not all audience members will be perfectly quiet.  It would probably help to play a little of the music ahead of time--familiarity is good and kids usually perk up at hearing music that they know. And, I would play up that your child is now finally old enough to enjoy this experience, and that you wouldn't have been able to take them when they were younger and didn't have theater manners.  You could probably get away with a few jelly beans or other quiet candy to suck on during performance, but most 10 year-olds should be able to wait till intermission, and you could plan a special snack for intermission.  Also if your child likes dressing up, many kids get all dressed up for Nutcracker.   So this could be a special fun outing.  All that said, if you have a child that is really not into the idea and seems disappointed about the idea of going, I think I would acknowledge that this isn't their thing. It's okay if they aren't into it, and 10 is probably a little young for you to expect your child to come along graciously just because it's something you want to do.   If your child isn't into going, enthusiastically and cooperatively, I'd invite a could of friends to go with me. Sounds like your partner is also not being very gracious about this.  This is your birthday and you should enjoy it. You could celebrate your birthday another time with your family in a way that will be fun for all of you, and you could enjoy the Nutcracker with friends who will enjoy it as much as you.  I would think that the worst thing would be to go with a child (and maybe a partner) who you have to take care of and worry about.  Not fair at all to you, and just an unfortunate set up for all of you to have bad feelings.  If you decide to ditch the kid and your partner, I'd do it graciously--acknowledge that it's not their thing and that's okay--and that you want to do something with them for all of you to enjoy AND you want to enjoy the Nutcracker as a birthday present to yourself.   

    What a wonderful birthday celebration you have planned! No need for buyers remorse. A show is fleeting and will soon be over, and you’ll most likely have a great time. I was dragged to the opera, ballet, symphony, musicals, etc from a young age, and I had to sit through the whole show, had to be quiet and respectful, and no I did not snack. I survived. I learned to love and appreciate the arts (well, maybe not opera) and really valued my cultural upbringing. Set your expectations high! A 10 year old can totally sit through a ballet without eating, especially one as lovely and engaging as the Nutcracker, and no, you should not sneak any snacks in as it is not allowed and very disruptive to the performers and people around you. We took our son to a shorter children’s version of the Nutcracker when he was 5. To prepare for the ballet I showed him little YouTube videos about the story of the Nutcracker, and I showed him famous clips of some of the dances. The performance itself was a bit long for his attention span but he loved it. He sat through the whole production, and we gave him snacks only during the intermission. He was 5 at the time and a very active fidgety boy. At 10 we took him to see Hamilton and he sat through the extremely long production and loved loved loved it. As for your other questions: Hayes Valley has a lot of restaurants and most of them now do outdoor dining. You’ll probably need a reservation. Some theaters offer you an upgrade at the box office if you want better seats. Just go up to the box office when you get there and ask how much it will cost to upgrade your ticket. Have a lovely time at the Nutcracker and Happy Birthday! 

    You can tell from the plethora of responses how engaging and charming Nutcracker can be! Bravo to you for treating yourself, and as one commentor said, it is perfectly appropriate to share that you did this for yourself and those who accompany you are expected to be respectful and try to enjoy it. Don't worry, your daughter will most likely love it, it is totally engrossing. Also, IMHO every 10-year-old should be able to sit quietly and not snack through a live art performance, so consider this good training in manners. (FWIW our DD attended her first Nutcracker at age 3, has danced in a Nutcracker every year since (15), and after all the performances and rehearsals STILL loves our tradition of watching it at SFB each year).

  • Nutcracker for 5 year old boy?

    (7 replies)

    I have an active 5 year old boy, and I'd like to take him to see the Nutcracker. He's been to musicals through the Bay Area Children's Theatre, and they were just about short enough for him to sit through. Any recommendations? I would have loved to take him to the one in Alameda but I hear they are not performing this year. Thanks!

    If you're thinking of the full-length Nutcracker, I wouldn't recommend it for a 5 year old unless he is into dance and already familiar with the music. We took our son to see it when he was in 1st grade - he was very bored and it was really a waste of an expensive ticket. I think it's too long for kids this age to enjoy - there are long stretches of pure ballet which is pretty boring for little kids - you see them squirming in their seats for all but the most thrilling scenes, which are few and far between  (the Xmas tree that grows, the sword fight with rats).   I would wait till he's 8 or 9 at least, and play him the music beforehand a few times so it's familiar.  After he sees the Nutcracker, take him the next year to see the Hard Nut (Mark Morris.)  Very entertaining!  In the meantime you might try one of the shorter regional productions, or try the Velveteen Rabbit at the Yerba Buena Center - it was a hit with my kid. It's relatively short, and has a story line kids can follow. 

    Agree with first respondent, most 5 year olds regardless of gender can't sit still/quietly that long. Two years ago I borrowed the DVD of the NY Ballet's Nutcracker with Macauley Culkin, and we watched it at home with frequent wiggle breaks for my then 4 & 6 year olds, it was perfect.

    We got free tickets to the SF Ballet Nutcracker when my daughter was 2.5. I thought it would be crazy to take her, but since the tickets were free I thought we could leave if she got too squirmy. Well it turned out that she 1. lasted through it better than I expected, and 2. there were a few rows in the back of the balcony that were completely empty, so we moved back there were she could move around a little bit.

    only one hour long; in Walnut Creek. I haven't been yet but taking my 6yr old niece this year...

    I've taken my boys to see the Oakland Ballet Nutcracker starting when they were 5 years old. My younger son may have gone when he was 4. They were mesmerized by the performance and could easily sit through it.  We read the book and listened to the music beforehand so they were familiar with both. There are lots of children at the matinees. I highly recommend the Oakland Ballet's Nutcracker at the beautiful Paramount theater.  This year it is on December 17th and 18th.

    I started taking both my kids to the Nutcracker when they were around 4, but we went to the absolutely delightful abbreviated version at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek.  There's a "narrator" (you can't be too much of a purist if you want to enjoy this version), which really helps little kids get the story, and the sets and costumes are incredibly colorful and vibrant.  The show is only an hour, I believe, and does cut out some of the music, but it was SUCH a wonderful introduction to this lovely ballet, and I think helped both kids enjoy the longer "real" performance much more when it came time.  I think it's only playing Nov. 25-27 this year:

    A wonderful Nutcracker production to take a young child to is the one staged annually at the Julia Morgan Theater by Berkeley Ballet Theater.  I took my daughter to her first ballet there when she had just turned 3, and we went every year after that for 10 years.  It's really charming.  Many of the young dancers are students, which really grabbed my daughter's interest.  The Julia Morgan Theater is small, and we sat fairly close to the stage, so my daughter could always see what was going on.  Unfortunately, she lost interest during her teenage years, but has great memories of those productions.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Where to eat /park before 7pm Nutcracker show SF

December 2005

I am taking my 75 year old mother and two children to the Nutcracker to a 7pm showing on December 22. It has been a few years since I've been there, and I cannot remember the best places to park so that we won't have far to walk. I'm also looking for a great place to eat prior to the show. I seem to recall our eating experience as dissapointing and I want to make sure that it's better this time. Somewhere in keeping with the style of the Opera House--for foodies--(don't like that word; is there another?) but also a place where children are made feel welcome. I will admit to being partial to very fine restaurants and have no qualms about taking my kids to them, so long as the staff are friendly to us. (I have not been to Zuni; I've heard it's great; don't know if it fits with plan? It might also be best if I could park easily--don't mind paying-- and close by. I don't like Max's Opera Plaza, and have not yet eaten at a restaurant I liked near the opera house, however, I've only tried four or five and it's been a few years. Do not like an overly stuffy and pretensious atmosphere. Would like to make it a really memorable evening of wonderful food and atmosphere before we go on to the Nutcracker--after which my 7 year old will be almost asleep, so parking I can carry her to-- if I have to--would be great. Thank you! anon

My family has been going to the 7 p.m. Nutcracker for years. We park in the garage on the north side of Hayes just west of Franklin and have dinner at Jardinaire on Hayes just across from the Opera House. You should make reservations ASAP. anonymous

We go to the matinee Nutcracker show every year (my kids are 5 and 7). We drive, park in the lot across the street (Civic Center Parking, I think it's called -- entrance is on Mc Allister), and eat at Max's Opera Cafe before the show. They have a kid's menu and they're always really nice. They are very used to the Nutcracker crowd! Make sure to give yourself plenty of time if you choose to go there because I believe they do not take reservations. You have to wait in line. The food's not that special but at least it is close to the theater and fun for the kids. Laurel

Which Nutcracker for a 3-yr-old?

Sept 2004

Our 3-year-old daughter is smitten by the ballet bug, so we're looking into Nutcracker performances this winter as her first major ballet performance. We're trying to figure out which Nutcracker to go to--we'd like a family friendly atmosphere, and probably a fairly traditional interpretation (i.e. nothing too abstract for the little one.) Evidently the San Francisco Ballet has done a major overhaul this season to their production--does anyone know anything about the new version? What about the Berkeley Ballet production at the Julia Morgan? Does anyone know about Ballet San Jose's production? Any other good Bay Area productions I should consider (now that Oakland Ballet is no more)? I've looked at the archives but would like some current input. Also, suggestions for any other ballet/dance performances suitable for young audiences would be welcome. Thanks for your suggestions. Little Ballerina's Mommy

We went to the one at the Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek some years ago when our daughter was about that age. VERY kid friendly. Dancing not the quality of some the others, perhaps, but heck, we're talking a 3-year-old, right? And, Walnut Creek is a lot easier to get to in the busy holiday season than SF. Enjoy -- wherever you go!

The Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek has a very child-friendly, approachable Nutcracker. It's performed by local ballet companies, and checking their website just now ( I see there will be two Nutcrackers put on by different companies this December. The staging is nowhere as opulent as say the SF Ballet's version, but it's a great intro. Our daughter was especially thrilled and inspired by all the kids that perform in the show. Christina

I took my daugther to her first ''Nutcracker'' when she just turned 3, and we went to the Berkley Ballet Theater at the Julia Morgan Theater. It was ideal -- the theater itself is small and ticket prices are reasonable. I figured that if she couldn't make it all the way through the performance, I wouldn't have spent so much money on tickets that I'd regret leaving early. I got seats fairly close to the stage so my daughter could see well. It turned out that she was enchanted -- the littlest dancers were only a few years older than she and that delighted her -- and we stayed for the whole performance. But it's not just great for preschoolers: my daughter will be 9 this coming ''Nutcracker'' season, and we've gone to the Berkeley Ballet Theater's production ever year but one ever since the first. I highly recommend it! Lorraine

Oakland Ballet Nutcracker vs. San Francisco Nutcracker

Nov 1999

I would appreciate comments on Oakland Nutcracker vrs. San Francisco Nutcracker. Is San Francisco worth the extra travel time and $$? Thank you in advance.

The SF Nutcracker is incredible! I would consider it a VERY special treat. But, very expensive when considering taking small children. The good seats which will allow them to see are prohibitive for most at $42-$95 and the affordable seats (balcony) would have trouble capturing a small child, I think. The Oakland Ballet's version is very good also (different, a bit more abstract than the SF). The tickets are so much cheaper and you're much more likely to get seats up close. I took my daughter when she was 2 1/2 and she loved it! I would highly recommend it. The Julia Morgan Theatre also hosts a version and the tickets are fairly cheap for it. I haven't seen it yet, though.

Berkeley actually has two ballet companies. I can specifically and enthusiastically recommend the Berkeley Ballet Theater's production of The Nutcracker, at the charming and intimate Julia Morgan Theatre on College Avenue. It's an especially good venue for a young child's Nutcracker experience. I took my just-turned-three year old daughter last year: we got great seats about eight rows from the stage at a reasonable price. She had a terrific view, and sat enrapt for both acts. The box office number is 843-4687.