For more information on San Francisco events, visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com for an annual calendar of local events.
Chinese New Year, Chinatown. Public celebrations spill onto every street in Chinatown, beginning with the “Miss Chinatown USA” pageant parade, and climaxing a week later with a celebratory parade of marching bands, rolling floats, barrages of fireworks, and a block-long dragon writhing in and out of the crowds. The action starts at Market and Second streets and ends at Kearny Street. Arrive early for a good viewing spot on Kearny Street. You can purchase bleacher seats online starting in December; for dates and information, call [tel] 415/680-6297 or visit www.chineseparade.com.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Union Square, and Civic Center. Everyone’s an honorary Irish person at this festive affair, which starts at 11:30am at Market and Second streets and continues to City Hall. But the party doesn’t stop there. Head down to the Civic Center for the post-party, or venture to the Embarcadero’s Harrington’s Bar & Grill (245 Front St.) and celebrate with hundreds of Irish-for-a-day yuppies as they gallivant around the closed-off streets and numerous pubs. Sunday before March 17.
Cherry Blossom Festival, Japantown. Meander through the arts-and-crafts and food booths lining the blocked-off streets around Japan Center and watch traditional drumming, flower arranging, origami making, and a parade celebrating the cherry blossoms and Japanese culture. Call [tel] 415/563-2313 or visit sfcherryblossom.org for information. Mid- to late April.
San Francisco International Film Festival, around San Francisco Begun in 1957, this is America’s longest running film festival, with screenings at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas (Fillmore and Post sts.), and at many other locations. It features close to 200 films and videos from more than 50 countries. Tickets are relatively inexpensive, and screenings are accessible to the public. Entries include new films by beginning and established directors, and star-studded tributes. For a schedule and to purchase tickets, visit sffilm.org. Early April.
Cinco de Mayo Festival, Mission District. victory of the Mexicans over the French at Puebla in 1862, mariachi bands, dancers, food, and revelers fill the streets of the Mission. The celebration is usually on Valencia Street between 21st and 24th streets. Contact the Mission Neighborhood Center for more information at [tel] 415/206-7752 or mncsf.org/sfcincodemayo.
Bay to Breakers Foot Race, the Embarcadero through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach. Even if you don’t participate, you can’t avoid this giant, moving costume party (which celebrated its 106th year in 2017) that goes from downtown to Ocean Beach. More than 75,000 participants gather—many dressed in wacky, innovative, and sometimes X-rated costumes—for the approximately 7 1/2-mile run. If you don’t want to run, join the throng of spectators who line the route. Sidewalk parties, bands, and cheerleaders of all ages provide a good dose of true San Francisco fun. For more information, call [tel] 415/231-3130, or check their website, baytobreakers.com. Third Sunday of May.
Carnaval Festival, Harrison St. between 16th and 23rd Sts. The Mission District’s largest annual event, held from 9:30am to 6pm and celebrating 40 years of fun in 2018, is a weekend of festivities that includes food, music, dance, arts and crafts, and a parade that’s as sultry and energetic as the Latin American and Caribbean people behind it. It’s one of San Franciscans’ favorite events, with more than half a million spectators lining the parade route; samba musicians and dancers continue to entertain on 14th Street, near Harrison, at the end of the march, where you’ll find food and craft booths, music, and more revelry. Call [tel] 415/206-0577 for more information. Celebrations are held Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, but the parade is on Sunday morning only. See carnavalsf.org for more information.
Bottle Rock Napa Valley, Napa. Held over Memorial Day weekend, this multi-day music, food, and wine festival draws tens of thousands to see the likes of Stevie Wonder, Foo Fighters, Maroon 5, Warren G, Death Cab for Cutie, and dozens of other bands, who perform on multiple stages backed by an awesome array of gourmet foods (and appearances by famed chefs) and local wines. Not surprising, accommodations in the area are wildly expensive during this time, but those in the crowd say the fun-in-the-sun-loving weekend is worth the expense. Held Memorial Day weekend. For more information see bottlerocknapavalley.com.
Union Street Art Festival, Pacific Heights along Union Street from Steiner to Gough streets. This outdoor fair celebrates San Francisco with gourmet food booths, music, entertainment, and a juried art show featuring works by more than 250 artists. It’s a great time and a chance to see the city’s young well-to-dos partying it up. Call the Union Street Association ([tel] 415/441-7055) for more information or see unionstreetfestival.com. First weekend of June.
Haight-Ashbury Street Fair, Haight-Ashbury. A far cry from the froufrou Union Street Fair (see above), this grittier fair features alternative crafts, ethnic foods, rock bands, and a healthy number of hippies and street kids whooping it up and slamming beers in front of the blaring rock-[‘]n’-roll stage. The fair usually extends along Haight Street between Stanyan and Ashbury streets. For details, visit haightashburystreetfair.org. Second Sunday of June.
North Beach Festival, Grant Ave., North Beach. In 2018, this party celebrates its 64th anniversary; organizers claim it’s one of the oldest outdoor festivals in the country. More than 100,000 city folk meander along Grant Avenue, between Vallejo and Union streets, to eat, drink, and browse the arts-and-crafts booths, poetry readings, swing-dancing venue, and arte di gesso (sidewalk chalk art). The most enjoyable parts of the event? Listening to music and people-watching. Visit sresproductions.com/events/north-beach-festival.
Stern Grove Music Festival, Sunset District. Pack a picnic and head out early to join the thousands who come here to lie in the grass and enjoy free world-class classical, jazz, and ethnic music and dance in the grove, at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. The free concerts take place every Sunday at 2pm between mid-June and August. Show up with a lawn chair or blanket. There are food booths if you forget snacks, but you’ll be dying to leave if you don’t bring warm clothes—the Sunset District can be one of the coldest parts of the city. Call [tel] 415/252-6252 for listings or go to sterngrove.org. Sundays, mid-June through August.
San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade & Celebration, downtown’s Market St. This prideful event draws up to one million participants who celebrate all of the above—and then some. The parade proceeds west on Market Street until it gets to the Civic Center, where hundreds of food, art, and information booths are set up around several soundstages. Call [tel] 415/864-0831 or visit sfpride.org for information. Usually the third or last weekend of June.
Fillmore Jazz Festival, Pacific Heights. July starts with a bang, when the upscale portion of Fillmore closes to traffic and the blocks between Jackson and Eddy streets are filled with arts and crafts, gourmet food, and live jazz from 10am to 6pm. For more information visit fillmorejazzfestival.com. First weekend in July.
Fourth of July Celebration & Fireworks, Fisherman’s Wharf. This event can be something of a joke—more often than not, fog comes into the city, like everyone else, to squelch the festivities. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to view the million-dollar pyrotechnics from Pier 39 on the northern waterfront. Still, it’s a party, and if the skies are clear, it’s a darn good show.
San Francisco Marathon, San Francisco and beyond. One of the largest marathons in the world starts and ends at the Ferry Building at the base of Market Street, winds 26-plus miles through virtually every neighborhood in the city, and crosses the Golden Gate Bridge. For entry information, visit thesfmarathon.com. Usually the last weekend in July.
Outside Lands, Golden Gate Park. This annual music event draws about 70,000 people to a vast, fenced-off expanse in Golden Gate Park where multiple stages host 3 days and nights of awesome contemporary music (and comedy) artists, while food and drink stands ensure everyone has every reason to stay for the long haul—as if Metallica, The Who, St. Lucia, and more aren’t enough. Tickets are expensive and sell out quickly, so if you’re planning to go, buy in the second tickets go on sale. See sfoutsidelands.com for more information. Usually in mid-August.
Sausalito Art Festival, Sausalito. A juried exhibit of more than 20,000 original works of art, this festival includes music—usually provided by known, old-school jazz, rock, and blues performers from the Bay Area and beyond—and international cuisine, enhanced by wines from some 50 Napa and Sonoma producers. Parking is difficult; make it easier and take the ferry (blueandgoldfleet.com) from Pier 41 to the festival site. For more information, call [tel] 415/332-3555 or log on to sausalitoartfestival.org. Labor Day weekend.
Opera in the Park. Usually in Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park. Each year, the San Francisco Opera launches its season with a free concert featuring a selection of arias. Call [tel] 415/861-4008 or visit sfopera.com to confirm the location and date. Usually the Sunday after Labor Day.
Folsom Street Fair, along Folsom Street between 7th and 12th streets, the area south of Market Street (SoMa, 11am–6pm). This is a local favorite for its kinky, outrageous, leather-and-skin gay-centric blowout celebration. It’s hardcore, so only open-minded and adventurous types need head into the leather-clad and partially dressed crowds. For info visit folsomstreetfair.org. Last Sunday of September.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Golden Gate Park’s in Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadows), Lindley, and Marx meadows. This free annual music event lures thousands into Golden Gate Park for 3 days of awesome music, beer drinking, and pot smoking. It’s about as groovy, happy-go-lucky San Francisco as it gets. Visit hardlystrictlybluegrass.com for info.
Fleet Week, Marina and Fisherman’s Wharf. Residents gather along the Marina Green, the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, and other vantage points to watch incredible (and loud!) aerial performances by the Blue Angels and other daring stunt pilots, as well as the annual parade of ships. Call [tel] 415/306-0911 or visit fleetweeksf.org for details and dates.
Artspan Open Studios, various San Francisco locations. Find an original piece of art to commemorate your trip, or just see what local artists are up to by grabbing a map to over 800 artists’ studios that are open to the public during weekends in October and May. Visit artspan.org for more information.
Castro Street Fair, the Castro. Celebrate life in the city’s most famous gay neighborhood. Call [tel] 800/853-5950 or visit castrostreetfair.org for information. First Sunday in October, from 11am to 6pm.
Italian Heritage Parade, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. In 2017, for the 149th year in a row, the city’s Italian community leads festivities around Fisherman’s Wharf celebrating Columbus’s landing in America with a parade along Columbus Avenue. But for the most part, it’s a great excuse to hang out in North Beach and people-watch. For more information, visit sfcolumbusday.org. Observed the Sunday before Columbus Day.
Halloween, the Castro. This once-huge street party has been tamed down by city officials in the past decade to curb violence and prevent the increasing influx of out-of-towners into the neighborhood. Castro denizens still whoop it up with music and drag costume contests, but if you go to gawk, you may be disappointed. October 31.
Napa Valley Film Festival. Held in intimate venues throughout Napa County, this 5-day festival features 100-plus films and an abundance of food, wine, and music festivities. Tickets range from single screenings starting at $20 to event passes that start at $295 and go up to $2,500 for VIP access. Visit nvff.org for information. Usually the second week of November.
The Nutcracker, War Memorial Opera House, Civic Center. The San Francisco Ballet (tel. 415/865-2000) performs this Tchaikovsky classic annually. (It was actually the first ballet company in America to do so, in 1944.) Order tickets to this holiday tradition well in advance. Visit sfballet.org for information.
SantaCon, various San Francisco locations. Get into the holiday spirit and join thousands of wannabe Santas as they booze their way across the city. Dress up as Santa, Mrs. Clause, an elf, or your own interpretation for a full day of drinking, singing, and being merry. This is an adults-only pub crawl that, true to San Francisco style, includes nudity. The time, date, and location change annually and the details are released only a few days before the event, so follow SantaCon on twitter or check out the website at santacon.info/San_Francisco-CA.