If you want to plan your visit to San Francisco, but you are still hesitating about the time of your visit, take a look at our selection of festivals in San Francisco. You can find information about the finest annual events and celebration in San Francisco in this article and be surprised, because San Francisco is a kind of city, where something takes place almost year-round. No matter when you go there, you’ll always run into so many things to do and why not will love to take part in their loud festivals. One thing you should keep in mind is that the dates of the events are sometimes changed, so make sure to double-check the information prior to planning your trip.
Winter Festivals in San Francisco
This fun festival features a huge public gathering of men and women dressed as Santas and is mostly free (the organizers of some events sometimes may ask for a contribution). You don’t have to follow any strict rules to be on Santa’s Nice list, because the only requirement for this pre-Christmas festival is to look like a real Santa. Most of the participants gather at Union Square singing carols, drinking and having fun, though there are other locations as well. Another fun part of the celebration is that there are no religious connotations, so everyone is welcomed to take part in. You should only keep in mind that getting drunk, bullying, messing with the security or police or being disorderly will tarnish Santa’s reputation, so before requiring children to behave well, make sure you do too.
New Year’s Eve (December)
Both the locals and the visitors have a wide variety of options to celebrate New Year Eve in San Francisco. Union Square is the most popular gathering spot, but there are also new trendy hot spots, where you can join the celebration. The city is full of vibrant vintage points and rooftop cafés to view the fireworks, and there are also hotel parties, nightclubs, lounges and other venues, where you can have your ultimate countdown celebration.
Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration (January)
Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration is one of many events held in January to honour Martin Luther King and his message to the human race. Those who seek for exciting free programs and affordable events can join the celebration, in the framework of which different cultural initiatives are held. The highlight of the celebration is the procession of civil rights advocates, and various artists and community oriented programs are also an important part of all these.
San Francisco Sketchfest (January)
This comedy festival takes place every January and February in more than 20 venues across the city. This nationally recognized showcase demonstrating the talent of Sketch comedy groups, local stand-up and top quality comedic performances is a strong reason to visit San Francisco in winter. Those who have a good sense of humor and seek non-stop laughter more than two weeks, will be contented, because both the rising stars of comedy groups and individual performers congregate in San Francisco Bay Area at this time of the year to offer the chance to see them up close and personal.
San Francisco Tribal, Folk & Textile Arts Show (February)
Another interesting event held in winter is San Francisco is the tribal, folk and textile arts show, the aim of which is to promote the arts of tribal cultures. Quite an appropriate place for the Asian, Oceanic, African, Native American culture enthusiast! The good news is that you can also buy the exhibits with reasonable prices. The festival also pays tribute to the craftsmanship of the indigenous people, who used to create amazing pottery and jewelry not only to use in their everyday life, but also to communicate with their gods and spirits.
Lunar New Year (February)
The Lunar New Year mostly regards the Chinese people living in San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean you should stand aside, instead you can join the parade and be a part of the colorful procession of dragon-like acrobats and stilt walkers. The Vietnamese New Year, which is celebrated at the end of the same week, is also an added bonus. Lots of people of Asian and Latino origin together with African-American representatives join the multicultural celebration, turning the city into one hot mess, especially the U.N. Plaza, where crowds always swarm to get the best views.
Chinatown gets even more popular during the week due to the annual Treasure Hunt, which is indeed a very exciting experience. Those who have the spirit of adventure and a zest for sleuthing experiments should join one of the groups and explore the hidden alleys and nooks of the city. The organizers will provide useful tools, instructions and a set of clues for each participant. And in the end a post-hunt analysis is followed by the announcement of the winning teams.
San Francisco IndieFest (February)
San Francisco Indie Fest presents three annual festivals: the SF Independent Film Festival (SF Indie), which is mainly focused on the independent, alternative cinema from all corners of the world, the SF Documentary Festival (DocFest) and Another Hole in the Head film festival. IndieFest mostly highlights the music-themed films, as the Winter Music Festival is also held in February, and is a good chance to have an insider look at some great after parties.
Spring Festivals in San Francisco
Ask a Scientist’s Pi Day Puzzle Party (March)
Those science enthusiasts who are tired of tests and grades, can join Ask a Scientist’s Pi Day Party held in March, to compete individually or in teams in a relaxed casual atmosphere. This event aims at bringing the fun and excitement of science to a broader society. It’s also a good chance to discuss any burning questions and create interactions with scientists and young people.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade (March)
Another fun festival in March is St. Patrick’s Day, and since it draws thousand of people, it is usually celebrated on a weekend day. Local Irish Dance groups, bagpipe players in kilted skirts, labor unions form the procession of this green-hued day… Those who want to get the best look should find a spot around Market and McAllister, since there is enough room to view the parade. Parents with children are advised to keep away from Civic Center Plaza, for it gets really crowded. The SoMa Streat Food Park is the area, where you can find yummy food at the end of the festival.
St. Stupid’s Day Parade (April)
Have you ever had a wish to see a costumed procession, where the participants try to outshine each other with the stupidity of their costumes? If yes, St. Stupid’s Day Parade is an event not to be missed. This Parade takes place every April 1 and begins in the afternoon. The hot spot of the festival is the Financial District, where the participants come together and do things even sillier than their costumes, like offering socks to exchange at Stock Exchange.
Cherry Blossom Festival (April)
Those who want to get a good sense of Japanese aesthetics, should visit San Francisco in April, when the Japanese Americans together with many visitors celebrate the beginning of spring and the blooming of sakura blossoms, which signifies the unrivaled beauty of nature . The starting point is the Civic Center, where the parade begins and winds its way to the Japantown’s Peace Plaza. The festival demonstrates the Japanese cultural heritage and national traditions. In the framework of this festival drum performances, martial arts demonstrations, tea ceremonies, traditional singing and dancing are organized in one of the three remaining Japantowns in the country.
Earth Day Festival SF (April)
This Eco festival draws our attention to the challenges our Mother Earth faces. Everything during this festival is earth-friendly: food, fashion, energy supplies. Everything that is fun, green and sustainable is welcomed by the participants.
Easter Sunday with Hunky Jesus Contest (April)
This festival isn’t the right one for those who seek for a religious inspiration and a traditional Easter celebration. But the ones, who want something different from family-friendly holidays, can join Easter Sunday with Hunky Jesus Contest. The participants try to reveal the fun side of religion, wearing weird costumes, which contain very little but also ‘’transparent’’ clues of Biblical events and try to look like Jesus as much as possible.
San Francisco International Film Festival (April)
To understand why the festival holds the title of an international one, you should visit San Francisco in April and be plunged into the whirlwind of moving-image-related events, exhibitions, individual or public screenings. Hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of visitors congregate here to celebrate the evolution of film culture. To get the best in the international cinema industry and get closer to the professional filmmaking arena, you should definitely join this event.
How Weird Street Festival (May)
To experience the magic of new technologies and the weirdness of creativity, visit San Francisco in May to join How Weird Street Fair. Here you can stroll around the Art Alley to have a look at interactive pieces of artwork and can also find tasty food and beverages while you are having a designer shopping experience, buying creative goods from exotic merchants. Circus acts, freaks in costumes, ten stages of music and all the colorful curiosities will hold you in the heart of San Francisco for more than a couple of hours.
Cinco de Mayo (May)
This festival is organized by the Latino residents of the city and is indeed one of the most spectacular and traditional events. Cinco de Mayo is dedicated to the victory in the Battle of Puebla against the French army and features colorful parades, ethnic Mexican music and fireworks.
Bay to Breakers (May)
This boisterous festival is held on May 17 and aims at raising the spirits of the participants and adding another colorful day to their calendar. The largest foot race draws cosplayers, jog-walkers, furries, nudists and pop culture characters from all parts of the country. If you don’t intend to join this crazy one-of-a-kind race of freaks, stay at Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle, not to fight the crowds to get a good look. A tip for those who want to participate and not to be removed from the race course: don’t bring alcohol with you and never violate the rules.
Carnival is a hot festival of glitter and feathers and represents the Latin-American and Caribbean culture. The participants try to outshine each other in splendor and get prizes or even better become the king and queen of the parade. During the days of this festival all San Francisco pulses with Latino music and the beats of African drums, which indeed evokes exotic sensations.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival (May)
Nowadays a very little segment of the society is really interested in early cinema and silent films, but the events like San Francisco Silent Film Festival, contribute to raising awareness and educating people about the culture of the above-mentioned films. This festival showcases the value of historical records like classic Charlie Chaplin, and is accompanied by live music, which is also wide-ranging in its own right. As the films didn’t mean to be viewed in silence, the musical accompaniments turn the silent film into a ‘’life’’ one. Join this sophisticated festival to have the unique chance to appreciate the preservation and restoration of early works of cinema art.
Summer Festivals in San Francisco
Stern Grove Festival (June)
This festival is the right place to look for those, who seek for free performing arts. The good news is that it takes place every Sunday in June and August, offering everything from classical to contemporary dances to hip-hop and opera. But only if it’s free, it doesn’t mean that the performances aren’t top-class. The mission of this festival is to provide an admission-free access to such concerts, so the visitors are kindly asked to follow the rules not to bother the audience and if you have the wish to support the performers donating even a little amount of money, you are welcomed.
Union Street Festival (June)
This weekend outdoor fair houses fairs and art galleries and not only. Different Pavilions offer fashion, culinary, craft and wine tasting with food pairings. Tickets can be purchased online and at the ticket booths. The traditional component of the festival, music bands and waiters race create even more publicity and highlight this event, drawing more and more attendees every year.
Haight Ashbury Street Fair (June)
This annual street fair is dedicated to arts and crafts, but is accompanied with food, music and is quite family friendly. What can be better than this summer open-air celebration with live music and lots of children in creative clothes filling the air with a joyous mood? Here you can also find hippie craftwork and meet up-and-coming artists and musical groups.
San Francisco Jazz Festival (June)
This festival features the best in Jazz and showcases an exceptional array of concerts in the framework of the biggest jazz event of the city. Both promising newcomers and legendary masters bring sounds from around the globe to the San Francisco Bay area for three weeks. Those, who can’t afford shows at premier venues of the city, can take the advantage of free weekly outdoor concerts from the classic to the avant-garde and be a part of the international summit of magnificent Jazz.
North Beach Festival (June)
This original outdoor festival is held on June 13 and 14 in San Francisco North Beach District. This location is also famous as Little Italy and features narrow quaint streets, where you can find more than one hundred arts, crafts and gourmet booths. The chalk area for kids and live music and entertainment keep the joyous atmosphere throughout all the festival.
Annual World Naked Bike Ride (June)
Actually, this festival isn’t an original SF celebration, as it takes place in many cities of the world, but the San Francisco Edition is a real crowd pleaser. This event is a unique way of protesting against the carbon footprint of the humans, because of the dependency on traditional energy supplies. The fun part of the protest, which makes it even more spectacular is the fact that most of the riders are naked. So if nudity does not embarrass you, come to the Financial District of the city to witness this crazy event.
Summer Solstice (June)
This festival resembles a kind of pagan ritual with music and dance performances and bonfires, which are meant to protect from wicked spirits. Summer Solstice used to be an important event for primeval people, but now it’s just another occasion for San Francisco residents to hold one more colorful celebration, as if the city lacks any.
San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade (June)
The San Francisco version of the rainbow flag celebration is indeed one-of-a-kind event, though such festivals take place in other cities of the world as well. Being a city that supports gay rights, San Francisco hosts this annual event with special splendor. The location of the main stage is in the Civic Center, but because of the huge crowd don’t expect to see all the details, just relax and try to get the mood of night street parties
San Francisco Marathon (August)
The starting point of the Marathon is Embarcadero, from where it winds its way through the city. To be considered a Marathon Finisher and receive a medal you must complete the race within 6 hours. Anyway, if you are not a top endurance athlete, you can join the marathon half way. Thousands of runners from all parts of the country and from abroad come together for this tough city marathon. The main award for the participant’s efforts are the unrivaled views of San Francisco and its iconic Golden Gate Bridfe.
Outside Lands (August)
Outside Lands is a phenomenal music event, which lasts three days. The tickets may seem pricy, but if you take into account what you get, the price is really worth paying. Besides musical acts, the festival also features art installations and eco-friendly initiatives. The epicenter of the festival is Golden Gate Park, which sometimes gets really crowded, because of thousands of visitors.
San Francisco Street Food Festival (August)
This outdoor food fair held in mid-August is a unique festivity of culinary innovations. The best restaurants and small food entrepreneurs from all parts of the city offer all kinds of delicacies and show innovative ways of cooking. Make sure you are not on a diet, because you’ll forget all smart articles about reasonable quantities of healthy and balanced food, since you’ll never run out of mouth-watering dishes and drinks.
Autumn Festivals in San Francisco
Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival (September)
Once you are in San Francisco in September make sure you don’t miss the annual Chocolate Festival. Chocolate covered fruit desserts, mousses and brownies, pies and puddings… all these delights are available for the participants. The only problem you’ll have is the sense of guilt for the calories you have got without even noticing how far you have gone.
Treasure Island Music Festival (October)
Besides the extraordinary music, there are also heaps of other fun on offer during this festival. The breathtaking Ferris Wheel on the island will provide head-spinning views of the city and its iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The interactive art installations, unique performances are strong reasons to plan your visit according to the schedule of the festival and at the very least you can’t have an easy access to Treasure Island during other days of the year, so seize this chance
Halloween in San Francisco (October)
If you don’t intend to celebrate Halloween at home watching horror movies and being annoyed by the groups of children offering trick or treating, come join the annual event at San Francisco Civic center. Instead of uncontrollable festivities, San Francisco city guide organizes the annual Ghost Walk, where you can have the opportunity to learn interesting facts about the Civic Center, which was once covered by a cemetary. Quite a thrilling experience to walk along the streets and feeling a paranormal activity. What comes to the dress code, you are free to express your creativity keeping the main theme of the celebration.
Dia de los Muertos (November)
This day is devoted to the dead and so it’s not surprising that the procession is a kind of weird one, and features men and women in dark and showy dresses, wearing scary make-up and skeleton masks and children with noisemakers and quirky hats. All the participants come together in Garfield Park, where people make altars to honor their ancestors and the cycle of life and remember the time they were still alive. Traditional Aztec dancers make the festival even more spectacular.