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The best festivals in San Francisco

California’s breezy City by the Bay, San Francisco is famous worldwide for leading the way in embracing diversity, which is an attribute that’s resulted in an exceptionally vibrant and culturally rich community. This enthusiasm for culture, as well as for the arts, is exhibited year-round through an extraordinary abundance of festivals in San Francisco. Come summer, festival fever is heightened even further, as the fog once again drifts over the Golden Gate Bridge and the city welcomes a multitude of dynamic new events.


The year in cultural celebrations

With its enviably mild climate, San Francisco is the setting for outdoor events year-round, and the city certainly knows how to throw a street party. Each year, this kicks off with the Chinese New Year Parade and Celebration. Named among the best in the world, the parade was established by San Francisco’s Chinese community as far back as the 1860s, and now draws the attention of hundreds of thousands of people for its dragon parade and Miss Chinatown USA competition. These parades then return with vigour in September for the San Francisco Chinatown AT&T Autumn Moon Festival.

Union Street Spring Celebration & Easter Parade follows on from this in March. A feature of the San Francisco events calendar for more than two decades, the family event has proven resoundingly popular for its street parade and array of family activities. And in June the street is at the centre of San Francisco’s celebratory spirit again with a special showcase of arts and crafts, local food vendors and fashion, the Union Street Festival.

As spring arrives in April, it’s Japantown that people flock to. The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture through a series of activities and events. Embrace Japanese pop-culture in the Sakura 360 Area, watch the event’s Grand Parade, or try your hand at origami.

Latin American culture then comes into the spotlight in May with SF Cinco de Mayo. Latin American food, music, dance and the arts are all showcased, with the aim of retaining these traditions within the local community. And staying with the Latin theme throughout the month, the city plays host to Carnaval San Francisco, a two-day festival with past themes like ‘Viva La Madre Tierra’, or Long Live Mother Earth.

Festivals of music and the arts

Some of the best festivals in San Francisco celebrate music and the arts, spanning a range of disciplines and genres. It’s the SF Sketchfest comedy festival that takes place first in January, showcasing the talent of six Bay Area sketch comedy groups throughout the month. FOG Design+Art also takes place at this time; named after San Francisco’s climatic phenomenon, the event is a platform for contemporary art as it shifts and morphs to reveal its forms and dimensions.

Carrying over from May to June is the major San Francisco International Arts Festival, combining visual arts with performance, dance, music and theatre. And film festivals take place throughout the year, too, from the San Francisco Independent Film Festival in February, to the Ocean Film Festival (inspiring people to appreciate and care for the ocean) in March, the Food & Farm Film Festival (bringing the food and art worlds together) in April, and the San Francisco International Film Festival, usually from April to May.

While spanning an eclectic range of genres, the City by the Bay ensures jazz is well represented, with the June San Francisco Jazz Festival (SFJAZZ) and the Fillmore Jazz Festival in July. In late summer, music enthusiasts can soak up the sounds of San Francisco Opera in The Park, followed by both the Bay Area Blues Festival and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in September and October.

For an event that encompasses all disciplines and genres, visitors can be a part of the free Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, which carries all the way through from May to October, and both the San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival and San Francisco Fringe Festival, which take place in August and September each year.


A gamut of gastronomic festivities

Naturally, San Francisco’s culinary scene reflects its global influence, too, spanning the gastronomic spectrum from rustic street food to fine dining. The popular four-day event in August, Eat Drink SF, displays this multiplicity through food, wine and spirits exhibits, with top chefs on hand to share their culinary knowledge. For casual cuisine, San Francisco Street Food Festival – which takes place in the same month – is hard to beat, as it aims to connect the people of San Francisco with their local food vendors.

With wine regions like Napa Valley on the doorstep, it’s only natural that some of the best-loved festivals in San Francisco celebrate the grape. In February, The Zinfandel Experience kicks off; claiming to be the world’s largest single varietal wine tasting event, the Zinfandel Experience enables ticket holders to meet each of the winemakers in person. Usually taking place in May, there’s also the all-varietal Uncorked – The San Francisco Wine Festival. Here, top tier wines are paired with local food, while live music performances take place in the event’s Ghirardelli Square setting.

Beer gourmands have several reasons to celebrate, too, starting with the citywide week of beer appreciation in February, San Francisco Beer Week (which in its last edition had 288 venues take part, hosting everything from meet the brewer nights to beer dinners). Bay Area Brew Festival follows in March, in which both local and international breweries are represented. And naturally, the city gets behind the great German tradition of Oktoberfest as well, with German beer, music and food at Oktoberfest By The Bay.


Written by Lauren Hill

Image credits:

Carnaval San Francisco © David Yu
Cherry Blossom Festival © iStock
Chinese New Year © iStock