11 Events in San Francisco That Every Visitor Should Experience

11 Events in San Francisco That Every Visitor Should Experience

Celebrate these 11 events in order to learn what makes San Francisco distinctly San Francisco.

As travelers, we look to explore and get to know destinations that are different from our hometowns. We seek out authentic experiences that make our hearts tick and fill our imaginations with wonder. We try out new restaurants, bars, museums, famous neighborhoods, and events in order to discover the unknown and learn from it. So what is it that makes San Francisco distinctly San Francisco? Throughout the year, there are a wide variety of events from the literary to the environmental, from the diverse to the musical that will showcase San Francisco as an accepting, eclectic and vibrant city. Here are 11 events that every visitor to San Francisco should experience.

SF Sketchfest

Held annually in January and February, SF Sketchfest is a widely popular barrel-full-of-laughs comedy festival that is held at a wide range of famous venues throughout San Francisco. It was established in 2001 as a way to highlight the talents of local acts such as The Fresh Robots, Kasper Hauser, and the The Meehan Brothers. It rapidly grew into a nationally recognized comedy festival that includes hilarious skits, entertaining improv performances, game shows, workshops and stand-up acts. Past comedic acts have included Christopher Guest, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Alan Arkin, and Tenacious D.

Learn more: http://sfsketchfest.com/x/

Chinese New Year Festival and Parade

One of the largest Chinese New Year celebrations in the largest, it is also one of the oldest outside of Asia, having been started in the mid-1800s by the Chinese immigrants who came during the Gold Rush. Each year, more than three million people watch the Grand Parade, which includes over 100 parade entries, the most popular of which is the 200 ft Golden Dragon that is so heavy it must be carried by 100 puppeteers. Starting at around 5 pm on the corner of 2nd and Market, the participants march down through Chinatown with flags, lanterns, drums, and shouts of Gun Hay Fat Choy (Happy New Year). The Grand Parade is the main draw, but other events such as the crowning of Miss Chinatown, the Chinese Lantern Festival, and the Flower Market Fair happen over a period of two weeks in the month of February.

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“Dragons in the City 🐉🎉🌇”

Learn more: http://www.chineseparade.com/

Earth Day Festival

This annual free event, which embodies San Francisco’s green movement status, is a gathering of people who are concerned about the planet and are working to protect it. Held in April, the event features inspirational speakers such as John W. Roulac, the Founder and CEO of Nutiva, the world’s leading organic superfoods brand of hemp, coconut, chia seeds, and red palm. There are also three stages of music and performances from local groups such as Bayonics, a ten-piece band that fuses hip-hop, Latin music, funk, reggae, rock, and jazz. Projects to learn from and get involved in include a permaculture and DIY Zone with fun activities such as learning to create your urban garden, mushroom harvesting, and Mandala workshops. There’s even an eco fashion show and energy efficient and electric vehicles on display.

Learn more: http://www.bayareaearthday.org/

Bay to Breakers

A quintessential San Francisco experience, the Bay Breakers is an annual 12K race that as been held since 1912. The race happens on the third Sunday of every May and gets its name from the fact that it starts in the downtown area of The Embarcadero, next to the bay, and runs through the city, finishing along the Pacific coast, where the waves break on the beach. The event is famous for participants wearing colorful costumes, such as a pink furry monkey or the Muppets. A few others run in the buff. At the end of the race, there's a festival, where participants celebrate their achievements with music, food, and entertainment at Ocean Beach.

Learn more: http://www.zapposbaytobreakers.com/


Since 1979, Carnaval showcases the vibrancy of the culture of San Francisco's Mission District. The event is the largest multi-ethic festival in California, attracting over 400,000 participants who partake in the two festival. The main event begins with the Grand Parade of comparsas, or contingents, and features 70 different community groups with roots from Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Cuba, Peru, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Trinidad, Guatemala, El Salvador and more. At the end of the parade along Harrison Street, there's a festival full of international cuisine and global music, dance, and entertainment. Other events include the King and Queen Carnaval Competition and Carnaval Night at the DeYoung Museum.

Learn more: http://www.carnavalsanfrancisco.org/

Stern Grove Festival

Every summer, thousands of music lovers gather in the park to enjoy admission-free concerts and performances in a natural amphitheater surrounded by redwoods and eucalyptus trees. The event began in 1931, when Rosalie M. Stern gave Stern Grove as a gift to the City of San Francisco, in memory of her husband Sigmund, so long as the park could be preserved so that the public could enjoy free music and dance acts. It is now a San Francisco tradition that every Sunday from June to August, families and friends attend the performances by world famous artists as they relax and picnic. Past performances have included Sergio Mendes, Talib Kweli, the San Francisco Ballet, Smokey Robinson, the San Francisco Opera, Les Nubians, and Ozomatli.

Learn more: http://www.sterngrove.org/

Pride Parade

The largest LGBT celebration in the nation, San Francisco’s Pride includes more than 200 parade contingents, 300 exhibitors, and over 20 different stages and venues. The event began in response to the Stonewall Riots in 1969, when a police raid in New York sparked a rebellion by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community against government-sponsored oppression. It celebrates forty-four years of fighting for LGBT visibility, dignity, and equality. Beginning in downtown San Francisco, the parade ends at City Hall, where Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay politician, once stood and addressed San Franciscans in support of LGBT rights. The main event is the festival and parade, but there is also the Trans March, the Dyke March, and Pink Saturday held the Friday and Saturday before in the Castro.

Learn more: http://www.sfpride.org/parade/

Fillmore Jazz Festival

The largest free jazz festival on the west coast, every summer the celebration brings together more than 100,000 jazz lovers to groove to the music. Located on Fillmore between Jackson and Eddy, the festival is held annually in July and includes multiple stages with over 12 blocks of entertainment. Enjoy garlic fries, BBQ chicken, calamari, gumbo and craft beer. Vendors include jewelry, scarves, pottery, and paintings. Each block has its own vibe with a variety of music including, obviously, jazz, but also Latin, blues, and funk.

San Francisco’s history of jazz music began during World War II, when the neighborhood’s clubs featured legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. In the 1980s, a resurgence of jazz music began with the first Fillmore Jazz Festival in 1985. Lady Memphis, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Denise Perrier, and Paula West have all made recent performances.

Learn more: http://www.fillmorejazzfestival.com/

Outside Lands

Located in Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands brings in around 50,000 festival-goers a day to enjoy musical performances from around the world. As a part of the green movement, the festival encourages people to commute by bike with the official Outside Lands Bike Party, which departs from Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in the afternoon. The festival also donates to local non-profits specializing in music and arts education. Leave no trace principles are encouraged and all cups, plates, bowls, and utensils are 100% compostable and biodegradable. Many of the food vendors present serve gourmet, local, and organic cuisine.

Music acts have included Elton John, the Black Keys, Cat Power, Tame Impala, Mumford & Sons, Kendrick Lamar, Tiësto, John Butler Trio, Arctic Monkeys, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Looking for a break from music? There's even a comedy stage.

Learn more: http://www.sfoutsidelands.com/home

Folsom Street Fair

As a very unique festival, The Folsom Street Fair, an annual BDSM and leather subculture festival, is an event that you need to be mentally prepared for. The event takes place on Folsom Street in the SoMa District, just between 8th and 13th streets. The fair draws up to 400,000 leather and fetish enthusiasts from around the world for a single-day event in September. There are several stages and dance areas with indie, electronic, and alternative music, as well as an erotic artists performance stage. The event is open to everyone and there might be some things that will shock you, such as nudity, piercings, people on leashes, and lash marks from whips. However, please be respectful of this very unique event. Ask before taking someone’s photo or touching anyone (and that includes, clothing, jewelry, and gear). Also, don’t point, giggle, or gawk. San Francisco is an accepting place so feel free to costume yourself in leather.

Learn more: http://www.folsomstreetfair.com/


Originally conceived while drinking beer at the historic Edinburgh Castle pub in 1999, local writers Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl decided to create an event where booklovers would have a community. The event temporarily stalled but then experienced a resurgence with the Lit Crawl, which was an inspired by a USA Today article that reported that San Franciscans consume twice the nation’s average in booze and books. As a registered nonprofit, the Litquake Foundation seeks to create a literary community and foster interest in literature for everyone. Their Litquake events take place throughout the year, but their bigger event, the Lit Crawl, which attracts 10,000 people, is held in October. The festival is so popular that it’s expanded to both national and international authors, youth programs, workshops, book giveaways, school visits and Lit Crawls in as far away as London and Helsinki.

Learn more: http://www.litquake.org/

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