San Franciscans know how to have a good time – especially when it comes to celebrating the music, culture and food of their city. And at no place is that as evident as San Francisco's many outdoor festivals. From concerts in the park to a summertime feast for foodies, the city offers plenty of excuses to plan a trip around one of its festivals. Here are five recommended by local experts.
The mother of all Bay Area music festivals takes place in the middle of the city's biggest green space, Golden Gate Park. The festival is named for the days when Golden Gate Park was a no-man's land and commonly called the "outside lands." But the festival makes it anything but that, drawing a crowd of more than 200,000 people (roughly a quarter of San Francisco's population) every summer for the amped-up three-day festival. The genre-bending lineup spans hip-hop, rock, alternative, electronica and beyond. Case in point: Previous years have included The Who, Metallica, Lionel Richie, The Killers and Paul McCartney.
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But don't expect predictable festival fare at Outside Lands because the menu lineup is as good as the music. Aside from its stellar assortment of popular local food trucks like Del Popolo, The Chairman Truck and Curry Up Now, the festival offers a sampling of San Francisco's food scene – with pop-up stands set up by many coveted restaurants, a chocolate emporium called Choco Lands, a cheese area called Cheese Lands and an entire seafood section dubbed Outside Clams. Plus, Bay Area breweries, like 21st Amendment Brewery, Drake's Brewing Co. and Magnolia Brewing Co., and a tent called Wine Lands that features top local winemakers are on hand as well.
Eat Drink SF
Food never gets overlooked in restaurant-saturated San Francisco. And for the gourmandizing visitor, Eat Drink SF is a good way to get a taste of the city's diverse restaurant scene.
"Eat Drink SF is a great one, since San Francisco is famous for its restaurants, food, wine and cocktails, and the location at Fort Mason has a gorgeous bay view," says Andreas Rippel, chief concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco.
The four-day foodie fantasy takes over Fort Mason every August to honor the Bay Area's culinary influence. The celebration kicks off with its Taco Knockdown, during which chefs compete to create the tastiest taco. Three days of grand tastings follow, which in 2016, included plates from restaurants like Ichi Sushi, The Mina Test Kitchen, Tosca Cafe, Waxman's and Zero Zero. Drinks came from gin-focused Whitechapel, cocktail champion Trick Dog, Absinthe Brasserie & Bar and more.
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
More than 200,000 people attend this annual springtime celebration of Japanese culture and diversity, which began in 1968.
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"There's good food and it's a way to see one of the many cultures that makes San Francisco great," says Rachel Ward, editor at Where San Francisco magazine.
The cherry blossom festival occurs over two consecutive weekends filled with events dedicated to celebrating Japanese culture and San Francisco's Japanese-American community – all taking place in the largest and oldest Japantown in the U.S. Each year, multiple stages show off Japanese dancing, music and storytelling, and special demonstrations give you a glimpse of other cultural arts, like calligraphy and tea ceremony. A parade on the main day starts at the Civic Center and ends in Japantown, and gets lively with Japanese dancing troupes, colorful floats and a portable Shinto shrine.
Tom Wolfe, chief concierge and director of heritage at the Fairmont San Francisco, says, "It's a great display of culture: people dressing up, Japanese food, music."
Don't miss the tasty side of Japanese culture: There's a Sapporo beer garden, a sake tasting area and festival food prepared by Japanese community groups. Be sure to check the schedule and plan ahead.
Stern Grove Festival
From June through August every summer, the normally quiet Sigmund Stern Recreation Grove transforms into an epic, lively free concert series. Put on by a cultural nonprofit, the Stern Grove Festival has hosted artists like Carlos Santana, Janelle Monae, The Doobie Brothers and Tune-Yards. The San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Ballet perform every summer as well.
Visitors and locals fill the outdoor amphitheater, armed with picnic spreads and BYO beverages. Seating is first come, first served, and as such, the amphitheater area fills up early, with the crowd spilling over into the eucalyptus groves on the hill above and the neighboring meadow, where the music can be heard but not seen. Tip: Arrive at least three hours early if you want any chance of scoring a space with a stage view. Parking is very limited, so be prepared to park and walk, or better yet, take public transportation or a taxi.
San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration and Parade
Every summer since the 1970s, a colorful weekendlong celebration of diversity, gay rights and the LGBT community takes to the streets of San Francisco.
"It's a symbol of our city as welcoming and tolerant," says Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.
On the second day, an enormous parade begins at the foot of Market and Beale streets, and advances to Market and Eighth streets, attracting more than 30,000 marchers and 100,000 spectators. On both days, there's a celebration at the Civic Center with live music, public speakers and more than 20 community stages.
To experience more of what San Francisco has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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