For more information on San Francisco events, visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com for an annual calendar of local events, as well as http://events.frommers.com, where you’ll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what’s happening in cities all over the world.
Chinese New Year, Chinatown. In 2012, public celebrations will again spill onto every street in Chinatown. Festivities begin with the “Miss Chinatown USA” pageant parade, and climax 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 revelry runs for several weeks and wraps up with a memorable parade through Chinatown that 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. Make your hotel reservations early. For dates and information, call tel. 415/982-3000 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 the Irish-for-a-day yuppies as they gallivant around the closed-off streets and numerous pubs. For information, call tel. 415/675-9885 or visit www.sfstpatricksdayparade.com. 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 for information. Mid- to late April.
San Francisco International Film Festival, around San Francisco with screenings at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas (Fillmore and Post sts.), and at many other locations. Begun in 1957, this is America’s oldest film festival. 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 or information, call tel. 415/561-5000 or visit www.sffs.org. Mid-April to early May.
Cinco de Mayo Festival, Mission District. This is when the Latino community celebrates the 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 in Dolores Park (Dolores St. btw. 18th and 20th sts.). Contact the Mission Neighborhood Center for more information at tel. 415/206-0577 or www.sfcincodemayo.com.
Zazzle 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 100th year in 2011) that goes from downtown to Ocean Beach. More than 75,000 entrants gather — many dressed in wacky, innovative, and sometimes X-rated costumes — for the approximately 7.5-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 recorded information, call tel. 415/359-2800, or check their website, www.ingbaytobreakers.com. Third Sunday of May.
Carnaval Festival, Harrison Street between 16th and 23rd streets. The Mission District’s largest annual event, held from 9:30am to 6pm, is a day 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. For one of San Franciscans’ favorite events, more than half a million spectators line the parade route, and 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 the hotline at tel. 415/920-0125 for information. Celebrations are held Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, but the parade is on Sunday morning only. Visit www.carnaval.com/sf/sf_carn.htm for more information.
Union Street Art Festival, Pacific Heights, along Union Street from Steiner to Gough streets. This outdoor fair celebrates San Francisco with themes, 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 www.unionstreetfestival.com. First weekend of June.
Haight-Ashbury Street Fair, Haight-Ashbury. A far cry from the froufrou Union Street Fair, 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 and the exact date, call tel. 415/863-3489 or visit www.haightashburystreetfair.org.
North Beach Festival, Grant Avenue, North Beach. In 2009, this party celebrated its 55th anniversary; organizers claim it’s the oldest urban street fair in the country. Close to 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). But the most enjoyable parts of the event are listening to music and people-watching. Call tel. 415/989-2220 for details. Usually Father’s Day weekend, but call to confirm.
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 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 www.sterngrove.org. Sundays, mid-June through August.
San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade & Celebration, downtown’s Market Street. 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. 415/864-3733 or visit www.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. Call tel. 510/970-3217 for more information or visit www.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 join in 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. This is one of the largest marathons in the world. It 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 www.thesfmarathon.com. Usually the last weekend in July.
Sausalito Art Festival, Sausalito. A juried exhibit of more than 20,000 original works of art, this festival includes music — provided by 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 impossible; take the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry (tel. 415/705-5555) from Fisherman’s Wharf to the festival site. For more information, call tel. 415/332-3555 or log on to www.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 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), from 11am to 6pm. This is a local favorite for its kinky, outrageous, leather-and-skin gay-centric blowout celebration. It’s hard-core, so only open-minded and adventurous types need head into the leather-clad and partially dressed crowds. For info call tel. 415/861-3247 or visit www.folsomstreetfair.org. Last Sunday of September.
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. 650/599-5057 or visit www.fleetweek.us 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. Call tel. 415/861-9838 or visit www.artspan.org for more information.
Castro Street Fair, the Castro. Celebrate life in the city’s most famous gay neighborhood. Call tel. 415/841-1824 or visit www.castrostreetfair.org for information. First Sunday in October, from 11am to 6pm.
Italian Heritage Parade, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. The city’s Italian community leads the 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 information, call tel. 415/587-8282 or visit www.sfcolumbusday.org. Observed the Sunday before Columbus Day.
Exotic Erotic Halloween Ball, the Cow Palace, on the southern outskirts of San Francisco. Thousands come here dressed in costume, lingerie, and sometimes even less than that. It’s a wild fantasy affair with bands, dancing, and costume contests. Beware: It can be somewhat cheesy. Advance tickets range from $60 to $125 per person. For information, call tel. 415/567-BALL (2255) or visit www.exoticeroticball.com. Mid-October weekend.
Halloween, the Castro. This once huge street party has been tamed down by city officials in recent years 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’ll be disappointed. October 31.
San Francisco Jazz Festival, various San Francisco locations. This festival presents eclectic programming in an array of fabulous jazz venues throughout the city. With close to 3 weeks of nightly entertainment and dozens of performers, the jazz festival is a hot ticket. Past events have featured Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Wayne Shorter, and Bill Frisell. For information, call tel. 800/850-SFJF (7353) or 415/788-7353 or visit www.sfjazz.org. Also check the website for other events throughout the year. Late October and early November.
Treasure Island Music Festival, Treasure Island. Bands and crowds take over this East Bay landfill island (and former U.S. Navy base) for the weekend. Free shuttle from AT&T Park. Visit www.treasureislandfestival.com. Mid-October.
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.) Order tickets to this holiday tradition well in advance. Visit www.sfballet.org for information.