San Francisco is not short of things to do: a walk along Fisherman’s Wharf, a wander through Chinatown, a buzz around the bay on a boat. But it is also one of the US’ top cultural cities and offers a number of interesting events and festivals throughout the year. This handpicked guide will take you on a tour of the best things to do in San Francisco, month by month.
January | The Bay Lights
January 2014 until 2015
Take an evening stroll and let yourself be astounded by The Bay Lights, an amazing light project in the heart of San Francisco. More than 500 million LED lights have been used to illuminate Bay Bridge, creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture at nearly two miles wide and 500 feet high. Artist Leo Villareal, one of the world’s most prominent LED artists, designed the light show, which connects the bridge and the beautiful San Francisco evening skyline in a dance of illumination.
Bay Bridge, San Francisco, CA, USA.
February | The Speakeasy
Until April 26 2014
For a little interactive theatre fun, book an evening at The Speakeasy – an illicit bar and crooked casino in the very best 1930s style. A former clock shop, it was converted into a place for bootleg liquor during America’s Prohibition. Boxcar Productions carefully recreated this former bar, casino and cabaret to create this entertaining show, basing it on an actual speakeasy located in a San Francisco store called Joe’s Clock Shop. Getting close to retirement age, Joe took a bootlegger up on his offer to become a front for a speakeasy. The theatre re-imagines the people and stories that may have come out of this forbidden bit of fun. The location is only disclosed once tickets have been booked, making this experience even more intriguing.
Location disclosed upon reservation of tickets.
March | Live Projects 4: Public Intimacy
21 February – 29 June 2014
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is currently closed for reconstruction, but that doesn’t mean museum curators are sitting idly by waiting for construction workers to leave. The staff is busy creating contemporary art interactions at venues throughout the city. Public Intimacy brings South African art and artists to the streets of San Francisco, presenting performances, artist talks, projects and symposia. The programme includes multimedia performances by Johannesburg-based artist Kemang Wa Lehulere, an artist talk with photographer Zanele Muholi and a performance by the Ntsoana Contemporary Dance Theatre. Most intriguing might be the library intervention that will be created in the San Francisco Public Library by Cape Town collective Chimurenga.
Various locations across San Francisco. For more information, please visit the project’s website.
April | Cherry Blossom Festival
12 – 13 and 19 – 20 April 2014
The beautiful scent of cherry blossoms fills the streets of San Francisco’s Japantown during the Cherry Blossom Festival, a yearly celebration of Japanese culture. Rumoured to be the second largest cherry blossom festival outside of Washington, DC it is also the chance to discover one of three remaining Japantowns in the US. The main action happens on Post Street between Laguna and Fillmore Streets with food booths, cultural performances, martial arts, live bands, the annual Queen Program and more. On April 21 the Grand Parade is held, beginning at City Hall and ending in Japantown.
Various locations across San Francisco and Japantown.
May | Liam Scarlett World Premiere
29 – 30 April and 2, 4, 8 and 10 May 2014
The San Francisco Ballet premieres a new work by talented young choreographer Liam Scarlett. The San Francisco Ballet is known as a forward-looking, freethinking company, so it is no surprise they took up with the young choreographer. Scarlett’s work has been making waves throughout the ballet world; in 2012, he was named the Royal Ballet’s artist-in-residence, a position created just for him. Scarlett’s piece is part of a three-bill performance, which also includes Helgi Tomasson’s The Fifth Season and Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc. Combining Scarlett’s typically inventive work with a French neoclassic piece promises an evening of delightful contrasts for any ballet lover.
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA, USA. For more information, please visit the Ballet’s website.
June | Stern Grove Music Festival
22 June – August 2014
One of the city’s oldest music festivals, Stern Grove will open its 77th season this June. Located in a beautiful outdoor amphitheatre, Stern Grove provides a unique opportunity for both residents and visitors alike to experience great musical acts in leafy green surroundings: Stern Grove is a natural amphitheatre, surrounded by giant eucalyptus, redwood and fir trees and the festival has been a summer Sunday tradition for Bay area residents since the 1930s. Join other music lovers to relax, picnic and enjoy some great musical acts, which are as eclectic as San Francisco itself, ranging from opera stars to ballet performances to folk groups and world music. All concerts are free.
Sigmund Stern Grove Park, 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, San Francisco, CA, USA. For more information, please visit the festival’s website.
July | Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection
7 June – 12 October 2014
A special treat for San Francisco art lovers comes to the de Young Museum this July. The Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection exhibition takes a sweeping looking at Modernism, from post-World War II art through to the 20th century. The show itself comprises 50 paintings by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and more. Although many works of note are featured, one of the highlights must be Barnett Newman’s The Stations of the Cross (1958–66). Typically considered the artist’s most important work, it will be displayed all on its own in a chapel-like gallery setting.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA, USA.
August | Outside Lands
8 – 10 August 2014
Offering up a weekend packed with music, art, food and drink, Outside Lands is one of the city’s top summer music festivals. In fact, it is widely considered to be among the best summer music festivals in the whole of the United States. Taking over Golden Gate Park, organisers bring in lots of big rock names – 2013’s closing concert saw Red Hot Chili Peppers and Hall & Oats, an interesting musical combo to say the least. In addition, visitors can also experience Eco Lands; in keeping with San Francisco’s environmentally minded culture, Eco Lands acts as an educational forum of sustainability. In between concerts, visitors can experience urban gardening workshops, meet local community organisations and national NGOs, visit a farmers’ market and purchase locally sourced food from a variety of vendors.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA, USA. For more information, please visit the festival’s website.
September | Parasols for Peace
21 September – 21 October 2014
Sponsored by the International Peace & Art Center, this beautiful event is a visual celebration by hundreds of artists, organised as an offshoot of a UN-led project, and launching on 21 September, the International Day of Peace. Each artist taking part in the initiative uses peace as an inspiration for his or her own parasol design, and organisers hope to suspend the individual parasols from the ceiling to create the peace symbol.
For more information, please visit the Parasols for Peace website.
October | Castro Street Fair
5 October 2014
Explore an entertaining neighbourhood and get to know the residents at this community street celebration started in 1974 by activist Harvey Milk. Artists, craftspeople, vendors, and residents line the streets to enjoy one another’s company, live musical acts, jugglers, acrobats, clowns and more. Two stages are reserved for musical performances; there is a ‘Dance Alley’ given over to dancers as well as a parking lot reserved for Country and Western dance fans. Celebrate the diversity that makes the Castro neighbourhood such a unique place in San Francisco and the USA.
Various locations across Castro Street, San Francisco, CA, USA. For more information, please visit the Castro Street Fair website.
November | La Boheme
Several dates in November and December
One of Puccini’s best, and supported by the words of Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, La Boheme is a classic story of young love battered by the realities of life. Director John Baird brings this new production to the San Francisco Opera, along with resident conductor Giuseppe Finzi. Finzi has chosen Sonya Yoncheva (Mimi), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Nadine Sierra (Musetta) to lead one cast; Leah Crocetto, Giorgio Berrugi and Ellie Dehn lead the other. This performance promises to be an unforgettable treat: one of the oldest opera companies in America, San Francisco Opera’s first performance was La Boheme in September 1923, conducted by the Opera’s founder, Gaetano Merola. Performances are held in the stunning War Memorial Opera House.
San Francisco Opera: A number of dates in November and December, check website for performance times and ticket information.
December | Lighted Boat Parade
Get into the holiday spirit by enjoying Fisherman’s Wharf and the Lighted Boat Parade. The oldest and largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay sees more than 60 boats festooned with lights and holiday decorations float through the waters, delighting adults and children alike. Aquatic Park, PIER 39, the Marina Green and Crissy Field are some of the best locations to spot the lights, and be sure to make reservations in one of the Wharf’s restaurants, many of which will be offering special holiday menus.
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA, USA. For more information, please visit the Lighted Boat Parade’s website.