Your Guide to San Francisco's Biggest Annual Celebrations

Pacific Tradewinds

Your Guide to San Francisco's Biggest Annual Celebrations

San Francisco events Gay Pride

If you’re hoping to fill your time in San Francisco with amazing events and activities, then you'll never be disappointed.

Our city is alive throughout the year with huge parties, musical celebrations and much, much more.

Let’s dive into the calendar and take a look at the biggest annual San Francisco events!


Restaurant Week San Francisco


San Francisco Restaurant Week shows off the very best of the city’s food scene. Around 130 restaurants open up their doors every year to showcase their finest meals, offering special prix fixe menus with reduced rates.

The festival offers food lovers an excellent chance to sample the top cuisines in the city - without paying top prices. During Restaurant Week in 2019, a two-course lunch menu will cost either $15 or $25. Not bad if you're trying to get excellent cuisine on a budget.


Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt


Get your thinking cap on and magnifying glass out for the ever-popular Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt.

The innovative activity sends super sleuths across San Francisco to hunt for treasure, solving a series of clues along the way.

The annual event takes participants through some of San Francisco’s must-see neighborhoods, including Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill.

Knowledge of the city is not needed for the urban investigation, but comfortable shoes and a quick wit are. Prizes are dished out to the winners of four different categories, as well as to those with the best costumes and team names.

San Francisco Beer Week

Credit: Suni Sidhu


San Francisco Beer Week is the ultimate festival for beer enthusiasts. 

Featuring more than 400 events, the annual homage to beer covers every facet of the much-loved beverage, from ever-popular IPAs to the latest trends from across the globe.

For festival goers hoping to not only drink great beer but also learn something, Beer Week also offers classes on various topics such as how to pair food and beer, and an introduction to beer judging. Cheers to that!


St. Patrick’s Day Parade


Ever year, San Francisco goes green for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The West Coast’s largest celebration of Irish history and culture takes place at the Civic Center Plaza, in front of City Hall. Expect a bevy of colorful floats and Irish dancers, plus food and drink from the Emerald Isle. 


San Francisco International Film Festival


Some of the world’s finest filmmakers descend on the city every year for the San Francisco International Film Festival.

For the movie buffs out there, the festival is the perfect opportunity to attend marquee premieres, live performances and artist talks.

But for those who are more into their Friday night Netflix binges, it’s still the perfect opportunity to dip their toe in the magical world of cinema.

Whichever camp you fall into, SFIFF is a wonderful way to join San Francisco’s flourishing cinematography scene.


Bay to Breakers


The Bay to Breakers 12k race takes a flurry of costumed runners from the Embarcadero - "the Bay" to Ocean Beach - "the breakers."

This annual race started way back in 1912, and has been going strong every year since then. Somewhere down the line, Bay to Breakers started being less of a serious race and more of an excuse to wake up early and run around San Francisco in elaborate costumes. Not that we always need an excuse for that, but sometimes people look at us funny if we do it on a non-festival day.

That means that on Bay to Breakers day, anywhere you are from downtown San Francisco to Golden Gate Park, you're bound to see Lycra-clad runners jogging alongside Santa Claus or a dinosaur. And usually a naked guy or three.

We’ve seen pretty much every costume imaginable from the more than two million people who have already completed the famous race, but with every year comes more costumes. People often coordinate costumes with their friends, so it's not uncommon to see a troop of clowns or a school of fish running alongside you.

All along the route of the race, there are live bands and DJs, as well as houses having parties in case you want to take a break from running and have a drink or two.

The race starts at 8 a.m. and officially ends at 12:30, but expect the city to be full of merry-makers for the rest of the day.

If you're registering to run the race for real, the fee is $50, but if you just want to throw on a costume and run the course, it's free. The earlier you show up, the better.


Credit: RealCereal


The annual Carnaval in San Francisco celebrates the wonderful and diverse Latin American and Caribbean roots of the Mission District and San Francisco Bay Area.

The festival, which has been around for more than 40 years, is an eclectic mix of dance, music, arts, learning and more.

If you’re in town during the Carnaval weekend, make sure you check out The Grand Parade — a joyous, uproarious and vivd celebration of diversity in San Francisco.


Haight Ashbury Street Fair


This celebration started in 1978 to mark the end of an economic downturn after the famous Summer of Love.

Now, the annual event welcomes more than 200 stalls selling everything from food to bongs. It also features music from local acts plus arts and crafts. Come put some flowers in your hair and get groovy.

San Francisco Pride Parade and Festival


The world-famous San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Celebration is a day of acceptance, rainbows, glitter, dancing in the streets, and one of the most colorful parades you will ever see.

The last Saturday in June, Civic Center Plaza will explode into color for the all-day celebration, followed by the famous parade on Market Street the next morning. 

Every year, tens of thousands of people line the streets for the annual march, which is one of the oldest and largest in the world. To give you a sense of the scale, in 2018 more than 50,000 people took part, while more than 100,000 cheered on from the sides.

Allies are welcome, but please remember to treat everyone with respect, even (especially) if you see something you don't understand.


Fourth of July Waterfront Festival


Fisherman’s Wharf lights up for Independence Day with a spectacular fireworks display. Whether you take the cheaper option and watch from land, or splash out and see the sights from a boat (pun intended), you’ll be astounded by the scale of the show.

Like many San Francisco events, you’ll find great food and music to turn your night into a bit of a party.


Outside Lands


Held in Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands is a three-day music festival featuring some of the best-known artists from every genre. 2018's lineup featured Janet Jackson, Beck, DJ Snake, Future, and Odesza, to name a few. The festival also features booths offering food from some of San Francisco's most popular restaurants.

We're not going to lie, it's not cheap. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay while you're in town for the festival, check out Pacific Tradewinds. We've got enough free ramen and free PB&J sandwiches to maaaaybe offset the pain your wallet is feeling from the festival. But also, seeing your favorite band perform in a park in San Francisco might just make it worth it.

San Francisco Street Food Festival

Credit: Eddie Hernandez Photography


Join San Francisco’s master chefs for a celebration of street food from across the globe. The annual event invites some of the Bay Area’s most talented chefs for a full day of delicious food and drinks, as well as some live music. The entry fee is also pretty reasonable. In 2018, a ticket to the festival only cost $6 in advance and $10 at the door. Of course, you still have to pay for the food once you're inside the festival.

Peace In The Park


Life on the road can be hectic. Peace In The Park is a wonderful way to relax and reflect on your time traveling.

This annual festival welcomes thousands of participants to Golden Gate Park each year by offering activities such as yoga and meditation.


Folsom Street Fair


Leather, metal studs and chains take center stage in the largest fetish fair in the world, the Folsom Street Fair.

More than 250,000 people partake in the annual celebration of all things kink. Aside from the fact that there are naked and mostly-naked people walking around, it has all the things you'd expect at a street fair: booths, games, food and live music. There are also BDSM demos and other live performances.

It’s not all chains and whips, though. The Folsom Street Fair also features fundraising events - such as a spanking booth - that raise thousands of dollars each year for local and national charities.

On that note, although the festival is free, you will be asked for an optional donation when you enter. If you donate more then $10, you get a sticker that will grant you $2 off all drinks you buy that day at one of the fair's many booth.

You don't have to be decked out in leather to attend the festival. However, no matter what you're wearing, if you attend, please remember respect and consent. Just because someone is at the fair in a revealing costume does not mean they consent to being touched or photographed. The Folsom Street Fair is a safe space for people to express themselves, and should be treated as such.


ArtSpan Open Studios


If you love art and checking out new artists, you won't want to miss ArtSpan Open Studios when you're in San Francisco. The annual event takes place in October and November and showcases artwork from more than 800 artists.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Festival

The first weekend of October, two months after Outside Lands, Golden Gate Park hosts another three-day music festival. Unlike Outside Lands, however, this festival is 100 percent free.

Venture capitalist and San Francisco native Warren Hellman had long dreampt of hosting a bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park. In 2001, his dreams came true, and a free festival he called "Strictly Bluegrass" came to life. However, as the years went on, non-bluegrass musicians heard of it, and wanted to take part in a free music festival to benefit the San Francisco community and its visitors. In 2004, Hellman changed the name to "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass," and added some more artists from all different genres. Hellman passed away in 2011, but the festival continues to be free every year, funded by the Hellman Foundation. It still features many popular bluegrass and folk acts, such as Emmylou Harris and Steve Earl, but also features some artists who are decidedly not bluegrass musicians, such as MC Hammer and Social Distortion.

Bring a picnic blanket, snacks and your dancing shoes and be prepared to dance in the park all weekend. Be warned: it gets very crowded. Also, if you're going to get involved in a Social Distortion moshpit, maybe take off your aforementioned dancing shoes before you do so. Our Online Community Manager Jessica may or may not have lost her shoes this way at Hardly Strictly in 2014.


Fleet Week

Website: veterantoolbox.or

Each year, Fleet Week activities take place across major cities in the United States to celebrate the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

In San Francisco, we get a thrilling mixture of high-flying aeroplane acrobatics, ship tours and free concerts.

If you're in San Francisco in early October and hear the deafening roar of a plane overhead, or see people walking around in Coast Guard uniforms, there's no cause for alarm - it's just Fleet Week.


Dia de los Muertos


Each year the city comes together to pay tribute to deceased relatives and loved ones on the Day Of The Dead.

The Mexican tradition begins with blessings at Bryant and 22nd Streets, and then turns into a procession which ends up at Garfield Park.

Visitors to San Francisco can build their own altars to their loved ones, or just take in the atmosphere and have a (respectful) look around. Many participants also paint their faces with white sugar skull face paint.

Holiday Lighting Festivities

Like many major cities across the planet, the turning on of the holiday lights is a huge event in San Francisco.

The highlight will be the Union Square Tree Lighting Ceremony, which happens in late November and sees the enormous tree illuminated for the first time in the holiday period. The ceremony is typically followed by a series of performances from local acts and artists.

You can also catch the lighting of the tree on Pier 39 or the Tree Of Hope at City Hall.

Union Square also has a giant menorah that they light every year at the start of Hanukkah. We love walking in Union Square and seeing both the tree and the menorah lit up at the same time!


New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve in San Francisco is, as expected, a huge deal. Almost every club, bar and lounge throughout the city hosts a party every year, some featuring big names such as Miguel and Kaskade.

Additionally, there is a free fireworks show every year on the waterfront. Around 200,000 people are expected to show up each year to take in the show.

The fireworks blast off from barges set 1,000 feet from the shore. To get a good spot you will need to place yourself between Mission and Folsom Street along the Embarcadero. You'll be able to see the Bay Bridge's LED light installation twinkling in the background as you take in the fireworks. Can't really beat that as a way to start the new year.

San Francisco events: Your round-up

As we’ve seen, San Francisco events are exciting, daring, delicious and everything in between. There’s a little something for everyone.

Whenever you come to the city, make sure you’ve got a budget-friendly place to stay. Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is a home away from home. We’re the number one hostel on TripAdvisor, Google and Facebook and a great place to meet new people to share exciting adventures with. Click here to book now.

Main image: San Francisco Gay Pride 2012 Credit: Joped






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