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City By The Bay - The San Francisco Guide
Sourdough bread, cable cars and a flower in your hair...
San Francisco, aka the City by the Bay, sits at the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. It connects to Marin via the Golden Gate Bridge on the North, and to Oakland via the Bay Bridge on the East.
The really great thing about San Francisco is that is a very compact city, which makes it very easy to get around and do a lot of things. I totally recommend you use public transit and save all the time and money you'd spend on parking for doing things that are more fun. Whatever you do, bring a jacket. The moderate year-round temps of the Bay Area include constant and consistent "moderately cool" and even in mid-summer a leather jacket isn't out of place. SF also isn't flat, so wear some comfy street-hiking shoes.
Pictured here, the "Shaking Man" greets visitors at Yerba Buena Gardens.
April - A stupid parade, an Easter indulgence and the Int'l Film Fest
April showers include a wide array of things to do
On April 1st, The First Church of the Last Laugh invites all to celebrate the fastest-growing snack religion in the world, and mark their one religious holiday, St. Stupid's Day.
You can attend the free Annual Easter Parade on Union Street, running from Gough to Fillmore. If you'd like an original SF way to spend Easter, try the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and their Easter Indulgence in the Park. There are contests for Best Easter Bonnet, Hunky Jesus and more.
April 18th is the anniversary of the Great Quake, which happened on April 18, 1906. People gather at Lotta's Fountain in downtown SF at 5:13am to mark the exact moment.
Celebrate Earth Day San Francisco-style, in Civic Center Plaza: Earth Day SF
Or you might want to wander over to the San Francisco Art Institute and check out what's in their gallery this month.
See what's playing at the San Francisco Film Society. The City by the Bay is big for film and they've got events and showings all spring, capped by their film festival in late April and/or early May. You can always expect some really good selections and appearances by big name directors and actors.
May - Leave Your Hat On @ the Bay to Breakers
May flowers with events in San Francisco
Local radio station KFOG throws their annual KaBoom, a musical concert capped by a massive fireworks show choreographed to a synchronized radio broadcast. A tad crowded but a great show if the weather is clear!
The Bay to Breakers was first run in 1912 as the Cross City Race. It's always the third Sunday in May. It's a footrace, it's a costume contest, it's a rolling freak show. Yes, they really throw tortillas down in the Fun Runners area right before the race starts. Corn is stiffer and frisbees a bit better but is also really sharp when it comes crashing down on you. Flour needs to be fresh and if you warm them ever so slightly, they are moister and fly better.
Running through the second half of May is the San Francisco International Art Festival. This vast events spans dance, film, visual arts, theater, circus performances and music. The host venues are scattered throughout the city, so be sure to get the schedule as early as you can as there are a LOT of choices from which to pick.
If you don't have BBQ plans with friends for Memorial Day weekend, you might want to round a few of them up and samba down to the Mission District to celebrate Carnaval.
If you'd rather get out of town for Memorial Day, consider driving down Highway 1 and checking out the Boulder Creek Art, Wine & Music Festival. Admission to this three day festival is free, and approximately a dozen Santa Cruz mountain wineries offer tastings.
Staring at the end of this month and running into the fall are Farallon Island Whale Watching Tours, run by the Oceanic Society. Boats take watchers out to the waters off the Farallon Islands, 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco.
Guidebooks About San Francisco
There are two free alternative weekly papers in San Francisco, which are a good way to get a head's up as to what's happening when you are in town. You have your choice of the SF Bay Guardian or the SF Weekly.
For those of you planning ahead, a more conventional travel guide works better until you get to town. Combining recommendations from guide books and local papers is a good way to get variety and fun in your visit.
A great guide for the Bay Area proper and beyond. If you are renting a car and want to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, this travel guide will have you covered for both SF and Marin.
There's nothing quite like seeing San Francisco on foot and in the twelve years I lived there, I think I walked nearly every bit of it. Get in some great sites and enough calorie burning to indulge in everything from the fantastic sourdough bread to a Mission-style burrito to local Ghiradelli chocolates.
Get some great tips and advice for enjoying the City by the Bay with the whole family along.
June - Wear a Rainbow, It's Gay Pride!
In SF, *everyone* celebrates LGBT Pride
It starts on June 1st and doesn't quit until the last drag queen falls off her cha cha heels the Monday after the last Sunday. I'm talking about Gay Pride in San Francisco. Officially, it's known as the LGBT Pride Parade and Celebration and the big event takes place on the last Sunday in June.
Parade watching tips: get to Market St early and bring a lawn chair if your legs aren't up for a few hours of standing. Go with friends so you can command/control the space where you hang out. Early birds get good spots right along the barricades, well away from garbage cans and MUNI entrances (those become nightmares once the crowd gets thick). If you pick a spot on the north side of the street and make sure the building behind you is tall, you'll get the most shade the longest while watching the parade.
Related events include Frameline's annual San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. Running for two weeks leading up to the parade weekend, this event showcases the best of queer films.
From now though October, Yerba Buena Gardens presents their festival series, offering a variety of free art and music events. Check their calender for specifics.
The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival showcases and highlights dance from all over the world, revealing universalities of world cultures through dance.
June features the kick-off of Stern Grove's concert season, an annual event since 1938! This free series of musical events runs through August and you can catch appearances by all sorts of singers and bands, from classical to modern.
The North Beach Festival highlights this unique neighborhood and Italian culture in SF. Don't miss the pizza toss contest!
Or you can go to Pasados del Presidio, an annual event commemorating the 1776 founding of the Presidio, the birthplace of San Francisco.
Sights of San Francisco - highlights from the City By The BayClick thumbnail to view full-size
July - Are You Sure It's Summer?
Welcome to the land of microclimates and thermal inversion
You can always spot the tourists right away during the summer in San Francisco. They are the folks who are walking around in shorts and t-shirts, freezing their whatevers off, while the locals seem to spend most of July in leather jackets. No wonder Fisherman's Wharf does such a brisk biz in sweatshirts and pants....
If you're looking for hot and sunny, San Francisco is NOT the place to be during the summer months. If you like cool and foggy, the City by the Bay is happy to oblige. Average summer temps in the city itself can often hover in the lows 60s, and that's the daytime high. The placement of the city right at the neck of the San Francisco Bay, so that there's water on both sides of the city, keeps this micro-climate much cooler and if the inland areas get warm, the cool sea air is sucked right over, an effect often called "nature's air conditioning." There are rarely more than three hot summer days in a row before this effect kicks in, sometimes inducing a 20+ temperature drop in just a few hours.
Shown here at right, is a somewhat rare summery view down on the city from Twin Peaks. Be sure to check weather conditions before making the drive up the hill.
Check the schedule for "Film Night In The Park" to see if there's an outdoor showing near you!
You'll want to make sure you have an extra layer when you head down to the Maritime Museum to check out LaborFest, a historical remembrance of the 1934 "Blood Thursday" strike and riot that wound up shutting down the city. This event helped in the birth of the labor movement and trade unions and is now commemorated annually with the July-long cultural film and arts festival.
If you're too cold outside, you can head inside for the annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Held at the historic Castro Street Theater, this showcases wonderful movies from the birth of the entertainment era.
And for those of you who brought your leather jackets with you, the Up Your Alley Street Fair caps the month, with about 20,000 leathermen (and some women too) holding festivities South of Market along what was one of the 1970s most notorious "cruising" locations, the infamous Dore Alley.
Typical SF Tourist Stuff
San Francisco is known for its liberal politics, gay and lesbian pride celebration, fog, sourdough bread, hills, cable cars, sea lions, fresh crab and a series of eclectic street fairs and urban events. The Burning Man festival had its birth here and it was here the dot-com crashed and burned.
These were some of the more touristy things that I did with friends when they came to visit me in SF. With a bit of attention to avoid major crowds, these are fun activites and sites.
- Exploratorium: the museum of science, art and human perception
The Exploratorium: a hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception in San Francisco. Our site provides interactive online exhibits and exhibitions, activities, Webcasts, and more.
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Welcome to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the only museum in the western United States devoted to collecting and exhibiting the full scope of modern and contemporary art.
- Fisherman's Wharf
No visit to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to Fisherman's Wharf. This waterfront area offers San Francisco history, fresh seafood, sea lions, Alcatraz tours and fun for the whole family.
- California Academy of Sciences
While the California Academy of Sciences and Steinhart Aquarium rebuild in Golden Gate Park, they are open every day of the year at 875 HOWARD STREET in downtown San Francisco (between 4th and 5th Streets).
- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco - de Young - Legion of Honor
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) is the city's largest public arts institution. Comprising the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor, FAMSF is also the city's most successful public/private partnership. Although a designated city depa
- San Francisco Cable Cars
San Francisco Cable Car Website, the online home of the web's first interactive Cable Car. Features include: interactive demos on how cable cars work, route maps with popular destinations, and the location and hours of the San Francisco Cable Cars.
- Alcatraz Official Web Page
Tour Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison, military fortification, lighthouse, and site of a 1969-1972 Native American Occupation.
- Ghirardelli Square on San Francisco Bay
Coated in tradition and history, Ghirardelli Square is one of San Francisco's most treasured landmarks. The story of the city is played out in the Square's history and we're proud to share that with you. Welcome to Ghirardelli Square – home to some o
August - In and Out of the City
Explore summer all around the Bay
The Blue & Gold Fleet can ferry you to Alcatraz, Marine World in Vallejo or maybe just over to Sausalito for a great waterside lunch.
If you've got a car and want to get out of the city, this is a fantastic time of year to head north to Marin County and Wine Country. Both Napa Valley and Sonoma are laden with wineries and picturesque real estate. If you get together a group of friends, you can often arrange a group wine tasting tour where no one has to drive.
Just over Golden Gate Bridge is Muir Woods, a fantastic national monument and a great place for a summer's day hike. Named after conservationist John Muir, this is a wonderfully rich coastal redwood forest with intact old growth.
At the end of the month, you can travel back to Renaissance England just by heading down to Speedway Meadow in GGP and checking out the Golden Gate Renaissance Festival. For two days, the city will play host to kights, ladies, minstrals and various British historical figures. Entertainment includes belly dancers, jugglers, minstrals and medieval jousts.
Pictured here, some SCA knights have at it!
Get Local Sports and Events Tickets
Looking to catch one of the SF teams in action? Find 49ers and Giants tickets here. You might also find tickets to that really hot show or concert you'd just love to attend while you are in town.
September - San Francisco Days, San Francisco Nights
The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
Although the above quote is often quoted and attributed to Mark Twain, it turns out he never actually said it. However, that doesn't mean it isn't an accurate description of an SF summer. By September, all that begins to change.
The City by the Bay often seems a tad quiet over Labor Day weekend, but that's because the Burning Man Project was born here and thousands of folks leave at the end of August to spend a week or two at Black Rock City, NV. Once that's over, everyone comes back and starts hitting the many city festivals while the weather is rocking.
If you still need a fix for more live theater, the SF Fringe Festival presents experimental and uncensored performances for your enjoyment.
Find a free, noontime concert somewhere in the city with People In Plazas. Support the local music scene!
Check out the SF Dragon Boat Festival which features more than 100 international teams, from novice to expert, celebrating the history of these colorful boats and competing fiercely. Bring binoculars and your camera.
Chocoholics will want to take note of Ghiradelli's Chocolate Festival, featuring tastings, cooking demos and benefiting Project Open Hand.
For those looking for a one-of-a-kind SF experience, the Folsom St Fair is the largest leather pride event in the world, with several hundred thousand attendees dressing up, kinking out and showing off the last Sunday of September. Leave the kids at home for this one, and bring an open mind.
Get out and race for the cure benefitting Komen SF. You can do a 5k run, a 5k walk or a 1k fun walk, all to help raise money for breast cancer.
Suggestions for Getting Around SF
San Francisco is a city of hills and utterly terrible parking. Quite often, getting around the city by car can be a huge hassle, and searches for street parking can easily add 30-60 minutes to any venture.
Here are some other options for ways to get around and see the best that the City By The Bay has to offer.
- San Francisco Cable Cars
The cable cars of SF are a fun way to see some of the major tourist spots like Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. You get a better deal with the "passport" travel option as it will let you get on and off the cars all day. Watch out on summer weeken
- Blazing Saddles - Bike Rentals
You can rent bikes for a day, and go across the Golden Gate Bridge, or take a bike tour. Multiple city locations make this a good option no matter what part of the city you want to see.
- GoCar Rentals
Rent one of these little, yellow, 3-wheele, open-topped, two-person cars and you get GPS to guide and inform you on your adventures. Novel, fun and available in five languages.
- Eaglerider - Harley Davidson Reservations
Wanna tour SF and the surrounding area on a Harley? These folks offer rentals and guided tours. Non-motorcycle drivers can get tours with a driver and just kick back and enjoy as the passenger.
- San Francisco Shuttle Tours
This company offers a five hour itinerary that will shuttle you to the majority of the city's big sights.
- San Francisco's Best Walking Tours
The weather can be pretty mild year round and with a good pair of shoes and a jacket to guard against sudden temperature shifts, walking is a fantastic way to see the city up-close and personal.
October - Beautiful Weather and A Bounty of Events!
October is one of the best-weathered months in San Francisco and both locals and visitors find there's often too much to do in just 31 days!
The first Sunday in October is the famous Castro Street Fair, celebrating the eclectic neighborhood. The crafts show features all sorts of wonderful items, but it can be crowded so go early to have room to move and look around.
If film is your favorite, the Arab Film Festival will showcase movie offerings exploring all aspects of the Arab world and experience.
For a touch of European flavor, check out the Oktoberfest by the Bay.
Hello, Sailor! Don't miss SF's Fleet Week! If you like naval uniforms or boats, you'll find plenty of both.
If you really love film, you'll want to head just north of SF to the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Just down the coast from SF is Half Moon Bay, home of the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival, featuring the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. The winner gets $5/lb for their pumpkin and past winners have topped 1,000 pounds. A bit further south, in Felton, the Roaring Camp Railroad offers a Harvest Festival and their annual Ghost Train.
October 17th marks the date of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
The holiday of Halloween brings every kind of strange out of the City By the Bay's woodwork, so plan ahead as you may find a few weekends overbooked! There's the Exotic Erotic Ball for the adults and the Reclaiming Collective's wonderful Spiral Dance for the Pagans, and dozens of clubs hosting parties for those looking for something smaller to do.
Sing Out, San Francisco-Style - San Francisco Songs
There's nothing quite like the love that people have for San Francisco. Make a great mix for your MP3 player and have some fantastic theme music for during your visit.
A fun song that was my personal theme song when I lived in SF
Perfectly captures the feeling of walking in San Francisco
November - Explore the Diversity of San Francisco
charitiable events and crafts shows highlight autumn
You can get a jump on the holiday season and your gift shopping the first weekend of November with the Harvest Festival Original Art & Craft Show. Hundreds of artisans, including some you haven't seen before - featuring truly unique product - from eye catching jewelry, colorful glassware and ceramics, hand-woven and embellished clothing, photography, specialty foods, home dÃ©cor and much, much more!
Animation lovers might want to check out the Third Annual San Francisco International Animation Festival, which runs from the 11th thru the 13th of the month.
Go Green with SF's Green Festival, hosted at the Concourse Exhibition Center from the 14th through the 16th.
Want a fancy Thanksgiving dinner out? Be sure to book early with these restaurants. After taking part in the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot down at Ocean Beach, you'll want a big dinner that you don't have to cook!
For those of you who like to make social activism part of their Thanksgiving holiday, San Francisco is a big supporter of Buy Nothing Day. Or you can help out at the annual Glide Memorial Thanksgiving event where more than 4000 people are fed.
The last weekend in November, Ft. Mason hosts the annual Celebration of Craftswomen, where wonderful art and crafts abound. If you're looking for quality, this is THE place!
Pictured here, a bicycle rack outside the DeYoung Museum.
December - Holidays by the Bay
getting into the holiday swing of things!
San Francisco gets a brisk and windy winter with smatterings of rain, so be sure to put a nice long, warm and waterproof coat on your Christmas list if you don't already have one.
During all the nights of Channukah, the Bill Graham Menorah will be lit in Union Square!
If that didn't take care of everything, try zipping over to Ghirardelli Square. They've got tons of shops too, and their chocolate should take care of just about any hard-to-gift folks.
If you like a bit of a Victorian holiday, head on over to the Cow Palace for the Dickens Fair. Merchants and performers bring Victorian-era London at Christmas time to life.
If you like ice skating, be sure to drop by the SF Zoo and take a few turns around the ice on their Reindeer Romp Ice Rink.
If you're looking for something different for the family, consider taking a cruise around the Bay for Christmas Day or New Year's Eve.
Offering something for everyone, no matter how unique your family might be, is the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus annual show, Home For The Holidays. Staged at the lovely Castro Theater, these shows celebrate mainstream and alternative holidays. Insider Tip: For adults without kids, the 11pm show on Christmas Eve is THE wildest, and you'll want to sit in the balcony section for this too. Trust me...
Pictured here, a decorated tree in Union Square.
Visit SF by Video
January - Kick Off Your New Year In The City By The Bay!
If you're a Mac user, you may be flocking to SF's Moscone Center already as January brings the annual the Macworld Conference at Moscone Center Jan 15th - 18th. This is one of the biggest Apple computer enthusiast gatherings in the world and it's an awesome place to get your geek on!
This year's Sketchfest, the SF Comedy Festival features special guests Gene Wilder (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein)and The Kids In The Hall, plus LIVE MST3K Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Footloose & Shotwell Studios will play host to the Women on the Way Festival from January 10-27th.
On January 12th get in out of the cold and check out this month's installment of Writers with Drinks at the Make Out Room.
January 19th Pier 39 will be commemorating the 18th anniversary of the arrival of a group of sea lions! The herds especially grow in January as the marine mammals come to eat the Bay's plentiful herring this time of year.
Forget the bleepin' Merlot... Zinfandel-lovers usually make ZAP's Annual Zinfandel Festival a total sell-out. About 300 wineries serve 10,000 attendees over four days.
If you're into ecological causes, you might want to catch the 2008 Ecological Farming Conference, taking place in Pacific Grove (near Monterey) on January 23-26. Drive down Highway 1 and get a great bed and breakfast for the weekend.
Starting January 25th and running until February 3rd at the famous Castro Theater is Noir City, the 6th annual San Francisco noir film festival.
Pictured here, Moscone Convention Center
SF in the Movies
February - Leave Your Heart In San Francisco!
high on a hill, it calls to thee...
The San Francisco Ocean Film Festival is a volunteer-driven non-profit organization dedicated to using film to improve public understanding of the environmental, social, and cultural importance of marine ecosystems. It's also the only film festival of its kind in the world and it takes place the first weekend in February 2008.
Kicking off at the beginning of February is the "mustard season" or rather the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, a series of food, wine, art, entertainment, and cultural activities that will run in the Napa area through the end of March.
The San Francisco Zoo is having their annual Valentine's Day Woo at the Zoo! where you get a zoo tour unlike any other, learning about the sex lives of all the animals as well as enjoying champagne, sushi and chocolate-covered strawberries. These tours are 21+ only and extremely limited, and insanely popular... BOOK EARLY!
Music lovers can cozy up at the 2008 SF Bluegrass & Old Time Festival. This year features thirty shows and fifty-eight performers taking place at seventeen different venues around the city!
Looking to celebrate Carnaval? Join the Friends of Brazil as they throw their annual Carnaval Ball on February 2nd! You can samba 'til you drop! Need a Mardi Gras fix? Check Citysearch's Mardi Gras roundup, where you can find restaurants and events having special features for Fat Tuesday and throughout the month.
SF Indiefest hosts their 10th Annual Independent Film Festival. The event is held at a variety of city venues, so be sure to check the schedule to see which films are playing at what locations!
If slightly exotic libations are your thing and you're over in the Haight-Ashbury, you might pause to mark the 6th Annual Strong Ale Month at Toronado's, featuring beers from the 21st
Amendment Brewery and Magnolia Pub and Brewery.
February brings the Chinese New Year, and a two-week festival which begins in mid-month and runs into early March. The SF Chinatown celebration is the largest of it's kind outside of Asia. The big parade is February 10th.
Sunday February 24th, you can get your celebrity fix and support AIDS research at the Academy of Friends Gala. There is a silent auction and award show telecast as part of evening.
Pictured here, the SF MOMA.
March - Plenty To Do If You Blow Into Town
see what blows through the Bay Area at this time of year!
Satisfy your crafty cravings with the Contemporary Crafts Market held at Ft Mason.
Film buffs may want to drop by the Asian American Film Festival. Be sure to check the schedule ahead of time on this one, as showings take place in SF, Berkeley and San Jose over the span of the event.
Did you know that March 14th is Pi Day? Join the Exploratorium for their annual tribute to the never-ending number with special events, fun and exhibits.
If you find yourself in San Francisco on St. Patrick's Day, be sure to check out the Annual St Patrick's Day Parade. But don't drink too much if you plan on doing the Emerald Across the Bay 12K the next morning! The run/walk across the Golden Gate Bridge won't be so fun with a hangover.
Wet your palate with over 500 of the finest American Rhone wines as the Rhone Rangers hold their Grand Tasting.
This lens shared Lens of the Day honors on August 24, 2008!