San Francisco Travel Guide

Activities & Events

Harbor tours

One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz and the city.

Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.

Also consider taking a ferry from San Francisco across the bay to Tiburon, Sausalito, or Alameda. Same views for a fraction of the price.

Most tours leave from docks at Fisherman's Wharf near Pier 39. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season.

Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10AM and ending around 5PM. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20–$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.

Even on a sunny day the bay can be chilly, so be sure to bring a sweater as well as sun screen.
Some boats have snack bars on board, but bring your own water and treats to avoid paying high costs or going without. There are now limited refreshments and a souvenirs shop on Alcatraz.
Performing arts
San Francisco has a Half-Price Ticket Booth located right in the middle of Union Square, where tickets for most San Francisco theater performances can be purchased the day of the performance for half-price. Run by Theatre Bay Area, all service fees collected from the sale of tickets by TIX Bay Area goes right back into the theater community.
Go to a concert, a play, a jazz or a folk-song performance. There are performances most days to choose from by the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, in Herbst Theater (where the U.N. charter was signed), in the Old First Church, and for musicals in the Orpheum or the Golden Gate Theaters, all located in or near the Civic Center. The museum of the Legion of Honor, located in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate (north end of 34th Ave), has organ concerts which can be heard in many of its galleries, Saturdays and Sundays at 4PM, as well as music performances in its Florence Gould Theater by the San Francisco Lyric Opera. For the fall and spring jazz festivals look into the SFJAZZ calendar. San Francisco also has many jazz clubs, best found by browsing the web (an excellent site is SFStation.com). Contemporary bands are featured at The Fillmore Auditorium and less frequently at the large Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in the Civic Center. There is an annual blues festival in late September, at various locations, and at least two great bluegrass music festivals each year — during February around the area and late September or October in Golden Gate Park. Many, but certainly not all, events are listed by the City Box Office.
Ballet of the world class variety can be seen for only $10. San Francisco Ballet sells standing room tickets (with excellent views from the back of the orchestra) for their shows at the War Memorial Opera House in Civic Center during the afternoon of each performance as well as two hours before showtime.
Plays are performed at the Geary (by the American Conservatory Theater), Curran, and the Marines Memorial theatres near Union Square, and at the small New Conservatory Theater near the Civic Center.
Musicals from Broadway and Los Angeles are shown at the traditional Golden Gate and Orpheum theaters on Market, near the Civic Center. For outrageous fun, princes and paupers go to Beach Blanket Babylon in North Beach. Teenagers are welcome at the Sunday matinees. It considers itself the longest running musical revue in theater history.
Events

There is an incredible array of events going on in San Francisco — virtually every day there will be something of interest to anyone going on, and San Francisco's mild climate ensures that practically every weekend will bring another major festival or some sort of large event. Listed here are just some of the really big events going on:

Cultural events
Tet FestivalCivic Center-Tenderloin area. Mid-January to mid-February. Celebrate New Year's Vietnamese style at this festival. It's a great opportunity to sample some of the delicious Vietnamese dishes that they have in the area.
Cherry Blossom FestivalWestern Addition. April. In Japantown, this kid-friendly event includes a parade, a street fair, and music.
San Francisco International Film FestivalBased at the Presidio in Golden Gate, but smaller events take place throughout the city. Two weeks in Apr/May. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society who are based in the Presidio, but the arthouse movies, documentaries, and short films are shown throughout the city.
Union Street Art FestivalGolden Gate. First weekend in June. This festival attracts many local artists who line the streets displaying their arts and crafts, along with live jazz and classical music performances and an organic farmer's market.
Haight Ashbury Street FairHaight. On the second Sunday of June, people pack the Upper Haight for this event featuring local bands, food stalls and plenty of shopping.
Fringe FestivalTaking place at various theaters in the Civic Center-Tenderloin area. Just after Labor Day. A 10 day festival about theatrical experimentation and having fun, even if you don't know what you're doing exactly.
San Francisco Blues FestivalFort Mason in Golden Gate. Last weekend in September. The oldest continually running blues fest in the world, attracting some great Blues performers every year. For the famished, they also have some flavorful New Orleans style barbeques to compliment the music.
Folsom Street FairUnsurprisingly, on Folsom in SoMa, last Sunday in September. Advertised as the world's largest leather/fetish event. Not really one for the kids.
LovEvolutionA yearly annual event held on a Saturday in late September or early October. It has become the largest public electronic music festival in the nation. The revelers and floats gather at 2nd and Howard in SoMa with the floats going down Market and ending at Civic Center Plaza. It attracts well known electronic DJ's and thousands of partiers, with some dressing up in wacky costumes to join in the parade.
Holidays
Chinese New Year FestivitiesChinatown. January or February. The San Francisco version of the Chinese New Year dates way back, with a colorful, vibrant parade with decorative costumes, lions, deafening firecrackers, "lucky-money" envelopes, colorful banners, ornately themed floats, martial arts groups, stilt walkers, acrobats, and, of course, a 200 foot Golden Dragon.
Easter Parade and Spring Celebration, Union Street in Golden Gate. The kid-friendly but diverse festivities include a petting zoo, pony rides, live music, train rides, alfresco dining, and a parade.
Fourth of July. San Francisco's main Independence Day celebrations take place on Fisherman's Wharf. There is lots of free entertainment during the day, culminating with an impressive fireworks display from the foot of Municipal Pier, and at the other end of the Wharf from barges moored off the north of PIER 39.
Columbus Day ParadeNorth Beach. This hugely popular parade celebrates Christopher Columbus and Italian heritage. Handmade floats run all the way from Fisherman's Wharf up Columbus Avenue through North Beach.
Tree Lighting Ceremony at Ghirardelli Square, Ghirardelli Square, Fishermans' Wharf. End of November. Ring in the holiday season by attending the festivities at Ghirardelli Square. There's theater, live music, and then at the end they decorate a 45 foot Christmas tree with ornaments, lights, and chocolate bars.
LGBT community events

San Francisco is famous for its exuberant and visible lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, who always put together some very festive events:

Pink Saturday is a street party in the Castro on the Saturday night before the Pride Parade and Celebration.
The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is one of the largest gay pride parades and festivals in North America, centered in the Civic Center area. It's a huge, happy, chaotic celebration of diversity, politics, sexuality, and San Francisco wackiness, on the last weekend in June. About a dozen stages and spaces offer everything from square dancing to hip-hop, from a family garden to Leather Alley. It's a movement, it's a market, it's a party. Both parade and celebration are for everyone—straight as well as gay are welcome.
Halloween in the Castro. Halloween, the holiday when everyone puts on a mask, has long been a special time for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to take off the "straight-looking mask" they sometimes wore all year, and be themselves. What remains today is a huge, sometimes poorly controlled, street party in the Castro on the evening of October 31 each year. In recent years, the police have cracked down, and it has been much diminished.
Outdoor and recreational events
Critical Mass. On the last Friday of each month, bicyclists in San Francisco (and about 200 like-minded cities world-wide) gather at the north end of Market Street on the Embarcadero and ride en masse to some destination, militantly demonstrating their right to occupy the roads. If you are driving in SF on a Critical Mass day, you will want to listen for radio traffic reports, but if you are stopped by the mass the best thing to do is maintain a good sense of humor and remember that it will all pass in about 5 minutes. Although, tempers can and do flare, and there have been cases where run ins with drivers and bicyclists have gotten violent. If your car is surrounded by bikes, definitely do not move until they have passed or they might feel threatened.
Bay to BreakersThird Sunday in May. An annual footrace that is one of the largest in the country. The route runs from Downtown to Ocean Beach. Many runners do the whole thing in costume, wearing anything from elaborate costumes to wearing almost nothing at all, lending a party atmosphere to the event.
Escape from Alcatraz TriathlonSecond Sunday in June. Participants (which often include world champions and Olympic medalists) swim 1.5 miles through chilly waters, bike 18 miles, and then run an extra 8 miles. The course winds its way throughout the city, but the transition and finish line is at Marina Green in the Golden Gate area.
Fleet WeekFisherman's Wharf. Usually held in the first week of October, it's a tribute to the men and women in the armed forces. A flotilla of Navy ships dock on the Wharf in parade fashion, and there are many free Deck tours available from crew members. There are also several air displays by the Navy flyers.
Sunday StreetsIs an approximately monthly event rotating through various neighborhoods where the local main street is closed to car traffic for a pedestrian street fair.
Sports

San Francisco has several professional sports teams, although the spread-out nature of the Bay Area means there are also teams nearby in San Jose and Oakland.

The San Francisco Giants are the city's Major League Baseball team, playing their home games at the lovely AT&T Park in SoMa. The other major league team in San Francisco is the San Francisco 49ers, the city's National Football League team, who play their games at Candlestick Park on Candlestick Point in Southeast San Francisco. Both teams command huge fan bases.

As far as college sports go in San Francisco, there are the University of San Francisco Dons, who play various college sports including baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball at their campus in Western Addition. The San Francisco State University Gators play various college sports including baseball, basketball and soccer at their campus near Lake Merced.

Local music

San Francisco is a hotbed for underground music; a highly diverse array of musical styles is represented (e.g., rock, pop, experimental, weird folk, and avant-jazz). Shows occur every night, with as many as fifteen small shows occurring each Thursday through Saturday night. Much of this activity is not always well covered in the mainstream media; useful community-driven resources for finding about local shows include Dar Dar Dar and the Transbay Calendar .

source: Wikivoyage

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