9 Festivals in San Francisco to Celebrate Like a Local

Festivals in San Francisco highlight the fun cultural traditions of the people who call the city home. Some festivals, like the Chinese New Year and Cherry Blossom festivals, celebrate countries of origin. While other festivals showcase the shared art San Franciscans create together, like comedy, film, and literature.

people in traditional costumes in San Francisco Carnival
From colorful carnival to intimate poetry readings, here are the best festivals in San Francisco. Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Taking part in a festival gives visitors a unique opportunity to be immersed in the community. Locals are excited to share their talents and interact with the crowds. Get caught up in the merriment, try the food and drink, and maybe even dance a little!  

Chinese New Year Festival & Parade

Firecrackers ignite, acrobatic dragons jump, and dancers twirl along San Francisco’s Chinese New Year nighttime parade route. The colorful parade performances wind through Union Square ending in Chinatown, where the admission-free Chinese New Year Festival takes place from mid-January to the first week of February. There are plenty of restaurants in Chinatown where you can try authentic Chinese dishes like dim sum during the festival.

The Flower Market Fair is held on the weekend before Chinese New Year where flowers, fruit, and candies are sold in preparation for the holiday. If you visit Chinatown the weekend of the parade, you’ll see giant puppets and dragon performers up close at the Community Street Fair celebration. Watch for the Miss Chinatown Pageant winner during the parade as she makes her debut riding atop a glitzy parade float. 

People walking around with dragon
The Chinese New Year Festival in San Francisco was named one of the top ten Parades in the world by the International Festivals & Events Association. Photo credit: David Yu

San Francisco International Film Festival

If you’re visiting San Francisco in mid-April, you can experience the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM Festival) projected on the big screen. Select a film or two from the eleven-day festival lineup of over 100 movies in venues around San Francisco, including the famous Castro Theatre. SFFILM Festival has introduced audiences to emerging storytellers and established filmmakers’ cinematic works of art since 1957. 

Get glammed up to attend a marquee premiere in a vintage theater or root for your favorite flick entered in an international competition. The SFFILM Festival works to showcase artfully crafted films coupled with empowering social change. Let the art of cinema connect you with the world.

Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

Over two weekends in April, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the arrival of spring and the cherry blossom tree’s pink fragrant bloom. The free festival welcomes visitors to San Francisco’s Japantown to observe and participate in Japanese and Japanese-American cultures. Surrounded by Japanese architecture and the five-tiered Peace Pagoda, the festival hosts live cultural performances, traditional arts and crafts, and authentic food. 

Watch martial art demonstrations, visit an origami exhibit of intricately folded paper, and devour Japanese street foods like fresh musubi, a ball of rice wrapped in dried seaweed, with Japanese Sapporo beer. Catch the Grand Parade on the last Sunday of the festival. Taiko drummers keep beat for classical and folk dance groups and colorful floats, including one carrying the festival’s queen and her court.

women in traditional Japanese clothing
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival has been an integral part of San Francisco for 56 years. Photo credit: Mark

Carnaval San Francisco

The free admission Carnaval San Francisco, held in the City’s Mission District over a weekend in May, is the place for dancing to the hippest Latin beats. From salsa and mariachi to reggaeton, the festival’s live music performers play irresistible rhythms sure to get your hips swaying. For the festival’s 45 forty-five years, famous musical acts like Santana and Tower of Power have delighted the crowd with electric performances. 

Stop by food booths to taste South and Central American cultures through their cuisine with flavors from Brazil, Mexico, and more. On the festival’s second day, the Grand Parade’s 60 performance groups get an epic 20-block dance party grooving!

Outside Lands

The Outside Lands three-day August music festival features musical performances from chart-topping musicians and local favorites. Golden Gate Park hosts the annual event where headliner acts like Green Day, Post Malone, and Phoebe Bridgers play incredible nighttime shows. House music keeps the party going all weekend under the SOMA Tent while bands and solo acts play to the crowds at multiple festival stages during the day.

Sampling a variety of cuisines and drinks at Outside Lands is part of the festival experience. Food trucks from the best San Francisco Bay Area restaurants bring world flavors, from Borsch Mobile’s Eastern European soup to Wahpepah’s Kitchen’s Native American dishes. Visit the Wine Lands and Beer Lands areas for the perfect local craft brew or glass of wine to pair with an incredible music experience.

large crowd in outdoor concert
Outside Lands is one of the most exciting music festivals in the world. Photo credit: Wendy Wei


For two weeks in October, authors leave their desks and take the stage during Litquake, San Francisco’s literary festival. The literary shakeup brings live poetry and prose readings, deep panel discussions, and youth programs into the community. Hundreds of readings take place during the festival in unique venues like an evening of poetry at Grace Cathedral and book readings at Page St Writers Café. 

Litquake brings local, national, and international authors who write on a broad range of topics to new audiences across the Mission District. On closing night, book lovers go on an epic Lit Crawl to multiple venues where bars, cafes, and art galleries become stages for authors to share their stories.

San Francisco Fleet Week

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard seafaring might cruise into port at San Francisco Fleet Week every October. Service personnel welcome the public aboard the ships they call home. Docked at piers along the Embarcadero, amphibious carriers, cutters, and even destroyers open up for ship tours. Sailors enjoy clam chowder bowls alongside tourists at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf on their visit to the City. 

During this San Francisco festival, catch a Navy or Marine Corps band concert playing patriotic tunes and maybe even a popular song to dance to! There will also be an amazing show in the sky with aircraft stunts performed by rescue helicopters, jets, and even a 777 airliner. As the U.S. Navy Blue Angels soar between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, the daring precision flying unit will thrill the crowd.

fighter jets flying over San Francisco bridge
San Francisco Fleet Week has been wowing spectators since 1981. Photo credit: David Yu

San Francisco Coffee Festival

Coffee lovers rejoice! The San Francisco Coffee Festival is the place to experience a collective caffeine buzz. The two-day November festival takes over the Fort Mason Center with coffee house vibes. The aroma of dueling brews from the Bay Area’s top coffee roasters perks up the senses. 

A soundscape of steaming hot water and live musical performances set the tone for coffee culture to percolate. Pair locally roasted coffees with delicious food options like avocado toast and lobster rolls to fresh beignets and soft doughnuts. Learn about the business of coffee and coffee appreciation from lively panel discussions. Discover how the humble coffee bean has inspired the festival’s latte decoration art competition and a portrait artist who uses java to paint portraits.

Coffee shops in the West Village have made this neighborhood a top choice for coffee afficionados
Want to learn more about coffee? San Francisco Coffee Festival is the event for you. Photo credit: Coffee with Joshua

SF Sketchfest

Sprinkle some hilarity into your vacation itinerary with tickets to SF Sketchfest shows. This fun San Francisco festival over two weeks in January and February is packed with comedy shows and performances. SF Sketchfest’s comedy lineup includes a variety of comedy acts, from veteran headliners like Janeane Garofalo and Fred Armisen to San Francisco’s local sketch comedy troop, Killing My Lobster. 

Participate as a comedy podcast audience member or let loose at a musical comedy show. The festival allows attendees to get to know their favorite comedic performers in intimate live settings in small theaters and comedy clubs. Take the smile on your face home with you!