Summer in San Francisco means an abundance of outdoor events from food and street festivals to comedy and music festivals in some of the city’s beloved parks and outdoor stages. It also means long strolls along the Embarcadero or the promenade at Ocean Beach and al fresco dining at the city’s restaurants and picnics in one of the city’s 220 parks.
The festivals usually start in May and run through mid-October, even during July and August when “Karl the fog” rolls in putting the city in a deep chill. The fog has spoiled many San Francisco summer vacations oftentimes sending visitors home with a San Francisco sweatshirt as a souvenir.
But don’t let the fog dissuade you from a late summer visit to San Francisco. Check out our favorite things to do in San Francisco in Summer!
San Francisco Summer Activities: Festivals & Fairs
Summertime in the City by the Bay doesn’t start until mid-August and ends around mid-to-late October. Perfect for a late season visit!
San Francisco summer activities boast hundreds of outdoor concerts, theater performances, and festivals every year. The list of mostly free (donations requested) and paid things to do in San Francisco is astounding. Many of the events feature well-known performers and award-winning theater groups to colorful festivals that take over the city and eclectic neighborhood fairs.
The San Francisco Bay Area is the mother of outdoor music festivals. The Stern Grove Festival is celebrating its 85th year in 2022. The free music festival hosted in an outdoor amphitheater among giant eucalyptus, redwood, and fir trees was established in 1932 and is one of the oldest and longest-running in the United States. The summertime festival’s first concert was by the San Francisco Symphony.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that weeklong rock festivals took hold in the United States. It all started just outside of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County on Mount Tamalpais at the Sydney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre.
Today, San Francisco hosts hundreds of music festivals throughout the summer. The Portola Music Festival is the city’s latest to join the crowd that includes the famous Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
Rock ‘n’ roll has clearly taken over San Francisco’s music landscape, but that doesn’t mean jazz and opera still don’t have their place. Jazz lovers flock to the annual Fillmore Jazz Festival. Opera aficionados head to San Francisco Opera’s only free outdoor performance open to the public yearly, Opera in the Park.
Street fairs are great places to get that one-of-a-kind San Francisco gift and to support local artisans. Some of the best street fairs the city has to offer are the Castro Street Fair, Carnival San Francisco, and the Nihonmachi Street Fair.
Food and Wine Festivals
San Francisco is an epicurean wonderland from the incredible chefs cooking up innovative savory to sweet dishes, to the libation masters serving up beverages. The city is constantly creating and setting the latest tastebud trends.
To find the latest creations from culinary, vintner, and mixology experts, we head to San Francisco’s largest food festival Eat Drink SF. We can’t resist when cheese mongers who get together at the SF Cheese Fest. When we are looking for a new way to quench our thirst, we head to Oktoberfest, Brews on the Bay, and Wine & Spirits magazine’s Top 100 Tasting.
Hiking, Walking, and Biking
San Francisco’s temperate climate makes hiking, walking, and biking a favorite pastime for locals and visitors. One of the most rewarding walks or pedaling experiences is crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot. It simply is a must-do experience when visiting San Francisco.
Food and drink are always a savory affair in San Francisco. From visiting famous San Francisco restaurants, or choosing the best place to enjoy a view while you eat, we got you covered. Mouthwatering celebrations of food and libations crafted by incredible James Beard bestowed and Michelin-starred chefs, vintners, brewmasters, and distillers are also favorite attractions.
Eating Al Fresco
The last few years ushered in more al fresco dinning than ever before in San Francisco. Restaurants and bars and San Franciscans and visitors alike have embraced more than 1,250 outdoor eating spaces up from an estimated 56 before COVID-19, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Many of the city’s restaurants and bars made significant investments collaborating with architects, artists, and designers to bring these extensions of their establishments to life.
Some of the coolest parklets to eat and drink in provide a unique atmosphere. We get transported to Asia at Asian themed parklets Micheline-starred State Bird and sister restaurant Progress’s and the outdoor sushi bar at Ju-Ni.
We feel trendy with the modern California to industrial modernist vibes at Wildseed, Reveille Coffee Co., and Palette. We relax in that classic California feel at Cotogna, San Francisco Wine Society, or Sutter Station Tavern’s San Francisco Cable Car parklet.
The City’s Best Picnic Spots
Picnicking at an outdoor event or simply throwing down a blanket and spreading out your feast at one of San Francisco’s favorite parks with friends during the warm “summer” days is all you need for a good time.
A few of the city’s best picnicking parks with views are at Mission Dolores Park, Billy Goat Hill, and West Bluff Picnic area. Dolores Park and Billy Goat Hill offer incredible views of downtown San Francisco and the bay. West Bluff Picnic area beneath the international orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Lands End’s Battery Lobos picnic area at Fort Miley offer stunning views at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Golden Gate Park, McLaren Park, and Lake Merced Park offer many easy to get to picnic areas complete with picnic tables and grills to set up an afternoon feast. Duboce Park, Washington Square Park, and Precita Park offer pleasant neighborhood picnicking spots to claim for the afternoon.
San Francisco Bay Area native Heather Cassell is the publisher and editor of Girls That Roam, a women’s travel blog. She is a longtime contributor to the Bay Area Reporter and writes for Gay City News, OUTvoices, and other publications covering travel, food and wine, and lifestyle topics. You can often find Heather watching documentaries, listening to podcasts and books while walking around her neighborhood, and exploring the Bay Area’s best eateries with her girlfriend and friends when she’s not exploring other cities. She can be found @girlsthatroam.