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San Francisco's 10 Unmissable Art and Culture Events this Summer

San Francisco's 10 Unmissable Art and Culture Events this Summer

Picture of Chloe Hay
Updated: 9 February 2017
Boasting a year-round exciting calendar of arts festivals and events, there is always something special going on in San Francisco, California’s top cultural destination. From open-air art exhibitions to dance festivals and foodie events, we pick our ten favourite things to do in sunny San Francisco this summer.

Dance | San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival


Celebrating the rich cultural diversity of the city, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is now in its 36th year and continues to attract dance troupes from the world over to perform on one of its many stages. The festival is split over four weekends and will kick off on 5 June at San Francisco City Hall with a special tribute performance to the late Nelson Mandela. Throughout the rest of the festival, visitors can expect to see ten world premieres and 16 festival debuts featuring dance groups from Bali, India, Hawaii, China, Mexico and Bolivia, among others. Look out for traditional Brazilian dancers the Alafia Dance Ensemble, hula dances from the Academy of Hawaiian Arts and Lebanese belly dancer Ziva Emtiyaz.

Various venues across San Francisco

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival
San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival | © RJ Muna

Culture | San Francisco’s Union Street Festival

7 – 8 June

A weekend of craft beers, gourmet cheeses and art stalls awaits at San Francisco’s Union Street Festival. The festival spans six blocks of the fashionable, Victorian, boutique Union Street, and each block will be decorated to a different theme. Visitors can stroll between Fashion World, Culinary World, Tech World, Local World, Craft World and Health & Fitness World as they desire. Wine tasting stalls will also be offering food pairings, tickets for which can be bought in advance online.

Union Street, San Francisco, CA, USA


San Francisco's Union Street Festival
Image courtesy of San Francisco’s Union Street Festival

Music | San Francisco Jazz Festival

11 – 22 June

Headlining performers at the 32nd annual San Francisco Jazz Festival will include: top Cuban artists Juan De Marcos, the Afro-Caribbean All Stars, four-time Grammy winner Dianne Reeves and the West Coast’s premier Latin dance big band the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, who will definitely get visitors up on their feet. The mix of legendary and rising star performers will play in different venues across the San Francisco Jazz Center, while certain solo performances will be set inside the Grace Cathedral, making for a hypnotically spiritual experience. For visitors heading to the city in late summer, the jazz festivities will continue after the official close of the festival with five weeks of special summer sessions.

Various venues across San Francisco

Culture | San Francisco Free Folk Festival

21 – 22 June

A completely free two-day long event for the whole family, the San Francisco Free Folk Festival is now in its 38th year. Hosting a variety of music and dance workshops, concerts and dance parties, visitors can choose to participate hands-on in the events or watch the entertainment from the side lines. Expect unscheduled flash mob-esque music performances at every turn and a host of vendors selling craft pieces and snacks. Workshops are open to everyone and include classic Egyptian belly dancing, guitar lessons and master classes, and Argentine folk dancing. Each evening there is a four-hour dance party where everyone can have a go at Irish country dancing or a Cajun dance routine in a completely relaxed setting.

Presidio Middle School, 450 30th Ave, San Francisco, CA, USA


San Francisco Free Folk Festival
San Francisco Free Folk Festival | © James Brown

History | Fourth of July

4 July

There’s no escaping the Fourth of July festivities anywhere in the USA and especially not in San Francisco. Spend the day enjoying the live music and entertainment at PIER 39 before the fireworks spectacular kicks off around 9:30 p.m. Onlookers at PIER 39 will arguably have the best view but gazers can also expect great views from all along the waterfront, especially at Coit Tower, the Acquatic Park and in Ghirardelli Square. For those wishing to avoid mad throngs of people, head over to Treasure Island and watch the show from within a winery, sampling excellent California bottles as the fireworks explode.

Various venues across San Francisco

Food | Eat Drink San Francisco

1 – 3 August

Celebrating all things edible, Eat Drink San Francisco is the city’s prestigious annual food, wine and spirits festival held at the Fort Mason Center. The most respected chefs from around the country will gather under the same roof alongside some fabulous mixologists and the best of the nation’s wine experts for a food lover’s perfect weekend. The festival honours every variety of food offering San Francisco has, from its farmer’s markets and street food stalls, to high-end restaurants and fancy bars. For a taste of what will be on offer, in previous years visitors have had the pleasure of sampling decadent dishes such as panna gelato with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, diver scallops with bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms and zucchini, and fennel and pecorino scramble, all washed down with a cucumber martini or Aperol Collins cocktail.

Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Boulevard, San Francisco, CA, USA

Music | Outside Lands Festival

8 – 10 August

With headlining acts including Kanye West, The Killers, Paolo Nutini, Ben Howard and the Arctic Monkeys, the Outside Lands Festival is set to attract huge crowds. Much more than just another music festival, Outside Lands also has a whole host of events scheduled to satisfy art, food, wine and beer lovers too. A huge selection of food trucks and vendors will encompass the Golden Gate Park plating up every type of dish imaginable – think local cheese, handmade pizzas, spicy burritos, fried plantain, barbecued shrimps and scrumptious s’mores. Over in the art corner, visitors can expect daily live street art painting, musical theatre, art performances and innovative installations.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA, USA


Outside Lands Festival
Outside Lands Festival | © Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Art | Palo Alto Festival of the Arts

23 – 24 August

Thirty-five miles south of San Francisco lies the leafy town of Palo Alto, home to the beloved annual Palo Alto Festival of the Arts. Over 300 artists and craftsmen set up shop along University Avenue, hoping to sell some of their handcrafted masterpieces to passers-by. The art on offer comes in a variety of mediums from ceramic to glasswork, jewellery to paintings, and photographs to wooden sculptures. Visitors are advised to spend some time perusing the sculpture garden, and the Italian street painting expo on Tasso Street is not to be missed. Sixty chalk artists will create gigantic pictures on the ground in a bid to raise money for Palo Alto’s Youth Community Service. The festival will be dotted with many a stall selling micro-brews and fine wines for the finishing touch to a blissful art-filled weekend.

Various venues across Palo Alto

Palo Alto Festival of the Arts
Image courtesy of Palo Alto Festival of the Arts

Culture | 2014 Festa Coloniale Italiana

13 September

Set in the heart of San Francisco’s Little Italy the 2014 Festa Coloniale Italiana will take place along Stockton Street, North Beach. Run by San Francisco Italian Athletic Club, this one-day long event is the perfect excuse to feast on pizza, have a glass or two of sparkling wine, watch some great live performances and learn a little more about Italian culture. This year’s events are yet to be announced but highlights from last year included a pizza toss demonstration by 11-time world pizza champion Tony Gemignani and dazzling performances by the Ricco Dancers who captivated audiences with their tarantellas, mazurkas and Italian waltzes.

Little Italy/North Beach, San Francisco, CA, USA


Art | Luna Park Chalk Art Festival

20 September

Be amazed at what an artistic hand can do with a piece of chalk at the Luna Park Chalk Art Festival in Backesto Park, San Jose. Artists spend the day transforming the bleak, grey pavement into a burst of colour with their one-off chalked-out masterpieces. Featured local artists last year included Lacey Bryant, John Cloud, Amelia Eaton and Paul J Gonzalez. The event is free for visitors but donations are very welcome as all proceeds go to the Luna Park Arts Foundation to enable them to increase support for the arts within the local community. Creative talents can reserve their own blank section of the pathway online, but those wishing to admire the artists working along to the live music should head along on the day and show their support.

Luna Park Chalk Art Festival
Image courtesy of Luna Park Chalk Art Festival