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What's On in San Francisco | 10 Unmissable Events in Fall 2014
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What's On in San Francisco | 10 Unmissable Events in Fall 2014

Picture of Stephanie Carwin
Updated: 9 February 2017
Autumn in San Francisco offers some of the most iconic, eclectic, or just plain unmissable cultural events of the year, demonstrating the city’s ability to be both friendly and thought-provoking, and engaging with the multiplicity of cultures within and beyond its borders. Whether it is through art, film, music, theatre, or dance, the following events demonstrate why the City by the Bay remains a top cultural destination, providing experiences rarely to be found elsewhere.
Courtesy FOR-SITE Foundation photo by Jan Stürmann

Art | @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

27 September 2014 – 26 April 2015

Bringing together a famous international artist who was imprisoned in 2011 by the Chinese government – an action that instigated a worldwide Where is Ai Weiwei? campaign – with one of the United States’ most notorious prisons creates an unprecedented opportunity to reinvestigate the experience of incarceration. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei utilises what was once created to be the most isolated prison in the country to instead produce a new space of reflection, particularly about those imprisoned for their political beliefs. Whether working in a more poetic vein, irreverently filling old tubs and sinks with delicate white porcelain flowers, or directly inviting visitors to participate by writing to those still imprisoned on thematic postcards, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz will undoubtedly produce an out-of-the-ordinary experience for the 1.5 million yearly visitors. What’s more, it just might give all those San Franciscans who have never made the trip to ‘The Rock’ an excuse to finally go…

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA, USA

Film | 37th Mill Valley Film Festival

2 – 12 October

Now in its 37th year, the Mill Valley Film Festival is one of the most anticipated Bay Area film festivals of the year, showing a consistent programme of compelling American independent and foreign films. Under the shade of the redwoods in the quaint Marin town of Mill Valley, just over the Golden Gate from San Francisco, the 10-day festival creates an intimate atmosphere through post-screening talks with the filmmakers and cast, as well as a number of special events with leading film personalities, which this year includes the director Darren Aronofsky. This year’s festival will also feature a celebration of the life and work of Robin Williams, a long-time Marin resident and regular presence at the film festival over the years.

Various locations around Marin County, + 1 415 383 5256


Music | Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival

3 – 5 October

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass may be the most unique music festival in the U.S. Over 50 musicians and bands perform on five stages over three days, and the entire festival is not only free of charge, but free of any corporate sponsors (and thus refreshingly logo-free). This is all thanks to one billionaire, Warren Hellman, who created the festival in 2001 to feed his love of bluegrass music, adding the ‘hardly’ qualifier as the festival broadened its musical scope. Now bringing in crowds of up to 800,000 people, the festival has a super-friendly vibe amongst its extremely diverse audience, who come out to see festival stalwarts like Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, or for those falling into the ‘hardly strictly’ category, which for this October includes performers Ryan Adams and Social Distortion. It’s not surprising that some argue it is the best music festival in the world; even the musicians love being a part of what Hellman saw as his gift to the city.

Hellman Hollow, 50 Overlook Drive, San Francisco, CA, USA


Ambush Review at Muddy Waters during Lit Crawl 2011 | © william mercer mcleod
Ambush Review at Muddy Waters during Lit Crawl 2011 | © william mercer mcleod

Literature | Litquake


Litquake is a nine-day marathon of all things literary, divided into sections like ‘Best American Non-Required Reading’, ‘Porchlight Storytelling’ and ‘Badass Briefs.’ A monster festival that features over 850 authors, past participants include Nigerian sensation Chinelo Okparanta (Happiness, Like Water), Irish author Emma Donoghue, and National Book Critics Award winner Nicholson Baker. It all culminates in the closing night extravaganza, ‘Litcrawl’ (modelled after the pub crawl), where hundreds of writers read the night away in the bars, galleries, coffee houses, and stores of the Mission district.

Various locations around the city, +1 415 440 4177


The Creature Within” by John Nieto, Courtesy of SF Open Studios
The Creature Within” by John Nieto, Courtesy of SF Open Studios


Art | Open Studios

October – November

Open Studios is not only an annual October tradition in San Francisco, it is also the oldest and largest open studio program in the country. Spread over four weekends, each one devoted to a particular neighborhood, this year’s event will feature 900 different artists whose diverse bodies of work can be seen in their studios and private homes around town. Grab a glass of wine and have a discussion with the artist and other visitors – a it will give you an intimate peek into the work processes and lives of artists in San Francisco today (and a reminder that the city hasn’t been entirely taken over by Silicon Valley techies).

Various locations around the city


Noise Pop | Image courtesy of Treasure Island Music Festival
Noise Pop | Image courtesy of Treasure Island Music Festival

Music | Treasure Island Music Festival


Considered the more “intimate” San Francisco music festival (a regular attendance of 60,000 instead of the hundreds of thousands at HSB), the two-day festival also boasts perhaps the best view of any music festival anywhere, perched on the former naval base of Treasure Island and overlooking the San Francisco city skyline, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. TIMF is also a well-organized festival, smoothly shuttling people to and from the island and staggering the musical acts to spare you the difficult task of having to choose between bands. There are also fun distractions like a giant Ferris wheel and a silent disco. Just remember to bring layers, as the wind blowing in from the Bay can be quite unforgiving.

Treasure Island Music Festival, Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA, USA


Courtesy YBCA
Courtesy YBCA

Art | Landscape: the virtual, the actual, the possible? and Alien She at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

24 October 2014 – 25 January 2015

These two fall exhibitions exemplify the role that YBCA has sought to play in the community, bringing compelling and challenging cutting-edge international and local contemporary art to San Francisco in order to stimulate a dialogue of ideas within the community and public at large. Co-curated with the Kadist Foundation (Paris/San Francisco) and the Guangdong Times Museum (Guangzhou), Landscape: the virtual, the actual, the possible?, takes the current Anthropocene argument as its organising thesis in order to investigate the changing relationship between humankind and nature in light of the dramatic impact that human developments like technology have had on the planet. Running simultaneously, Alien She is the first exhibition to look at the punk feminist movement Riot Grrrl, showing how their defiant stand, collaborative ethos, and DIY methods inspired a generation of visual artists like Miranda July and Tammy Rae Carland.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, + 1 415 978 2787


Courtesy YBCA
Courtesy YBCA

Art | Keith Haring: The Political Line at the de Young Museum

8 November 2014 – 16 February 2015

This retrospective exhibition of American artist Keith Haring focuses on the political activism that was central to his work. An instantly recognisable visual marker of the 1980s art scene, Haring’s work utilised a simplicity of line to tackle difficult issues like sexuality, death, racism and AIDS, a disease that would cut his own life short at the age of 31. Highlighting many of his public interventions on the streets and subway platforms of New York, The Political Line includes more than 130 works of art including paintings, sculptures and drawings by the artist.

de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 750 3600


Image Courtesy of Alonzo King LINES Ballet | photo by RJ Muna
Image Courtesy of Alonzo King LINES Ballet | photo by RJ Muna

Dance | Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Fall Season

14 – 23 November

Describing itself as a ‘contemporary ballet’ company, Alonzo King LINES Ballet connects the classical language of ballet with new forms and techniques, often collaborating with composers, musicians or visual artists in order to investigate dance’s potential as an artistic medium. This year features the world premiere of Alonzo King’s latest work, set to four Shostakovich string quartets, as well as a collaboration with tabla master Zakir Hussain and classical Indian violinist Maestro Kala Ramnath. The seasons may be short, but the performances are consistently impressive, and the theatre is intimate enough so that every seat feels like the best one in the house.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 701 Mission St., San Francisco, CA, USA, + 1 415 863 3040


Two-time Tony and Academy Award nominee Kathleen Turner makes her Berkeley Rep debut as a sharp-witted political journalist in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Photo by Mark Garvin
Two-time Tony and Academy Award nominee Kathleen Turner makes her Berkeley Rep debut as a sharp-witted political journalist in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Photo by Mark Garvin

Theatre | Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins at Berkeley Rep

21 November 2014 – 4 January 2015

Berkeley Rep is a theatre company worth the trip over the Bay Bridge, situated in the city that was once the centre of 1960s protests and the hippie movement. Today, the counter-culture radicals may no longer be so plentiful, but Berkeley Rep continues to feature strong works, either premieres that sometimes find their way to Broadway (Green Day’s hit musical American Idiot first showed here) or compelling plays from around the country. Such is the case for Red Hot Patriot, in which Kathleen Turner breathes life into the caustic commentaries of political satirist Molly Ivins. The premise of the essentially one-woman show may be simple, yet by recalling how one feisty woman was able to speak truth to power through humour, Red Hot Patriot, as Washington Post reviewer Peter Marks put it, ‘stands as a mini-monument to the whimsically unpredictable glories of the First Amendment.’

Roda Theatre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley CA, USA, +1 510 647 2949


By Stephanie Carwin