Festivals abound throughout the city of San Francisco, such as the fireworks that are shot from the Bay bridge on New Years, or the Chinese New Year parade that takes over the city in February. In this section, we list the best not-to-be-missed festivities to take part in.

1. Chinese New Year (February)

The month-long celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year culminates in the traditional Golden Dragon Parade. But the events leading up to the parade later in the month start with a procession along the same route. Starting in St. Mary’s Square, down Grant Avenue to Washington, the procession of lion dancers, stilt walkers, dancers, and drummers, ends with the Chinese New Year Flower Fair. For two days, this festival fills the air with Chinese opera, lion dancing, food, and the lingering scent of tangerines and oranges. Tangerines, with leaves attached, symbolize relationship security and stability. During the Flower Fair, attendees buy blooming plants to take home as a New Year symbol of rebirth and new growth.

No events happen on Chinese New Year’s Day but the Chinese Basketball Jamboree kicks off the new year at the Chinese Recreation Center on Mason Street. Teams are made up from San Francisco Middle Schools and Chinese-American neighborhoods.

A huge event in the Chinese-American community for over fifty years, is the Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Pageant, held at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. The young woman selected is crowned at the Coronation Ball, a black tie dinner/dance, held a week later.

The Chinese Community Street Fair culminates in one of the top ten parades in the world. Since 1860, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade and Festival, has grown to become the largest celebration of Asian culture, outside of Asia. Bleacher seats sell for $30, to watch the incredible illuminated parade culminating with the traditional Golden Dragon, its 250 foot length undulating and floating behind acrobats, marching bands, and lion dancers.

2. San Francisco International Film Festival – (April - May)

Some great films have been made in San Francisco. Clark Gable searched for Jeanette McDonald in the earthquake ruins of 1933‘s “San Francisco.“ In “Bullitt,” Steve McQueen tore through Russian Hill in one of the best car chase scenes of all time. “Dirty Harry” Callahan, Clint Eastwood, asked a punk if he “felt lucky,” in downtown San Francisco. And in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” James Stewart rescued Kim Novak after she jumped into the Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point. With a long, rich association with cinema, it’s fitting that San Francisco should have its own film festival. For two weeks every year, 200 films and videos from fifty countries are screened for as many as 80,000 film buffs. Since 1957, the San Francisco International Film Festival, has been the longest running in North America, rewarding filmmakers with the annual Golden Gate Awards for excellence in fourteen categories. Six thousand films have been featured in fifty plus years. A truly international festival, past award recipients have been Italian director Roberto Rossellini and Polish film director, producer, writer, and actor, Roman Polanski. Screenings are held at the landmark Castro Theater, the AMC Kabuki multi-plex and other venues in the Bay area.

3. Carnaval - May

Carnaval is the Mission District’s biggest event of the year, a Mardi-Gras inspired street festival ending with a masquerade ball. For over thirty years, the multi-cultural celebration showcases a wide diversity of music, dance, art, and food. With 500,000 revelers on Mission Street between 14th and 24th streets, the air is filled with the sights of samba dancers, the sounds of musicians and the tastes of Latin and South America, New Orleans, the Caribbean, and Africa.

4. North Beach Festival - mid-June

This music festival is usually held during Father’s Day weekend and takes place on Grant Avenue between Vallejo and Union Streets. Delicious food catered by North Beach eateries is supplied to this event reputed to be the oldest street fair in America. Attendance is in excess of 75,000. Besides food vendors, attendees can view sidewalk chalk paintings, watch or participate in swing-dancing, attend poetry readings, and do arts and crafts.
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5. Gay Pride Parade - June

The official name of this even is the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration. This is the culmination of Gay Pride week with this massive parade, San Francisco’s biggest. Well over 500,000 people attend this event. The parade route starts on Market Street, proceeding west to Market and Eighth. The Saturday night before the parade, there is the Dyke March in the Castro and Mission District and the Pink Saturday party on Castro Street.

6. Opera in the Park - September

On the Sunday after Labor Day at Sharon Meadow in Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Opera sponsors a free concert to launch its season. The opera company is the second largest in North America and its season is comprised of approximately 75 performances each year. The annual free concert is given on the Sunday following the first night of the fall season and features the artists from opening night performing with the full San Francisco Opera Orchestra. The concert draws some 20,000 people to this wonderful day of classical music in the park.

7. Sausalito Art Festival - September

Sausalito’s juried fine arts and crafts festival happens over Labor Day weekend in Marinship Park at this lovely seaside town on the north coast of the San Francisco Bay. Advertised as “America’s #1 Outdoor Fine Art Festival,“ over 200 artists’ works are showcased. Gourmet food, wine, champagne, and live music on three outdoor stages make this a popular event. Take the ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf and avoid the parking hassles.

8. Reggae in the Park - October

The first weekend in October at Sharon Meadow in Golden Gate Park brings out the Rastafarians, hippies, surfers, and anyone else who likes the hypnotic Jamaican rhythmic sounds of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, Peter Tosh , and the bands that were influenced by those pioneers. The two-day event brings with it bands, food booths and arts and crafts vendors. Slip on your tie dye and get your groove on at one of the hippest festivals in the Bay area. Food, music and a day in the park. What could be better?

9. San Francisco Jazz Festival - October

This city-wide festival lasts three weeks and features the cream of jazz musicians and vocalists at venues across San Francisco. It has been called, “the crown jewel among American jazz festivals.” Venues include: the Florence Gould Theatre at the Legion of Honor, Grace Cathedral, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Bimbo’s 365 Club, the Great American Music Hall, and the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Jazz greats like Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck have performed at the jazz festival in the past.

10. Halloween - October

The ultimate Castro party is not an organized festival but has been a spontaneous street bacchanalia filling the streets of the Castro District. The mass of revelers erupt onto the streets on Halloween in fantastic costumes for an impromptu parade. The event started in the 1940’s as a neighborhood costume contest and became the largest Halloween celebration in the United States. In 2006, nine people were shot when someone opened fire during the street festival and the next year’s celebration was canceled. Each year since there has been more of a police presence to try to control the crowds which number up to 500,000. This has reduced the spontaneity of the event somewhat as the city struggles to cope with the congestion of the streets and the wild behavior of some of the celebrants.

The annual Exotic Erotic Halloween Ball at the Cow Palace welcomes 15,000 flamboyantly costumed merrymakers to a naughty six- acre Halloween party, complete with rock show, lingerie soiree, masquerade ball, circus sideshow and five stages of music.

Tickets for this event at the famed indoor arena are available at the Cow Palace box office. Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Avenue, Daly City, CA 94014

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