San Francisco's major festivals shake the entire city from the concrete up. Most of them have deep historical or ethnic roots in the city and several of them are the largest or oldest of their type in the world. Plan your vacation around one of San Francisco's major festivals and expose yourself to the diverse cultures and lifestyles that call the city by the bay their home, you will be changed forever.
Image Courtesy of May Wong through Creative Commons
Giant dragons dancing to throbbing drums, fireworks exploding all around and the most competitive Asian beauty pageant in the US are just a few of the attractions waiting for you at San Francico's annual celebration of the turning of the Chinese New Year. Happening in February and following the cycles of the lunar year, San Francisco's Chinese New Year Festival shuts down the streets of Chinatown to vehicular traffic and fills it instead with the largest parade of its kind in North America, prepare to be blown away.
San Francisco Travel Association Photo
The last weekend in June is reserved for the largest gathering of Gay and Lesbian people on earth: the San Francisco Gay Pride Festival. The highlight of the party soaked weekend is the massive Pride parade that takes over Market street and is sight as visually stunning as News Orlean's Mardi Gras or Rio' Carnaval. There are also multple public parties all over the city, including Pink Saturday in the Castro, the Trans March in the Mission and the blockbuster Pride Festival itself, held in front of San Francisco's City Hall.
Half seriously competitive foot-race and half full on public pandemonium, the annual Bay to Breakers is a truly unique San Francisco tradition. Crossing the entire city from the bay waterfront to the Pacific Ocean beach, this procession of crazy San Franciscans includes everyone from brightly costumed clowns to butt naked exhibitionists. Live music, dancing in the street and tons of public debauchery can almost make you forget that there is an actual certified track and field competition going on as well, in fact it is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Image Courtesy of the Fillmore Jazz Festival
With five stages of live jazz music all Independence Day weekend long, the Fillmore Jazz Festival is a jazz buffs ultimate fantasy. The free festival takes place right on the street and also features tons of food and vendor booths, making it a giant block party set to the sounds of the Bay Area's top musical talent.
Sexy samba dancers in barely more then a thong bikini dancing down the middle of the street. Big band latin music groups playing percussion heavy grooves so addictive that the crowds of thousands cant keep their feet still. The aroma of hundreds of freshly grilled spicy exotic treats filling the air. No, this is not Brazil or Colombia, this is San Francisco's Carnaval, which takes place in May and is one of the largest multi-cultural gatherings in the world. Both a parade and a gigantic street party, the carnaval is the kind of event that keeps visitors coming back year after year.
Many people don't realize how big or how deep rooted San Francisco's Irish community is until they start to notice just how common Irish Pubs are in just about all of the city's neighborhoods. To get the full dose of San Francisco's Celtic connection however, you need to visit the city for it's annual St. Patrick's Day celebration, which completely takes over the Civic Center area adn includes a marching band filled parade down Market street itself.
Although it may be a politically incorrect holiday and San Francisco is one of the most politically correct cities in the world, the annual Columbus Day festival and parade - now the Italian Heritage Parade - is actually the oldest one in the United States. Where else but in picture-perfect North Beach, which is packed with Italian restaurants and cafes, to hold an Italian parade that also doubles as full day food and wine festival. Stay for the night and enjoy the many parties that follow the celebration.
Two Weekends of traditional Japanese music, food and culture, the San Francisco Cherry Blossom festival rocks Japantown every spring. Food lovers will be in heaven as the food court rolls out the best in tantalizing treats from the city's top restaurants. Don't miss the massive parade from the Civic Center up Polk Street on the second Saturday of the festival, which features everything from Taiko drumming to live samurai.