22 Actually Cool Things You Can Do in San Francisco This Fall

Let’s make up for lost time.

A gorgeous fall full of sunshine and fog-free days is our reward for making it through endless weeks of fog and wind. We’re sure mother nature will cooperate this year because this past summer was especially bad. Celebrate being able to leave the house in one fewer layer by taking advantage of the city’s liveliest season and all of the opportunities for fun that come along with it.

We know you’re exhausted. We get it. But hang in there. Keep wearing your masks indoors. Get vaccinated if you aren’t already. And maybe by next fall, things will be back to a version of normal. You’ve got this.

Outside Lands Music Festival
Outside Lands Music Festival

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Golden Gate Park
This three-day festival in Golden Gate Park is usually smack dab in the middle of Fogust, which means carrying layers around all day so that you don’t get hypothermia, but because of you-know-what, it was moved to Halloween weekend, so the weather might actually feel like festival weather. Key word: might. Anyway, what’s a bit of a chill when you’re just happy you’re at a music festival, specifically one where you can see The Strokes, Lizzo, Vampire Weekend, Tame Impala, Nelly, and dozens more musical acts. Not to mention culinary demonstrations—plus awesome food and drinks from SF’s best bars and restaurants, comedy performances, a cannabis experience, and more.

49ers
Photo courtesy of 49ers.com

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Santa Clara
After an entire season in an empty stadium last year, Levi’s Stadium is welcoming fans back to watch the Niners hopefully make it to the playoffs. No matter what, the Jimmy G vs. Trey Lance QB situation will be interesting to watch, and even though football is probably “better” to watch on TV these days, there’s nothing quite like being there in person when Bosa gets a sack or Kittle fights his way into the end zone.

Free
In the sky and on the water
Fleet Week returns to SF this year, and with it, the endless noise complaints on NextDoor. Delete the app and instead enjoy nine days (October 3-October 11) of air shows, boat tours, and more, all honoring the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. FYI: The Blue Angels perform on October 8, 9, and 10 (though you’ll hear/see them practice all week). You can see the show really well from the Marina Green or on the roof deck of whichever friend has one.

Free
Robin Williams Meadow/Golden Gate Park
The 40th annual Comedy Day returns this year on Sunday, September 19 (no joke!), with 40 comedians performing on one stage for five hours. The exact line-up has yet to be announced, but the website promises a “Deliverer of Droll,” “Waggish Wonder,” and “Antic Duo,” which sounds like a good time to us. The laughing starts at noon. Get there early to claim a spot and bring a picnic to enjoy (beer and wine are allowed).

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PHOTO COURTESY OF LEXUS

Serious foodies from all across the country descend on Cavallo Point Lodge for a three-day celebration of all things food, wine, and cooking. The Lexus Culinary Classic presents distinctive experiences throughout the weekend, including a unique wine tasting with Lexus Ambassador Scott Pruett and an engaging Wine and Watercolor class. Experience signature events with acclaimed chefs and wineries, all while overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. The weekend will conclude with a Sunday Grand Tasting, a culinary adventure that invites you to nibble, nosh and sip on signature dishes from nine Lexus hotel partners, complemented by premier wines from Napa Valley. Guests will even have the opportunity to test drive a Lexus throughout the weekend for an experience that is sure to be memorable.

Merchant Roots
Merchant Roots

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Merchant Roots
If you aren’t familiar with this traditional European folk tale, you will be by the end of the meal. We don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say it’s about selfishness and the good that can come from sharing. You’ll start the meal with other diners on the outdoor patio and then move inside to your individual table, where the rest of the story will play out over nine courses. The experience starts October 20 and runs through December 18, at which time the creative folks at Merchant Roots will pivot and wow us once again with a dinner that is always much more than just a dinner.

Free
Streaming
It’s a huge bummer, but Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the free three-day music festival in Golden Gate Park that has something for everyone, is not returning to us live this year. It is, however, coming to us virtually on October 1-October 3, when you can watch 27 sets from people like Ani DiFranco, Bela Fleck, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris, all performing live from places throughout the Bay Area.

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The Marin Center, San Rafael
Much like the Superman Underoos you outgrew as a kid, TreasureFest has outgrown Treasure Island and is now taking place at The Marin Center, a much bigger space with a massive lawn and plenty of room for live music, local eats, brews, and cocktails, actually cool shopping from all kinds of craft makers and artisans, art installations, and more. Check it all out on Saturday, September 18 and Sunday, September 19. You can even bring your dog.

banksy exhibit
Photo courtesy of Starvox Exhibits

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TBA in SF
Sure, the original premise of legendary street artist Banksy was that you would spot his distinctive stencils in the wild, but for those who haven’t been able to do that, now you can see a bunch of his work, including recognizable images like “Flower Thrower,” “Rude Copper,” and “Girl With Balloon”—as well as some of his lesser-known creations. If you’re reading this thinking, “OMG, I can’t believe Banksy would sell out like that,” don’t fret. He has nothing to do with this exhibit; rather, all pieces have been curated from private collections, which means if the nice rich people hadn’t offered to loan their pieces, we’d never be able to see them. We’ll take it.

Photo by Alexandre Galliez

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Club Fugazi/North Beach
It was hard to accept the departure of SF’s beloved “Beach Blanket Babylon,” but starting September 22, Club Fugazi is making it up to us with “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story.” Experience the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake, the rise of the Beat Generation, and more via acrobatics, choreography, spoken word, video projections, shadow play, and original music.

immortal reckoning
Photo by Jose A Guzman

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The San Francisco Mint
If you have never been to one of Into the Dark’s fully immersive Halloween experiences at The Mint, this is the year to change that. Unless you are one of those people who doesn’t handle being terrified well, in which case, it might not be for you. This year, you’ll see an exhibit called “The Immortal Reckoning” of rare artifacts related to the occult and supernatural. Until something goes very, very wrong and you’re plunged into a world of … well … you’ll find out. Performances begin Thursday, September 23, and continue through Sunday, October 31. Keep an eye out for info about the first-ever Terror Ball being held on Saturday, October 30.

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Mission
On Saturday, October 16, 20th Street in the Mission will turn into a huge block party with performances from Y La Bamba and Con Brio and other popular acts from across the Bay Area, like French Cassettes, Same Girls, King Isis, and more. There will also be food (and drinks for adults) from some of SF’s best restaurants, shopping, and more. The party is free, but registration is required this year. However, if you want to up your game, you can purchase tickets for the Headliner Experience, which comes with a private viewing area and lounge and complimentary drinks and bites. A portion of the proceeds will benefit two 826 Valencia and La Cocina.

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Main Street, Half Moon Bay
Anyone can post a photo of themselves in a regular pumpkin patch, but only those who attend this cherished festival in Half Moon Bay can get a pic with a super-sized pumpkin that weighs over 2,000 pounds. Once you’ve got what you need for the ‘gram, check out live music, arts and crafts for sale, delicious food, wine, and beer, costume and pumpkin carving contests, and more. It all takes place on Saturday, October 16, from 9 am to 5 pm.

Eirik Uhlen / Unsplash

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Various
How lucky are we that San Francisco has 220 city parks (one every half-mile), more than any other city in the US? If you weren’t taking advantage of them before COVID, you probably are now since they’re full of hiking trails, green spaces, gardens, and, maybe our favorite: lots of places to unfurl a blanket, and let the relaxation and indulgence (usually in the form of food and adult beverages—legal in most SF parks) begin. 

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Golden Gate Park
Last spring, London Breed closed a large portion of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park to vehicles. Frankly, we think this is how it should be all of the time, and so do most people who live in SF, but there are a few meanies who cannot fathom the idea of losing 300 parking spaces, so its car-free fate is undecided. Our favorite walk is from the park entrance all the way to Ocean Beach with stops at the Redwood Grove, Prayer Cross, and Bison Paddock along the way. Plus, a reward beer or two in Park Chalet’s garden. It’s about seven miles round-trip but mostly flat, so you won’t huff and puff too much.

San Francisco Ferry Building
San Francisco Ferry Building

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Embarcadero
The historic Ferry Building is pretty to look at, but, more importantly, behind those good looks is a fantastic personality in the form of delicious artisan food. Enjoy lunch by the water at Hog Island Oyster Company or a delicious burger and milkshake on Gott’s Roadside’s patio. Grab a canned cocktail at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and a cupcake from Miette to enjoy while sitting on a bench with views of the Bay Bridge. The beloved farmers market operated by CUESA is still popping up on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, so you can also shop for high-quality products from small, sustainable growers and producers who will definitely appreciate your support.

Courtesy of Fort Point National Historic Site

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The Presidio
Crissy Field has beaches, tidal marshes, picnic areas, and also one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge you’ll find anywhere in SF. Start with a picnic and then take in that aforementioned amazing view as you walk or bike along the waterfront promenade to Fort Point. Take pics of the bridge, watch surfers narrowly miss jagged rocks, and high-five or high-10 Hoppers Hands before you turn around to head back (just make sure you use hand sanitizer before and after because that’s who we are now).

The Buena Vista
The Buena Vista

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Fisherman’s Wharf
Stave off SF’s constant chill with the famous and delicious Irish coffee from Buena Vista, the first place to serve Irish coffee in the US. Usually you have to enjoy it inside of the always-crowded restaurant, but since things are the way they are, the restaurant is offering a to-go version of the boozy pick-me-up. Sure, you’ll have to enjoy it in a paper cup instead of the signature curved glass, but the fact that you can easily make it a double (by adding your own whiskey), enjoy it outside with water views, and that you’re even able to get a Buena Vista Irish coffee at all right now will soften the blow of sipping through a plastic lid. Prefer to enjoy it there? Buena Vista is also open for indoor and outdoor dining.

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Bayview to Outer Richmond
Put on your most comfortable sneakers and head out on the Crosstown Trail, a 17-mile urban hike that takes you through tons of SF neighborhoods, including McLaren Park, Glen Canyon, Golden Gate Park, and Seacliff. The trail is a mix of paved roads/paths and trails, is about 2,600 feet of elevation, and offers great views, cool tiled staircases, a chance to see SF in a whole new way, and satisfaction for having actually done it. 

San Francisco Botanical Garden
San Francisco Botanical Garden

Free for SF residents
Golden Gate Park
The 55-acre “urban oasis” with more than 9,000 plants from around the world is always a great place to go for a mini escape. Visit during the fall and you might get a tiny glimpse of what people in New England experience via the Japanese Maple trees in the Moon Viewing Garden. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or wander through the gardens and visit flora from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and more, all in one afternoon. You’ll just have to pop open a plant app to see what you’re enjoying since we aren’t exactly certified botanists.

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Mission
While the cynical side of us may have some issues (13 to be exact) with Dolores Park, there’s no denying that this park is beloved for a reason. Abundant sunshine (yes, in San Francisco), fantastic people watching, gorgeous city views, towering palm trees, off-leash areas for dogs to play—and though alcohol technically isn’t allowed, all of those things add up to make it the perfect place to enjoy that aforementioned burrito, with a cold beer or three from Woods Cervecería. (Some rules, like no alcohol in the park are just meant to be—and are almost always—overlooked.) If you’re a rule follower, substitute the beer for an ice cream cone from Bi-Rite Creamery

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Mission Bay
Learn the story of California’s Boom and Bust by playing miniature golf at SF’s only outdoor miniature golf course. Put the ball into a Barbary Coast Saloon, through a gold mine, and around “Golden Gate Park,” while reading cool factoids along the way. To help maintain a safe environment, you’ll have to make a reservation, which involves a little planning, but is definitely worth it. Especially because the course is also located within Parklab Gardens (a food truck park and beer garden) so you can celebrate your win (or lament your defeat) with some tasty treats and a cold one.

San Francisco Chinatown Gates 2015
San Francisco Chinatown Gates 2015 | Flickr/Chris Favero

Eat everything delicious in Chinatown

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Chinatown
Businesses in Chinatown were the first to get hit last year, and many of them are still suffering. Help them out by playing tourist for a day and exploring the oldest Chinatown in the US on foot. Shop and snack as you go, a delicious way to support the community and get your steps in. Need suggestions? Check out these favorites from some local experts. Visit on September 11th or 12th for the annual autumn moon festival, two days of entertainment, food, lion dancing, moon cakes (of course!), and more.

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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelance writer who is using this time to explore the city on foot. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see secret staircases, spring blooms, gorgeous views, and all over the other magical things in SF that make this place the best place to live.