30 Actually Cool Things to Do in San Francisco This Summer

Beat the fog with concerts, street fairs, baseball games, and more this summer in SF.

Stern Grove Festival
Photo by Paige K. Parsons, courtesy of Stern Grove Festival

San Francisco summers may not be about beach days, tan legs, and drinks by the pool, but we’re still hella set up to have the best time ever during June Gloom, No-Sky July, and Fogust, with plenty of rooftop bars, nature hikes, and fun neighborhoods like Chinatown and NoPa that are perfect for food tours whenever the fog clears. There’s also this massive list of summer happenings, which includes concerts, street fairs, baseball games, the first post-pandemic Pride Month celebrations, a Juneteenth food and wine festival, and much more—just make sure you bring your puffy jacket along for the fun.

SF Pride Parade
Flickr/Thomas Hawk

June 25–26
Mostly free
Civic Center, Market Street, Castro, and more
Okay, we all pretended like Pride was back last summer, but this summer, it’s really, really back. As in, the parade and official celebration are definitely happening for the first time since 2019. For #SFPride52, we’ll all enjoy a much-needed reminder that #LoveWillKeepUsTogether, and if you want to help spread that message by volunteering, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Most of the Pride events are free, but it takes a lot of work to make this event the wild success that it always is, so if you can donate, that would be fabulous. Prefer to celebrate on the other side of the Bay? You’ll definitely want to attend the Oakland Black Pride Festival, the first and only Black-led Pride celebration in Northern California (June 22–26).

Black Food & Wine Experience
Photo courtesy of Black Food & Wine Experience

June 11–19
$$ to $$$
Oakland
Celebrate, explore, and support the Bay’s Black-led hospitality industry at this mission-driven event created to bridge food, beverage, education, health, and Black culture. Highlights include wine dinners at restaurants like Sobre Mesa, Oeste, and Souley Vegan; a Food & Beverage Industry Summit aimed at supporting BIPOC entrepreneurs; and a Grand Tasting where you can taste the food, wine, and cocktails of the African Diaspora.

Stern Grove Festival
Photo by Paige K. Parsons, courtesy of Stern Grove Festival

Sundays in June–August
Free, but donations are appreciated
Stern Grove/Outer Sunset
The Stern Grove is celebrating its 85th season of free Sunday concerts all summer long. A small bummer is that the organizers are sticking with the “reservations required” rule that was implemented last year, which means you’ll need to hop online at 2 pm on the Tuesday 12 days before the concert to snag your tickets. You’re going to want to set an alarm because this year’s line-up includes Tower of Power and Too $hort, Liz Phair, Cold War Kids, Cat Power, Leann Rimes, the San Francisco Symphony, Taj Mahal, and Phil Lesh & Friends. For maximum concert enjoyment, pack a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine (alcohol is allowed), as well as layers because the weather in that part of town can be quite fickle.

Check out some amazing art at local museums

Ongoing
$ to $$
All over SF
There is so much good art to see in SF right now that we can’t possibly list everything, but a few highlights include Alex Neel: People Come First, a retrospective of the social justice painter’s work at the de Young (through July 10). Also at the de Young: the portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, as part of The Obama Portraits Tour organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (June 18–August 14). There’s also Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy, an exhibition featuring the exquisite clothing made my China’s first couturier at the Legion of Honor (through September 5); Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision, the first-ever retrospective of the Filipino American artist and activist featuring huge colorful multimedia artworks at the Asian Art Museum (June 17–October 24); Sam Vernon: Impasse of Desires, a site-specific installation that considers “Where is the space for queerness to exist within a collective imagining of Blackness?” at the Museum of African Diaspora (through September 18); Shifting the Silence, with “dynamic works by thirty-two women artists who use the radical language of abstraction to enhance our understanding of the world we inhabit” at SFMOMA (through September 5); Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book: Making a Masterpiece, a self-explanatory exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum celebrating the animated classic’s 55th anniversary (June 23–January 8); and The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited featuring more than 150 objects highlighting the puppeteer, animator, cartoonist, actor, inventor, and filmmaker’s career at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (through August 14).

Want to help support the arts while enjoying drinks and dancing? Buy tickets to SOMArts’ spring fundraiser, “Fates & Fortune,” an outdoor garden party on Saturday, June 4, to raise funds for SOMArts’ public programs and exhibitions that leverage art as a tool for social change.

Outside Lands Festival
Josh Withers/Shutterstock

August 5–7
$$ to $$$
Golden Gate Park
Outside Lands returns to its regularly scheduled date this year (aka: smack dab in the middle of Fogust) with a lineup that’s worth carrying around a bag full of layers all day. Green Day, Post Malone, and SZA are headlining, and the line-up includes names like Weezer, Jack Harlow, Phoebe Bridgers, Illenium, Lil Uzi Vert, Kali Uchis, Disclosure, Mitski, and dozens more. As usual, there will also be some of the best food you’ll find at any festival, Green Lands (a curated cannabis experience), Wine Lands and Beer Lands (self-explanatory), and more. Make a killing with crypto this year? Upgrade to the $5,000 Ken Fulk’s Golden Gate Club for an ultra-luxe experience.

Napa Valley Wine Train
Photo courtesy of the Napa Valley Wine Train

Select dates from May–October
$$$
Napa
Don your best themed attire and board the Napa Wine Train, where you’ll conduct a search for a murderer while enjoying an elegant three-course dinner with wine pairings. Themes this summer include “Death of a Gangster,” “Til Death Do Us Part,” a 50s-era “Dance with Death,” and more.

June 30–July 4
$ to $$
Fairgrounds/San Rafael
There’s nothing that says “summer” quite like a county fair, and Marin County puts on one of the best in the Bay. The five-day fair includes concerts (Digable Planet takes the stage on July 3), agriculture exhibits (sheepdog trials!), a global marketplace, healthy fare (plus all of the traditional fair food you really came for, including beer and wine), firework shows, and, of course, lots and lots of carnival rides.

Huichica Music Festival
Photo by Alina Tyulyu, courtesy of Huichica Music Festival

June 10–11
$$
Gundlach Bundschu/Sonoma
Only in California can you experience two days of music with epic vineyard views. The Huichica Music Festival is all about live music, estate-grown wines, and farm-to-table food in an idyllic outdoor amphitheater. This year there will be over 35 artists performing on three stages, including Allah-Las, ESG, Turnover, W.I.T.C.H., Damien Jurado, La Luz, Woods, and more, plus legitimately good food, wine, cider, and beer.

Eat tasty street food and listen to music at one of SF’s many street fairs

All summer
$
Various neighborhoods
SF loves a summer street fair, and it looks like this year, most of them will be back in full force, starting with Carnaval (May 28–29) and followed by the Haight Street Fair (June 12), the 66th Annual North Beach Festival (June 18–19), and the Fillmore Jazz Festival (4th of July weekend). It’s unclear if the Union Street Festival will be happening, but it is usually the first weekend of June so keep an eye out for an announcement.

Every Friday through November
$ to $$
Fort Mason/Marina
Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center is back this spring, summer, and fall with its beloved Friday night food truck party. Check it out every Friday night from 5 pm to 10 pm and discover 25+ food trucks (including old favorites and soon-to-be new favorites), a full bar, DJs, and more. Bring your dog to Fido Fridays (every 3rd Friday) and get a discount at the bar during Yappy Hour, plus free treats for your pup.

NightLife at California Academy of Sciences
Photo courtesy of the California Academy of Sciences

Dance and drink at adults-only parties at two of SF’s most fun museums

Ongoing on Thursday nights
$$
Exploratorium/Embarcadero and California Academy of Sciences/Golden Gate Park
If you like the idea of going to a museum but would like it a lot more if it involved DJs and drinking, you’re in luck because two of SF’s most-fun-to-visit museums host Thursday night parties exclusively for adults. Check out After Dark at the Exploratorium, where you don’t have to politely wait for the kids to finish to try out the hands-on exhibits, and NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences, where you can explore the four-story rainforest, sip cocktails in the aquarium, and catch a show at the Planetarium.

July 6–September 24
$$$
Merchant Roots/Fillmore
If you haven’t experienced one of the magically creative dinners that chef Ryan Shelton brings to life in the most unexpected ways, then now is the time to become a part of that world. His next culinary masterpiece is “A Feast for Mermaids,” a 10-course dinner inspired by “treasures of the sea.” The meal begins with an outdoor communal experience before moving inside, where guests will sit at different tables but enjoy a singular experience. These meals never fail to astound and are worth every penny (so go ahead and add the wine pairing).

San Francisco Chinatown Gates
Flickr/Chris Favero

Eat everything delicious in Chinatown

Ongoing
$ to $$
Chinatown
Businesses in Chinatown were the first to get hit in 2020, and many 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 some of the best restaurants, according to the women at Cut Fruit Collective.

June 10–12
$ to $$$
Sonoma Raceway/Sonoma
Most people don’t really think of the Bay Area when it comes to NASCAR, but for one weekend a year, we can experience the thrills in our own backyard. For the first time since 2019, NASCAR is hosting a full-capacity race at the Sonoma Raceway. There will also be an air show, Ferris wheel, concerts, and more. Want to make sure you don’t miss a second of the action? You can even camp out in your RV or tent all weekend.

Now–October
$ to $$$
Oracle Park/SoMa
Buy yourself peanuts and Cracker Jacks, or even better—garlic fries and a Crazy Crab sandwich—at a Giants game this spring. It’s too soon to tell how the Giants will fare this season, but a day at the ballpark is always a good time regardless of a win or a loss (though, clearly, it’s a way better time with a win).

Cats Broadway show
Photo by Matthew Murphy

June–September
$$ to $$$
Golden Gate Theater and Orpheum Theater
Theater is officially back in SF, and BroadwaySF has a fun season planned. Make memories at the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats (June 1–12), see the Tony Award-winning Hadestown (June 7–July 3), a musical based on the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, and King Hades and his wife Persephone that bills itself as a “sad tale” but is actually quite haunting and hopeful. Also making an appearance: Weird Al Yankovic: Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour (June 15–16), The Prom, a hit musical comedy (June 21–July 17), a reimagined Oklahoma! that promises to “look and sound like America today” (August 16–September 11), and Moulin Rouge! The Musical (September 7–November 6).

May 18–August 7
$$
Trademark Bar/SoMa
Fly "second to the right, and straight on till morning” (or just head to Folsom between 7th and 8th Street) to find this Neverland experience, a pop-up bar for every adult who never wanted to grow up. There will be pixie dust-sprinkled cocktails, a Lost Boys Hideout, challenges to compete in and prizes to be won, and, we can only imagine, a very high chance of a cameo by Captain Hook and a ticking crocodile.

http://Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Broadway show
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Ongoing through September
$$ to $$$
The Curran/Union Square
This spellbinding live production is a must-see if you are at all entranced by J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world or just theatrical spectacles full of mind-blowing special effects, pyrotechnics, and illusions that will truly leave you wondering if perhaps magic isn’t real after all.

Score! Or strike out at a bowling alley

Ongoing
$$
Presidio and Mission
Listen, is bowling the most obvious activity suggestion ever? Maybe in 2019, but in 2021-2022, it feels novel! Had you asked us a year ago if we’d be hanging out in alleys and renting bowling shoes and balls, we would have said no, but life is too short, and bowling is too fun. Presidio Bowl has 12 lanes, an internet jukebox, 45 beers, 19 wines, a full bar, and a pretty typical bowling alley menu. Mission Bowling Club is a little fancier with legit food (a great burger) and cocktails, but only six lanes, so you’ll definitely need to plan ahead.

Dear San Francisco A High-Flying Love Story show
Photo by Alexandre Galliez

Ongoing through September
$$
Club Fugazi/North Beach
San Francisco could use a little love right now, and it gets more than a little during “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story,” an immersive performance/homage to this wild town told via how-do-they-do-that acrobatics, choreography, spoken word, video projections, shadow play, and original music. And though those things might sound like they’re for kids, this show is definitely more adult-friendly, especially if you order a bottle of wine and some fancy grown-up snacks and desserts to enjoy while you watch.

Play old school video games at a grown-up barcade

Ongoing
$
Various locations
Whatever your game—Ms. Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, pinball, pop-a-shot, or skee ball—you’ll likely find it at one of SF’s grown-up barcades. The newest one to open—Thriller Social Club in the Mission, is two stories of fun with all of the classics, including eight skee ball lanes, the most expensive golf simulator in the world, a couple of bars, and legit food—looking at you 13-inch hot dog. If you’re near Divisadero, check out Emporium, a huge bi-level movie-theater-turned-arcade, which also has pool tables, foosball, air hockey, and DJs spinning on the weekends. And on Market Street in the Castro, there’s The Detour, a cozier bar but still stocked with all of the greatest hits, plus lots of board games, Asian-inspired snacks, trivia nights, drag bingo, and more.

San Francisco park picnic
Eirik Uhlen/Unsplash

Ongoing
$
Various locations
How lucky are we that San Francisco has 220 city parks (one every half-mile), more than any other city in the US AND mild weather year-round? 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, 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.

San Francisco Ferry Building
San Francisco Ferry Building

Ongoing
$ to $$
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, including the recently opened Grande Crêperie, a new concept from Le Marais Bakery that’s all about savory and sweet crêpes and artisanal all-butter croissants and pastries. 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 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 appreciate your support.

Walk, run, bike, skateboard, or rollerskate on JFK Drive to celebrate that it will stay permanently car-free

Ongoing
Free
Golden Gate Park
In the spring of 2020, London Breed decided that the portion of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park closed to vehicles on Sundays would be closed seven days a week, and after a ridiculous, contentious, and exhausting debate about if it should stay that way forever, the Board of Supervisors voted to make it permanent. Celebrate this by taking advantage of it. Our favorite walk is from the Stanyan Street entrance all the way to Ocean Beach, with stops at the Redwood Grove, the Prayer Cross, and the 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 Fort Point
Courtesy of Fort Point National Historic Site

Free
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).

Free
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. 

The Buena Vista
The Buena Vista

Ongoing
$
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. You can once again sidle up to the (usually fairly crowded) bar, which is our preferred method, but if bar sidling isn’t a thing you’re doing, you can also enjoy it at an outdoor table or, and this is a thing that brings us endless joy: get it to-go. 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 (they sell you the airplane bottles; you pour ‘em in), enjoy it outside with water views removes most of the distress that would usually come with sipping through a plastic lid. Plus, if you get it to-go, you can drink it while saying hi to the sea lions at Pier 39.

$
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 Botanical Garden
San Francisco Botanical Garden

Ongoing
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, especially during the summer months when so much is in bloom. 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.

Free
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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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelance writer who is always down for an evening of theater or a picnic in the park. Or anything else on this list. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see where her next adventure takes her.