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About the Bay Area
From the 1960s hippie counterculture to the innovative tech scene, San Francisco's Bay Area has always been a hotbed of new ideas, diversity, and inspired arts. Rife with sporting events, celebrated wine countries, a cutting-edge music scene, and world-class cuisine, the Bay Area plays host to an eclectic lineup of festivals year-round. From laugh-out-loud comedy festivals like SF Sketchfest, to massive block parties like the Folsom Street Fair, the SF Bay Area has something for every kind of festival-goer.
While there are certainly hundreds of thousands of festivals to explore in the Bay Area, we’ve narrowed it down to our favorite festivals. These Bay Area festivals are our baes, and many are winners of our Fest300 List, so you know you’ll have a good time! Check them out below.
The Best Bay Area Festivals
The music, food, and venue together make Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival one of the leading music festivals in the Bay Area. Held annually on the western side of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands draws in massive crowds with its incredible lineup. Notable past acts have included Metallica, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, Zedd, Lana del Rey, and Porter Robinson (just to name a few). Spread across four primary stages, this diverse, stacked lineup has something for almost everyone. Plus, attendees can enjoy delicious grub from some of San Francisco’s most popular restaurants, eateries, and food trucks. Every year, Outside Lands announces well in advance which food vendors will be available at the festival so you can plan all the great eats you’ll be having to fuel your weekend. (And, yes, food lineups are a thing.)
Bay to Breakers is an annual footrace held in San Francisco on the third Sunday of May. As the name suggests, this 12k footrace starts on the bayside and runs west through the city to the other side, where breakers (breaking waves) from the Pacific Ocean crash onto Ocean Beach. But Bay to Breakers is more than just a marathon; it’s one helluva party. In eclectic tradition, runners come decked out in festive, funny, or just plain silly costumes. We’ve seen runners dressed up as unicorns, in animal floaties, as Elvis Presley, traffic cones, Ghostbusters, and fruit—just to give you some wild ideas. Bars and eateries along the route often have parties on their porches and patios to keep the fun going all the way to the finish line!
SF Pride weekend is the largest LGBT celebration in the nation. Every year, nearly two million people, donning gaudy and elaborate costumes, descend into the small city of San Francisco to let their freak flags fly and fly their pride flags all throughout the city. Saturday kicks off the annual celebration in the Civic Center, where Harvey Milk famously became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office. The Castro, a historically and world-renowned LGBT neighborhood, is at the heart of all the weekend festivities with fun events like Pink Saturday, a can’t-miss block party. While many contingents occur over the weekend, such as the famous Dykes on Bikes, the hallmark of SF Pride will always be the SF Pride Parade. Despite how risqué this wild and colorful parade can be, the prominence of each year’s theme speaks volumes to the world’s current state of affairs. SF Pride is as loud as they are proud—and they’re certainly smart while doing it.
Every year, BottleRock Napa kicks off the summer in the Bay Area with its annual three-day festival in Napa Valley. The perfectly warm weather, remarkable lineup, and amazing food and drinks draw in hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. Napa Valley is one of the best wine countries in the nation, so expect extraordinary wine tastings at BottleRock from throughout the region. Plus, there are more Michelin star restaurants in Napa Valley per capita than any other wine country in the world. It’s no surprise then, that with great wine, there’s great food. Napa’s best restaurants and eateries will serve up some delicious eats at BottleRock to perfectly pair with your favorite glass of wine or craft brew. BottleRock takes wining and dining to a whole new level with this incredible Bay Area festival!
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is perhaps America’s best free music festival. Held every October in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, this festival has had an impressive lineup of bluegrass and country favorites since its inception. Some of SF’s best food vendors are available on the festival grounds, but most attendees like to bring a blanket and have a picnic. While no alcohol is served at the festival and no hard liquor is permitted, festival-goers can bring their own wine and beer. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass strives to be a zero waste festival, so be sure to pick up after yourself!
California Roots Music & Arts Festival is named after its founder’s clothing line, California Roots by Jeff Monser. Held annually in Monterey, this music and art festival features reggae, rock, folk, hip-hop acts, and even live painting onstage. The psychedelic-looking posters have featured past headliners such as Damian and Ziggy Marley, SOJA, 311, Rebelution, Steel Pulse, Tribal Seeds, Nahko, and Medicine for the People, to give you an idea of what’s in store. But California Roots is more than just a music festival; it’s a movement inspired by the counterculture of California in the late 1960s. Think good vibes, peace, love, and happiness. Flower children, rejoice.
This annual, two-day music festival is one Bay Area festival you don’t want to miss! Aptly named after Treasure Island, California, where the festival was originally held, Treasure Island Music Festival provides an experience like no other. The lineup certainly doesn’t disappoint with big-name acts like Deadmau5, Azealia Banks, Glass Animals, Purity Ring, James Blake, Outkast, and Duke Dumont. It’s certainly an eclectic mix, but with only two stages, you never have to worry about missing anyone. Bring on the island fever!
Monterey Jazz Festival is—well, of course, all that jazz. As a winner of our 2017 Fest300 List, the Monterey Jazz Festival is only surpassed by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival here in the US. And as the longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world, the Monterey Jazz Fest has featured nearly every world-renowned jazz artist at least once. Over the course three days, more than 500 jazz artists perform, many workshops are held, and panel discussions educate attendees on all things jazz.
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