10 Essential Summer Experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area
Sundown Cinema screens movies at Alamo Square and other SF parks throughout the summer. (Courtesy of @sfparksalliance)

10 Essential Summer Experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area

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Memorial Day weekend has come and gone but summer is just ramping up, and there is plenty of fun to seek out in the season of sun (or in SF, the season of bone-chilling gloom).

Some of our favorite experiences—like SF Shakes, the annual Pride parade, and the Stern Grove Festival—have been beloved around here for 40, 50 and even 85 years. So let these 10 essential experiences help guide your summer plans. Millions of Bay Area can’t be wrong.


Catch a show at Stern Grove Festival.

Janelle Monae playing the Stern Grove Festival in 2016.

(Courtesy of @sterngrovefestival)

The 85th year of the Stern Grove Festival is going to be a doozy. This summer’s Sunday performances feature a number of big names including Tower of Power and Too Short (June 12), Liz Phair (June 26), Cold War Kids (July 3), and Leeann Rimes (July 24). Attending a show at the outdoor amphitheater is still free but unlike in past years, you have to reserve your spot online in advance and show up extra early to get a good seat (entry, even with reservations, is still first-come-first-served). // For the schedule and reservations, go to sterngrove.org.

Ferry to Tiburon for so many oysters.

(Courtesy of @sams_cafe)

For generations, San Franciscans have chased warm, sunny weather across the bay for seafood on its shore. For a postcard-perfect ride across the sparkling water, hop on a boat at the SF Ferry Terminal that drops you at Tiburon’s adorable waterfront. You’ll have a number of options for fresh oysters and other local seafood once there, but the deck at 100-year old Sam’s Anchor Cafe has some of the best views around. // Sam's, 2700 Main St. (Tiburon), samscafe.com

Kayak or SUP on Tomales Bay.

(Courtesy of @ruiz_brothers_photography)

Get out on the water in West Marin’s bucolic Tomales Bay. On low wind days, its serene waters offer what’s arguably the best kayaking and SUP in the Bay Area. Rent a boat or board from Blue Waters Kayaking (11401 CA-1, Point Reyes Station) or Tomales Bay Kayak Expeditions(12948 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Inverness) for a short paddle or one that lasts all day. Even better, keep your gear overnight and camp at one of the bay’s islands or water-access-only beaches.

Ride a rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

(Courtesy of @beachboardwalk)

Nothing that says summer in the Bay Area like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk where classic rides (think, the 1924 wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper), carnival games, and garlic fries convene for a day of sun and fun. Stay late on Thursday and Friday nights throughout the summer to catch an evening concert or movie on the amusement park’s iconic beach.

Join in the Pride.

(Courtesy of @sanfranciscopride)

For more than 50 years, SF has celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride in style. Parties and events, including Pride Night at the Opera (June 26, 2022) and the Freak Chic Pride Gala (June 5, 2022) at Oasis, take place throughout the month of June. But the festivities culminate on June 25th and 26th when the Civic Center Pride Celebration, the SF Dyke March, and the Pride Parade take to the streets in citywide solidarity and merriment. // For info on SF Pride, go to sfpride.org.

See Shakespeare’s work come to life.

SF Shakes' 1987 production of 'Much Ado About Nothing.'

(Courtesy of @sfshakesfest)

Shakespeare in the Park (SF Shakes) is back for its 40th season with the bard’s comedic send-up to deception, confusion, and love, Much Ado About Nothing. The free outdoor production takes the stage in three locations throughout the summer, beginning in Cupertino (July 23 through Aug. 7) and Redwood City (Aug. 13-28). In September, it arrives at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in SF's McLaren Park. Go early for the best seats. // For details and schedule, go to sfshakes.org.

Picnic at Dolores Park or Lake Merritt.

(Courtesy of @lovedoloressf)

For a joyous summer afternoon, go where the people watching is on point. In the city, the obvious choice is Dolores Park, that stretch of Mission greenery where cool kids and families alike soak up the sun. Grab a bottle of rosé and snacks from nearby Bi-Rite Market(3639 18th St.). In Oakland, the festival atmosphere at Lake Merritt will brighten up any average day—swing by Grand Lake Kitchen(576 Grand Ave.) for picnic goodies and cocktails to-go. Don’t overthink this one: Sometimes summer’s best days are those that require the least planning.

Head to the park for Sundown Cinema.

(Courtesy of @dothebay)

San Francisco’s parks are ground zero for a longstanding summer tradition: Sundown Cinema. On eight separate evenings through October, cult classic and kid-friendly flicks like The Rock (June 17, Presidio), Star Trek IV (July 8, Union Square), and Indiana Jones & the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Sept. 9, Alamo Square) for free in green spaces around the city. Pack a picnic and a blanket (or four) and get there early to snag a good spot. All movies begin at sunset. // Find the schedule and reserve your spot at sfparksalliance.org.

Beat the June gloom at a film festival.

(Courtesy of @framelinefest)

In June and July, when the weather outside is about as gloomy as it gets, San Francisco’s most iconic film festivals bring the excitement indoors. Three major international events take place each summer: the SF Black Film Festival (June 16-19), which celebrates African Americans and the African diaspora; Frameline(June 16-26), featuring LGBTQ+ films and filmmakers; and the SF Jewish Film Festival(July 22 through Aug 1), which turns its lens on Jewish life, culture and experience. Catch a single film, attend a matinee, or go all in for the full festival. Tickets for each are available online.

Kick up your heels at Oakland's First Fridays.

Oakland's 2020 Juneteenth celebration.

(Courtesy of @oaklandfirstfridays)

Oakland’s monthly street party First Fridays technically runs year-round, but it’s the event’s summer dates that are deeply etched into our calendar. Starting with their Juneteenth celebration on June 3rd, the season’s First Fridays pack Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street with musical artists, comedians, dancers, fashion shows, and more. Come for the entertainment, stay for the food, goods made by local businesses, and other community-based and kid-friendly offerings. // For details, go to oaklandfirstfridays.org.

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