During any normal summer, San Francisco plays host to a number of outdoor live music events. The temperate California climate allows for outdoor music festivals almost year-round. But don’t let the notion of a summer music festival in California fool you. Summer in San Francisco generally consists of cool, windy temperatures in the 50’s and chilly evenings (a friend of mine made the mistake of forgetting to pack a jacket during his first year). A constant fog known colloquially as Karl the Fog seeps through the city, leaving San Francisco in a perpetual haze. Here are some of San Francisco’s most treasured outdoor live music events.
Stern Grove Festival
The Stern Grove Festival has a long history of providing free concerts to the San Francisco community for over 80 years. The summer concert series takes place at the Sigmund Stern Grove, a beautiful outdoor amphitheater located in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Surrounded by eucalyptus, redwood and fir trees, Stern Grove is a naturally designed venue with incredible acoustics. Grab a blanket, picnic basket, and some friends to enjoy a Sunday afternoon of live performances from some of the world’s greatest artists, free of charge.
This year, instead of the usual 10 week lineup of acts, the Stern Grove team will be airing Best of the Fest, a virtual series of video playlists featuring greatest past performances, historic footage, artist interviews, and special guests. The series will air on Sundays at 4:30PM from June 14 – August 16, showcasing a different genre every weekend.
Outside Lands Music & Art Festival
Outside Lands is San Francisco’s premier music festival, usually headlined by many big name artists. As the name suggests, the festival is entirely outside, with stages named after the most iconic landmarks of the city. The annual event takes place at Golden Gate Park every summer during the first weekend of August. Golden Gate Park’s spacious, grassy fields and lush forest-like atmosphere create a natural ambiance perfect for laying out a blanket and enjoying music in the company of good friends. In addition to the musical performances, Outside Lands also places a heavy emphasis on art, food, and wine. You’ll find live cooking demonstrations at the GastroMagic tent, comedy at The Barbary, and local food served up at cleverly named grottos such as Choco Lands, Cheese Lands, Outside Clams, and many more.
While Outside Lands is cancelled for 2020, an unrelated spinoff dubbed Inside Lands has been spurred by Bay Area artists during San Francisco’s shelter-in-place orders. Inside Lands is a grassroots virtual party that hosts events every evening ranging from live DJ sets, to real estate workshops, to drunk makeup tutorials, all with the intent of focusing on self-care and mental wellness.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (HSB) is another beloved San Francisco tradition. While HSB is held on the first weekend of October, it ends up feeling the most like summer of all the other “summer” festivals, as October is historically the warmest month of the year in San Francisco. The event is free of charge and entirely unsponsored, a feature that has allowed HSB to focus solely on the music and community for so many years. The festival takes place at Golden Gate Park and brings in hundreds of thousands of concertgoers to enjoy predominantly bluegrass artists while celebrating the community.
Just remember: if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair (and don’t forget to bring a jacket).