The Definitive Guide to San Francisco's Free Outdoor Concerts
Walking down a street in San Francisco this time of year, you’re apt to hear music. Or notice that they are screening a film in a nearby park. It wouldn’t be summer in San Francisco without outdoor concerts and plein air cinema.
Since these events are free to audiences, but not free to produce, if you see a “Donations Welcome” bucket at the entrance or a friendly volunteer asking for a few dollars, do give. You’ll gain a lot for many summers to come.
Visitors are encouraged to walk, bike or take public transit to all events. For regional transit information visit 511 within the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties. For information on public transit within San Francisco, visit 311.
There are hundreds of free concerts, performances and film screenings. The list that follows is leavened with a few indoor performances as well. Highlights include:
Stern Grove Festival
The Stern Grove Festival is a beloved San Francisco tradition that began in 1938. The longest running admission-free outdoor music festival in the U.S. opened its 78th anniversary season on June 14 with The Doobie Brothers. The San Francisco Symphony (July 5) and Ballet (July 26) each performs in “nature’s music box” – Stern Grove, 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. Other headliners include Pacific Mambo Orchestra (June 21), Randy Newman (June 28), Amy Hanaiali’i (July 12), Tune-Yards (July 19), Mary Chapin Carpenter (Aug. 2), Morris Day and The Time (Aug. 9) and Talib Kweli (Aug. 16). Weekday Kids’ Days programs at Stern invite children to explore music and more; pre-registration is required for these free programs. A new program, Grove on the Road, brings the Stern Grove Festival experience into neighborhoods around the city.
Bay breezes, dazzling views and those precious pinnipeds are just part of the appeal of PIER 39. Throughout the summer, in fact 365 days a year, there are concerts at the entrance plaza. The fare ranges from Glenn Morgan on the hammered dulcimer to Caroline Dal teasing the piano keys through a round of boogie woogie.
Union Square Live
Union Square Live presents entertainment on the main stage of Union Square through October. Live music, dance, movies, circus arts and other entertainment will run the gamut from mariachi to rock.
Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
The 2015 Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (YBGF) will present more than 100 free events through Oct. 31. Now in its 15th year festival highlights include Let’s Go Salsa@Jessie in nearby Jessie Square near the Contemporary Jewish Museum; the Children’s Garden Series, Poetry Tuesdays with Litquake and Thursday Lunchtime Concerts. Every weekend the festival has a curated lineup of musicians, dancers, poets and actors from around the world. Highlights this summer include the Bay Area’s own Circus Bella on June 26-27; a July 4 Celebration with San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band; RAWdance’s “Through my fingers to the deep” on July 17-19; local bands Elephantine + Bells Atlas on July 25; Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers on Aug. 15, and Cuban-American saxophonist Yosvany Terry and French pianist Baptiste Trotignon present Ancestral Memories on Oct. 3.
Golden Gate Park Band
Regular band concerts began in Golden Gate Park in 1882. Now in its 133rd season, the Golden Gate Park Band performs every Sunday through Oct. 11 and the occasional holiday at 1 p.m. in the Spreckles Temple of Music, Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park. History comes alive at the many performances that feature music from specific nationalities and cultures; on these occasions there are dancers, singers, speakers in attendance who “enlighten and entertain,” according to the band’s website.
A new series at the Presidio Officers’ Club, 50 Moraga Ave., these intimate house concerts are every Friday at 6 p.m. Jazz, contemporary and classical music are offered in partnership with San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, producers of SFMusic Day in the fall.
CIty Hall Rotunda Dance Series
San Francisco’s City Hall is one of the most outstanding Beaux Arts structures in the U.S. Currently celebrating its centennial, the building is home to hundreds of events throughout the year. An ongoing favorite is the Rotunda Dance Series on the first Friday of every month except July at noon. Presented by Dancers’ Group and World Arts West, in partnership with San Francisco Grants for the Arts and San Francisco City Hall, they include Los Lupeños de San José (Aug. 7), Kaiwen You Chinese Dance (Sept. 4) and Mary Sano and Her Duncan Dancers (Oct. 2).
People in Plazas
The perfect pick-me-up at lunchtime, the series presents more than 130 free concerts featuring all local performers, July 8-Oct. 28. For the most part, locations are in downtown plazas on or near San Francisco’s main stem, Market Street. Just listen for the beat! Musical styles range from Hawaiian to Bengali Jazz. Most performances begin at noon.
San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT)
That’s mime as in “the exaggeration of everyday life in story and song.” This group has a lot to say and they’ve been doing so since 1959. Winners of a special Tony Award in 1987 for Excellence in Regional Theater, the San Francisco Mime Troupe specializes in shows that “debunk the official story.” This year’s production, “Freedomland,” delves into the latest headlines. Shows begin July 3 in San Francisco and travel to parks (and a few indoor locations) all over California until Sept. 7. Most performances are free; however, donations are welcomed.
Film Night in the Park
Park perks in the summer include fresh-air flicks. Every summer Film Night in the Park draws more than 15,000 filmgoers to parks throughout San Francisco and Marin County. Films are presented free of charge on a giant outdoor screen. Attendees are encouraged to picnic before screenings and discouraged from blocking views with chairs and bringing pets. All screenings begin at dusk or 8 p.m. This year’s flick picks run through Sept. 26 and include “Toy Story” (Aug. 22), Union Square; “Fargo” (Sept. 12), Washington Square, and “Back to the Future” (Sept. 26), Dolores Park.
Shakespeare in the Park
After a circuit through Bay Area parks in Pleasanton, Cupertino and Redwood City, Shakespeare in the Park will present “Romeo and Juliet,” Aug. 29-Sept. 13 and Labor Day at 2 p.m. at the parade grounds, Presidio of San Francisco, and Sept. 19-20 and 26-27 in the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, McLaren Park. This beloved favorite which is endowed with some of Shakespeare’s most beautifully poetic language, shares the story of doomed lovers who will always be remembered for their romantic devotion. One of the major free Shakespeare programs in the U.S., Free Shakespeare in the Park began in 1983.
A beloved Bay Area tradition, San Francisco Opera at the Ballpark, returns to AT&T Park on July 3. A free, live simulcast of “The Marriage of Figaro” begins at 7:30 p.m. Free registration for early entry and best seating is available at www.sfopera.com/simulcast. Other free events include the annual Merola Opera’s Schwabacher summer concert July 11 at 2 p.m., featuring singers from the Merola Opera Program at Yerba Buena Gardens. The annual San Francisco Opera in the Park concert will feature artists from the 2015 fall season as well as members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti on Sept. 13 at 1:30 p.m. in Sharon Meadow.
The San Francisco Symphony performs at 2 p.m. in Stern Grove Sunday, July 5 and at noon on July 12 on the grassy knoll near Pier 27.
Yerba Buena Night returns Saturday, Oct. 10. Considered one of the biggest free neighborhood events of the year, it offers free arts and entertainment in the culture-rich center of downtown San Francisco. In the weeks in prior enjoy events in Annie Alley adjacent to the California Historical Society and Third Thursday activities.