San Francisco summers are generally marked by the fog and cool winds that seem to blow in on cue each Memorial Day, but summer — officially on June 20 — also marks the beginning of a wave of entertainment and cultural events, many of which are free, throughout the coming cool months and into the warm weather of fall.
A fitting start is the annual Union Street Festival (June 4–5, sresproductions.com), celebrating its 40th anniversary. From Gough to Fillmore Streets, enjoy entertainment on multiple stages and wares from unique vendors and craftspeople. With festival food favorites and Union Street’s many restaurant offerings, there will be no shortage of dining options. Wet your whistle at one of the craft beer and wine tasting pavilions, then head to the popular pet fashion show.
Following close behind the next weekend is the North Beach Festival (June 11–12, sresproductions.com) in the heart of San Francisco’s Little Italy (visit sresproduction.com for exact location), which also has many outdoor dining options. Events unique to this festival are Italian street painting, a kid’s chalk area, and the ever-favorite Blessing of the Animals ceremony (2–3 p.m. daily) at The Shrine of Saint-Francis of Assisi (610 Vallejo Street).
Longtime summer favorite Stern Grove (June 9–Aug. 21, sterngrove.org) opens its 79th season with another lineup of often foggy, free weekend concerts featuring an eclectic mix of performers from Janel Monáe, Joan Osborne, and the O’Jays to the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Ballet, and more.
Opera fans will enjoy the San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season (sfopera.com) featuring a provocative staging of Bizet’s Carmen (including a free live simulcast at AT&T Park June 2), Verdi’s tale of romantic triangles, Don Carlo, and Janáček’s Jenůfa about a domineering stepmother and her unwed pregnant stepdaughter.
Across town, the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (ybgfestival.org) is in full swing through Oct. 3 with myriad free events ranging from jazz and classical music, contemporary and traditional dance, theater, literary events, cultural festivals, and a wide range of family programming.
Find more family programming at the Presidio (415-561-5300, presidio.gov), which recently launched their 2016 Summer (Sand)bucket List of four adventure day trips highlighting nature and history in the park. Don’t miss the Kite Festival (June 18), free archaeology lab tours, drop-in craft-making sessions, astronomy lectures, camping, hiking, biking, the Sunday Presidio Picnic, and much more — including the first-rate Walt Disney Family Museum (415-345-6800, waltdisney.org) with its current Pinocchio exhibition and related events throughout the year. Take advantage of this wonderful resource in our own backyard!