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Free Summer Festivals, Events & Entertainment in San Francisco

Outdoor Concerts, Arts Festivals and Other Free Shows Until Oct. 2013

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You could be entertained all summer and well into October for free in San Francisco. With the long days and nice weather, live music, dance and performing arts series pop up in parks and squares throughout the Bay Area, serving everything from salsa lessons to Shakespeare. Here's a guide to some of the best free summer programs outdoors. If you prefer movies over live performances, consult our article about free summer films. Note: This guide doesn't include one-off or one-weekend affairs like street fairs and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Festival.

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

Andres Virviescas
May-October, various dates
Dozens of music, dance, art and theater acts, reflecting cultures all over the globe, are presented outdoors. There are Thursday lunchtime concerts, weekend performances and exhibits, occasional Tuesday poetry readings and lots of entertainment for kids--e.g., jazz composer Marcus Shelby, AXIS Dance Company, Unique Derique, the soprano winner of Sweden’s 2013 Jenny Lind scholarship, SILA and Circus Bella. The rich lineup is capped by Halloween fun on Oct. 27.
At Yerba Buena Gardens, between Mission and Howard and 3rd and 4th streets, San Francisco 94103. Picnics welcome, but no pets. Info: (415) 543-1718.

Dancing Under the Stars

June 14-August 30, Fridays at 8:30–10 pm
Linden Street Dance Studio instructors teach a different style or dance each week (including the tango, cha cha, electric slide and East and West Coast swings) and then open up the space to a dance party. At Jack London Square, at the foot of Broadway, Oakland.

Stern Grove Festival

June 16–August 18, Sundays at 2 pm
For 76 summers, arts performances have been presented in this natural amphitheater surrounded by redwoods and firs and scented with eucalyptus. This year’s line-up opens with Grammy winners Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, and includes Kronos Quartet, Pink Martini and the always popular San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera. Started in 1938, the festival is now chaired by a member of the 4th generation of the Stern family.
At Stern Grove, 19th Ave. and Sloat Blvd., San Francisco.

Union Square Live

Union Square Live
April 21-October 9; mostly Wednesdays at 12:30 pm and 6 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm
Live music of all genres and lessons in tango, swing and other dance styles, sprinkled with circus, dance and acrobatic shows.
At Union Square Park, 333 Post St., San Francisco 94108.

Free Shakespeare in the Park

Free Shakespeare in the Park
June 29-Sept. 22, mostly Saturdays & Sundays at 2 pm or 7:30 pm
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival honors the Bard this summer by performing the tragic Macbeth, with its murderous plotting, apparitions, bloodstained hands and trio of witches.
At Amador Valley Community Park, Pleasanton (June-July); Memorial Park Amphitheater, Cupertino (July-August); Sequoia High School, Redwood City (August); the Presidio, Main Post Parade Ground Lawn, between Graham St. & Keyes Ave., San Francisco (August-September); and McLaren Park, Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, San Francisco (September).

SF Mime Troupe: Oil & Water

July 4–September 2, various dates
The satirical troupe's 2013 summer season was nearly a no-go, but some hasty emergency fundraising is enabling its show to go on--for now. In two one-act musicals, Crude Intentions and Deal With the Devil, the troupe skewers the corporate greed and squishy politics that lead to our destruction of the environment--while delivering its trademark slapstick, melodrama, corny jokes and witty ditties.
At various venues in Northern California. Free, but donations welcome.

People in Plazas Concert Series

July 9-October 4, weekdays at noon
Nearly each weekday this summer, get a lunchtime musical break at one or more plazas scattered from the Embarcadero and SoMa to the Castro. Performers include Andre Thierry, Amanda King, Saddle Cats, Shabang and City Opera SF.
At 18 public plazas, most of them on or near Market Street, San Francisco.

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