You could be entertained all summer and well into October 2014 for free in San Francisco. With the long days and nice weather, live music, dance and performing arts series pop up in parks and plazas 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.
Dozens of music, dance, art and theater acts, reflecting cultures all over the globe, are presented outdoors. There are Thursday lunchtime concerts, monthly poetry readings, a salsa dance party on the third Thursday evening of the month, interactive performances and entertainment for kids on Fridays and Saturdays, and more, starring the likes of the John Santos Sextet, Pacific Mambo Orchestra, Unique Derique, the soprano winner of Sweden’s 2014 Jenny Lind scholarship and Circus Bella. The rich line up is capped by Halloween fun and a costume parade on Oct. 26.
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.
June 6-Aug. 29, Fridays (except July 4) at 8:30–10 pm
Professional instructors teach a different style or dance each week (including the tango, cha cha, merengue and Electric Slide) and then open up the space to a dance party.
At Jack London Square, at the foot of Broadway, Oakland. Info: (510) 645-9292.
For 77 summers, concerts and performances have been presented in this natural amphitheater surrounded by redwoods and firs and scented with eucalyptus. This year’s series opens with Smokey Robinson and Patti Austin, and includes Rufus Wainwright, Darlene Love, Sergio Mendes and the San Francisco Symphony. 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.
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival honors the Bard this summer by performing the romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew, with its sparring couple, disguises and clowns.
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).
A long-time revolutionary, a tech inventor and an immigrant-turned-patriot each has reasons to despise the others—until they find themselves on the same boat in San Francisco Bay. The satirical troupe takes on Google buses and their protesters, the Tea Party, San Francisco’s stratospheric rents, the Ellis Act and other hot symbols and issues, while delivering its trademark slapstick, melodrama, corny jokes and witty ditties.
At various venues in San Francisco, the Bay Area and Northern California. Free, but donations welcome.
July 9-October 3, various dates (mostly Wednesdays through Fridays, plus Sundays)
Get a lunchtime musical break at more than a dozen plazas scattered from the Financial District and SoMa to the Castro. Performers include Andre Thierry, Amanda King, Saddle Cats, Sonny Holland and City Opera SF.
At various public plazas, most of them on or near Market Street, San Francisco.