Halloween costumes in store windows, pumpkin-spice lattes on café menus, and Sunday football on TV at every sports bar in town… must be summer in San Francisco!
We know what you're thinking, but no, that's not a typo. See, while the rest of the country is starting to experience the beginning of autumn in all its festive, chilly glory, we in San Francisco are getting the best of both worlds: all the fun of fall, plus sunny skies and a break from our famous fog. In fact, locals often refer to September and October as "San Francisco summer," and it just may be the best time of the year to visit.
So, in celebration of our quirky local climate, we're letting you in on all the reasons why now's the time to get out to San Francisco for some summer thrills.
Because festival season's just getting good.
In fact, several of the city's signature outdoor music events save themselves – wisely – for the "autumn" days when tourist crowds thin and locals come out to party in the sunshine.
Now in its 14th year, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass isn't just wildly popular – it's also 100% free to attend. This three-day festival, founded by a local philanthropist and music lover, brings together musicians from genres as eclectic as the name suggests (don't overlook the "hardly" in "Hardly Strictly"): past performers have spanned everyone from MC Hammer to Gogol Bordello, Bonnie Raitt to comedian-turned-banjo-virtuoso Steve Martin.
The 2014 schedule promises to be just as exciting, with over 80 acts already announced and more to come. Day-by-day schedules for each of the festival's four stages aren't released until just before the event, but you can see an up-to-date list of all the performers online now: stand-outs like Roseann Cash, Chris Isaak, T Bone Burnett, Yo La Tengo, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Conor Oberst are sure to draw huge crowds, so show up early with your picnic blanket in hand and be prepared to stake out a good spot on the lawn! (October 3, 4, and 5, Hellman Hollow, Golden Gate Park)
There are more huge names performing out in the middle of the Bay on October 18 and 19. The Treasure Island Music Festival, which takes place each year on a manmade island looking out onto downtown San Francisco, isn't free, but its epic line-ups draw hordes of happy customers each year nonetheless. This year's headliners will include Outkast and Massive Attack, plus Janelle Monáe, TV on the Radio, and more than 20 other acts. Tickets are a bit of a splurge but include shuttle pick-up from the Bill Graham Civic Center, a stone's throw from HI-SF City Center.
Because you can still eat, drink, and shop yourself silly in the sun.
Some of our favorite outdoor events move inside – or go on hiatus – once real autumn sets in. The good news is that the final, true throes of summer are the perfect time to send the festivities out with a bang.
For fun in the sun -- plus a side of antiques, upcycled clothing, local crafts, and lots of eats and drinks – high-tail it across the Bay Bridge to the Treasure Island Flea over the last weekend of October or November. Come December, the huge outdoor gathering of buyers, sellers, craftspeople, and food trucks will take a break for the holidays; by January they'll all have moved inside for the winter.
Treasure Island's a quick (and, at $2.25, cheap) bus trip from downtown San Francisco, but if you feel like staying on the mainland, you're in luck: the people who put on the Treasure Island Flea each month have brought a new Friday Night Market to the city – and it's only running in September and October. From 4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. on Fridays through the end of October, start your weekend early at UN Plaza by perusing the merchandise up for sale by 45 local vendors, listening to live music, sampling local craft brews and wines at a pop-up beer garden, and gorging yourself on SF's best street food courtesy of an on-site "food-truck alley." Best of all, UN Plaza's just a few minutes' walk from HI-SF City Center!
What's that – you're still hungry? Then chow down at Off the Grid's Picnic at the Presidio, where food's served out of trucks, tents, and carts across a massive lawn. Whether you're craving Indian, Vietnamese, BBQ, burgers, grilled cheese, or even a gourmet crème brûlée, make sure you show up hungry. Picnics run from 11:00 – 4:00 p.m. on Sundays, but only through October 26. Thursday nights through October 26, the Presidio also hosts a "Twilight Picnic" with the same crazy-delicious food options plus cocktails, live bands, and even fire pits and mini-tent-cabanas (seriously) to keep you cozy when the evening gets chilly.
Because beach season has finally arrived.
In San Francisco, autumn is beach season. It seems counter-intuitive, sure, but consider this: even Karl the Fog, the lovable misty menace who hangs around the city all year, needs a vacation. Karl does a brief disappearing act in the early months of fall, making this the perfect time to get out and enjoy swimsuit weather on Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, and Crissy Field. It's often even clear enough in the evenings to enjoy the extraordinary sunsets that give SF's outermost neighborhood its name.
Because seasonal treats are best served cold.
You want specifics? Let's talk ice cream: San Francisco's got two small-scale ice cream spots so beloved, just about any local you ask will have a favorite she fiercely defends against the competition. In the interest of fairness, we recommend you try both and decide for yourself: Make your way out Bi-Rite Creamery in the Lower Haight neighborhood or the Mission District for scoops of honey-lavender, roasted banana, brown-sugar-ginger, balsamic strawberry, and other unexpected flavors – just be prepared to wait in line if it's a sunny day. In another corner of the Mission District, you can get experimental with beet-, foie gras-, Guinness-, or Vietnamese-coffee-flavored ice cream at Humphry Slocombe. (Purists, never fear: their menu's also well stocked with more traditional – but still outrageously good – flavors.) If you can't make it out to the Mission, stop by Humphry Slocombe's location in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero.
Wherever in the city you find yourself, it's a safe bet you can get San Francisco's favorite ice cream treat just around the corner. Don’t leave the Bay Area without trying an It's-It, a sweet-tooth's dream born in San Francisco in 1928. A scoop of ice cream (vanilla, mint, chocolate, and cappuccino are the old stand-bys, but the company's released strawberry and pumpkin versions especially for the summer) between two oatmeal cookies, dipped in dark chocolate and then (we have reason to believe) blessed by the very gods themselves, you can pick up an It's-It (or 12) at just about any corner store or supermarket in the city.
If sweets aren't your thing, never fear: the city has plenty of frosty liquid treats for you to enjoy, as well. Check out Thrillist's list of the best late-summer brews and cocktails SF has to offer right this very moment and, if you've got your SPF handy, the best outdoor patios on which to enjoy them.
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