Stern Grove to Pier 39: Time to gear up for free music season (plus a little juggling)

Believe it or not, some of the best times to be enjoyed in this beautiful city require zero funds. Sounds crazy for a tech leading city—home of the average $13 dollar burrito—where thrift and consignment store-bought clothes sometimes require a payday advance for purchase.

Wait what’s that? Did I just eat an edible? You’re asking if I’m on that Babby Powder yammering on about free entertainment in this City In The Clouds? Well Sparky, that’s none of your business. But I get it. Gas prices are through the roof, and a housing crisis in the Bay persists like Bum Jovi jamming forever in The Mission. Kombucha and your fave green juice cost as much as an artisanal beer. Man, you need a break.

Well over the next couple of months, as more events come online (fingers crossed for People in Plazas), we will be providing suggestions on how you can enjoy yourself for free. You deserve it, Bub!

Enjoy these events:

Stern Grove photo by Estefany Gonzalez

Stern Grove Festival

The Stern Grove Festival, San Francisco’s longest-running outdoor music concert will make a prosperous return to Sigmund Stern Grove for its 85th season beginning June 12, with the music lineup revealing a schedule for Tuesday, May 3. Continuing a tradition that began in 1938, The multi-genre outdoor music festival will once again be home to weekly performances—every Sunday from June 12-Aug 14th this year—from some of today’s most sought-after acts, in addition to local established and up-and-coming performers throughout the summer season.

The Grove experienced extensive damage last fall due to a major water main rupture, and while all renovations are not yet complete, the outdoor venue has now been approved for in-person audiences again this summer. You’re going to have to hover near your computer for tickets: 12 days prior to each event, an online portal will be opened at the Stern Grove site to offer free passes on a first-come, first-served basis.

Past Festival performers include Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Thundercat, Fitz & The Tantrums, The Isley Brothers, Smokey Robinson, Kool & the Gang, Janelle Monáe, Toots & the Maytals, Perfume Genius, Mavis Staples, The Psychedelic Furs, Mitski, Pink Martini, Ziggy Marley, Ozomatli, Digable Planets, Carlos Santana, Sheila E., and many more.

Visit here for updates.

Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids played Yerba Buena Gardens in 2021. Photo by John-Paul Shiver

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

Returning for its 22nd year, the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival taking place from May-Oct this year, and features a stunning lineup of over 100 free outdoor music, theater, circus, dance, and children’s programs. All at Yerba Buena Gardens in the heart of downtown SF. (Grab a slice of yummy Detroit-style pizza while you’re there)

The season kicks off Saturday, May 7 at 1pm with all-star Cuban percussionist Jesús Díaz y su Habana Afro-Cuban Ensemble, featuring Bay Area jazz heavyweights Jeff Cressman (trombone), Karl Perazzo (percussion), and Melecio Magdaluyo (saxophones) with Havana-born masters including powerhouse pianist and vocalist Ariacne Trujillo Duran, trumpeter Leider Chapotín and drummer Raul Pineda Roque. Pre-show starts with an opening set from the electrifying Chulita Vinyl Club at 12:30pm.

Take a look at the entire festival season here.

The Golden Gate Park Band reforms at the Golden Gate Bandshell

Golden Gate Bandshell Concerts

Live music plays on at the Golden Gate Bandshell’s recognizable and historic stage with another season of free outdoor performances in Golden Gate Park. The all-ages concerts have already started and will run through November, following in the footsteps of the 2021 schedule with singer-songwriter/folk/rock Wednesdays, jazz and soul Friday happy hours, cultural and community performances on Saturdays, and reggae Sundays, as well as many special events. By far one of the coolest hang-out sessions in the city to peep tunes, people watch, or just shake it in the sun or shade (depending on how Karl The Fog is feeling), this summertime hang remains a successful community builder for the city. Don’t forget to catch the adorable and rousing 139-year-old Golden Gate Park Band on Sundays at 1pm.

So glad it’s back. You can check out the schedule here.


Do not think it’s the California Sea Lions who have all the opportunities at Pier 39 this summer.

Stunning vistas and cool breezes off the bay just add to the non-stop entertainment happening just off the water. With musicians, acrobats, magicians, and rope walkers touting their expertise you can bank on something wacky and fun-loving happening down at the pier this year alongside marine mammals and seabirds grifting in support of a garlic fries lifestyle. Get in there for an update!

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