San Francisco: Things to Do in Autumn

This is the best time of year to visit San Francisco. Late September, October and early November offer the best chance of clear skies, uninterrupted sunshine, warm temperatures and low rainfall, and the city’s famous fog – often at its most prevalent during the height of summer – all but disappears.

You’ll still be able to enjoy long walks in the Presidio, bike rides over the Golden Gate Bridge, outdoor dining and picnics in the park, but if that’s not enough we’ve put together a quick guide to some of the city’s best seasonal events…


SF Open Studios 2011

Hunter's Point Shipyard Open Studios San Francisco by Orin Zebest on Flickr

Hunter’s Point Shipyard Open Studios San Francisco by Orin Zebest on Flickr


Organised by Artspan, a Bay area organisation whose aim is to connect the public to the visual arts, SF Open Studios is an event taking place across all five weekends in October. Art lovers can follow various self-guided tours across a diverse collection of city neighbourhoods for a unique peek into the lives of working artists. Browse the extensive artist directory to see who is opening their doors this year, and download maps from the website. You can also pick up a glossy guide at more than 300 locations throughout the city.


Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings performing at a previous Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival by vonlohmann on Flickr

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings perform at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass by vonlohmann on Flickr


Fancy a bit of banjo and fiddle? Head over to Speedway, Lindley and Marx Meadows in Golden Gate Park this coming weekend (Fri 30th Sept-Sun 2nd Oct) for the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Featuring an extensive, high quality lineup over six stages this is definitely not just some beardy foot-stomping gala only for serious bluegrass aficionados. This is one of the biggest – and best – music festivals in the country, and fans of the whole alt-country spectrum of authentic rootsy Americana – folk, bluegrass, country, blues, rock – will be catered for by artists as varied and well-loved as Kris Kristofferson & Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, the Jayhawks and Robert Plant. Best of all, it’s completely free.


Fleet Week

USS Pinckney passes under Golden Gate Bridge © Official U.S Navy Imagery

USS Pinckney passes under Golden Gate Bridge © Official U.S Navy Imagery


A week-long display of military might in the United States’ most pacifist and liberal-leaning city might seem like something of an oxymoron, but every year thousands of people line the Golden Gate Bridge and waterfront at Marina Green Park and Fisherman’s Wharf to watch Fleet Week kick off with a huge parade of Navy ships coming into dock. During the week (Thurs 6th Oct-Tues 11th Oct) many of the frigates, destroyers and coast guard vessels open up for free public tours conducted by crew members, but it’s the aerial display by the Blue Angels, the Navy’s official flight demonstration squadron, which always steals the show. It takes place during Fleet Week’s air show on the Saturday afternoon, but for a less-crowded alternative, catch one of the practice sessions on Thursday or Friday.


San Francisco Jazz Festival

San Francisco Jazz Festival 2011 from Allan Barredo on Vimeo.


The San Francisco Jazz Festival is a big deal. Already underway, the 29th annual festival plays on across the city all the way through to the 18th December, with performances at landmark venues including historic Bimbo’s 365 Club where Rita Hayworth once kicked her legs in the chorus line, neo-Gothic Grace Cathedral, site of Duke Ellington’s 1965 Concert of Sacred Music and the Great American Music Hall, the oldest club in San Francisco. Every sub-genre that you can think of is represented””Cuban, Brazilian bossanova, even Tuvan throat singing. Those wishing to catch big name jazz legends like McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter should consider booking tickets sharpish. The full catalogue is viewable online.


Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival pie-eating competition

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival pie-eating competition


While we’re not absolutely convinced that it’s “world-famous”, there’s no denying that the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival is one of the biggest local gatherings in California, and it’s definitely one of the most popular. It takes place in the tiny coastal town of Half Moon Bay, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway; a region known for its rich, fertile farmland full of pick-your-own pumpkin patches. The central hub of town is the renovated Main Street, full of galleries, craft shops and pavement cafes housed in restored 19th century buildings, and on the third weekend in October (Sat 15th-Sun 16th this year) the population swells from 11,000 to more than 300,000. All manner of pumpkin-themed events take place over the weekend but most people come to gawp at the parade of astoundingly gargantuan pumpkins taking part in the annual weigh-off (last year’s winner topped the scales at a mind-boggling 1,535 lbs) or to marvel at the hollow stomachs of entrants in the whipped-cream-loaded pumpkin pie eating competition.

Thanks to Orin Zebest,  jondoeforty1 and Official U.S Navy Imagery on Flickr.

Check out our recent guide to some of San Francisco’s Best Coffee Shops.

Virgin Atlantic operates a daily flight to San Francisco from London Heathrow. Visit for the latest fares, and check out Virgin Holidays for a tailor-made California trip.

About Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.
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