Memorial Day is a day of tribute and celebration of U.S. veterans and victims of war, but for many it is a major holiday for recreation, arts, and entertainment. Particularly in San Francisco, Memorial Day weekend is infamous for its melting pot of cultural events that celebrate this diverse country as well as the city’s own colorful plethora of arts and history. In fact, there can be such an abundance of places to go and people to see in San Francisco on Memorial Day weekend, it may take a little planning ahead to decide on your own holiday itinerary. Whether your weekend to-do list includes a day of leisure, some fun in the sun for the family, or a foray into San Francisco’s lively night life, check out this Memorial Day 2019 inspo for all ages.
Every year on Memorial Day, The National Cemetery in the Presidio hosts a day of tribute and remembrance for the veterans who have died for our country. The event is open and free to all, and features a parade through the Presidio that begins at Main Post and ends at the National Cemetery. For the sake of tradition, it always begins with the 191st Army Band followed closely by veterans’ organizations and distinguished guests of honor. The parade begins at 10:30 a.m. and wraps up around 11:00 at the cemetery, where guests, family, and friends congregate for the formal party. Several speakers, including local veterans and politicians, make speeches in honor of the heroes that have served our country throughout U.S. history. The official program concludes at noon with the 21-Gun Salute. This final tribute is conducted by the U.S. Army’s 75th Pacific Division.
A Few Tips for Visiting the San Francisco National Cemetery
The cemetery is located in the north central part of the Presidio, within SF city limits. To access it by car, you’ll need to drive through the Presidio, entering through either the Lombard or Arguello Gates. Follow the signs to the Main Post, and then drive past the post to Sheridan Avenue. From here, it is only three blocks off Montgomery Street. Another, slightly more scenic option is to park near the Main Post and walk to the cemetery.
The gates to the cemetery are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, including weekends, and admission is always free. Near the entrance gates is a kiosk that allows you to search for those buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery. If you search by last name, the kiosk provides you with the number and location of the person you are looking for.
Other Local Tributes and Events Honoring Veterans on MDW
The Submarine “Lost Boat” Ceremony takes place each year on the USS Pampanito, located at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 45. This year it will be held on Monday, May 28th, 2019 (Memorial Day). The “Lost Boat” Ceremony is a heartfelt, historical tradition that features 52 bell tolls for each boat and crew that was lost at sea. The ceremony is free, and anyone is welcome to join submarine veterans, locals, and tourists as they honor veterans who lost their lives at sea while fighting for our country.
The USS Hornet Memorial Day Ceremony convenes on Memorial Day at 11 a.m. onboard the Bay Area’s famed “floating museum”, the USS Hornet. The Hornet houses a multitude of nostalgic exhibits, including 13 Navy and Marine aircraft. Fun fact: The Hornet has the West Coast’s largest collection of Apollo Moon Mission artifacts. Tours of the ship will be ongoing throughout the day. Admission is free for veterans. For everyone else, it is $20 for adults, &15 for adults with Military I.D., and &10 for youth ages 7-17. Children of 6 and under are admitted for free with a paying adult. Making children a part of this event is a great way to make learning about history fun for children, and they are likely to remember it for many years to come.
Memorial Day Weekend is for Sports Lovers
The San Francisco Giants are scheduled to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game series that begins on Friday night at San Francisco. Their Saturday and Sunday games will be played at Oracle Park (you may still know it as AT&T park). Get game and travel tips on the San Francisco Tourism Tips website at https://www.sftourismtips.com/san-francisco-giants-schedule.html.
Across the SF Bay at the Oakland Coliseum, the A’s will play the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a four-game event that begins on May 24th and ends on the 27th.
Family Fun, Pop Culture, and Tourism
Carnaval San Francisco is one of the largest, most popular Memorial Day weekend celebrations in San Francisco. Each year, locals and tourists head in droves to this exuberant two-day celebration in the Mission District. Carnaval San Francisco celebrates Latin American and Caribbean arts and traditions with vibrant music and dance performances. Each year the festival has a theme, and each music and dance group expresses it uniquely with their own flair and style. Children will be delighted by the glittering costumes, vibrant festivities, and glamorous professional performances. Arts and crafts activities are also available on both days. This phenomenal display of culture, arts, and entertainment will begin this year on May 25th, 2019 and continue into the next day. As always, the highlight will be the spectacular Grand Parade on Sunday, May 26th. It begins at 9:30 a.m. and wraps up around 2 p.m. The festival in its entirety runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days.
The parade begins on 24th and Bryant streets, then continues west to Mission Street. From there, it heads north to 17th Street, and finishes out with a colorful bang where 17th meets Harrison.
Other Festivals and Festivities
BottleRock Napa Valley is one of the best loved music festivals in the SF Bay Area on MDW. Starting on May 24th and ending on May 26th, this Napa Valley event has a star-studded lineup featuring Pharrell Williams, Imagine Dragons, Santana, Neil Young, and many other famous bands and artists. To sweeten the deal, there will be award-winning culinary treats and the world’s most famous wine and brew. The festival begins at 11:30 a.m. and doesn’t stop until 10 p.m. each night at the Napa Valley Expo.
Bay Area Cruises, Big Bus Tours, and So Much More
New to the city or simply love it and want to take a scenic route through the afternoon? 60-minute Bay Cruises are a San Francisco favorite. Departing from Fisherman’s Wharf, the cruises take travelers around the beautiful bay several times a day. Cruises usually cost $33 per person, but using Goldstar, tickets are only available at a savings of $20.
One of the most popular cruises based at Fisherman’s Wharf is the 2-hour San Francisco Bay Twilight and Sunset Cruise with Drunk 2019. Whisking you across San Francisco Bay, it’s the perfect choice for couples looking for a romantic evening with bewitching city views. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Sausalito, and the Marina District Sail are remarkable from the vantage point of passengers, and complimentary background music sets an ambient mood. Cruisers like to sit back, relax with a wine or soda from the full bar, and watch as the night lights up the city. A delicious appetizer buffet and full bar are compliments of the cruise.
Festivals and cruises aside, Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to take advantage of another fun-filled attraction designed especially for tourists. A fast and easy way to take in the city while still saving time on your vacation, Hop On Hop Off tours are scattered throughout San Francisco. Similar to bus tours you might see in New York City, Hop On Hop Off tour tours are just what you’d expect- open-top, double-decker bus rides that offer passengers the chance to hop off at any of its stops, sightsee to their heart’s’ content, and hop back on. Then it’s on to the next.
Tours can last all day and offer 24 different stops to explore. These include classic SF landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, and Pier 39. There’s also plenty of time to explore the city on foot. The tour includes three walking tours of Chinatown, North Beach, and the Barbary Coast. For many people and families, there’s really no better way to see so many world-famous landmarks in the space of a day or night.
Other SF Hop on Hop Off Tours include the City Sightseeing Hop on Hop Off Tour, the Big Bus San Francisco Sightseeing and Alcatraz Combo, and more. Tours range from $60 to &80 dollars depending on time, length, and features. (Goldstar prices are better: $32.29- $46.74). For a list of the top ten, visit https://www.viator.com/San-Francisco-tours/Hop-on-Hop-off-Tours/d651-g12-c97 and find the one that’s right for you.
We can’t talk about San Francisco tourism without catering to food lovers and dining connoisseurs. The Chinatown Food Tour is a taste of foodie heaven. Passengers take a sidewalk tour of the Chinatown district as they learn about the historic culture and foods that originate from Hong Kong and mainland China. They sample delicious Mandarin, Cantonese, and Szechuan cuisine from five Chinese from authentic Chinese-owned and operated restaurants and bakeries. These tours are available on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. for what we think is a more than reasonable price- just $69 (Goldstar price is $48).
The San Francisco Public Library also offers daily free walking tours that are popular for tourists on Memorial Day weekend. Tours include classic destinations such as the Golden Gate Bridge, and some provide access into hidden gems and more obscure locations in the city that the public does not otherwise have access to. This makes SF Public Library tours a worthy investment not only for tourists, but also for locals. San Francisco is such a big, multi-faceted city that even most natives have not seen all there is to see. These tours are run by volunteers who are either from San Francisco or have been living in the city for a long time. Tour guides have a vast knowledge of the city’s ins and outs, and a wealth of facts, fiction, and anecdotes that will fascinate locals and tourists alike. One interesting SF Public Library tour is a journey into impact of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire that devastated much of the city and eventually gave birth to many new communities and establishments.
What’s great about these tours is that you don’t have to make reservations to join them- just show up 10 minutes before they start, locate the guide (he or she will be gathering guests with a clipboard in hand), and get to walking.
Weekend at the Theater
The San Francisco theater district shows hundreds of plays, musicals, and traveling Broadway performances each year. Some of the larger SF theaters are currently playing popular shows like Hamilton, Les Miserables, and Come From Away. For those who prefer smaller, more eclectic shows, San Francisco has also has many small-scale, intimate theaters, such as the SF Playhouse in Union Square. Broadway fans need not go to New York to catch a traveling show at the Golden Gate Theater, the Orpheum theater, and the Curran. These Broadway-based shows come with their sets and actors, and are remarkably similar to the ones you see in New York. If children are accompanying you to the theater, The Lion King is playing at multiple theaters along with other classic children’s favorites.
This Memorial Day weekend, the most popular show in San Francisco is the award-winning Hamilton, a musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life and untimely death. It will be playing throughout the weekend from May 24th to 26th (and of course at prior and future dates as well). The iconic Cabernet will begin showing at the SF Playhouse on May 26th- a perfect kick-start to Memorial Day weekend. Other top shows will be The View Upstairs at the New Conservatory and Significant Other at the SF Playhouse.
San Francisco is also a hotspot for the film industry, and full of cult classic movie-goers. This Memorial Day weekend, you can catch The Fifth Element Anniversary Screening at Roxie Theatre on the fly. The sci-fi drama is screening on Saturday as part of a double feature with another iconic favorite, Run Lola Run.
Contemporary Fun and SF Nightlife
For 20 and 30-somethings or those seeking a contemporary scene on Memorial Day weekend, the sky’s the limit in San Francisco. There is really no shortage of contemporary events, trendy venues for MDW parties, dances, and raves, so we’ll take time out to mention the most eye-catching of 2019.
Sponsored by Public Works, Club 90s: Digital Love is a blast to the past in all its retro glory. DJs will indulge dancers and 90s nostalgia enthusiasts in a night of late 90s and early 0s dance, EDM, and rave classics. Thirty-somethings will be especially moved by the rhythms, but everyone over 21 is welcome.
Lush Lounge is another favorite neighborhood spot with great happy hour specials featuring $3 Heineken beers, $4 glasses of select wines, and a variety of $6 cocktails.
Flashing forward to the future (i.e., the next morning), a good investment of your day time is a yearly fundraiser hosted by SF Oasis. This Sunday Fundraiser for Gays in Chechnya benefits the persecuted gay community in Chechnya by raising money via a host of fun events: Raffles, beer busts, excellent food, and performances from Scarlet Letter and Laundra Thyme are just a few of them. Raised funds go directly to American Friends of the Rainbow and The LGBT Asylum Project.
Cooling Down: Samatha/Vissipana Group Meditation Retreat
For an alternative way to spend this bustling holiday, this San Francisco Group Meditation event offers a restful retreat that lasts the entire weekend. You don’t haveto have a special skill level to join to join- anyone seeking silence and self-reflection is welcome. Retreats begin with an extended period of Noble silence in which there’s very little talking, activity, or distraction. There is a daily check-in with instruction and a nightly dharma talk that gives group members a chance to freely ask questions and discuss answers.
This retreat will be led by a clinical psychologist and meditation instructor who studied meditation with experts like Upasaka Culadasa (the author of The Mind Illuminated). The retreat will combine ancient meditation techniques with cognitive science, so it’s as modern as it is rooted in its historical origins. Tickets are available on Eventbrite and other online resources. The cost of the retreat is a sliding scale that ranges anywhere from $280 to $380, and includes housing as well as vegetarian meals and snacks for the weekend.
Travel Tips for the Road (or Bus or Train)
San Francisco is a notoriously big city, but luckily it has several reliable transportation systems to help you navigate it. Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) is the fastest, easiest way to get from San Francisco International Airport into the city- and to get around SF once you’re in the heart of it. BART costs depend on how far you travel. A round-trip BART fare from SFO to downtown San Francisco is about $20, and $10 one-way.
San Francisco is notoriously environmentally friendly. So it should come as no surprise that it’s home to a network of fuel-efficient buses, light rail Metro trains, streetcars and cable cars that cover the entire city. The line is called Muni, and it’s convenient, environmentally friendly, and surprisingly affordable.
It goes without saying that the SF community is served by increasingly popular rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft. Fares vary according to travel times, but it typically takes half an hour and costs $30-40 to get from SFO to popular San Francisco areas like Union Square.
Places to Stay in San Francisco
If you’re on a tight travel budget, which many vacations are, San Francisco has no shortage of affordable major hotel chains. The Knights Inn, Super 8, and America’s Best Value Inn are all conveniently within walking distance of the Presidio, Pier 39, and Fisherman’s Wharf. The Days In,, Travelodge at Golden Gate, and Comfort Inn by the Bay are a few other budget-friendly chains within close vicinity of the Marina District and the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge.
If luxury is your goal, there are still ways to avoid breaking the bank at luxury-level prices. San Francisco is home hotels like The Ritz-Carlton, The Four Seasons, and The St. Regis, but even at this pinnacle of luxury you can reduce expenses by booking in advance, dining out inexpensively, and taking cheap transportation to and from the city.
Airbnbs are increasing in popularity by the season. This is generally for two reasons: The locals offering up their rooms, condos, apartments, and homes at affordable prices tend to know the city best. Also, some Airbnb options sleep up to eight or more people, making traveling in numbers much easier than it has ever been before. Even inexpensive chain hotels and motels can quickly tear through your budget if you’re renting rooms for more than a few people on your trip. Currently, some rooms on busy Haight Street are renting for under $100 dollars a night. You can also rent an entire sprawling Victorian on Haight Street for prices starting at $150 per night- the price of just one room at a moderate hotel in the city. Besides, there’s an element of novelty to unique housing options that adds to the experience of staying in such a big, beautiful city.
In such a melting pot of culture, it’s essential to have the right knowledge and travel-savviness to navigate the world-class city of San Francisco- and enjoy it to the fullest on Memorial Day weekend. It’s impossible to cover even a quarter of things to do in the city on MDW, but we hope this mini-guide gave you some travel inspiration and know-how for your own SF adventure. Stay tuned for more SF-related posts about travel resources, fun events, and more!