San Francisco's major parades and festivals are notoriously creative, energetic, and often off-the-wall. Among the hundreds of events on the city's annual calendar, here are the ones that are especially characteristic and fun.
Chinese New Year, February. This celebration in North America's largest Chinatown lasts for almost three weeks. The grand finale is the spectacularly loud, crowded, and colorful Golden Dragon Parade, which rocks with firecrackers. If you don't want to stand on the sidewalk for hours in advance, buy bleacher seats. Contact the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (415/982–3071 www.chineseparade.com) for more info.
St. Patrick's Day, March. Held on the Saturday closest to March 17, the festival includes Irish dance and music and a parade through downtown.
St. Stupid's Day Parade, April. The First Church of the Last Laugh (www.saintstupid.com) holds this fantastically funny event on—when else?—April 1. Hundreds of people wander through the Financial District dressed in elaborate costumes (although there are fewer drag queens than on Halloween). Parade goers toss singular socks at the Stock Exchange, lob losing lottery tickets at the Federal Reserve, and sing their way down Columbus Avenue.
San Francisco International Film Festival, April and May. The country's longest-running film festival packs in audiences with premieres, international films, and rarities. Check the listings (415/561–5000 festival.sffs.org) well in advance; screenings can sell out quickly.
Cinco de Mayo Festival, May. On the Sunday closest to May 5, the Mission District boils with activity, including a vibrant parade, Mexican music, and dancing in the streets.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Celebration, June. More than half a million people come to join the world's largest pride event, with a downtown parade roaring to a start by leather-clad Dykes on Bikes. If you're visiting around this time—usually the last weekend of June—book your hotel far ahead (415/864–0831 www.sfpride.org).
San Francisco Open Studios, October. More than 700 artists open their studios to the public. It's a great window into the local fine-arts scene (415/861–9838 www.artspan.org).
Dance-Along Nutcracker, December. This holiday tradition, part spoof and part warmhearted family event, was started by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band (www.sflgfb.org). You can join the dancers onstage or simply toss snowflakes from the audience.