Memorial Day is a special day designed to honor all of the American soldiers who have died in wars across history. It has also come to be a fun weekend holiday for many people since it marks the start of summer. It doesn’t require the extensive planning of a big holiday, like Christmas, but instead offers a great chance to just relax and enjoy quality time with friends and family. So how should you spend the Memorial Day Weekend if you’re in San Francisco? It’s up to you since the city’s options range from traditional ceremonies to barbecue in park to off-the-wall annual events.
San Francisco Memorial Day Top Picks
Do you want to be where everyone else is going to be for Memorial Day in San Francisco. Here are the top two choices for you:
- Visit The Presidio. The Presidio of San Francisco is a former military neighborhood that has been transformed into a beautiful hiking spot with a great view. This National Historic Landmark still has the old military buildings and offers traditional Memorial Day services. This includes a parade that ends at the San Francisco National Cemetery, which is the burial home of more than 35,000 veterans and their family members. This ceremony includes commemorations, a flyover, and a 21-gun salute and is the largest Memorial Day event in the city.
- USS Pampanito bells. The USS Pampanito is a submarine museum in San Francisco that is located in the popular tourist area of Fisherman’s Wharf. Visitors who are only in town for the weekend can enjoy all of the attractions of the area and also celebrate a traditional Memorial Day event by checking out the Sunday afternoon ceremony here. 52 bells will be rung to honor the number of US submarines lost in World War II. There will also be bagpipe music.
Annual Memorial Day Events in San Francisco
Every year there are certain events that make San Francisco stand out against other cities for Memorial Day weekend:
- Golden Gate Festival. This is an annual community event celebrating the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco creativity and culture. In 2012 it is in its 75th year. The huge event includes educational and entertainment exhibits, performances and activities at a variety of different locations including Fort Mason, Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. All events are free and it culminates in a fireworks show. This is a great one for locals as well as visitors. Want to do something special on Memorial Day Weekend? Hornblower offers a special dinner cruise with a view of the fireworks show.
- San Francisco’s Carnaval. One of the most popular annual Memorial Day weekend events in San Francisco is one that doesn’t have anything at all to do with Memorial Day. It’s Carnaval, a Latin American celebration of dance, music and food that takes place in The Mission neighborhood. The celebratory atmosphere, which includes a Sunday morning parade, is a wonderful family-friendly event.
- USS San Francisco Memorial. Another top pick is the annual ceremony that takes place on the USS San Francisco Memorial. Located at Lands End in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area this is a beautiful spot that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It’s a great place to enjoy a beautiful day with a traditional Memorial Day celebration.
Where to Barbecue in San Francisco
One of the most popular Memorial Day activities across the nation is to enjoy an outdoor barbecue. Spots are limited for doing so in San Francisco. Even people who live in the city often don’t have a yard where they can barbecue. But there are a few options. Here are some places to enjoy a barbecue in San Francisco:
- Crissy Field. This is the number one spot to barbecue in San Francisco. It’s located near The Presidio so you’ll be close to many of the city’s Memorial Day events. It’s right on the bay so you’ll enjoy a great view. Just be forewarned that it gets packed here on Memorial Day weekend so you’ll need to plan ahead!
- Golden Gate Park. Some of the picnic areas in Golden Gate Park do offer barbecue grills. Permits are required, though, so you definitely have to make your reservations in advance. There are also some areas of the park where small personal barbecues are allowed; check with the park about specific rules.
- Dolores Park. This great park offers one of the best views in the city. There are also a few tables where you’re allowed to set up a barbecue grill.
Just Outside of San Francisco
There are plenty of things to do inside of San Francisco on Memorial Day weekend but there are also some great events in the surrounding Bay Area to consider as you plan your itinerary.
- Himalayan Fair. Some people prefer to spend Memorial Day celebrating peace. A great Memorial Day weekend event for that is the annual Himalayan Fair in Berkeley. This event celebrates a variety of Himalayan cultures such as those of India, Nepal and Tibet. It’s a craft fair with unique music and performances. San Francisco visitors can easily get there by taking BART to downtown Berkeley.
- Oakland Memorial Day Parade. 2012 marks the 91st anniversary of a huge Memorial Day parade and commemoration ceremony. It’s located at Mountain View Cemetery, which is an attraction itself as a historic cemetery filled with fountains, a mausoleum and unique gardens including a flowering pear garden. A Memorial Day Civil War plot tour is available. You can get to this event by taking BART and then taking the local #12 bus in Oakland.
- Angel Island State Park. Take the ferry over to this island for a beautiful view of the San Francisco skyline. There are barbecue pits available so it’s a top spot for enjoying a day out in the fresh air with your friends and family.
Memorial Day Off the Beaten Path
San Franciscans and the city’s visitors can always find odd, off-the-beaten path events to enjoy in the city. Here are some options for Memorial Day:
- Races. There is a variety of running and walking races in San Francisco throughout the year and Memorial Day is no exception. In 2012 check out the Strawberry Waffle Dash, a 5K Memorial Day race through Golden Gate Park that ends with waffles at the finish line.
- San Francisco Cup. Soccer games are played all weekend long on more than one dozen fields in three different locations in San Francisco. If you enjoy the sport then catch a game or two during the weekend festivities.
Memorial Day: Where To Stay
There are so many great hotels to enjoy in San Francisco that you can’t go wrong no matter where you choose. For Memorial Day weekend, there are a few especially good options:
- Lombard Street Budget Hotels. If you want to be close to the big activities near the Presidio while also saving some money then you should check out the numerous great budget hotels located on Lombard Street (west of the famous crooked part of the street),
- Fisherman’s Wharf Hotels. There are many Memorial Day activities happening near Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. If you’re feeling active you can even hike from here along the bay to the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge events.
- Embarcadero. If you are planning to take BART to one of the Memorial Day activities in the East Bay then the most convenient hotels for you will be those located near the Embarcadero. For example, you might want to stay at the Harbor Court Hotel.
Have a great, safe Memorial Day weekend in San Francisco!