Everything you need to know about Carnaval San Francisco

Carnaval San Francisco which takes place in the Mission District of San Francisco attracts 400,000 people every year and is the most diverse carnival celebration on the west coast.


May 23rd 2020


May 24th, 2020 

Days to start

What is Carnaval San Francisco?

carnaval san francisco

While New Orleans has Mardi Gras and San Francisco has its own celebration – Carnaval! Carnaval San Francisco is an annual carnival celebration in San Francisco, that is now in its 42nd year.  It is a zealous weekend celebration that has the highlight of Carnaval SF – the Grand Parade. Carnaval San Francisco is about embracing multiculturalism and celebrating some of the cities cherished cultures.

Everyone is welcome to join in the celebration! This FREE celebration has entertainment for the entire family to enjoy. The Mission District in San Francisco hosts the celebrations which feature international music, dance, artistry and delicious international cuisines.

At Carnaval San Francisco you can embrace cultures from all over the world. You can dance some salsa to some Latin tunes, or enjoy some Caribbean beats with some reggae music from Jamaica or soca from the Bahamas. You can watch an incredible performance from Mexican Aztec performers, Japanese drummers or Polynesian dancers.

Carnaval San Francisco has become the largest annual multicultural celebration in California and draws over 400,000 attendees every year.

When is Carnaval San Francisco? 

Carnaval San Francisco takes place over Memorial Day Weekend. The dates for the 2020 two day carnival will be held on May May 23rd & 24th, 2020. The 2020 Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade will be held on May 24th and will begin at 9:30am.

Where is Carnaval San Francisco?

Carnaval San Francisco is held in the Mission District of San Francisco. The festivities will occur on Harrison Street, between 16th and 24th Streets.

What is the history of Carnaval San Francisco?

carnaval san francisco

Carnaval San Francisco was started back in 1979 by a group of artists back in including percussionist Marcus Gordon, dancer Adela Chu and costume designer Pam Minor in 1979, who came together in Precita Park. Adela had gone to Brazil for carnival, and on her return she knew she had no choice but to create a carnival… “it was like I had no choice. A city like San Francisco without a carnaval didn’t make any sense to me.”

The first Carnaval SF happened on a cold and windy San Francisco day back on February 25th, 1979. Around 200 dancers and drums dressed in all sorts of colors and costumes, paraded around Precita Park in the Mission District. The carnival was described as looking like a hippy, dancing half naked in the park event. But for those who had taken part, months of rehearsing and planning had gone into it.

The next year they held carnival again but somehow word had gotten round and lots of people showed up. In fact so many had shown up that they weren’t allowed to host it in the park anymore. Carnaval SF grew more and more popular year after year and is now attended by around half a million people! Adela says that Carnaval was her gift to San Francisco. 

carnaval san francisco

Carnaval San Francisco Events 2020

carnaval san francisco

Saturday, April 25th, 2020 – King, Queen, and Drag Majesty Competition

  • Location: Mission High School 3750 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114
  • Time: 12 PM – Children & Youth Competition

Saturday, April 25th, 2020 – Children & Youth Competition

  • Time: 4–6 PM
  • Location: Dance Mission Theatre

Yes like so many other carnivals around the world, Carnaval San Francisco also has its own Carnaval Royalty. This a popular event watching contestants battle out for Prince, Princess, Queen, King and even a Drag Majesty crown. Their performances often feature dances and costumes. The contest winners serve as Official Ambassadors for Carnaval San Francisco, win cash prizes and feature in the Grand Parade. 

Sunday, May 24th, 2020 – Carnaval SF Grand Parade

  • Location: The Grand Parade begins on the corner of 24th and Bryant Street, travelling west onto Mission Street and north to 15th street. See Parade Route Map Below
  • Time: Parade begins at 9:30am

The Carnaval SF Grand Parade is an incredible procession of more than 50 dance and music groups entertain and engage the crowd. Most of these groups feature beautifully decorated floats that depict rich multicultural themes. There are also lots of musicians, dancers, drummers, roller-skaters and stilt-walkers. There are sound systems pumping music salsa, hip-hop, soca, reggae creating an incredible street party vibe.

Some of the highlights of the parade are the Brazilian-style samba schools that have over 300 members dancing through the streets in headdresses and stunning costumes. You can see Polynesian dances, giant puppets, Guatemalan folk groups and so many more cultural performances displayed.

Carnaval San Francisco Parade Map Route

carnaval san francisco

Saturday, May 23rd and Sunday, May 24th, 2020– Carnaval SF Family Celebration

  • Location: Harrison Street between 16th and 24th Streets
  • Time: 10:00am – 6:00pm

Carnaval San Francisco is an incredible and FREE 2-day carnival that is for the whole family.  It is the largest multi-cultural celebration on the West Coast. There are loads of fun activities and entertainment.

There will be lots of delicious food and street vendors set up selling delicious cuisines from all around the world. There are international music and dance performances with artists from around the world. There are shops selling lots of gorgeous arts and crafts.

Official Season Kick-Off – Fat Tuesday, 25th February, 2020. 

The Carnaval San Francisco season officially kicks off on Fat Tuesday. On Mardi Gras Day, Carnaval SF invites people to meet their neighbors and make friends at their Annual Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras celebrations that occur at three different venues throughout the Mission. There will be live music and dancers.  Guests are encouraged to dress up and wear a costume, masks or beads.

To see the Fat Tuesday events click here.  

Where do I purchase tickets to Carnaval San Francisco?

carnaval san francisco

It is FREE to attend Carnaval San Francisco and to watch the parade. Tickets to the Carnaval SF Children and Youth Royalty Competition costs $10 for adults and $5 for kids and seniors. Tickets to the Carnaval SF King, Queen and Drag Royalty Competition costs $21 and $17.

If you want to watch the parade sitting down you can purchase tickets to some grandstands. Carnaval SF Grand Parade Seating costs $29. All these tickets can be brought from the official website.

How to get to and around San Francisco?

carnaval san francisco

San Francisco is a major US city so if you are coming from overseas or interstate you will have no problems getting here. The city has two large international airports including San Francisco International and another one in Oakland. There are also loads of bus and train options and it is very easy to drive to.

Where is the Mission District?

The Mission District is bordered on the north by Highway 101. It is near 14th Street, Potrero and Dolores Streets on the east and west, and by Cesar Chavez Street on the south. The Mission District’s namesake is Mission Dolores from an old Spanish Mission located in the neighbourhood.

How to get to Carnaval SF?

From downtown Union Square. You can take the BART which is an underground train and exit at stops 16th and 24th Street Stations. Or you could take the mini buses that service the area which include 9, 12, 14, 22, 27, 33, 48, 49 and 67; to view their schedules you can look them up on 511.org. We don’t recommend driving but there is public parking available at the Mission-Bartlett Garage. Also you could grab a taxi or use Uber or Lyft. Get a quote for a rental car here. To rent a bike or a scooter get a quote here.

Where to stay in San Francisco?

carnaval san francisco

There are loads of accommodation options in San Francisco from hotels, hostels, guest houses and of course Airbnb. It just depends on your budget and comfort level. The city of SF is not a large city so it is easy to get around. We recommend staying around Union Square/Powell BART station as there are loads of hotels and you are central to everything.

Check out some great accommodation deals here. 

What to do and see in San Francisco?

carnaval san francisco

San Francisco is a city with great bars, restaurants, cafés and shops. The city also has some natural attractions like its big beautiful harbor, Golden Gate Park and some beaches. You can ride through the cool neighbourhoods on the cable cart. Visit some awesome museums like the California Academy of Sciences or head to the cool hippy neighbourhood of Mission Dolores.

What to see in the Mission District?

The historic Mission Dolores is home to 1 of 21 missions established that were built throughout California. The neighborhood has hundreds of colorful murals throughout. Valencia Street also has lots of great restaurants and shopping.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here. For longer vacations check out Tour Radar for some cool trips.

What to wear to Carnaval San Francisco ?

Carnaval San Francisco is one of San Fran’s most legendary events. A celebration of cultures from all around the world.  The parades are colourful AF, with women dressed in colourful and elaborate feather headdresses and bejewelled bras. You don’t need to dress like the people in the parade but why not wear some playful pieces that will help you stand out from the crowds. It’s the time to let your imagination one wild and get creative and wear something fun, you can check out some cool outfit ideas on Amazon. Remember though to wear comfortable shoes as you will be on your feet all day long! 

Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance! Never travel without coverage! Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads!

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