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It may not feel like fall yet, but the season of cozy sweaters, hot apple cider and lots of happenings is just around the corner. From highbrow culture (a literary festival, an immersive light installation and serious museum shows) to offbeat fun (a pop-art skating rink, a knot party and an adult Harry Potter), there’s plenty to do. We’ve narrowed down the season’s happenings to the top 25 things not to miss this fall in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  

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fall in san francisco grace light
Henrik Kam

ARTS & CULTURE

1. Grace Cathedral lights up (literally) as part of a large-scale, immersive installation created by artist George Zisiadis, with an original score composed by Gabriel Gold. Grace Light (free and open to the public starting October 21; reservations required) beams down from the eaves of the church as a curtain of light that’s synchronized to music.

2. Skip out of work a little early today (September 19) to get the most out of the second annual Culture for Community Day. That means free admission and extended hours at 14 of the best museums and galleries in SoMa (including SFMOMA, MOAD, YBCA and the Contemporary Jewish Museum), plus food and drink specials at hot spots like Novela and Pizzeria Delfina.

fall in san francisco fine arts museums
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

3. Go for Ed Hardy: Deeper Than Skin (through October 6) to see the first museum retrospective of this tattoo genius’s work. Then visit the De Young again for Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (starting November 9).

4. Ponder a conceptual art piece about San Francisco’s sinking Millennium Tower by art collective Postcommodity (starting November 15), and don’t miss the selection of key works by local artist Mike Henderson (through November 17), both at the San Francisco Art Institute.

5. Interested in experiencing Burning Man without going to the playa? Then head over to the Oakland Museum this fall for No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man (starting October 12), an interactive exhibition with large-scale installations, a speaker series and a block party with art cars, marching bands and, of course, fire.

fall in san francisco rare device
The Year of Knots by Windy Chien (Abrams Publishing), photo by Molly DeCoudreaux

BOOKS & TALKS

6. Local knot master Windy Chien shows us all her artful tricks in a brand-new book, The Year of Knots. Join today’s launch event at Rare Device for a chance to buy a limited-edition circuit board. The first 50 attendees will even be gifted ten feet of rope to try their hand at the book’s step-by-step knot tutorials.

7. Two words: Kourtney Kardashian. She’s the keynote speaker at this year’s Create & Cultivate women’s conference on September 21, empowering entrepreneurs, influencers and all other badass ladies. The ticket price is steep, but it's Kourtney Kardashian. Enough said.

8. Litquake (October 10 to 19) turns 20 this year, and the literary lineup is nothing short of fabulous. Bookworms will lose their glasses over readings by Ann Patchett, Tobias Wolff and Chris Kattan. The festival ends with the infamous Lit Crawl through the Mission.

9. Future entrepreneurs, mark your calendars. The Jewish Community Center is hosting Girls Who Run the World (December 8), a special event where you’ll hear how three women—Robyn Sue Fisher (Smitten Ice Cream), Tina Sharkey (Brandless) and Jane Marie Chen (Embrace)—turned their creative ideas into hugely successful companies. Bring your notebook.

fall in san francisco salt and straw
Courtesy of Salt & Straw

FOOD & DRINK

10. You only have two more weeks to taste the five inventive flavors dreamed up by local fourth graders for Salt & Straw’s annual Student Inventor Series (through October 3). Strawberry Mango Milk Bun or PSL Fruit Chè with coconut milk ice cream and chopped lychee, jackfruit and pandan jelly? Sampling all five is highly encouraged.

11. Rosé brunch—could there be two things that go better together? Reserve your spot now for the Proper Hotel’s event series at Charmaine’s on September 29 and October 27, which promises brunch classics, a Croque Madame station, a dessert bar with macarons, brioche doughnuts and a cream puff tower, plus a glass of rosé, of course.

12. Oktoberfest in Wine Country? Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. It’s a family affair at Cornerstone Sonoma on October 6, where you’ll find the requisite beer garden, brats, pretzels and polka beats, plus live music and an heirloom pumpkin patch for the kids.

13. Elbow your way through the hungry hoardes at this year’s San Francisco Street Food Festival (October 12), complete with an all-you-can-feast fried chicken bucket and a Southeast Asian night-market-style chef’s counter.

fall in san francisco fort mason center
Fort Mason Center/Facebook

FUN

14. A pop-art-filled roller rink? Lace us up. Skate for free at the interactive art installation Actions Vent Ascending Frequencies designed by creative collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus at Fort Mason Center. DJ included. Through October 6.

15. Get ready to sweat on October 6 at the first SF SweatCon Rally. Try out three back-to-back 30-minute classes (including CorePower Yoga and Barry’s Bootcamp). It’s like ClassPass for a day, plus a kickoff party with fresh juices and a braid bar. What’s not to love about that?

fall in san francisco dirty habit
Courtesy of Dirty Habit

16. Date-night special: The coveted rooftop patio at Dirty Habit is hosting its second annual Outdoor Movie Series (through October 20). Cozy lounge seating, a complimentary glass of bubbly and cult classics like Pretty Woman—we can feel the romance already.

17. Sonoma is calling. The historic MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa recently underwent a major facelift—think Victorian charm outside, modern farmhouse vibe inside—and is primed for a visit to celebrate its 150th year. Splurge on a weekend getaway this fall.

fall in san francisco mcmullen
Liz Zepeda for McMullen

FASHION

18. Named one of the top fashion boutiques in the country by WWD (yes, we do have some style gems in the Bay Area, thank you very much), Oakland’s McMullen has just opened a second location in Palo Alto. Expect the same expertly curated selection of clothing and accessories from Ulla Johnson, Tibi, Lisa Folawiyo, Kamperett and more.

19. Nothing against Alameda, but the city finally has its own swoon-worthy flea market, brought to us by the folks behind the Vogue-approved Phoenicia Flea in upstate New York. Head to Fog City Flea at the Ferry Building for your vintage fashion and furniture fix any Sunday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) through November 17.

fall in san francisco senreve
Courtesy of Senreve

20. Start saving now. Locally based luxury handbag maker Senreve just opened its first brick-and-mortar in Jackson Square. Preorder online or peruse the offerings in person and be prepared to linger: The boutique has a beauty bar, coffee counter and bubbly to go around.

21. NYC-based cult shoe brand Sabah has landed in SF with a brand-new permanent store in Lower Haight. Now, the question is, just how many pairs of the beautifully handcrafted Turkish loafers will you buy?

fall in san francisco international hip hop festival
George Simian

MUSIC & PERFORMANCE

22. Three days and 14 dance companies from around the world—the SF International Hip-Hop Festival (November 22 to 24) promises locking, popping, b-boying, krumping and more. Get tickets now because this show sells out every year.

23. Trick or treat? We’ll say Madonna’s Madame X Tour (October 31, November 2 and 4), kicking off in SF on Halloween night is definitely a treat.

24. It’s time to get our fill of folk and bluegrass and everything in between at the free annual Hardly Strictly festival (October 4 to 6), featuring everyone from OG Emmylou Harris to newcomer Adia Victoria.

25. Hogwarts fans, rejoice! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which follows an adult Harry through a not-so-magical life, is coming to the Curran starting October 23.

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