Budget-Friendly Bay Area Fun and Outdoor Activities

May 13, 2019
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With warmer days and nights headed our way, The Bay Area abounds with a wide range of spectacular events that could satisfy almost anyone’s quest for spring and early summer fun. What’s more, many of the best-loved of these are available for free, or for quite low cost. From world-class festivals and exhilarating street fairs, to night markets and top-notch performances, the only thing you may find lacking is enough time to take them in. To help get you get started, we’re highlighting some you may want to mark on your calendar in May and June, and where to look to ensure you make the most of your free time in the upcoming months.

Savor the NorCal Night Market:  Inspired by the open-air nighttime bazaars of Asia, the second annual NorCal Night Market will be held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton on May 24-26. Branding itself the original and largest night market in the U.S., the event features 200+ food vendors, arts, crafts, plenty of merchandise, live performances and adult beverages for those of age. General admission is $5 online, and children three and under are free. Most vendors accept cash only. Advance purchase of tickets is recommended and parking is $10. Find details at https://www.norcalnightmarket.com/event-info. Already got plans for the weekend of May 24?  The event will also be held July 26-28 and September 20-22.

Get out to Stern Grove for free concerts on Sundays: If you’ve yet to take advantage of the free Sunday concert series that runs every year at Stern Grove, you may want to take a look at the 2019 lineup here. Now in its 82nd year, the Stern Grove Festival always draws major talent to the beautiful outdoor amphitheater at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. As the San Jose Mercury News tells us, among the headliners this year are modern-rock band Psychedelic Furs, hip hop trio Digable Planets and R & B legends The Isley Brothers. The season kicks off on June 16, and runs each Sunday through August 18. General seating is first come, first served. Find festival information on the Stern Grove site at www.sterngrove.org/info/. Looking for more venues featuring free live music in May and June? Just a few include the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival from May until October, the Annual Berkeley World Music Festival on June 1-2 and the Fillmore Summer Fest Kick-off held June 8.

Take in the Livermore Downtown Street Fest: The Tri-Valley’s premier festival, Livermore Downtown features wine and beer tastings, outdoor dining, live entertainment, arts and crafts, kids’ activities and more. Held on May 18 and 19, it stretches along First Street from the Livermore Cinema down to N Street, with unique experiences to be explored along the side streets. New this year, you’ll find Pop Up wine lounges and tap rooms from some of the region’s best wineries and breweries including Wente Vineyards, Altamont Beer Works, Fenestra Winery, Shadow Puppet Brewing Company, Ragbag WineWorks, Nottingham Cellars and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Ten dollars will get you the 2019 Official Event Glass required for beer and wine Pop Up experiences, which are each priced separately. Find details here.

Check out any of the multitude of cultural festivals around the Bay: You’ll find no shortage of celebrations inspired by a diversity of cultures throughout the months of May and June. This includes the wildly popular Carnaval San Francisco, a free, two-day festival and grand parade that draws thousands and features international music, dance, colorful floats, activities, arts & crafts and cuisine. Held Memorial Day weekend (May 25-26) on Harrison Street between 16th and 24th  Streets, this year’s theme will be “La Cultura Cura–Culture Heals.” Headlining the free performance on May 25 at 3 p.m. is the Grammy and Latin-Grammy award-winning band Los Tigres del Norte.

Before the Latin and Caribbean festivities of Carnaval SF, you may also want to explore the Himalayan Fair on May 18-19, free at Live Oak Park in Berkeley, and/or purchase a $5 ticket for the Oakland Greek Festival at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral (kids 12 and under are free), held May 17-19. Five dollars will also get one adult admission to the San Jose Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, May 31-June 2.On June 8, “Experience India” for free in Union Square or celebrate Portuguese heritage at the at Dia de Portugal Festival at Kelley Park in San Jose (History Park admission is free). Also in June, commemorate African-American achievements at the Juneteenth in the Park Festival in San Jose (6/15), find an extraordinary celebration of Filipino culture at the Kalayaan SF Festival (6/22) and indulge in San Francisco’s Little Italy at the 65th North Beach Festival (6/15 and 6/16).

Stargaze and more at the Chabot Space & Science Center: You’ll find this incredible resource on the City Summer Bucket List from BayAreaParent, but it also has plenty to offer any adult with the slightest interest in stargazing or astronomy. Located amid the largest stand of coastal redwoods in the Oakland Hills, the center features a full-dome planetarium, interactive and hands-on exhibits, space artifacts, a giant screen theater and state-of-the-art telescopes available to the public for viewing. Every First Friday on the month, you can enjoy $5 admission (regular price is $18 for adults) with unlimited access to evening activities for the whole family from 6 to 10 p.m., including laser and planetarium shows, night hikes, Star Stories, music, demos and more. During the summer months, the center stays open late on Fridays and Saturdays for telescope viewing. Chabot Space & Science Center is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Learn more at Fun Cheap SF, or visit the center’s website here.

Ready to explore other exciting and easy-on-your-wallet happenings in the Bay Area during the upcoming months? You’ll find many great suggestions on events12.com, from Shakespeare in the Park at various locations and the SubZERO Festival in San Jose, to Mushroom Mardi Gras in Morgan Hill and the Northern California Pirate Festival on the Vallejo Waterfront. Also keep in mind that many of our local museums provide free admission once per month. Find a guide to Free Monthly Museum Days from SF Gate here. And for a fun and spirited way to celebrate the summer solstice, consider checking out Make Music San Jose, a free outdoor day of performances and music-making events throughout the city from sunrise until sunset (June 21).