Carnaval San Francisco 2019: What You Need to Know

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Latin American comparsas, or groups, dance down Mission Street during the 2018 San Francisco Carnaval Parade. (Liliana Michelena/KQED)

The 41st edition of Carnaval San Francisco is almost upon us. The two-day celebration begins on Saturday with a free festival and concert, which this year will feature legendary band Los Tigres del Norte.

Here is what you need to know about one of the most diverse cultural celebrations in the country.

When Is Carnaval SF?

Carnaval SF is on Saturday and Sunday, May 25-26, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The grand parade begins at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Where Does Carnaval SF Take Place?

The festival takes place on Harrison Street between 16th and 24th streets. The parade travels along 24th Street, starting at the juncture with Harrison Street, and then turns north on Mission. At 15th Street, performers turn back toward Harrison — where the parade ends.

What Is Carnaval SF?

Born out of the dreams and longings of expat communities in the city, Carnaval San Francisco began in 1979, circling around Precita Park on a drizzly February day.

Despite the eventual move to May — in search of better weather — the festive nature of the pre-Lent celebrations remained, along with the commemoration of Caribbean, Central and South American heritages.

Over the years, Carnaval branched out to include Asian Pacific and Hawaiian communities in the festivities.

Filipino Americans march in the Carnaval San Francisco parade in 2018. Like many other comparsas, or groups, they had a youth contingent parading alongside professional dancers, musicians and colorful floats. (Liliana Michelena)

Carnaval San Francisco is similar to its famed Brazilian counterpart, with a blend of Catholic and pagan influences and African and native music — all with a family focus.

What Can I See at Carnaval SF?

The event includes dozens of musical performances, food, arts and crafts. It has been an annual S.F. staple since it began, pausing once in 1985 due to an organization reshuffle. As the parade's executive producer, Roberto Hernandez, put it: "You don't cancel Christmas and you don't cancel Carnaval."

How Do I Get to Carnaval SF?

You can take BART: There are stations at 16th and Mission streets as well as 24th and Mission (Note: Mission St. is on the Parade route). Note track work this weekend will shutter some stations in the East Bay.

You can also get there via MUNI: Route 22, 33 & 55 on 16th St. Route 48 on 24th St. Some buses have been rerouted for Sunday.

Who Will Be Performing at Carnaval SF?

A couple dances during the 2018 Carnaval concert in San Francisco. (Liliana Michelena)

Dozens of groups will be performing over both days on several stages starting at about 10 a.m. The last groups go onstage around 5:30.

Mexican-American band Los Tigres del Norte will be the highlight of Saturday's celebration. The San Jose-based band sings a genre of norteño romantic music known as corridos. Their most popular songs talk about life, love and the struggle to survive — the latter being a theme that resonates with the immigrant community in the U.S.

The band's concert kicks off at 4 p.m. on the stage at 22nd and Harrison streets.

What Is the Carnaval SF Parade Route?

The green line shows the Carnaval parade route. Harrison Street is home to the festival, which includes music stages, and clothing and food stands. (SF Carnaval)

Starting at 24th and Bryant streets, the parade will travel west onto Mission Street, and along Mission north to 15th Street. Those streets will close at 8:30 a.m., one hour before the 9:30 a.m. start on Sunday.

What Streets Will Close for Carnaval SF?

Here is a full list.

Where Can I Watch Carnaval SF?

Onlookers can stand on either side of Mission Street to observe and photograph the event, which is scheduled to run until 1 p.m. Families often park themselves in chairs on the best spots a few hours in advance, so get there early.

For latecomers, don't forget: There is still a party on Harrison waiting at parade's end.

Read more about the history of San Francisco Carnaval at