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Carnaval San Francisco 2024: From the Parade Route to Parking, Here's What to Know

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Carnaval San Francisco's Grand Parade moves through Mission Street on Sunday, May 29, 2022. Thousands of dancers, musicians and artisans work together year-long to create dozens of incredibly elaborate floats.  (Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí)

Carnaval San Francisco is when the city’s Mission District fills up with the colors and sounds of hundreds of artists — and tens of thousands of families celebrating the region’s Latin American and Caribbean culture. And this year, Carnaval will take place this Memorial Day holiday weekend across Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 26.

Consisting of a two-day day festival, musical performances all over the neighborhood, and the Grand Parade on Sunday that features over 60 different contingents, Carnaval is one of San Francisco’s most emblematic celebrations. And on top of that, it’s all completely free to attend and enjoy.

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If you’ve never been to Carnaval San Francisco before, picture Mission Street not with its usual traffic of Muni buses and commuters — but instead brimming with beautifully decorated floats accompanied by thousands of dancers and live musicians.

And that’s just a glimpse of what’s happening on Sunday alone. As someone who’s been to Carnaval every year since the age of 10, I can tell you that you never run out of things to do during this special weekend. And with all that fun in mind, keep reading for all the information you need to make the most of Carnaval this weekend.

What’s so special about Carnaval San Francisco 2024?

First held at Precita Park in 1979, Carnaval was organized by artists and organizers who wanted to pay homage to the historic Carnaval celebrations that take place all over Latin America and the Caribbean — and, at the same time, provide a platform for local musicians and dancers to come together and pass on traditions. This community celebration has now grown to include twenty blocks of the Mission District, making it one of the biggest celebrations of its kind on the West Coast.

And what makes this city’s Carnaval distinct from other Carnaval celebrations you may see in Rio de Janeiro or Barranquilla is that it reflects not just one national culture but also celebrates the incredible diversity of California’s Latin American and Caribbean diasporas.

Members of the Batalá San Francisco comparsa sound their drums through Mission Street during the Grand Parade of Carnaval San Francisco on May 28, 2023. (Courtesy of Daniel Beck)

“That’s what we do at Carnaval — we bring different worlds together under one roof,” Carnaval Executive Director Rodrigo Durán said. For pretty much his whole life, Durán has been involved in Carnaval one way or another (even as a toddler, he was already one of the dancers in the Grand Parade). But this year, he said, there’s something special.

“There’s a movement among Carnaval members and the community to put our Indigenous heritage in the forefront, to highlight and celebrate it,” he said. That’s why organizers chose ‘Honor Indigenous Roots’ as this year’s theme.

Rigoberta Menchú, a 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will lead Sunday’s Grand Parade. She has dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of Indigenous people in her home country of Guatemala and the rest of Latin America.

When and where in the Mission District is Carnaval San Francisco? What’s the schedule?

Carnaval has two main components: the festival and the Grand Parade.

The festival happens on Saturday and Sunday, with gates opening at 11 a.m. and the performance schedule starting at that same time on both days. (Jump to information about the Grand Parade.)

A map of the Carnaval San Francisco festival on Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 26 (Carnaval San Francisco)

The festival will take place on Harrison Street, from 16th to 24th street. Hundreds of artisans and food vendors fill up this space, with DJs jamming out at block parties on 18th, 19th, 20th and 22nd streets.

Five stages will be set up throughout the festival, featuring performances from headliners Noel Torres, Pirulo y la Tribu, Franco and Banda Blanca, along with dozens of local musicians and dance groups.

When does the Carnaval Grand Parade start, and what’s the route?

The Grand Parade, which features dozens of floats and hundreds of dancers moving through the entire neighborhood, takes place on Sunday and starts at 9:30 a.m.

As for the Carnaval parade route, the parade starts at Bryant and 24th, then moves through 24th Street, takes a right on Mission Street, stays on that street all the way to 15th Street, and wraps up at Harrison and 15th Street.

And yes — the dancers and musicians in the parade perform nonstop the whole way, which is a particularly impressive feat when you consider that some of the most elaborate outfits can weigh up to 40 pounds.

On top of that, there’s a contest element – as contingents, or comparsas, compete against each other in multiple categories. Judges will rank each comparsa on originality, choreography and production design.

A map of the Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade route on Sunday, May 26. (Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí )

Iif you can’t make it exactly at the 9:30 a.m. parade start time, don’t worry. The parade goes on for multiple hours and ends at 2:30 p.m.

And if you can’t make it in person at all, KPIX will be streaming the parade online.

A few things to look for at the Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade

Several award-winning comparsas are back again this year:

  • Fogo Na Roupa, a Brazilian dance and percussion ensemble that practices in San Francisco but whose members hail from all over the Bay Area;
  • Karibbean Vibrationz, a group that travels all over California celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture;
  • Flavaz of D’ Caribbean, known for having some of the most colorful costumes, accompanied by a hot pink bus, and loudly repping the music of Trinidad and Tobago.

This year’s Carnaval King and Queen are Yeison Andrés Jiménez and Mónica Mendoza, two Bay Area dancers who have participated in multiple international contests and won their crowns earlier this year in a competition held at KQED’s headquarters.

This year’s theme for Carnaval San Francisco is ‘Honor Indigenous Roots.’ Dance groups from all over California representing different Indigenous cultures of the Americas dance in the Grand Parade. Traditional Oaxacan dancers move through Mission Street on Sunday, May 29, 2022. (Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí)

Several contingents are making their Carnaval debut this year as well, including Negritud Yanga USA, a collective that celebrates the Afro-Mexican culture of the city of Yanga in the coastal state of Veracruz. In the early 17th century, formerly enslaved Africans founded Yanga — one of the first settlements of its kind in the Americas.

“The Carnaval parade is the gem, the heartbeat of our celebration,” Durán said. “Art is what pushes our culture forward, what gives us strength and happiness.”

See the full list of participating comparsas at Carnaval San Francisco.


Is the Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade free?

Yes! And you don’t need to register beforehand. Just show up anywhere along the parade route and enjoy the show.

However, if you want to have a unique vantage point, you can purchase special Grand Stand seats for the Carnaval parade. These are elevated bleachers along Mission Street between 22nd and 23rd streets. What makes these spots unique is that they’re next to the judges’ tables, where each contingent will pause and perform for an extra amount of time.

If you plan to show up and find a spot, that works too. If you watch the parade from 24th Street, you’ll be much closer to the performers, but you’ll perhaps be a bit more cramped with foot traffic. If you’re on Mission Street, you’ll definitely have a lot more room to move around (speaking from experience.)

For more than four decades, many Bay Area families have set aside Memorial Day weekend to spend it in San Francisco’s Mission District to make the most of Carnaval celebrations. A family waits for a performance to begin on Harrison and 17th Street on May 27, 2023. (Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí)

Who’s playing this year at Carnaval San Francisco?

Over 50 musicians, DJs and dance groups will perform on the Carnaval San Francisco schedule throughout the weekend across the five stages located on Harrison Street. See the full list of performers at Carnaval San Francisco.

This year’s headliners are:

  • Noel Torres: Known for songs like “El Comando del Diablo” and “Me Interesas,” this regional mexicano artist has performed all over Mexico and the United States. If you’re into corridos, Noel is the right guy for you.
  • Pirulo y la Tribu: Coming all the way from Puerto Rico to play at Carnaval San Francisco, Pirulo will keep you dancing all day to a fusion of tropical and old-school reggaetón.
  • Franco: If you’re with your tías and want to have them singing along to some baladas románticas, take them to Franco — and soon you’ll too be singing along to “Toda la Vida.”
  • Banda Blanca: Perhaps best known for “Sopa de Caracol,” Banda Blanca has helped bring punta, a genre of dance and music originally created by the Garífuna people, to a global audience.

And for the first time, the festival will have a “Colores de Amor” stage, celebrating the role of LGBTQ+ artists in the Latino community with performances by drag performers like Dulce De Leche and Per Sia.

A skater performs a trick at the festival’s skate jam on May 27, 2023. For the second year in a row, Carnaval San Francisco will have a designated space where people of all ages can skateboard. (Courtesy of Daniel Beck)

Is Carnaval San Francisco family-friendly?

Yes! For many Bay Area residents, going to Carnaval with the kids, teens and grandparents is a tradition.

In the festival space, organizers have set up a kid-friendly zone at Harrison and 18th Street where families can paint, dance and play drums. There’s also an area set up for skateboarding on 23rd and Treat, next to a health and wellness pavilion that offers testing both for COVID-19 and blood pressure.

Consuming alcohol is allowed in the festival, but only in specific enclosed areas requiring visitors to provide identification for access. Entrance to the festival is free, and security staff will be present at each entrance to check bags.

How do I get to Carnaval San Francisco? What about parking?

If you’re planning to drive into the Mission during Carnaval weekend, it’s not going to be easy.

As part of the celebrations, Harrison Street fills up for a two-day festival where vendors, artisans and performers fill up the space between 16th and 24th Street. Thousands of residents pass through the festival space on Saturday, May 28, 2022. (Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí)

The areas surrounding Harrison Street, from 16th to 24th street, will be closed off to cars the whole weekend, which means a lot of the neighborhood’s parking spots will be off-limits. Even residents will have to move their cars to make way for the festival, so there’ll be a lot of competition for the few remaining spots left.

On Sunday, all cars parked along the Grand Parade route will have to move, including Mission Street from 24th Street to 15th Street, chunks of 24th and 15th Street as well, and sections of Bryant Street.

If you live on any of the streets in area that Carnaval will take up this weekend and need to move your car in/out of the garage, look for a Carnaval staff member so they can escort your vehicle through the emergency access lanes.

Taking public transit to Carnaval San Francisco

If at all possible, consider taking public transport: BART will continue operating with a weekday schedule at both 16th and 24th Mission stations. On Saturday, you can ride the 22, 33, 55 and 48 bus routes, which will pass by the festival entrances, and the 9, 12, 14, 14R and 49 bus lines can drop you off a few blocks away.

However, keep in mind that on Sunday, the following bus lines will reroute for most of the day: 12, 14, 14R, 22, 27, 33, 48, 49, 55, 67. If you need to take a bus that normally drive through Mission Street (the 14, 14R, 33, 49 lines, for example) during the parade, there will be temporary bus stops along Guerrero Street from 14th to 25th streets.

If you want to avoid congestion caused by all the changes to Muni service, your best bet would be to take BART to either 16th or 24th Mission BART stations.

Note: KQED is one of the sponsors of the Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade. A version of this story originally published on May 22.


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