Transform Downtown into a leading arts, culture, and nightlife destination

August 22, 2023

Encouraging additional arts and culture, recreation, retail, nightlife and entertainment experiences in Downtown will draw a wide range of people at all hours and throughout the year.

“SFMOMA's annual Art Bash draws a crowd to Yerba Buena” by SFMOMA


As the economic engine of the Bay Area, Downtown has evolved into a destination for major corporations and office-oriented industries. As companies transition to more remote and hybrid work arrangements, this worker-centered area must also evolve. By leveraging San Francisco’s world-renowned culinary, cultural, and entertainment offerings, and adding new arts, leisure, and recreational experiences Downtown, the city can enhance its brand as the center of one of the most unique and culturally vibrant cities in the world.



  • Continue supporting public space events and activations that showcase local talent, entrepreneurs and culture. 
  • Designate an Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) Zone with targeted City programs and incentives to foster new arts and culture establishments. 
  • Permitting improvements for community events to support neighborhood festivals and street fairs. 
  • Advocate for and implement state legislation to allow for outdoor alcohol consumption in Entertainment Zones in select areas. 
  • Leverage the Moscone Visitor Center as a point to connect guests to local arts, culture and entertainment offerings. 


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Public space events and activations

Downtown’s large number of unique public spaces and venues can host a wide range of activities that celebrate the community and cultural offerings that are so important to San Francisco’s identity, but coordinated efforts and ongoing investments are necessary for these spaces to flourish. 

  • In 2021, the Mayor announced SF Live, a series of live performances presented by local entertainment venues at outdoor spaces. SF Live uses $2.5 million in state funding to cover production costs for these outdoor events and provide stipends to source talent and promote the performances by local venues still struggling to recover from pandemic closures.  
    • In the summer of 2023, the Union Square Alliance kicked off their SF Live programming through a pilot series of “Summer in Bloom” concerts each Saturday in Union Square.  Planning is currently underway for the full concert series to launch in Spring 2024. 
  • As part of Mayor Breed’s Downtown Economic Recovery Fund, in 2022 the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) began issuing a series of grants to support seasonal and recurring events throughout Downtown. These events, along with regular street celebrations and markets, generate new activity Downtown while showcasing San Francisco-based entrepreneurs, artists, performers, and bring neighborhood based and cultural activations into our Downtown. Some but not all of these events include:  
    • San FranDisco Roller Rink in Fulton Street Mall that was operated in partnership with the Civic Center Community Benefit District and the “Church of 8 Wheels” from October 2022 to March 2023 to offer a new family-friendly entertainment experience in Civic Center. 
    • Let’s Glow SF holiday light projections in the Financial District that launched in December 2021 and will return for its third year this 2023 holiday season. 
    • Holiday Village in Hallidie Plaza, a part of the Union Square Alliance’s Winter Wanderland holiday celebration that transformed Hallidie Plaza into a fairytale land complete with local handmade gifts and decorations, sweets and warming drinks, live entertainment, holiday workshops and DIY crafts for kids and adults in December 2022. 
    • World Cup Village, a month-long series of outdoor viewing parties produced in partnership with Street Soccer USA that broadcast public screenings of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup at iconic Downtown locations including Civic Center Plaza, the Crossing at East Cut, and Union Square in December 2022 and returned for the Women’s World Cup in July and August 2023. 
    • Yerba Buena Art & Makers Market, a free monthly fair in Yerba Buena Gardens featuring local artists and performers that began in April 2023 and runs through December. 
    • Bhangra & Beats Night Market in the Financial District, a recurring free Friday night festival, that launched in May 2023, featuring local crafts, food and prominent DJs and performers mixing South Asian Bhangra music and other popular music genres drawing 10,000 people to the streets of Downtown each event.  
    • Our Place in the Park AAPI film festival at Victoria Manalo Draves Park in SOMA in May 2023. The festival featured food, musical acts by local performers, arts and crafts vendor booths, and a kids’ puppet-making workshop, produced in collaboration between SF Urban Film Fest, SOMA West CBD, People Power Media, and SOMA Pilipinas Cultural Heritage District. 
    • Farmers Market at the East Cut, a weekly produce and artisan foods market at The Crossing at East Cut outdoor events space was hosted for 16 weeks in the spring of 2023.  An additional phase of weekly programming started in July and will last until November, 2023, with the goal of building towards a new permanent Sunday market in the neighborhood. The Crossing also hosts live performances, pickleball games, activities for kids, and free soccer programs.  
    • Union Square in Bloom, a series of large-scale floral displays and events produced by the Union Square Alliance throughout the month of May that began in 2022 and returned for a second year in 2023. 
    • Dog Days of Summer dog-themed free outdoor festivals in the East Cut neighborhood launching in August of 2023. 
    • Annual Litquake literary festival in October 2023, with added complementary year-round programming throughout Downtown 
    • The Recreation and Parks Department has launched additional efforts to enliven public plazas throughout Downtown, including the family-friendly Civic Center Carnival in August 2023, the new skate park to be installed in United Nations Plaza in September, and are exploring a new free outdoor concert series in historic plazas like Civic Center, Union Square, and Embarcadero Plaza that would begin in 2024.  
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Designated Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) Zone

To encourage new activities and support existing nightlife Downtown, OEWD is leading efforts to designate Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) Zone around clusters of existing arts, culture, and entertainment venues in the Downtown area and develop supporting policies. City staff are working with public, private, and industry stakeholders to create a package of incentives and supporting investments that can support existing and new venues, event spaces and other cultural institutions, with a focus on independent local establishments.

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Permitting improvements for community events

Street festivals, markets, neighborhood fairs and other special events draw people to neighborhoods citywide, including Downtown. All these experiences make our economy stronger and add cultural vibrancy to San Francisco.

  • To encourage and support these events, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development will lead efforts to implement several process improvements identified by an interdepartmental Special Events Steering Committee to streamline the permitting processes for special events to make it easier for event organizers and City staff to host events in public spaces and streets.

  • This initiative will develop guidance to help event organizers manage event costs, navigate City requirements and explore ways to reduce the financial burden of producing neighborhood events by community-based organizations.

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Outdoor alcohol consumption in Entertainment Zones

Pending state legislation - SB 76 (Wiener) - would allow local governments to designate “Entertainment Zones,” where local restaurants and bars could sell to-go alcoholic beverages for consumption in shared outdoor areas, such as during festivals and street fairs, which is currently prohibited under state law. Currently, outdoor alcohol sales at fairs and festivals must be provided by outside vendors. The City is advocating for this legislation to pass and will work to support the establishment of Entertainment Zones as permitted to support local businesses and drive foot traffic to commercial corridors.

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Leverage the Moscone Visitor Center

The City can offer convention-goers and other tourists a memorable visitor experience while also directing their attention to unique, local, and independent San Francisco establishments and offerings.

  • The Visitor Center at Moscone Center plans to reopen in October to provide a focal point and resource for visitors to Downtown. The Center will provide Welcome Greeters, informational kiosks, and a mobile app to engage visitors and connect them to arts, cultural, entertainment and nightlife experiences Downtown and throughout San Francisco. The Center’s initial operation hours will align with conferences occurring at the Moscone Center, with a plan to expand hours in 2024.

  • The Center will promote events and activations produced by the city’s vibrant mix of neighborhood, arts and community organizations. It will also provide visitors with a series of suggested itineraries to explore San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods.


See other economic recovery strategies

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