An outdoor audience at the San Francisco Jazz Festival
Charles Wagner aka Chum/Flickr

San Francisco Jazz Fest

The city of San Francisco looms large in jazz history. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Fillmore district was known as “the Harlem of the West,” and such storied clubs as The Jazz Workshop, The Blackhawk, Basin Street West, and the Keystone Korner thrived. Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk all recorded some of their most classic albums here.

So it makes perfect sense that the city plays host to what London’s The Observer has called the "biggest and probably the best jazz festival in the world." Since its inaugural program in 1983, the San Francisco Jazz Festival has been a place to witness both time-honored traditions and the kind of innovation and disregard for convention that is inherent to the spirit of jazz.

It all happens every year in June, when the 11-day festival kicks off at the 700-seat Robert N. Miner Auditorium at the SFJAZZ Center, the first freestanding institution dedicated solely to jazz performance and education in the nation. From there, the celebration spreads out to clubs and venues throughout the Bay Area, where a phenomenal lineup of performances by musicians both local and from around the world draws thousands. Some of the giants of jazz that have played the festival in years past include Herbie Hancock, Pharaoh Sanders, Regina Carter, Sonny Rollins, and Ornette Coleman, among many others. 

A big draw in recent years has also been the SFJAZZ Center itself. Completed in 2013, the $64 million facility is widely lauded for getting just about everything right, from the exceptional acoustics to the seating layout, which provides clear sight lines for everyone. It’s easy to reach by BART, and there are plenty of spots nearby to get a drink or meal before or after. There is also a lounge in the lower level and two bars in the upper level in the center itself.