Outside Lands is a music festival like no other. It captures all of the wonderful qualities that are unique to the miniature yet expansive city, San Francisco. This enchanting place is dear to my heart: as a fifth generation San Franciscan, with familial roots dating back to the 1880’s, I feel as if the city is in my blood. Its part of who I am. With that, it is with utmost confidence that I can assure any Outside Lands visitor that their stay will be a perfect taste of San Francisco.
The Outside Lands music line-up alone, like San Francisco, only seems to improve with each year. The assortment of musicians playing this year is incredible: appealing to members of all generations. As a millennial, I am ecstatic to be able to see the performance of some bands that were the soundtrack of my elementary and middle school years, as well as the musicians that color in my music tastes of today.
Visitors in their teens, 20’s, and 30’s are probably going to be most excited about the plethora of contemporary artists hosted at Outside Lands. Dance music musicians like Zedd and Major Lazor will offer up-beat, rave-like experiences. Singer song-writer superstars like Lana Del Ray and Brandy Carlile will have everyone in the crowd swaying and singing alone to their love ballads. This year’s hip hop and r&b artist’s list is the best I have ever seen. J.Cole, Miguel, Big Grams, and Chance the Rapper are only a few examples of artists that are guaranteed to attract large crowds of hip-hop and r&b enthusiasts.
Outside Lands is for the Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers
People in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s have throwback artists like Lionel Richie and Duran Duran to look forward to. There are also the indie-alternative bands that appeal to all ages. From Radiohead that will be popular with millennials who have grown up with the band’s music, but also any adult who enjoyed the band’s tunes on the radio in the last 30 years. I am especially excited for indie/alternative acts such as Sufjan Stevens, Grimes, St. Lucia, and the Wombats. These musicians fuse the sounds of old rock with modern twists. The experiences these artists provide for their audience is a mutual bonding of pure love of sound that is not confined to any genre nor generation.
What makes Outside Lands really special is its ability to attract people of every generation with its line ups. Age makes no difference on how fun any performance will be. One of my best memories at Outside Lands is grooving out to Phish and Paul McCartney with people my parents’ age. Time itself is seemingly suspended within the festival’s grounds as visitors enter a sort of alternative dimension. It is an adult playground with a beautiful backdrop as its host.
The stunning green and expansive Golden Gate Park contributes to the particularly enchanting feature of Outside Lands that is unlike other festivals. Giant trees enclose the festival, providing a boundary between the real world and the world of Outside Lands. There are various paths winding through groves of trees and bushes, enhancing the feel of being somewhere far away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. Lastly, the fog that rolls in the morning and night creates a mist of everlasting serenity for visitors. The foggy atmosphere, although cold, relaxes everyone in the grounds, allowing people to forget their problems of the world in order to enjoy the festival.
80 RESTAURANTS, 40 WINERIES, 28 BREWERIES IN TOTAL
Outside Lands is not just about the music, as the festival also offers an incredible food, wine, and an exciting comedic lineup. If you feel like you need a break from the loud music, head over to Wine Lands, an enormous tent that houses booths of local wineries. More than 120 different types of wine are available to taste. Not a bad way to relax! For those more keen on beer than the that sleepy wine feeling, not to worry, there is also a Beer Lands! Located in a separate tent, there will be more than 28 local breweries for visitors to taste and sip incredible craft beer.
Speaking of taste, the food options Outside Lands offers is too delicious to describe in words. The festival prides itself as being one of the only gourmet food festivals in the world. Restaurants are challenged each year to serve ground-breaking, creative, and tasty dishes to visitors. The list of restaurants that will have booths is extensive. It includes a miniature area dedicated to seafood called Outside Clams, and another dedicated to cheese: Cheese Lands. Have a sweet tooth? Theres an entire area in a grove of the park called Chocolands, which has an assortment of desert booths that serve anything from scrumptious cupcakes to gourmet chocolate. What could be better?
If cheese, seafood and dessert aren’t enough, not to worry. Every cuisine imaginable from fried chicken sandwiches, doughnut cheeseburgers, gourmet tamales, to a creme brulee carts are available to feed hungry music lovers. My personal favorites dishes available served year are the shot and beer braised chicken from Tacolicious, and the grilled cheese from the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. There is an even an entertainment section called Gastro-Magic where chefs, mixologists, DJ’s,and magicians fuse magic and music with food and cocktail. Outside Lands takes dining very seriously, and you must take advantage when visiting.
If you want some time to sit and have a laugh, Outside Lands has a great comedic line-up including Fred Armisen and Kyle Kinane in the festival’s section, The Barbary. There is even a mini golf course called the Back-Wine if you want to kill some time and play a fun round with friends.
Now that I’ve blabbed about my love for the festival and SF, it is time I provide insight into how to plan your visit both inside and outside the festival. I’ll focus for the remainder of this post on where to stay, where to eat, and where to visit SF if you have a little extra time on your hands.
Where to Stay
Although only 49 square miles, San Francisco offers some of the most beautiful hotels in the country. I personally have some favorites, not all that have I have stayed the night in, but all where I’ve enjoyed a meal or experienced the ambience at a party.
The Palace tops my list. Elegance is the only way to describe every possible detail of this timeless gem. There is an ambiance of comfortable vintage from floor to ceiling. The history and celebratory spirit can be felt in the air. Part of what makes this hotel so incredible is the Garden Court, a room roofed with an intricate glass ceiling, which houses a world-class restaurant with the ambiance to match. There is also the Pied Piper bar, which is decorated an original Parrish painting, situated behind the bar for visitors to admire while sipping their delicious cocktails. The Palace is a fitting name for the quality and luxurious experience this hotel offers. l highly recommend it for anyone who wants a romantic, comfortable, and beautiful stay from start to finish.
The Fairmont is also at the very height of my list. The lobby is magnificent. When I was a little girl I could never decide what part of the room to admire first. The Fairmont is equally as grand as the Palace, but offers a few subtle differences that may be more desirable to some. Situated at the top of Nob Hill, the views surrounding the majestic hotel are astounding. Nob Hill is also a quieter part of San Francisco than the downtown Palace Hotel location. It is still only a hill away from the center of downtown, but if walking on busy sidewalks is a concern, the Fairmont is optimal. Be aware though, sharp inclined hills surround this beauty. Another fun part of the hotel is the “Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar,” an experience that allows visitors to travel back in time to the retro kookiness of the 1960’s. It is tropical island themed with frequent live entertainment. There is even a pool at the bottom of part of the bar: retro funk at this finest.
A more modern yet fantastic place I love is the Marriott Marquis in the middle of downtown San Francisco. This hotel is a high-rise, and therefore the views are spectacular from any room. Another positive is the incredible location: museums, shops, and restaurants in downtown are only a brief walk away from the entrance.
If you are looking for hotels on more of a budget, there are also some great options. There are many motels that are located directly across the street from the ocean and close to Golden Gate Park. The Seal Rock is located in my favorite location: it is across the street from the historical Cliff House, is a two-minute walk away from breath-taking views from cliffs overlooking the ocean, and a 5 minute walk to the super cool historic Sutro Baths. Most importantly for Outside Lands visitors, it is about a ten minute walk to Golden Gate Park.
Another motel ideal for those on a budget and conveniently located to the park is the Geary Parkway Inn. Benefits of staying here include a central location: Geary and it nearest cross street, Park Presidio, are some of the main roads in the entire city. It is easy to hop on any bus from Geary or Park Presidio to go anywhere in SF. The best part about the location for Outside Lands visitors, is that it is about a 20-minute walk to the festival. This close proximity eliminates the need to ride a crowded bus or pay a premium for Uber.
Lastly, the Stanyan Park Hotel is an excellent middle-priced hotel that hugs the rim of the park. Its proximity to the festival is not the only reason why I recommend this hotel, but also because it is located across the street from one of the most entertaining and desirable neighborhoods in San Francisco: The Haight Ashbury and Cole Valley. One block in any direction from the entrance of this hotel you can find chic boutiques, a restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, and nightlife. The energy of these neighborhoods are young and vibrant: ideal for anyone who wants to keep the festivities going before and after their day in the festival.
How to Eat
I am not humble about San Francisco’s restaurant scene as it is one of the best in the country. Cuisines from around the world are offered in plethora in this beautiful city. Want Eritrean food? There is a restaurant for that. Thai food? Too many places to count. Chinese food? No other city can compare. This list goes on.
However, for the sake of creating a cohesive guide to the OSL visitor, I am going to cut the list down to a few of my favorite restaurants outside of the park. I will also offer some advice while dining within the festival.
In the Festival
As I mentioned before, Outside Lands is a food festival just as much as a music one. Restaurants from around the Bay Area open up booths. The options are overwhelming, and trust me: everything is delicious. You cannot go wrong. So how do you pick? The best strategy is to narrow down your options by doing as follows:
First, decide what you are in the mood for: if noodles and vegetables sound good, take note of any of the booths that may offer such food. In the mood for something with meat? Do the same. Second, strategize location and time. If you know that you will be hungry about 2:30 in the afternoon, plan to find your desired food booth half an hour before. Lines can grow long. Also, factor in time for getting to the acts you want to see the most. Don’t miss that band you’ve been waiting months to groove to because that Bacon Mac & Cheese you enjoyed took too long to get. To maximize your dining experience in Outside Lands, plan ahead. But even if your style is spontaneity, trust me, you cannot go wrong with any food booth you chose.
Outside of the Festival-Before the Day
Dining outside of the festival is a different matter completely. Thanks to a wonderful website called Open Table, making reservations is easy and highly recommended as popular restaurants will have long waiting times for walk-ins. Most visitors love to brunch prior to entering the festival grounds. There are so many amazing places to eat brunch that I have a hard time choosing just a few to recommend. So, for the sake of efficiency, I will recommend four places where I have had exceptional experiences.
My favorite neighborhood to brunch in is the Marina. I love brunch at The Brixton on Union Street. Although their mimosas are tasty, their bloody marries are exceptional and strong. You can even order bacon or oyster as embellishments. Their food is not only pleasing to look at, but the fresh vegetables they put in all of their scrambles and the perfectly crisp hash browns always satisfy my brunch cravings.
Another fun place to eat brunch in the Marina is Eastside West. This trendy bar offers a celebratory environment guaranteed to start the day with a party and continue at the festival. Not only does this bar offer bottomless mimosa, but the venue provides opportunities to play popular games like corn hole and beer pong.
Outside of the Marina and closer to Golden Gate Park, there is a wonderful restaurant called Zazie. It is a French restaurant about a 10 minute walk from the park, and its brunch menu is amazing. It offers a French twist to almost all of its plates. My personal favorite is their Challah French Toast- something you cannot miss if you find yourself in the neighborhood.
Park Chow is another popular brunch spot, and more kid friendly. It is extremely close to the festival; only a 5 minute walk to the park. The restaurant is an establishment, as most locals know and dine there frequently. Their menu is primarily organic while offering that classic American breakfast style food. It offers nutritional comfort food that will get you ready for your long day at Outside Lands.
Outside of the Festival-At the End of the Day
After the festival, I love going to Pacific Catch: a seafood restaurant just across the street from the festival’s borders. This restaurant takes traditional seafood from around the world and twists it into its own modern and unique flair. Everything on their menu is delicious, including their cocktails. My favorite is their salmon poke.
Another excellent place to dine post-festival is at the Crepe-Vine. The short distance from the park makes up for the fact that they do not take reservations. The menu is expansive, offering not only crepes but salads, omelets, scrambles, and sandwiches. This place offers the best comfort food after a long day enjoying all the festival has to offer. My favorite? The California with salsa: it is crepe perfection.
Other Things to Do in San Francisco
Luckily San Francisco is a very easy city to explore. One can walk almost anywhere with ease. I encourage all Outside Lands visitors to take advantage of other attractions in Golden Gate Park if time permits. The De Young is an incredible art museum with a tower that allows visitors to gaze across the park. Additionally, Academy of Science is a world-class science museum that offers an indoor rainforest, an aquarium, and a planetarium. The park also offers a variety of tranquil parks and gardens where anyone can relax, barbecue, or picnic.
Outside of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s attractions are endless. Some of my favorites include a stroll down the heart of the Mission District, Valencia Street. Here, there is a plethora of unique Latin-fusion restaurants and trendy shops. Do not miss a walk down Crissy Field. The entire path parallels the bay with an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge. China Town is also a fun place to visit, with authentic Chinese restaurants and markets hugging every corner.
The best part about San Francisco is how easy it is to walk through. One incredible neighborhood rolls into another. Take time to look at the amazing architecture of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. You should take advantage of the hundreds of boutiques and quirky shops that are unique to the city. Even gather the energy to climb one of those scary hills; the view at the top will be worth every step.
Hopefully this guide has given you insight into how to properly visit both the incredible Outside Lands music festival and its host city, San Francisco. I promise whatever decisions you make, they will be good ones. Dance, eat, drink, and explore. You will not regret any of it.