In the midst of all the summer concert hullabaloo, there’s one music series you might miss, and later kick yourself for forgetting, especially because it’s completely free! Kicking off its 76th season, the Stern Grove Festival is returning to the stage for another summer full of free shows. Starting June 16th (that’s Father’s Day weekend) and running through mid August, Sunday afternoons in the Grove will be bustling with crowds of picnickers on the terraced lawns of this beautiful outdoor venue. As you walk through the park, you’ll find toddlers stretched out on blankets with their parents, friends pouring wine into paper cups, and food everywhere you look. Read on to find out all the details about how to make the most of this free summer series in the park.

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Getting There
Parking is limited around Stern Grove, but if you’re going to find a spot, you might want to consider parking along one of the nearby avenues (20th Ave, 21st Ave, Wawona, etc.)

If possible, try taking public transportation to the Grove. Both the 23-Monterey and 28-19th Avenue stop right at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard at the park entrance. The M Ocean View or the K Ingleside both stop at St. Francis Circle. From there, walk west one block to 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard.

If you’re biking in, there’s a bike valet at the entrance to the Grove (19th Ave & Sloat Blvd). From there, it’s a beautiful walk down into the canyon surrounded by trees. The valet opens at 10:00 am and remains open until one hour after the end of the concert. No bikes are allowed on the festival grounds.

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What to Bring
Blankets or lawn chairs are a necessity. Chances are you’ll be sitting on the terraced lawn, West Meadow, or hillside and you’ll be thankful you brought something along to sit on. Picnic tables are awarded to families by raffle and benches are reserved for seniors and the disabled and one guest. This leaves the grass, where you can stake an 8×10 claim, or the hillside.

Pack the sweaters. It’s summer, but after all, this is San Francisco. While the weather could be comfortable in the Grove, it definitely can get chilly towards the later afternoon.

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Get there early
People show up as early as 10:00 am to stake out a spot for the 2:00 pm concert, so early birds definitely have the advantage here. As a reward for showing up beforehand, families have access to special activities just for kids from 12:00 pm -1:00 pm on the KidStage, with everything from art-making,  to Instrumental Petting Zoos to keep the little ones entertained.

The concerts begin at 2:00 pm and last until around 4:30 pm, with world-class acts bringing on the world music, classical, jazz beats, and more. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and introduce the kids to the arts – one of the reasons the festival was founded 76 years ago!

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The Lineup
The Stern Grove Music Festival traditionally brings in some pretty big names, which makes the fact that the shows are free all the sweeter! Check out some of the performing acts for the 2013 season:

June 16 – The Big Picnic Starring Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs
July 7 – San Francisco Symphony
July 14 – Kronos Quartet
July 28 – The San Francisco Ballet
August 4 – Shuggie Otis, The Relatives
August 11 – Pink Martini, La Santa Cecilia
August 18 – The San Francisco Opera

Check out the complete lineup here.

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Insider Tips:
– A large part of the oncoming crowd finds refuge up on the dirt hillside, so if you’re late (or even if you’re early) be prepared to walk up the slippery slope. (And back down again for a potty break.) You may not be able to see the performers close up on the stage from here, but you’ll be able to hear them beautifully. There’s also more access to shade in this area. If you prefer to remain lower to the ground, there’s also the less crowded West Meadow, but you won’t be able to see the main stage from here.

– Bathroom are located at the Trocadero Clubhouse, on the southeast end of esplanade, and west meadow entrance.

– You can bring your own picnic lunch to the concert, as well as beer and wine. No alcohol is sold at the event, but food is available on site at the Grove Café.

What concert are you most excited about seeing this summer?

–Renee Rutledge

all photos courtesy of the Stern Grove Festival facebook page