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

May 23, 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. 

The City has begun to advance a series of initiatives and will launch additional programs that support this strategy:  

  • Designate an Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) Zone with targeted City programs and incentives to foster new arts and culture establishments.
  • Continue supporting public space events and activations that showcase local talent, entrepreneurs and culture.
  • 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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Designated Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) Zone

The pandemic changed work and shopping habits and revived a desire for in-person experiences such as live events, shows and cultural gatherings. These changes, coupled with the increased availability of Downtown commercial spaces present new opportunities for emerging culinary, arts and culture, recreation, and entertainment and nightlife establishments to open – bringing new energy and creating new points of interest for visitors. 

  • To encourage new activities Downtown, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development is leading efforts to designate an ACE Zone. Staff is working to identify and evaluate existing arts, culture, and entertainment assets in the Downtown area to propose boundaries of an ACE Zone and work with public, private, and industry stakeholders to create a package of incentives and supporting investments that can foster new venues, event spaces and other cultural institutions, with a focus on independent local establishments, in the area that generate increased interest.

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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. 

  • 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 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 2022 and will return for the 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. 

    • Yerba Buena Art & Makers Market, a free monthly fair in Yerba Buena Gardens featuring local artists and performers that begin in April 2023 

    • Bhangra & Beats Night Market in the Financial District, a recurring free Friday night festival beginning in May 2023 that features local crafts and food and prominent DJs and performers mixing South Asian Bhangra music and other popular music genres 

    • Our Place in the Park AAPI film festival at Victoria Manalo Draves Park in SOMA on May 27 that will feature 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 new weekly produce and artisan foods market at The Crossing at East Cut outdoor events space through May 2023 that the East Cut Community Benefits District hopes to build into 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 and Dog Days of Winter dog-themed free outdoor festivals in the East Cut neighborhood launching in August of 2023 

    • Annual Litquake literary festival in October 2023, and complementary year-round programming throughout Downtown

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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 include technical assistance and guidance to help event organizers manage event costs and 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

Bars, restaurants and venues rely on foot traffic and community interest to thrive. During the pandemic, street openings and sidewalk seating allowed clients to dine and drink outdoors, offering a critical lifeline to these businesses. 

  • Pending state legislation - SB 76 (Wiener) - would allow local governments to designate “Entertainment Zones,” where local restaurants and bars could sell alcoholic beverages for outdoor consumption in street closures, 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. 

  • If the legislation passes, the City would see double benefit: brick-and-mortar businesses will get a revenue boost and the street activation will drive more visitors. 

  • The City will advocate for this legislation to pass and work diligently to establish Entertainment Zones, as permitted.

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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 City Administrator’s Office is leading efforts to explore making the Visitor Center at Moscone Center a focal point and resource for visitors to Downtown. The program may include Welcome Ambassadors and other elements to engage visitors and connect them to arts, cultural, entertainment, and nightlife experiences Downtown and throughout San Francisco.

  • The center would serve to promote events and activations produced by the city’s vibrant mix of neighborhood, arts, and community organizations.


See other economic recovery strategies

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