The Bard in the park

Summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors: from story-telling around bonfires on your favorite beach to camping under towering redwoods. But summer is also the time when the art community comes out in full force. From now till fall, art shows happen almost every weekend in main streets around the Bay Area, and many cities offer free concerts in parks and school grounds. But today, we’ll look at a quieter, less commonly known art treasure: Shakespeare in the Park.

Free performances

The first time I came across free Shakespeare was a few decades ago in Golden Gate Park. A crowd had gathered in one of the big meadows and I thought to myself: “This looks gemütlich, let’s see what might be going on.” My friendly neighbors offered me a spot on their blanket and a glass of wine, and so it began. Little did I know then that Shakespeare in the Park is a tradition, and one not limited to San Francisco.

Below are some places where you can see Shakespeare performed for free. Of course, there are many, many more places all around the Bay Area, where you can enjoy his works on the beach or in the forest with a ticket (and a glass?) in hand!

Silicon Valley Shakespeare

Shakespeare in Willow Glen’s Bramhall Park, San Jose

Bramhall Park, Willow Glen

Silicon Valley Shakespeare chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream as their free 2019 play (the photo is from a prior season).

San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

Amador Valley Community Park, Pleasanton
Memorial Park, Cupertino (enjoy English poetry mixed with the sound of local ducks 🙂
Grounds of Sequoia High School, Redwood City
Main Post Parade Ground Lawn, Presidio, San Francisco
Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, McLaren Park, San Francisco

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival brings you As You Like It this year. They play in different parks from June to September.

Vallejo Shakespeare in the Park

Hanns Park Amphitheater, Vallejo
Rithet Park, Crockett
Susanan Park, Martinez
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, Oakland

Vallejo Shakespeare in the Park will perform Henry V from July to August at several East Bay locations.


Like many other free programs, free Shakespeare depends on donations. If your wallet allows for it, please drop a few bills in the hat at the end of the evening. Some of the companies also offer merchandise like shirts and sweaters.

This is Northern California and it tends to get cold after sundown. Plan accordingly (or buy that sweater!)

Food can be purchased at booths or food trucks at some of the festivals, but do not count on it. Bring your own picnic. That’s half of the fun anyways!

Blankets and low chairs are always allowed. Do check the performance websites for rules on taller chairs though.

Here are some more tips from the SF Shakespeare Festival site:

Now go and grab that blanket, because “nothing will come of nothing!”