San Francisco may very well be home to the world's most ardent queer leather scene. It's also a city whose gay community has long been incredibly active and supportive in fundraising, particularly for health, HIV, and AIDS-related causes. Since the early '80s, these two seminal aspects of San Francisco have been embodied by the Folsom Street Fair, a hugely attended (as in 400,000+) Leather Pride festival that usually takes place the last Sunday in September - the date this year is Sunday, September 29, 2013. The fair is preceded by circuit-style dance party, Magnitude, which takes place Saturday night, September 28, from 10 pm until 4 am.
The same organizers, who partner with the beloved Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, also throw a smaller and more locally driven San Francisco fetish fair the last Sunday in July - the next date of Up Your Alley Fair is July 27, 2014. As with Folsom Street Fair, Up Your Alley Fair is held in SoMa (South of Market) is preceded by a Saturday-night party, this one called Bay of Pigs. Below is a preview of the fair, but also keep in mind that the fair has spread to another city with an incredibly vibrant leather scene, Berlin, which since 2004 has been hosting Folsom Europe - the event takes place slightly later next year, over weekend of September 14 to 15, 2013, in Berlin's Schoneberg neighborhood. Billing itself the largest fetish event on the continent, Folsom Europe draws more than 25,000 attendees from all over the world.
Folsom Street Fair (Sunday, September 29, 2013)
Folsom festivities take place along Folsom Street and neighboring blocks (13 blocks in total), from 12th to 7th streets - here's a full map of the action. The fair lasts from 11 am until 6 pm, and includes plenty of live music, more than 200 community exhibitors and vendors, food and beverage stalls, and throngs of participants mingling, dancing, parading, performing, and milling about. This is a fetish event, after all, so you can expect that the majority of those who attend wear leather, rubber, uniforms, jocks, or other fetish gear - but everybody is welcome at Folsom, whatever your attire. The fair draws men, women, and transgenders of all stripes and styles.
Other important elements of the fair include the Venus' Playground, on 9th Street just north of Folsom Street, which is open to women or non-male "genderqueer" participants; the 10th Street District Dance Area, and the 12th Street and 7th Street entertainment stages (these essentially bookend the span of Folsom Street that's closed off for the fair), and an Erotic Artists' Quarter.
Admission to the fair is free, but remember that this is a fundraising event, and it's a big boost to the dozens of organizations that receive proceeds from all of the Folsom events when you pay the suggested admission of $10 (it's $7 for Up Your Alley). If you do pay the admission, you also receive $1 off beverage purchases. The dance parties Magnitude and Bay of Pigs have pricey tickets (again, however, all proceeds benefit charity) - Magnitude costs $80 in advance or $100 at the door.
The official Folsom website has a very helpful FAQ Page that addresses issues on a variety of topics, including policies on nudity and lewd behavior (they conform to California state laws on these subjects), age (18 and over are welcome to attend the fairs), transportation (including bikes, which are encouraged), and so on.
During Folsom Street Fair and Up Your Alley, plenty of gay bars as well as gay-popular restaurants, hotels, and shops fill up with visitors attending these events. Check local gay papers, such as Bay Area Reporter and San Francisco Bay Times for what's on while you're in town, and for information on the many related parties taking place throughout the week. Also visit the San Francisco CVB's outstanding site on GLBT travel.