All posts by J Anderson

writer, journalist, photographer, itinerant chronicler. Lover of culture and travel in general, and the Bay Area in particular.

A brief neighborhood guide to san francisco: chinatown

(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. Also, as a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses I talk about in the guides may close shop with little warning.)

Chinatown The most iconic neighborhood in San Francisco is also the oldest Chinatown in North America (est. 1848) and largest outside Asia. When I used to visit San Francisco during my time away, I would stay at the SF Plaza, a basic old hotel on the corner of Bush and Grant. It’s right next to the Dragon’s Gate at the entrance of Chinatown, and it was fantastic, grabbing a morning coffee at Café de la Presse then wandering down Grant Ave (the main drag, paralleled by Kearny on the east border and Stockton and Powell to the west, and numerous alleys between) past shopkeepers sweeping their sidewalks and cooks prepping their kitchens before the crowds arrived. Laundry flapped in the breeze on the balconies above, delivery trucks rumbled through, and locals picked over produce at the markets, where you can find fresh fish and live poultry – mini versions of wet markets in Asia. The place is vibrant and alive. It’s also the most visited site by the city’s tourists (though rarely feels crowded), with trinket shops geared toward them and hawkers handing out menus on street corners. Ironic then that Chinatown is so insular, with Cantonese spoken amongst its residents (many older immigrants) who live behind a veil of mystery to outsiders. It seems to operate with separate rules from the rest of the city. Which kind of makes all of us tourists here; I know I feel like one whenever I visit. Come here in the morning or night when the crowds thin: it’s like taking a detour down a Hong Kong backstreet where the real life of the neighborhood happens. It’s the only place in SF that can transport you like that. The more time you spend here the more layers you can peel back, discovering all kinds of interesting sights and places: The upstairs lunch spot Sabra’s kosher Israeli, Golden Gate Bakery (best custard tarts in the city), Red’s Place bar, the Chinatown Y, parks like Portsmouth Square where tots play and old folks meet for morning Tai Chi, Buddha Lounge and Li Po bar (est. 1937), memorable restaurants (House of Nanking, R&G Lounge, Sam Wo (est. 1907)), curious shops and alleyways that light up the imagination. The only way to experience it is by foot – all the sounds, smells and sights; the best walking neighborhood in the city.

A brief neighborhood guide to San Francisco: North Beach

(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. Also, as a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses I talk about in the guides may close shop with little warning.)

North Beach Like the perfect picture postcard of San Francisco, there’s no mistaking what city you’re in on a stroll through North Beach, and why it’s so popular with visitors. Another reason: its supreme walkability, one of the best in the city (despite four lanes of Columbus Ave); there’s something interesting at every turn. It’s also the most traditional and established of San Francisco’s neighborhoods – residents have lived here for decades and Italian families for generations – and with the richest history. From the Barbary Coast to the beats, jazz to punk rock, the North Beach scene was instrumental in all of those eras. It’s also home to the first club in the U.S. to go topless (The Condor). Back then, if you were young and hip and seeking excitement, you went to North Beach. Yes, these days it’s a tourist magnet, but it’s not ‘touristy’, and anyway the tourists bring some bustle, and stay mostly to Columbus Ave and the Italian eateries along it. Venture off the main drag and things quiet down a bit, and that’s where you’ll find some of the quirkiest shops in the city, especially along Grant Ave. (or could until recently). The family-run coffee shops and cafés might not be hipster favorites, but there’s no better place to nurse a cappuccino and watch the city pass by. Caffe Trieste is not only filled with characters – on both sides of the counter – it’s the OG of west coast coffeehouses, while Caffe Greco would be my daytime home if I lived anywhere near the area. The same holds for some of the city’s best and most colorful old-school bars, like Vesuvio’s, Mr. Bing’s and The Saloon (the city’s oldest bar and best for live blues). And while restaurants along Columbus are often dismissed as tourists traps, they can be a fun and truly Italian experience (e.g. playful banter with the maître d’). You’ll find the city’s best old-school Italian eateries in North Beach, and the best pizza (Capo’s and Tony’s). Washington Square (state’s oldest park), Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, Saints Peter and Paul Church, City Lights bookstore, exquisite architecture (the Malloch Building), fantastic views, North Beach has a lot to offer and tops my list as the best neighborhood to visit.

How to respond to racism, police brutality and injustice in our community, and support black-owned businesses in the Bay Area

There’s a power dynamic that has been at work for decades, centuries, that rewards – or at least tolerates – bigotry, oppression and injustice against blacks and minorities, a power dynamic that needs a tectonic shift (or just needs to be obliterated). It’s been so entrenched and intractable for so long that the only available response is to take to the streets in protest. And while a show of solidarity can be powerful and cathartic, protests and riots have been going on for over 100 years in this country, and yet blacks and minorities are still targets of police brutality and injustice.

But I’m just one person, so what can I do?

One strategy is a political tipping point if enough take action. Make a list of your federal and state government reps and contact them demanding police reform. Send a list of reform ideas, such as an end to qualified immunity, an end to weaponizing police departments, better and longer police academy training with greater focus on de-escalation and outreach, ongoing sensitivity training, a much greater vetting process for new hires, greater oversight and consequences to root out bad actors, and bonus programs that encourage good behavior. Contact your mayor with the same demands, then go to your city and county council meetings and get vocal during the open mic period of the session.

Find your federal government reps

Find your state government reps

Another strategy is more personal. A lot of police departments have community outreach programs, such as meet and greet hours at local coffee shops where anyone can show up. Go and talk with them about your concerns and what they think should be done to end police brutality. They’re human. If enough people went and talked with them about these same issues, it would have to make some impact.

Money is power, ownership is power

In San Francisco and Oakland, there’s been a gradual purging of black communities as gentrification, redlining and other forces have pushed out families that had been there for generations. Those forces of economic racial injustice have also been a rot at the core of black communities, leading to a host of ills.

One solution to stronger, more resilient black communities are more black-owned businesses that can act as a bulwark against an unjust economic system. And one easy way to ensure the growth of black-owned businesses is for people to support them with their dollars. But to spend your money at black-owned businesses, you have to know who they are and where to find them.

You can find that information at various sites like Support Black Owned, which lists 296 black-owned businesses throughout the Bay Area, which is by no means exhaustive but a good place to start. And while you may not often need the services of a trucking company or biological consultant, everyone needs to eat. And the good thing is, you can support restaurants again and again. With that, here’s a list put together by KQED’s Bay Area Bites of black-owned eateries in the Bay Area offering everything from pizza and barbecue to pies and cupcakes.

Black-Owned Restaurants in San Francisco

Miyako Old-Fashioned Ice Cream (Fillmore)

Auntie April’s (Bayview)

Sheba Piano Lounge (Fillmore)

Little Skillet (SoMa)

Queen’s Louisiana Po-Boy Cafe (Bayview)

Radio Africa Kitchen (Bayview)

Sam Jordan’s Bar (Bayview)

Frisco Fried (Bayview)

Yvonne’s Southern Sweets (Bayview)

Amawele’s South African Kitchen (Embarcadero)

Club Waziema (NoPa)

Two Jacks Nik’s Place (Lower Haight)

International Smoke (SoMa)

Black-Owned Restaurants in the South Bay / Peninsula

Back a Yard Caribbean Grill (Menlo Park & San Jose)

Walia Ethiopian Cuisine (San Jose)

Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant (San Jose)

Black-Owned Restaurants in the East Bay

Lena’s Soul Food Cafe (Oakland)

Kingston 11 Cuisine (Oakland)

Southern Cafe (Oakland and Antioch)

Lois the Pie Queen (Oakland)

Home of Chicken and Waffles (Oakland)

Souley Vegan (Oakland)

Miss Ollie’s (Oakland)

Crumble & Whisk Patisserie (Berkeley)

Everett & Jones Barbeque (Oakland, Berkeley and Hayward)

PieTisserie (Oakland)

New Karibbean City (Oakland)

Goeffrey’s Inner Circle (Oakland)

Ensarro Ethiopian (Oakland)

Miliki (Oakland)

Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement (Emeryville)

Suya African Grill (Oakland)

ENAT Honey Winery (Oakland)

Reve Bistro (Lafayette)

Oeste (Oakland)

Cupcakin’ Bake Shop (Oakland and Berkeley)

The best San Francisco movies to watch during a quarantine

If ever there was a time to binge watch endless movies guilt free, a government enforced shelter-in-place order is probably it. And since we can’t get out to enjoy our lovely city in person, dialing up a San Francisco-set movie is the next best thing. Fortunately there are plenty to choose from, some even featuring the city as a sort of third character, enough to give local viewers lots of place-checking warm snugglies at seeing their home city on the big (small) screen.

The list I compiled is a bit idiosyncratic, and based on a couple criteria. First, and obviously, the film has to be filmed here; not in some studio lot in Burbank with a few beauty shots of Coit Tower thrown in. Second, it has to be good… according to me. And third, it has to be a film I’ve actually watched, which eliminates some probably worthy films I’ve never gotten around to (Zodiac, all the Dirty Harry movies).

Big Trouble in Little China John Carpenter! Kurt Russel! Martial arts! Ancient curse! Good vs Evil! What else could you want? SF’s Chinatown, and Carpenter’s alt universe version, plays a starring role in this wicked fun romp.

The Love Bug This was my first introduction to San Francisco as a kid. Hills, old Victorians, hippie vans, Chinatown, empty streets in night fog. Disney made a slew of wacky kid-friendly films in the 60s and 70s before turning to animation, and this was one of their best and silliest.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill The most personal and idiosyncratic of SF docs, meaning the most San Franciscan. It’s a lovely piece about a unique slice of nature found in the city, and a deep dive into the parrot caretaker and his life, the kind of colorful San Francisco character now endangered (if not extinct).

Bullitt A travelogue of San Francisco neighborhoods via the era’s muscle cars. The city takes a starring role in this classic Steve McQueen flick loaded with action and suspense, and lots of pulse-racing chase scenes over and around the hills of the city.

The Conversation This Coppola classic is such an intense and deep character study the many scenes of San Francisco can get overlooked. But it was filmed entirely here, with some lonely shots around the city evocative of Gene Hackman’s character.

Crumb One of the best documentaries ever, which follows underground comix artist Robert Crumb on his life and rise and dysfunctional upbringing. San Francisco figures prominently in his career, where he lived from the late 1960s through the early ‘90s. And while there aren’t a ton of city shots, he was a SF fixture during that time and important part of our counter-culture.

Play it Again, Sam One of my favorite Woody Allen films isn’t directed by him (though he wrote and stars in it). The movie is set and shot in San Francisco and Sausalito, with shots of Allen riding cable cars and driving through the rainbow tunnel in Marin.

Harold and Maude The only film I know of that was almost entirely shot on the peninsula. From South San Francisco to Santa Cruz, and almost every city between gets a cameo in the 70s cult classic about a couple eccentrics brought together by their love of funerals for a May-December romance.

Milk Award-winning film about a San Francisco icon played by a long-time Bay Area resident entirely set and shot in the city. A must-see highlighting an important chapter in San Francisco’s history, and the man who made that history.

Fearless An interesting movie by the great Peter Weir starring Jeff Bridges. While the film is primarily a character study of a plane crash survivor, one of my favorite scenes is Bridge’s architect character driving around Oakland giving an architectural tour of its many wonderful old buildings.

So I Married an Axe Murderer A silly but fun movie from Mike Myers before he was super famous. Set and shot in San Francisco, sight-check familiar spots like Fog City Diner, Alamo Square, Palace of Fine Arts, and lots of North Beach locales. Bonus points for scenes from a typical old-school SF butcher shop.

Vertigo Easily a top three San Francisco-based movie. Besides Hitchcock’s fantastic use of color, his angles and shots of the city set the mood, turning San Francisco into the perfect backdrop in this classic thriller. See the city in a whole different light through the eyes of a master.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco The newest addition to the SF-movie canon came out last year, and is made with loving care by a local. Some of the shots are absolutely gorgeous. And it also shines a light on a totally underrepresented community that’s been systematically gentrified out.

Dark Passage All those shadows and fog make SF an ideal setting for film noir, and it doesn’t get much better with Bogie and Bacall leading the dark mystery. Every scene is filmed in the City (or Marin), including what’s now Grubsteak, and the exquisite Malloch Building on the slopes of Telegraph Hill where the two characters hole up.

The Lady from Shanghai Another classic film noir, this one starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Includes a memorable chase scene through Chinatown, and a climatic scene at a funhouse at Playland, the amusement park that once lived at Ocean Beach by Golden Gate Park.

Butterflies Are Free Filmed mostly in a top floor North Beach apartment (Grant and Green) with a fantastic old skylight, there’s also a nice lunch scene at Perry’s on Union St. (still there 50 years later). This is a lovely drama from the early 70s with Goldie Hawn playing a free-spirited flower child and her blind neighbor struggling against his domineering Nob Hill mother.

Love of nature in the time of Covid-19

So it’s now day what? of your self-quarantine, a number you’re only able to guesstimate by counting the stains on the sweatshirt you’ve been wearing since day one. You’ve Netflixed yourself into a stupor after eating through your two-week supply of Costco snacks in two days. Your spouse/roommates/kids/pets are beginning to resemble fellow characters in a Hitchcockian saga somewhere between Lifeboat and Rear Window. And all the while you’re obsessively worrying the tickle in your chest is, you know, that. You need to get out, like yesterday.

So what’s a quarantiner to do? First of all, consider yourself fortunate if you’re not having to continue to work out in public, ringing up customers at Safeway or driving Uber shifts. And if you’re a healthcare worker, bless you. For the rest of us, fresh air and sunshine are a sure remedy to cabin fever, a great way to release corona angst for those still working. Fortunately the Bay Area is blessed with a bounty of open lands and parks easy access from most any address, whether a city park down the street or a big National Park a close ride away.

But before you go, there are a number of important guidelines to follow to keep you and everyone around you safe and virus-free.

+If you’re sick, stay home. Rest and get better, and don’t inadvertently infect anyone.
+Practice social distancing – maintain a minimum of six feet between you and others.
+If you arrive at your park of choice and find a crowded parking lot, go somewhere else.
+Try to stay within your city or county borders. A good rule of thumb: keep to parks you can walk or bike to, which is pertinent for those parks that remain open but closed their parking lots.
+Check the website of the park you wish to visit since its status can change daily. Some parks have closed because of large crowds.

In general, campgrounds, visitor centers, park stores, and other facilities where people gather are closed, while trails and beaches remain open.

National Parks

Closures at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with several parks in Marin and San Francisco, includes facilities, camp grounds, parking lots, roads, and a few entire parks. Alcatraz, Fort Point and Muir Woods are completely closed. If you want to visit Crissy Field, Lands End or Baker Beach, you’ll need to walk or bike, and don’t be surprised if you find a ‘closed’ sign due to crowds.

Point Reyes National Seashore is mostly closed until at least April 7, including many park roads and most parking lots.

Except for the visitor center and other facilities, the Presidio appears to be open for biking and hiking.

California State Parks

The agency has published a list of parks closed to traffic, which means the only way to access their trails or beaches is to walk or bike to them. For the Bay Area, this includes everything from Mount Diablo SP in the East Bay, Mount Tamalpais SP and Tomales Bay SP in Marin, the half-dozen state beaches in San Mateo County, Henry Cowell SP and several state beaches in Santa Cruz, and a number of parks in Sonoma. If you’re thinking of sneaking away to Mendocino or down to Big Sur, a number of their parks are affected as well.

San Francisco Parks

All playgrounds in city parks are closed, as are parking lots at Ocean Beach, Beach Chalet and Marina Green. The SF Zoo, Cal Academy of Sciences, and any facility where people can gather are closed. Otherwise city parks remain open for now, which could change depending on the level of crowds this weekend.

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Preserves

Except for Windy Hill, which is closed, the 24 preserves found throughout the peninsula are open. Though restrooms, several parking areas and group gathering sites are closed, while loop trails are one-way only. More closings may follow if crowd numbers are too high.

East Bay Regional Park District

Facilities and parking lot closures are extensive at many East Bay Parks, along with several parks. Walk-in access is allowed at others. Check before setting out.

Santa Clara Open Space Authority

The four nature preserves in the south and east of San Jose are open for now.

San Mateo County Parks

As of now, all parks in San Mateo County are closed. This includes Coyote Point, Memorial Park, Sam McDonald Park and Pescadero Creek Park. Beach parking lots in Half Moon Bay and Pacifica are also closed.

Marin County Parks

Because everyone descended on Marin County last weekend, all Marin parks are under various restrictions. Basically you can only walk or bike through.

In search of San Francisco’s “lost soul”

Has San Francisco lost its soul? Yes, at least according to several recent articles (from The New Yorker, New York Times and The Guardian). Whatever a city’s soul is, or if cities even have one, it’s a common refrain of late, especially from out-of-town writers. In SF, tech-money fueled gentrification is ushering in soulless fussy restaurants and pushing housing costs beyond the affordability of all but the top earners, while worsening a homeless problem that seems more desperate than ever. And yes, it’s all true, and definitely bad.

But these forces have been in motion since at least the first dot-com boom in the late 1990s. And it’s happening in cities all across the country, especially New York where two of the writers hail from. Even second-tier cities like Boise, Idaho, are feeling the effects. There was a brief reprieve after the dot-com bust and Great Recession, but now it’s barreling along like an unstoppable freight train. The only thing worse than our insane rents is the cost of a home in the city, even a crappy one. You either have to be rich, or old enough to enjoy a rent-controlled apartment, or your family bought a place decades ago. Along with the local residents, a lot of restaurants and retail can’t keep up. Colorful icons like Sinbad’s have been disappearing, replaced by expensive foodie places that all seem to go in for the same minimalist interior design (lots of metal chairs and white walls), making them feel sterile and uninviting.

Should we blame those young (and not so young) techies like the articles do? Most are working stiffs at the mercy of the same economic forces as everyone else, though some have better salaries to weather the storms and indulge their foodie whims. And whoever they are, there’s a segment out there that only seem interested in eating out, craft beer and Instagrammable backdrops. The kind of IPA note-takers Anthony Bourdain railed against on his trips here, like pod people out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They lack imagination or adventurousness, or both. For instance (screed warning), when I lived in the Inner Richmond, I would see daily lines outside Burma Superstar on Clement St., which has long been on the hip ‘to-do’ list of restaurants. Excellent place, so perfectly deserving. But, half a block away, and owned by the same people, B Star serves virtually the same food at the same quality and never has a line. (Or Burmese restaurant Mandaly a block north on California St. is equally as good, and rarely overcrowded). So I don’t know. But c’mon people! Break from the herd, forget the ‘likes’.

Okay, I’m getting off track. Or maybe not. For whatever reason, whether it’s a change in younger tastes or the pushing out (or aging out) of long-time locals, people just aren’t frequenting places like Sinbad’s (RIP) or Mr. Bing’s unless it’s featured by Bourdain (RIP) on his show. Even the writers of these articles, and the people they interview, don’t seem to know about them, or they certainly don’t mention them. Are they all just hanging out in the Mission or Soma or Hayes Valley? and so only see the most obvious and egregious examples of gentrification in the city?

Because while they may be an endangered species, there are still lots of Mr. Bing-type places around, along with the people that make San Francisco the interesting, gritty, wild, fun, eccentric, colorful ‘Bagdad by the Bay’ it’s long been known as. You just have to leave the Mission to find them.

For starters, Chinatown is a treasure, and has changed little over the decades, even less than similar places in Hong Kong or Taipei. R & G Lounge is an experience, Sam Wo’s is going strong after relocating and still open til 3am, Hunan and dim sum joints abound, and Li Po’s and Buddha Bar are uniquely San Franciscan and the type of two-fisted drinking establishments Bourdain lauded.

Cross the street to North Beach and there’s City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Café, which have barely changed since the days when Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac roamed the alley. Sure, Columbus Ave attracts lots of tourists, but there’s also a vibrant and colorful local community found at places like Café Trieste, The Saloon and Savoy Tivoli.

Even Fisherman’s Wharf isn’t the total tourist hell locals think of it as. Long-time stalwarts like The Buena Vista is there, along with the Grotto bar and restaurant, Sabella & La Torre and the Franciscan Crab Restaurant (the coolest building around!). Musee Mechanique, the Gold Dust Lounge, and some surprisingly underrated bars are also here.

In both the lower and upper Haight, where I used to live in the late ‘90s, there’s been changes, but I’m always surprised at how much is still the same whenever I visit. All my cherished haunts are still there, like the Citrus Club, Happy Donuts, the Booksmith, Amoeba Music and Aub Zam Zam.

And if you dare to cross Arguello, the Richmond and Sunset districts have seen changes (commercial rents pushing out some businesses) but the general character remains, along with some of the best dim sum and pho in the city, and real Russian bakeries and cheap Chinese produce. The people you see walking about are mostly locals, some who probably grew up here.

So my point, a lot of changes have been ongoing in San Francisco that our mostly of the sad soulless variety, but the city still has lots of its unique character to enjoy and celebrate. You just have to make the effort. And if you need some motivation, consider it an act of cultural preservation to have a mai tai at Li Po’s or margarita at Tommy’s, and help them pay the rent.

4th of July in the Bay Area: what to do

You won’t have to venture far to find Independence Day fun in San Francisco and the Bay Area, with all-day events in towns and cities north, east, and all up and down the Peninsula. Parades, parties, food and fireworks are all part of the patriotic celebration, with maybe a 5k or pancake breakfast thrown in for good measure. And guess what, it never rains in July in California, so you’ll never have to worry about dashed plans (though fog can be an issue along the coast). Here’s a list of some of the best options for your 4th of July festivities.

4th at the Wharf
City denizens need only head to Fisherman’s Wharf for its annual mix of colorful street performers and scheduled entertainment throughout the day. Board one of several ferry boats or huddle by the shoreline (or atop a nearby hill) for a spectacular fireworks display shot from barges in the bay. Or use your imagination as you peer through the fog. Afterward, stick around at an area bar while the traffic rush settles.

Bolinas v Stinson Beach Tug of War Battle
This event has been around since the days when the coastal Miwok Indians and Spanish colonials settled their differences with a friendly game of draw and quarter. Okay, that’s not true. But the fabled 9am event over the channel that separates the two towns kicks off 4th festivities that includes a parade in Bolinas and lots of lazing around the beach.

Sausalito’s 4th of July Parade & Fireworks
This is one of the best Independence Day celebrations around, starting with the parade and street fair along Bridgeway and Caledonia. But the best reason to come may be the double dip of fireworks – Sausalito’s own excellent display, and the one directly across the bay in San Francisco. Plus you can enjoy a picnic in the park, hang by the firepits at Bar Bocce, or take a ferry from/to the city.

San Jose Rose, White & Blue Parade
Why ‘Rose’? Because San Jose fancies itself the rose capital of California, and the parade route runs through the streets of the ‘rose garden’ district. The Alameda is blocked off for afternoon festivities, or you can venture to nearby Cupertino, Saratoga or Los Gatos for their celebrations.

El Cerrito WorldOne Festival
The East Bay town goes all out for its 4th festivities, which starts with a pre-party on the 3rd and includes a whole lineup of bands, circus performers and a magic show. There’s even a small carnival with rides, jumpy houses and games.

Marin County Fair and Fireworks
Why not take your 4th up a notch with a visit to the fairgrounds in San Rafael. Enjoy carnival rides (free with admission), a concert of ABBA music and fabulous fireworks at the end of the day. Plus lots of delicious food (fried and otherwise) along with craft beer and wine. Besides the farm animals on show, you might even find a baby pig or goat to pet.

What to do in the Bay Area this 4th of July week

Fireworks and Parades

It’s often said, by me, that the best fireworks are the one’s closest to your home. After all, who wants to drive half an hour to deal with parking and crazy traffic when you can relax in your lawn chair with a cold beer in hand. Ideally, your lawn is within sight of a local fireworks display. If not, you may need to mosey down to your local park for a decent view. Go early, and you may even get a parade and some. Here’s a list from KRON of parades and fireworks, while this rundown from Red Tricycle includes best viewing spots and tips.

Fillmore Jazz Festival

This is the largest jazz fest on the West Coast, and it’s free. Stroll the 12 blocked-off blocks along Fillmore between Jackson and Eddy to enjoy acts such as Lavay Smith & the Red Hot Skillet Lickers and Alphabet Soup. Eat and drink at one of the many food booths and beer gardens along the road, and check out the dozens of arts and crafts. Saturday and Sunday, 6/30-7/1, 10:30am-6pm.

Off the Grid 8th birthday

Imagine a time when food trucks didn’t exist (besides the roach coach’s parked at construction sites) and you had to schlep to an actual restaurant for your dinner. And then you see that the granddaddy food truck event of them all, Off the Grid, is a tender 8 years old. Celebrate its birthday at Fort Mason with dj’s, chill people and of course lots of food truck food and beer. Friday, 6/29, 5-10pm.

Japan Day Festival

As if the Fillmore wasn’t hopping enough this weekend, add the Japan Day celebration to the mix with stages of music, dance and arts. Naturally there will be Taiko, and origami, and excellent ramen and other Japanese delights in the adjacent malls. Sunday, 7/1, noon-4:30pm.

Big Rocky Games

Monte Rio along the Russian River in Sonoma is host to a weekend of its famed Big Rocky Games. It’s the ideal summertime event with inner tube races, rock skipping, a rubber ducky contest, water balloon toss, canoe and swim races and an ice cream eating contest. The town’s firehouse cooks up its Fireman’s BBQ, while Sunday’s highlight includes homemade floats with people performing skits as they float by. Saturday and Sunday, 6/30-7/1, noon-4pm.

Marin County Fair

This is what summer is all about. Concerts, carnival rides and farm animals, and all the deliciously terrible fried food you can dare to eat. Oh, and a fireworks show every night. Saturday-Wednesday, 6/30-7/4, all day.

A getaway to Santa Cruz

For someone who’s never been to California, the city of Santa Cruz is most likely what they imagine. Endless sunshine, miles of sandy coastline, surfers, hippies, old VW vans, legal weed, grungies and skateboard/street punks. More than any other Bay Area city or exurb, Santa Cruz embodies that classic California vibe – something like chilled-out surfer or stoned-out hippie – but mostly a contented attitude that comes when living within biking distance of the ocean is all that matters. It’s a beach town first, college town second, with blue-collar roots and hippie/yoga aspirations, the kind of place Cheech and Chong might retire to, or Jeff Spicoli would flunk out of if he ever got in.

Continue reading A getaway to Santa Cruz