Category Archives: San Francisco Bay Area sites attractions activities

The best farmers’ markets in the South Bay and Peninsula

For the uninitiated, the Mountain View Farmers’ Market can seem almost overwhelming. Several long rows of white tented booths stretch the length of the Caltrain parking lot near the Peninsula town’s commercial district, with one table after another overflowing with an endless array of fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables, in varieties even the most knowledgeable gardener may marvel at.

On a recent Sunday, visitors sampled slices of oranges (blood, navel, Valencia, etc.) and pears (Asian, Bosc, Bartlett), while filling up bag after bag of produce grown and harvested in nearby farms. The biggest questions for most is where to start, and how much they’ll be able to carry.

This impressive variety is one reason farmer’s markets are so popular in the Bay Area, made possible by the close proximity of so many farms cultivating such a wide array of produce. From San Jose’s Blossom Hill to Los Altos and downtown Santa Clara, farmers’ markets are a thriving business because farmers are less than a two hour drive away.

It’s a big reason why Mountain View Farmers’ Market was ranked the top farmers market in California by BuzzFeed, and the number five favorite farmers’ market in the U.S. by America’s Favorite Farmers’ Market contest. Mountain View Farmers’ Market is open Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and has up to 80 farms represented in peak season.

Prepared foods, live entertainment and a palpable community spirit are other reasons people are flocking to the area’s farmers’ markets, and why 8 percent of the market’s visitors are traveling from San Francisco to Mountain View. “Where else can you go and have 75 farms at your fingertips,” said Gail Hayden, director of the California Farmers’ Markets Association.

Hayden is also quick to point out all the other quality farmers’ markets in the South Bay and Peninsula. “Saratoga Farmers’ Market at West Valley College is my favorite, and that’s 75 farms on a slow day,” she said. “It has some amazing organic farms that come in with things you would never see unless you grow them yourself, like some very interesting beets and carrots.” Hayden also said the market’s pastured eggs are worth going out of your way for: “when you eat their eggs, it tastes like an egg.” She adds that the almond flour (and gluten-free) baked goods are both delicious and protein-packed.

Farmers’ markets in the area are able to offer a variety of year-round, local produce largely because of geography. “San Jose is a unique area because it’s close to three microclimates,” said Hayden. “Apples come from the mountains, lettuce from the coast, and hot crops from the valley.”

In fact, it was California where farmers’ markets got their start in 1977, when up to 4,000 people were driving out to farms to buy produce each weekend. With the era’s energy crisis in full bloom, Governor Jerry Brown had the idea of bringing the farmers to the city as a conservation measure.

Hayden also cites the Blossom Hill Farmers’ Market at Ohlone-Chynoweth VTA station on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., open year-round rain or shine. “And the Los Altos Farmers’ Market on Thursday night does a kid’s booth,” said Hayden. “Only kids can go in, and they get fake dollars to buy a peach or nectarine. They love it.”

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Top 5 things to do in the Bay Area this weekend

San Jose Bike Party
If you find yourself on the Alameda in downtown San Jose on Friday evening, keep an eye out for the rolling parade of lights and bikes and music disrupting traffic and having a generally fun time. The monthly bike party has become a thing, and all you need is a bike and a sense of adventure. Friday, 11/20, 7:30pm-ish, sjbikeparty.org for location.

Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Market
If an octopus-adorned t-shirt or bird coffee mug are on your Christmas list, then get thee to Ft. Mason. More than 300 vendors will be hawking their wares, along with a glass-cutting workshop and the on-premise bar (with amazing views, fyi). Saturday and Sunday, 11/21-22, 11am-6pm.

The Big Game
Cal vs Stanford, duh. The 123-year rivalry between the cross-bay foes is one of the biggest in all of college sports, and certainly in the West. The winner gets the coveted Stanford Axe and year of bragging rights. Saturday, 11/21, 7:30pm, Stanford Stadium.

Pier 39 Tree Lighting
More than just a flip of a switch, Pier 39’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony is a two-day event filled with attractions. Meet friends from Disneyland, file your Santa letters to officials from the US postal service, and enjoy performances from a slate of choral groups. Saturday and Sunday, 11/21-22, noon-6pm.

City Hall Centennial Tour
Celebrate 100 years of SF’s city hall building with guided tours from city hall docent and curator Ellen Schumer. Sunday, 11/20, 1pm and 3pm.

8 Bay Area national parks to visit for NPS’s 100-year birthday

The National Park Service is turning 100 in 2016. And what better way to celebrate the auspicious occasion than with an inspirational birthday visit to one of the many national parks within easy travel distance from San Francisco.

Alpine forests, dramatic sea cliffs, towering redwoods and fascinating regional histories are some of what you’ll find on a park excursion, and all part of the rich splendor and stunning natural diversity of national parks in or near the Bay Area. With so much on offer so close to home, the opportunities to explore and discover are seemingly endless, and as convenient as a bike ride across town or a daytrip to the country.

Here are eight notable national parks in or near San Francisco for enjoying the great outdoors:

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
With multiple sites in San Francisco, and in bordering Marin and San Mateo counties to the north and south, respectively, GGNRA is the largest and most accessible Bay Area park for city dwellers. The popular Lands End near Ocean Beach includes the Coastal Trail, offering spectacular sea and bay views at every turn. While the expansive Marin Headlands features hiking and biking trails that start at rugged Rodeo Beach and meander past historic military bunkers to reach the 920-foot Hawk Hill.

Point Reyes National Seashore
A triangle-shaped peninsula strung along the western edge of Marin County, this wild and windy park encompasses 71,000 acres of rolling grasslands, twisted Monterey pines and a dramatic rocky coastline buffeted by crashing breakers. While 1,500 species of plants and animals call the park home, the main attraction is the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula some 60 miles from San Francisco, and an ideal spot for watching migrating gray whales.

Yosemite National Park
A jewel in the national park crown, this vast wilderness on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is one of the most popular attractions in the state. Celebrating its own birthday – 125 in 2015 – the spectacular Yosemite Valley is the epicenter and a four-hour drive from San Francisco. Enjoy views of the soaring rock cliff El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls, and the dramatic Vernal Falls. Intrepid hikers can also trek up the 4,800-foot-high Half Dome.

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
Follow in the footsteps of Juan Batista de Anza, the Spanish explorer who established the Presidio and Mission San Francisco in 1776 after trekking some 1,200 miles from Arizona. In San Francisco, the Mountain Lake Trail in the Presidio includes a historical marker where de Anza camped – a popular reenactment site. Sections of the trail circle the Bay Area and continue south to Monterey and beyond, following the historical route with numerous markers and facilities along the way.

Muir Woods National Monument
Just 17 miles from San Francisco in Marin County, the 554-acre Muir Woods is a popular draw for locals and tourists alike. While up to 6,000 visit daily in the dry summer months, the park is often shrouded in fog – a vital ingredient to the unique ecosystem of old growth coast redwoods. Those trees are the stars here, growing up to 250 feet in height with most between 500-800 years old. Avoid parking hassles and ride the Muir Woods Shuttle from April through October.

Fort Point National Historic Site
Lurking mostly unseen under the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point was built prior to the Civil War as the first line of defense against enemy warships entering San Francisco Bay. Used by the US Army up through WWII, the fort’s exquisite and well-preserved arched casements are an excellent example of the art of brick masonry from the era. View displays of vintage canons, and tour the soldiers barracks and officers’ quarters.

Alcatraz Island
Easily the most sought-after ticket for Bay Area visitors, the iconic Alcatraz Island is situated a short ferry ride away in the middle of San Francisco Bay. The frigid water and hazardous currents made it an ideal prison locale for the country’s most dangerous convicts from 1933 to 1963. And that rich history comes alive during a fascinating self-guided audio tour narrated by former guards and prisoners. The views of the bay are pretty amazing too.

Pinnacles National Park
The newest edition to the state’s wealth of national parks, Pinnacles was upgraded from its national monument status in 2013. Originally established in 1908, the park is located 120 miles southeast of San Francisco and features the eroded remains of an extinct volcano and other dramatic spires and rock formations that gave the park its name. Caves, condors, rare chaparral vegetation and unique geological formations created by the San Andreas Fault are also part of Pinnacles’ rich offerings.

Top 5 things to do in the Bay Area this weekend

Fleet Week
Fleet Week is back for its 35th year with a panoply of festivities to beat the band. Seven different ships are available for tours all day Saturday through Monday (a holiday) at various piers along the Embarcadero. Of course the highlight is the airshow over SF Bay, starting at 12:30 and culminating at 3pm with the Blue Angels. Saturday – Monday, 10/10-12, all day.

Ocean Beach Music+Art Festival
At the opposite corner of SF in the Outer Sunset, the Ocean Beach fest packs a lot into its two-blocks. Six stages feature over 20 bands, along with live art installations, 10 food vendors, two beer gardens, a petting zoo and a pumpkin patch. Saturday, 10/10, 11am-7pm, Noriega at 47th St.

Corgi Con
One corgi dog running along the beach as fast as its stubby legs will let it is funny/cute enough. But 500? LOLZ. For corgi owners and lovers, this is obviously a must attend, but also for anyone who enjoys a spectacle. A costume contest and corgi races highlight the event. Saturday, 10/10, 10am-2pm, Ocean Beach.

Litquake
This week-long event brings in hundreds of writers, poets and journalists in venues throughout the Bay Area. Sessions are by theme, such as thrillers, travel and erotica. Saturday – Saturday, 10/10-17, all times.

Viva CalleSJ
Downtown San Jose is a no-car zone on six miles of city streets, and open for biking, walking, skating, yogaing, whatever, as long as it doesn’t involve a motor. Moveable Feast food trucks will be on hand to administer fuel, while the Bay Area’s eight Lombardi trophies (Niners and Raiders) will be on display. Sunday, 10/11, 10am-3pm.

Top 5 things to do in the Bay Area this weekend

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2015
It’s that time of year when banjo music fills the air in Golden Gate Park. The exceedingly popular (and free) festival once again features an all-star lineup of bluegrass, folk and rock royalty. Paul Weller, Emmylou Harris, Robyn Hitchcock and many others fill the bill. Friday – Sunday, 10/2-4, 11am-7pm.

2015 Oktoberfest
If you couldn’t make it to Munich this fall, then try the Bay Area’s closest approximation with a giant beer garden and German food feast in Mountain View. Live oompah bands and lots of contests are on top. Saturday – Sunday, 10/3-4, 11am-7pm.

41st annual Oakland Black Cowboy Parade & Festival
The only festival of its kind in the US, the annual black cowboy parade in Oakland features everything you’d expect in a cowboy fest, except it’s totally urban. Live music, horse and pony rides, and food vendors round out the event. Saturday, 10/3, 10am-5pm.

St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals
It’s bring your pet to church day, as the good reverend fathers will put a blessing upon Fido and Fifi in the spirit of St. Francis, the patron saint of San Francisco. Sunday, 10/4, 12:30pm, Grace Cathedral.

Castro Street Fair
Expect the campy, the outrageous, and plenty of fun of the Castro variety. Three stages feature music and entertainment, while the parade of costumed attendees will provide plenty of street theater. Sunday, 10/4, 11am-6pm.

Top 5 things to do in the Bay Area this weekend

Free National Parks Day
As if you need an excuse to visit our beautiful National Parks, all are offering free entrance in honor of National Public Lands Day. Check out Muir Woods just across the bridge in Marin, or drive to Yosemite, or Pinnacles just south. You won’t be disappointed. Saturday, 9/26, all day.

Palo Alto Harvest Festival
In support of the Quakers of California, the 49th annual Harvest Festival features a rummage sale of donated items, as well as food, music and fun. Saturday, 9/26, 9am-4pm, 957 Colorado Ave, Palo Alto.

Weekend Along the Farm Trails
There’s more to Sonoma than wine tasting. The artisanal breadbasket of the Bay Area is opening its farms for tours, talks, tastings, cooking, demos, pick-your-own produce, music, hay rides, cheese-making and more. Saturday – Sunday, 9/26-27, 10am-49m.

Salsa Festival
Raise your hand if, like me, you can make a meal out of salsa and chips. Then this is the festival for you, with 11 city blocks featuring more salsa than you can shake a tostada at. Tequila, craft beer, music, and more salsa (the dancing type), are also a part. Saturday, 9/26, 12-8pm, Redwood City.

Golden Gate Park Hike
Led by experienced urban hike leader, Jill Katz, walk GGP from end to end, exploring the better and lesser known features of our local treasure. Lily Pond, Stowe Lake, Strawberry Hill, buffalo, beer, and a bonfire on Ocean Beach at sunset. Saturday, 9/26, 3-6pm, meet at Stanyan & Haight.

Top 5 things to do in the Bay Area this weekend

Big Book Sale
Books, remember them? Those peculiar pages of paper and ink bound together in a stack that you “turn” by hand? Yes, those. There will be thousands of them in 60 categories for sale or perusal at the annual Big Book Sale at Ft. Mason’s main pavilion, sponsored by Friends of the SF Library. Friday-Sunday, 9/18-20, 10am-6pm.

Knight ‘n Ale
Wait, really? People dressed in full body armor, the type from, you know, Medieval times, whacking away at each other with swords and lances. This is not the ren faire show variety, but people who actually compete to win. Oh, and there’s beer. I feel this might just catch on. Friday, 9/18, 6:30-8pm, Westbrae Biergarten, Berkeley.

Sumo Wrestling Champions Expo
Japantown has really upped its game lately, offering attendance-worthy events seemingly every weekend. Come out this weekend and watch professional sumo with participants the size of VW bugs battling for king of the ring. Meet and greet each day at 5pm, with wrestlers such as Yama, all 6’4” and 600 pounds of him. Saturday-Sunday, 9/19-20, 12-6pm.

Silicon Valley Tour de Coop
Ride your bike around the peninsula and south bay in a self-guided tour of urban farmsteads – chicken coops, gardens, bee hives and hoop houses. Past events have featured more than 30 stops and 220 miles, while this year adds social and food events post-ride. Saturday, 9/19, 9am-4pm.

Comedy Day
Now in its 35th year, the Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park is an all-day celebration of laughter (hopefully). The extensive lineup is broken down in five sets with each comedian on stage for five minutes. Past Comedy Days have included surprise visits from comedy royalty, including Robin Williams and Dave Chappelle. Sunday, 9/20, 12-5pm, Sharon Meadow.