5 things to do in the Bay Area this weekend

Presidio Community Day & Grand Opening
The opening of the Presidio Welcome Center is the reason behind an all-day extravaganza of performances, ranger-led walks and family fun activities. The full slate of performers includes lion dancers and taiko drummers, with food trucks on hand. Under construction for a few years, the renovated former guard house dates to 1900, and will include interactive exhibits and information on the Presidio. Saturday, 2/25, 10am-4pm.

Hayao Miyazaki-inspired art show
Famed Japanese filmmaker and animator Hayao Miyazaki is the mastermind behind beloved animated films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo and Spirited Away, inspiring a generation of artists and animators. Over 50 artists have contributed works for an exhibit in honor Miyazaki, ranging from prints to sculptures and paintings. Dress as your favorite Miyazaki character, and remember Saturday is the last day. Saturday, 2/25, Spoke Art, 816 Sutter Street, SF.

Mardi Gras Second Line Parade
If you can’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, you can get a tiny taste of the annual Crescent City party buffet in North Beach. Hurricanes, cajun fare and a second line band (North Beach Brass Band) marching through the streets and Washington Square Park from North Star Cafe to Tupelo’s is all part of the festivities. Saturday, 2/25, 2pm.

Lucha Libre Art Show
No wrestling is scheduled at this Lucha Libre-inspired art show, though maybe by the end of the night you’ll get a few art geeks to don their masks for a tussle. 30+ artists will have their works on display, and free drinks and music. Saturday, 2/25, 6-9pm, Wonderland SF, 2929 24th St.

Oscar Parties Everywhere
It’s the Academy Awards time and Oscar parties are happening all over the Bay Area. The Black Cat, Novela, the Balboa Theater, and The Knockout are a just a few venues hosting Oscar soirees. Jimmy Kimmel is this year’s emcee, so maybe a few laughs, along with probably lots of politically wrought thank you speeches. Sunday, 2/26, various times.

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5 things to do in the Bay Area this weekend

Lunar New Year Lion Dancing
Chinese New Year comes early this year. And with a break in our local monsoon, it’s a great time to get out and celebrate this year of the chicken with a visit to your local library. That’s right, SF librarians will be doing the funky chicken dance through the nonfiction aisles. Okay, that’s only after closing (you have no idea what goes on after storytime). Like every year at this time, library branches all over the city play host to Chinese lion dance and martial arts performances. It’s yet another only-in-SF happenings. The first dance kicks off at the Main Library at 10:30am on Saturday, then hits the other 16 locations over the weekend and following Saturday, 1/21. Check SFPL for schedules.

SF Sketchfest
The question is, are San Franciscans funny? Doesn’t matter, since the two-week laughathon known as SF Sketchfest brings in boatloads of talented funny people to yuck it up in a long and impressive list of events in every format imaginable: Improv, sketch comedy, radio/talk shows, film/tv events, musical comedy, variety, stand-up. Local comediennes like Dhaya Lakshminaranayan will appear as well as some of the funniest people on the planet (Christopher Guest, Fred Willard), along with a slew of emerging comics. The fest kicks off Thursday, 1/12, with scheduled events all throughout the city.

FOG Design + Art 2017
Check out the contemporary art at Fort Mason where 45 galleries from around the world assemble this weekend for an annual show in support of SFMOMA’s educational programs and statewide exhibitions. A number of forums and talks are included in each day of the 4-day fest with leading Bay Area artists and designers. Thursday – Sunday, 1/12-15.

Free National Park Day
For MLK Day, every National Park in the country is free to enter, which of course includes the national parks in the Bay Area, such as Muir Woods and Alcatraz. For early risers, you can join a sunrise tour of Muir Woods on Sunday, 1/15, at 7:30.

SFJAZZ Center Anniversary Celebration
In celebration of its 5-year anniversary, SFJAZZ Center opens its doors for an MLK Day family-friendly open house. Choose one of three tour times, which includes a performance in the Miner Auditorium from the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Big Band, and the Jazz Mafia Brass Band. Monday, 1/16.

5 ways to celebrate Christmas in the Bay Area this holiday season

Christmas time is here! While we may not have one-horse open sleighs through snow-covered lanes, the Bay Area offers plenty of things to do and see to get in the holiday spirit and celebrate the season. So don your gay apparel and venture out for a slice of Christmas Norcal style.

Union Square
Union Square in downtown is holiday central in San Francisco each year, with a 40-foot Christmas tree, an ice rink, random carolers and a café serving up hot cocoa and coffee. Macy’s and the other stores that surround the block have their windows festooned in the best displays of the season, while hotels have their own elaborate lobby displays, like the Westin St. Francis 12-foot-tall enchanted sugar castle. For the past several years, two blocks of nearby Stockton Street have been blocked off for pedestrians with food vendors, live performances, appearances by the Macy’s SPCA window puppies, amongst other attractions.

Christmas in the Park
Not to be overlooked by its neighbor to the north, San Jose’s downtown Cesar de Chavez Plaza park has a holiday attraction of its own. Walk through a field of Christmas trees sponsored and trimmed by local organizations as a path winds past animatronic dioramas, such as elves busy in their workshop. Visit with Santa in his house, or catch one of the full schedule of performances on the stage next to the 40-foot tree. Ice skate at a rink across the street, then warm up with the insanely decadent special hot chocolate.

Fantasy of Lights
Down south in Los Gatos, Vasona Park is decked out each December in a panoply of lights. Something of a Christmas tradition for folks in these parts, drive through the very large county park past 50-plus light displays with music accompanying through your car radio. Stop for hot chocolate and carolers at the end of the drive. The event has become a bit of a victim of its popularity, so you’ll need to buy tickets ahead of time and be patient as you wait for the line of cars to move through.

24 Holidays on 24th
Noe Valley’s merchants have teamed up to offer a full month of holiday events on and around 24th Street. Check their schedule for specific events, but you can see live reindeer, listen to live music, visit with Santa or enjoy a hayride. And of course, you know, shop.

Christmas Tree Farms
I’m not talking about the parking lot variety near the entrance at Home Depot. Whether or not you’re in the market for a tree, head to the Santa Cruz mountains or the wilds of Marin for some fresh pine-scented air and a gulp of Christmas cheer. Many of these farms host various activities and a chance to meet Santa, as well as bonfires, hot cider and a world far removed from concrete and shopping malls.

Things to do on Thanksgiving in the Bay Area besides eat turkey

Maybe you have a deep aversion to turkey and cranberries. Or your guests decided last minute they wanted to visit family in LA after all. Or the last thing you want to do is sit around arguing politics with your crazy republican uncle on your first holiday off since labor day.

Take heart, there are plenty of fun and interesting things you can do on Thanksgiving day (and weekend) that don’t involve eating turkey in tense family environments. And because everyone else is ensconced in said traditional activity, you can have your choice of alternate activity in the Bay Area to yourself. Here are a few suggestions:

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California Academy of Sciences
I’ve been to the Academy a half-dozen times, and I’ve yet to get inside Morrison Planetarium. Why? Because tickets (yes, you need a separate ticket) are always snapped up by the time I get around to asking. Because I’ve yet to visit the Academy when you’re not standing three deep behind a crowd of people trying to get a peek of the jellyfish tank. A new ’Tis the Season for Science exhibit opens the day before, complete with snow and live reindeer. The museum is open from 10am to 3pm on Thanksgiving day, which is prime turkey binging/football watching time.

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Muir Woods National Monument
You know where else is insanely crowded, all the time? Muir Woods, one of the most popular outdoor attractions in the Bay Area, which means if you don’t get there early to snag one of the limited parking spaces, you end up walking something like two miles to the entrance. So while everyone else is mixing up their cranberry sauce (I guess if you add enough sugar, anything is edible), you can simply stroll through front gate and enjoy a hike through majestic old growth coast redwoods of this spectacular primeval forest. Open 8am – 5pm.

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Thanksgiving Sunrise Celebration
Didn’t the Thanksgiving story they told us in school involve Indians? To honor what we were taught about that day, join with our Native American brothers and sisters for the Indigenous Peoples’ Annual Thanksgiving Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island, which is part of San Francisco Ohlone Territory. The event marks 524 years of Indigenous resistance, with presenters, drummers and dancers. It starts early, like 4am early, but how often do you get to see the sunrise on Alcatraz?

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Volunteer
This is what the holiday is, or should be, about: giving thanks for what we have, and sharing what we have with others, even if it’s just our time and goodwill. There’s seemingly no shortage of people in need in the Bay Area, unfortunately, and Thanksgiving is a big day in the nonprofit community, who rely on volunteers for help. Here are just a few opportunities for volunteering: Meals on Wheels delivers food to seniors, a Thanksgiving Day Block Party is planned for the Tenderloin, the San Francisco Food Bank is giving out food, Glide Thanksgiving Meals, Little Brothers: Friends of the Elderly, Salvation Army Meal Delivery, Project Open Hand, and SPCA Holiday Windows at Macy’s.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium
When’s the last time you made it to Monterey for a visit to one of the world’s premier aquariums? Thanksgiving is a great time for a local road trip down south on lightly trafficked roads, avoiding both weekday commuters and weekend beach-goers that normally clog up Hwy 17 to Santa Cruz. You also won’t have to elbow your way to a glimpse of the sea otters during feeding time. Open 9:30am – 6pm.

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The Movies
Take your pick. There’s the Kabuki in Japantown, or the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, and all the other cineplexes sprinkled around the Bay Area that are open on Thanksgiving. The blockbusters showing now include Arrival, Doctor Strange, and the Harry Potter-ish Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You might want to avoid evening showtimes, since the turkey eaters start to venture out of their houses at that time looking for something to do.

Merle Haggard’s beautiful little ode to San Francisco

When people think of Merle Haggard, they might think of old-school country, outlaw honkytonk, Bakersfield, Willie and Waylon, whiskey-soaked grizzled old country dude. They also might think of the song he’s most famous for, Okie from Muskogee, a paean to traditional conservative values and a sort of anti-anti-war anthem that small town country fans rallied around, and still do.

He also references San Francisco by name, derisively so, in a stanza that goes thus:

We don’t make a party out of lovin’;
We like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo;
We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.

I’m not sure what “pitchin’ woo” is, but you get the idea. The song became popular because of this critique of the hippie, leftwing, anti-war movement sweeping across the US at the time of its release in 1969, of which San Francisco was the cultural capital. But to imagine Merle as some reactionary, proto-Bill O’Reilly type is off the mark. He was a complicated man. I mean, the reefer-loving Haggard (he and Willie were buds after all) also included the line “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” in the same song.

But more than anything, Merle Haggard was a Californian, as in the entirety of the state. Brian Wilson was a Southern coastal middle-class suburban Californian, and Jerry Garcia was a Bay Area working-folk Californian. Merle Haggard was the rest of California, and all of it, born and bred by Okie transplants in hard-toiling central valley Bakersfield, and spending time in the rest of the state throughout his life, from Lake Shasta to his stint in San Quentin, his circle including the big cities as well. He knew San Francisco and SoCal more than people like Wilson and Garcia knew places like Bakersfield.

Which is why it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he penned one of the loveliest songs ever about San Francisco (this side of that Tony Bennett song). It’s such a sweet, heartfelt, wistful tune, made all the more poignant by the man behind the mic, and it even includes a mariachi-esque instrumental in the middle.

Here are the words:

Return To San Francisco

Should we ever lose each other somewhere along the way
Return to San Francisco, I’ll be somewhere by the bay
Climb the bridge, just comb beaches, ride the trolley cars again

Roam the hillsides of the city, count the seagulls in the wind

But return to San Francisco, always keep this vow to me
Return to San Francisco, we’ll make one more memory

But return to San Francisco, always keep this vow to me
Return to San Francisco, we’ll make one more memory

The most Christmas-y things to do in the Bay Area this holiday season

It’s the season to be jolly, and for a full embrace of the Christmas spirit, the Bay Area offers a ho-ho-host of things to do and see. We may not have snow, thankfully, but the weather is just nippy enough to justify that Santa-con suit as you make your way from one mistletoe event to the next. Here are the top to-dos:

Visit a Christmas tree farm
No, you won’t have to pack the sleigh for a trip to the North Pole (or Canada), just head beyond the city borders to one of a number of actual farms that grow and sell Christmas trees. Many have more to do than simply picking chopping down of a tree. Little Hills Christmas Tree Farms in Petaluma offers free popcorn and cider, ornaments for sale, and a visit and picture with Santa. While Santa’s Tree Farm near Half Moon Bay offers a Christmas village with train rides, miniature golf with Frosty, and reindeer mascots.

A tour of Christmas trees and lights
There are neighborhoods that live for this season to festoon their homes and yards with as much blinking doo-daddery as their utility budgets can manage. Christmas Tree Lane (Thompson Ave) in Alameda and Parkway Estates (Chestnut St) in South San Francisco are two of the best. You can tour these places for free, as well as hit all the public squares that have erected enormous lit trees and decorations, like Jack London Square and Pier 39, and your nearest mall.

See a Nutcracker performance
Besides an opportunity to support the arts, the Nutcracker is one of those classic Christmas traditions like roasting chestnuts or trimming the tree with actual lighted candles. Pretty much every professional ballet troupe will be performing the Nutcracker throughout December, including the San Francisco Ballet, Silicon Valley Ballet, San Jose Youth Ballet, Oakland Ballet Company, Berkeley Ballet Theater, etc.

Skate at Union Square
The park at the center of San Francisco’s retail district is ground zero for holiday-ness every year, with an 83-foot tall tree decorated with 33,000 lights and 1,100 shiny ornaments, an ice rink and a café that sells hot beverages. You’re also surrounded by Macy’s and other big department stores that spare little expense in decorations. You can be sure Santa will be making regular appearances as well.

Stroll through Christmas in the Park
Trying not to be outdone by its neighbor to the north, San Jose has its own downtown holiday spectacle. This one is all about community involvement, with everyone from the local Shriners to the Girl Scouts sponsoring one of the many decorated tree or displays. There are live performances (again by local groups), Santa, vendors, and an ice skating rink across the street.

Drive through Fantasy of Lights
The rather expansive Vasona Park in Los Gatos is the scene of a drive-thru holiday display every December, sponsored by Santa Clara County Parks and created by Los Gatoans. The 1.5-mile route meanders past an erupting volcano, Santa shooting hoops, and tunnels of lights, with special music and sound effects piped through your car’s radio.

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