A Year’s Worth of Entertainment

Our guide to the Bay Area's must-see events.

If there’s anything the Bay Area isn’t short of, it’s entertainment. There are enough fairs, festivals, concerts, and special events to suit most anyone’s taste practically every week of the year. You’re guaranteed to discover something new. While the biggest Labor Day festival may be out in the desert, Oakland’s Art and Soul Festival (downtown Oakland, 510-658-9300, ArtandSoulOakland.com) can’t be beat for fun in the sun without suffering through sandstorms. Set in downtown Oakland’s beautiful City Center, it’s a feast for the eyes, ears, mind, and mouth, with national music acts, dance and fashion shows, and an array of vendors serving ethnic eats and crafts as diverse as the city. … The two-day Treasure Island Music Festival (September, TreasureIslandFestival.com) not only bears the distinction of having the best view in the Bay Area, but it’s also an extension of the famed spring Noise Pop music conference, whose taste-making reputation has helped boost acts like Rogue Wave to national prominence. Divided into two sound-specific days — dance-friendly and traditional indie-rock, it’s a must-attend event for anyone curious about surveying the state of independent music. … An estimated 50,00 folks flock to Golden Gate Park’s Speedway Meadow, spreading the gospel of peace, love, granola, and environmental consciousness at the annual Power to the Peaceful festival (September, PowertothePeaceful.org). With potent performers, the fest also features a food drive, yoga jam, and vendors. … All the rumors about Berkeley’s freaky reputation are true, and you’ll see them manifest at the annual How Berkeley Can You Be? festival (September, HowBerkeleyCanYouBe.com), which bills itself as “part question, part challenge, all celebration!” The free event features music, dance, floats, art cars, and more. … Celebrate leather, rubber, and fetish styles at the annual Folsom Street Fair (September, Folsom St., between 7th & 12th Streets, San Francisco, FolsomStreetFair.org). The free event also features live rock performances, vendor booths, and exhibitions. … Since 1974, folks from all over the East Bay have enjoyed the Solano Stroll (September, Solano Ave., Berkeley, SolanoAvenueAssn.org), a massive street fair featuring all kinds of entertainment, including more than five hundred vendors. The event includes a traditional pancake breakfast and theme parade, plus entertainers, food vendors, juried arts and crafters, games, art cars, and community organizations. … Prancing horses and cowboys in West Oakland? That’s right, pardner. Usually on the first Saturday in October, the Black Cowboy Parade and Festival (BlackCowboyAssociation.org) features members of the Oakland Black Cowboy Association who don their finest ten-gallon hats and fanciest Western duds, mount up, and queue up at deFremery Park astride well-tacked horses to sashay their way through the streets of Oakland, spurs jingling, saddles squeaking, and whips popping. … For those who live for classic cars, including mint originals and cherry restorations, Park Street’s Classic Car Show (October, Park St., Alameda, 510-523-1392, ShopParkStreet.com) is the place to eyeball autos of a caliber never built again. This annual car show has a bumper-to-bumper crop of more than four hundred primo vehicles that have been waxed, buffed, and shined so fine that onlookers can see their reflections in the gleaming panels and bumpers of the hardtops and hatchbacks. … Marin County’s California Film Institute uses its clout as the hometown of many movie professionals to put on the Mill Valley Film Festival (October, MVFF.com), one of the quirkiest and most intelligent fests anywhere, without the marketplace sensibility and ego trips — it’s non-competitive. … Expect thousands of half-naked women, porn stars, freaks, and lots of making out at the annual Exotic Erotic Ball (ExoticEroticball.com), held every October near Halloween. No matter what your persuasion, you’ll find a pervert to suit your needs at this late-night rave and sex party. … The Day of the Dead is a major Mexican holiday in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. Past events of the Día de los Muertos Festival (late October, 510-436-6672, UnityCouncil.org/ddlm) have drawn close to 90,000 attendees, who comes for entertainment stages with merchants and altars galore in remembrance and celebration of those that have passed. … The Big Game (late November or early December, CalBears.cstv.com) is the annual football game between longtime rivals Stanford University and Cal. When it’s played at Memorial Stadium, the game practically shuts the town down, as thousands come out to show their support for the Blue and Gold. Those who can’t squeeze into the stadium perch up on Tightwad Hill, or just party in the streets. … It just doesn’t feel like Christmas in Berkeley unless you’ve been to the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair (weekends in December, Telegraph Ave. between Dwight and Bancroft ways, Berkeley). Vendors from far and wide set up shop in the streets, where all manner of gifts — framed black-and-white photos, wooly hats, screen-printed T-shirts, artwork, ceramics, jewelry, and more — can be found at prices that won’t break your bank. … Snowflakes may rarely hit the ground in the Bay Area, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get into the holiday spirit. The Oakland Holiday Parade (early December, Broadway and 11th St. to 20th St., to Harrison St., OaklandHolidayParade.com) delights kids big and small, drawing as many as 70,000 people with giant helium balloons, cartoon and storybook characters, marching bands, floats, and more. … What better time for a series of dark, stylized crime pics than the dead of winter? East Bay author Eddie Muller’s annual film noir extravaganza Noir City (January-February, NoirCity.com) always manages to dig up a few “new” old hardboiled movies you never heard of, peppered with appearances by the original stars and filmmakers. Easy to get hooked on, hard to swear off of. … Attention independent music fans: Noise Pop (February, NoisePop.com), the biggest (and getting bigger) music festival of the year, brings together the hottest noisemakers for anticipated reunions and rarely seen bills in intimate environments. The festival keeps expanding with each year, and now includes a film festival, comedy acts, art, and a crafts fair. … The annual late-winter/early-spring event has grown into a ten-day feast with two important main courses: films from the old country and films by Asian Americans. Because it comes early in the calendar year, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (March-April, AsianAmericanMedia.org) often steals thunder from other fests with its adventurous selections. …The San Francisco International Film Festival (April, SFFS.org) is the oldest film fest in the Western Hemisphere and one of the world’s most interesting, because it plays to the Bay Area’s film-loving audiences instead of to industry types. Everything under the sun. Filmmakers on parade. Two weeks of movies you’ll probably never see anywhere else. …It’s not only a fabulous start to the outdoor event season, but the annual Jazz on Fourth festival (May, FourthStreet.com) is also free. One block of Berkeley’s Fourth Street is closed off where food, drink, and other merchants line the way, and two stages are filled with homegrown talent, culminating in the finale’s big-band pyrotechnics of award-winning, globetrotting Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble. … Berkeley’s “Little Lhasa” comes alive at the annual Himalayan Fair in Live Oak Park (May, 1300 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, HimalayanFair.net). Tibet is arguably the main focus of the popular event, but the “great mountain cultures” of Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bhutan also are represented, with a full day’s worth of elaborately costumed traditional dance and music performers. And don’t forget the spicy, charcoal-grilled food. … The nearly one-hundred-year running of the Bay to Breakers (third Sunday in May, BaytoBreakers.com) is a grand tradition that must be experienced at least once by every able-bodied Bay Area resident. But the true allure of the race is urban people-watching, not athletic competition. … The addition of upscale restaurants, shops, and a farmers’ market has helped revitalize the Temescal district of Oakland. And adding to the area’s draw is the annual Temescal Street Fair (June, Telegraph Ave., between 48th and 51st Streets, Oakland, TemescalDistrict.org), which features food and drink from local restaurants, a fashion show, fine artists, craft and community booths, live music, a kids’ stage, and more. … Revelers from all corners of the globe come to the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, one of San Francisco’s biggest, most colorful parties (June, 415-677-7961, SFPride.org). Aside from the usual two-day procession of cowboys in leather chaps and sexy transgendered go-go dancers, the parade also features special music guests and sundry forms of entertainment. … Frameline (June, www.frameline.org), aka the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender Film Festival, is a 31-year-old summer happening that has branched out over the years and now cruises the world for its innovative, exciting programs. Risky and proud of it. … Over the years, San Francisco’s leading modern rock outpost Live 105 has fumbled for a new niche, but one constant through it all has been the station’s annual summer festival, BFD (June, Live105.com). Since 1994, BFD has reliably convened less edgy chart-toppers like Good Charlotte and Linkin Park, classic rebels like Social Distortion and the Cure, and an array of up-and-coming, underground, and local acts. … There’s nothing like a county fair to mark the coming of the lazy days of summer, and the Alameda County Fair (Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton, 925-426-7600) fits the bill perfectly. Starting at the end of June and lasting till about the Fourth of July, the fair features horseracing, contests, concerts, livestock, agriculture education, and carnival rides for the kiddies, plus plenty of barbecued ribs, turkey legs, and corn on the cob. … Everybody loves a parade, and Alameda’s annual Mayor’s Fourth of July (MyAlamedaParade.com) extravaganza — always on July 4, no matter what the day, natch — attracts some 20,000 spectators, or roughly one-third of the city’s population. Everyone and then some are there to wave flags and witness color guards, marching bands, baton twirlers, classic cars, horses, politicians, veterans, and floats, floats, floats. The best hometown parade going in the East Bay, no question. … Fourth of Julys in the Bay Area are notorious for being fogged over, but if the skies are clear, you’ll find a prime spot for fireworks at the end of the Berkeley Marina (201 University Ave., Berkeley). The city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show also features dragon boat rides, live music, sailboat rides, and other entertainment for the whole family. … Every July, the Crucible and Burning Man present the Fire Arts Festival (The Crucible, 1260 7th St., Oakland, 510-843-5511, TheCrucible.org), an annual cavalcade of workshops, lectures, installations, and performances celebrating and showcasing the fire arts. … The concept of the Brainwash Movie Festival (July, Brainwashm.com) — the Bay’s only “drive-in, bike-in, walk-in” film fest — is simple: they show a bunch of ultra-indie films and vids on a wall in a West Oakland parking lot, and you come watch. Must be doing something right after fourteen years. … The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (July, SilentFilm.org) is dedicated to restoring and presenting original silent films with live musical accompaniment — which means no special effects (well, hardly any), no overbuilt soundtracks, and a complete absence of Shia LaBeouf. What a great idea. … The Berkeley Marina, directly in the path of the relentless winds coming off the Pacific Ocean, has long been a prime spot for flying kites. The free Berkeley Kite Festival and West Coast Kite Championships (July, Cesar E. Chavez Park, Berkeley Marina, 510-235-KITE, HighlineKites.com/Berkeley_Kite_Festival) takes advantage of this geography, where kite teams from Berkeley and Japan show off their enormous kites (both traditional and non), visible as far as the eye can see. … Never one to shy away from controversy, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July-August, SFJFF.org), the world’s oldest and largest Jewish film festival, sees its mission as exploring the Jewish experience in all its complexity. And if that means giving equal voice to Palestinians and other minorities, so be it. Boundaries were created to be stretched. … Like San Francisco’s version of Coachella, the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival (August, SFOutsideLands.com) is destined for a place in the pantheon of behemoth music fests. The extravagant three-day affair in Golden Gate Park features a lineup with mass appeal, likely to draw KFOG devotees, hip-hop heads, indie-rock fans, and the jam-band set. The inaugural event features headliners Radiohead, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Beck, and Jack Johnson.

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