Saturday, August 10, 2013

Laurel Street Fair

     I first went to the Laurel Street Fair a couple of years ago when I lived in Oakland, and I wasn't impressed.  There were hardly any vendors, the event didn't start at the advertised time, and the vendors who were open were not very friendly.  However, I decided to give Laurel another chance, and this year, it did not disappoint.
     The Laurel Street Fair takes place every year on MacArthur Blvd between 35th and 38th Avenue. It usually happens on one Saturday, so it's easy to miss, and this year ran from 11 am to 6 pm.  It is, as you might guess from the name, in the Laurel neighborhood of Oakland, which is right beside Fruitvale and the Dimond District.  The area is a little scruffy, but tough.  People in this neighborhood are wary, but friendly.  Life is lived to the fullest here, and the fair reflects that.  Families come to relax, have a good time, and chat with neighbors.  Many booths are geared towards community building and improvement.
     Of all the events I've written about so far, the Laurel Street Fair is the most family friendly.  This year, there was a small train and other rides for children.  Vendors sold affordable toys, firecrackers, and baubles.  There was a crafting station where kids could make paper mache flowers and other goodies.  A petting zoo offered children the opportunity to interact with animals you rarely see in a city setting, including two baby pigs that generously shared their cuteness with anyone extending a hand to them.  There were even two people dressed as cowboys riding horses from one end of the fair to the other, allowing people to take pictures.  The horses were so quiet and gentle, in fact, that I almost bumped right into one.  And right next to the rides, children could get cotton candy and ice cream, which is exactly what one little boy was dragging his dad towards.
     There were vendors like Oaklandish selling goods made, grown, or sold in Oakland.  There were also vendors supporting pride in Oakland and Oakland Pride.  But I was happiest to see booths by local schools, parks and recreation, community centers, and libraries.  Not only were they talking to fair goers about the services they offer but they were educating families about their importance and contribution to Oakland neighborhoods.  You could make a donation in exchange for pins or books or you could put your name on their mailing lists to get important community updates.
     And what is a fair without some delicious, local food and entertainment?  I chose a pork tamale with tortilla chips and salsa, but I had my choice of American, Asian, or Mexican cuisine.  And almost all booths had not only a vegetarian but a vegan option as well.  A bandstand occupied one side of the street at about the middle of the fair, and while I was there, the band was playing African music.  However, the listing also boasted funk, soul, reggae, and world music.
      Although this event is surrounded by bus lines, I find driving to be the best option.  This part of MacArthur is right off of 580 and is close to Highway 13.  You can pay ten dollars to park right next to the fair or you can park for free on one of the side streets above the fair.  Just make sure to check the street cleaning dates and restrictions.
     Overall, this street fair is one of the smaller ones in the Bay Area, but it also is one with the most character.  In between mingling and shopping the booths, make sure to check out the Laurel Bookstore and Farmer Joe's Marketplace up on 35th.  If you like events with a good family vibe, if you want to get a sense of the Oakland community spirit, or if you just want to enjoy some good food and music, then this is definitely a Bay Area miss-me-not.

Rides and Bounce Houses, Oh My!



The Bandstand

The Train...and a Jurassic Jump House

Precious Little Piggies

The Petting Zoo

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