Sunday, October 12, 2014

San Francisco's Fleet Week

     Of all the Bay Area events that draw in crowds of tourists, I have heard the most complaints about San Francisco's Fleet Week. I've heard from some who live in or very near the city that they and their pets are annoyed by the sound of the Blue Angels flying over. Others complain that the amount of tourists in the city make getting around nearly impossible.  And many others just seem to be annoyed by the increase in traffic throughout the Bay Area. I have therefore stayed well clear of San Francisco during Fleet Week and have never attempted to enjoy any of its events...until this year.
     I hate crowds, so I was fairly sure the experience would be more stress than fun, especially since my sister and I chose to go on Saturday. However, we went, we saw, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I'll tell you the choices we made in terms of transportation, viewing spots, and events to make the experience more enjoyable in case this is an event you want to try in the future.
     First, let's talk transportation. Driving, for me, was absolutely out of the question. After spending five hours stuck on the freeway trying and failing to make it to the McCartney Candlestick concert, I vowed to drive into San Francisco as little as possible. I also didn't want to take BART or AC Transit because I wanted a faster and less crowded trip in and out of the city. I also wanted to avoid the F line at all costs. During special events and tourist season, the F line cars are often packed so tightly that passengers are literally sealed to one another or hanging from doors. No, thank you.
     Instead, I took the San Francisco Bay Ferry. There is, really, no better way to get into the city. Even when the ferry is crowded, there are amazing views and nice breezes to make one forget the noise and bustle. There are also plenty of opportunities for pictures. The ferry passes right under the Bay Bridge and pulls in to the Ferry Building and Pier 41, allowing passengers to snap pictures of the cityscape, ships, and the occasional curious seagull. The ferry ride is a bit pricier than other public transportation at $12.50 for a round trip ticket, but when one considers the combined cost of BART, bus, F line, etc., it's a pretty good deal. Plus, if you have Clipper, it's only $9.50 for a round trip.
     We departed the ferry at Pier 41, which is only a short walk from the action. I wanted to do a couple tours of visiting ships docked at Piers 15/17, 19, 35, and 50. However, the lines for these tours were outrageously long, and I had seen the ships from the water on the ferry ride in. I decided to pass on the tours. Nothing can ruin an event faster than waiting in a long line in the heat.
     We then strolled Pier 39. We perused booths selling Fleet Week souvenirs, and we listened to The Destroyers rocking away on the stage near the Hard Rock Café. Despite all the complaints and warnings about the crowds, I found Pier 39 no more crowded than it is during the height of tourist season.
     Our next challenge was finding a place to watch the air show. Box seats were available for a hefty price, but my sister had read about numerous free locations that offered a great view. We originally intended to walk down to the beach near Crissy Field. However, the time got away from us, and the air show started while we were still at Pier 39. So we went out to the deck by The Candy Baron to check out the view, and it was perfect...especially since we no longer had to hike over to Crissy. There weren't too many people crammed into the area yet. We got a good spot behind the glass partitions that shielded us from the wind, and I had an excellent view of the Golden Gate.
     The air show was better than I expected it to be. The planes from Team Oracle, Super Dave Air Shows, Lucas Oil Air Shows, and The Horseman Flight Team did not disappoint. While the fog stayed clear of the Golden Gate, they often passed under and over it. They went as high as they could before dropping straight down and buzzing the ships on the Bay, many of which honked their horns (excitement or alarm?). Sometimes it seemed a plane would crash right into a ship as it skimmed over the water. The Coast Guard helicopter also hovered over the Bay to the delight of many, and I saw the Navy Leap Frogs zig zagging down to earth.
     The thrills really started with the jet teams, of course. The Patriots Jet Team was amazing. They flew in trailing red, white, and blue exhaust. Their sleek, black jets--the L-39C Albatros--were surprisingly quiet as they buzzed the ships, the bridge, each other, and occasionally the crowd. Many people mistook The Patriots for the Blue Angels and left after they were done. One woman near me said that we'd know the Angels when we heard them, and she was right.
     The deafening roar of the F/A-18 Hornets definitely caught everyone's attention as the Blue Angels shot overhead toward the Golden Gate, which was covered in fog by that time. The Blue Angels played chicken, flew in formation, flew upside down, scattered and came back together...everything one hopes to see jets do. They didn't fly as low to the water as the other aircraft, and they were often out of sight more than other aircraft, but they were, of course, awesome.
     The Blue Angels were followed by what appeared to be the C-130, a heavyweight that impressed me with its nimble maneuvering. Then a United 747 buzzed the Bay a few times. I was amazed by how close it got to the water and the ships and by how quiet it was.
     The air show alone was worth the trip into the congested city for Fleet Week. The crowds became an issue only after the show as people filled every area restaurant. There were one- to three-hour waits at most restaurants we visited. We debated on traveling into the city for a bite, but the F line was as packed as we had expected. However, as my sister and I read the menu outside Alioto's Waterside Café on Fisherman's Wharf (she does not eat seafood), a staff member actually came out and called us in to an open table. Alioto's staff and food are amazing, and I had a great view of the Wharf while we ate. I had the crab sandwich, and my sister chose the chicken parmesan. A girl at the table next to us ordered a whole crab, or I should say, a monster crab that drew passerby in.
     We wanted to stay for the fireworks, but we had been warned by people, news outlets, and even the ferry staff that it might be challenging to catch the ferry back. We were told to line up early. We decided to watch the fireworks while in line for the 9:15 ferry. The fireworks started at 8:30, and we got in line a little past 8. The line wasn't long at this time, but it quickly passed from sight as 8:30 arrived. However, as long as it was, we all got on the ferry just fine and with plenty of room to spare. And we were able to enjoy the Bay Bridge lights, Coit Tower decked in orange for the Giants, and views of the city at night on the ride back.
     If done right, the event is actually pretty cheap. The air show is free, and you can pack snacks and meals to save money. Keep in mind that if you want to eat at a restaurant in the area after the show, there will be long waits at most of them. This is definitely an event you have to be flexible for. Be willing to change your plans. Also keep in mind that your experience can differ greatly depending on the mode of transportation you choose. Make sure to pack a sweater and a hat, and I recommend taking your phone charger or extra batteries for cameras. After the right preparation and with the right attitude, I would definitely count Fleet Week on my list of Bay Area Miss-Me-Nots.



Monday, July 28, 2014

March of the Penguins at the San Francisco Zoo

     Every year, Bay Area residents and visitors get the opportunity to see Magellanic penguins up close at the San Francisco Zoo's March of the Penguins. The zoo calls the event a "graduation" march for their penguin chicks that have grown old enough to live with the penguin adults at the zoo's Penguin Island enclosure ( Said graduates waddle adorably and sometimes warily to their new home through a tunnel of delighted visitors.
     This year's March took place on Saturday, July 26th. I had many reservations about attending. For one, the Giants were playing the Dodgers at AT&T Park all weekend, and I was afraid of the traffic jam in and out of San Francisco. Second, July is tourist season, and the perpetual crowd can make traveling in the city frustrating and can dim some of the enjoyment of popular tourist attractions. Finally, the price of zoo tickets is steep, and I didn't know what to expect or if the investment would be worth it.
     My reservations were not resolved when my sister and I arrived at the zoo. We discovered that zoo members were allowed to go in at 9:30am. The gates of the zoo didn't open until 10am, and the penguin march was slated to take place at 10:15. As the line of members grew longer and longer, and we waited in the line for regular tickets, we wondered if we would be able to get our tickets and get to the penguin enclosure before the event started. As the end of the line of members disappeared around the corner and continued to grow, we wondered if we would even be able to see the penguins through the crowds of people. When the gates opened for zoo members, they poured in, and we never did see the end of the line. There seemed to be just as many people with regular tickets trying to get in.
     Despite my reservations and doubts, we did get to the event in plenty of time and got an excellent spot. After seeing the three male chicks and one female chick waddling around the corner of the enclosure and right past our feet, I can tell you the wait, the crowds, and the price of the ticket (for an adult, $17) were worth it. The chicks paused when they were directly in front of us. We watched as their keeper reassured them and rubbed one chick's tummy to build his confidence. The chicks then waddled past, delighting the children seated in front. Once they were inside their enclosure, they zipped happily through the water with the adults, putting on another show for visitors. We left happy and grateful we'd braved the crowds to see the graduates.
     If you're a penguin fan, this is definitely a miss-me-not event, and here are my tips to make it a more pleasant experience. First, arrive early. The zoo offers parking, but if you're not a member, you have to pay $10 to park. I suggest parking for free at one of the many Ocean Beach lots within easy walking distance of the zoo. This allows you to enjoy the beach after the zoo and escape the crowds leaving the event. If you live outside the city, public transportation to the zoo can take a long, long time, so be prepared.
     Second, plan your ticket choice. Zoo memberships aren't cheap, but they do allow you to get in early to events and have many other perks that are valuable for Bay Area residents (especially those with kids). If you want to have one less thing to worry about, I recommend the zoo membership so you can get in line and get in early. However, I bought tickets when I arrived and still made it to the event with plenty of time to spare. I even got a front-row spot. Don't let the crowds intimidate you. I had never seen so many people at the zoo for an event, and I was still able to see and enjoy the March.
     Third, get in the right mindset. Expect a lot of tourists and people at this kind of event. If you don't like crowds, take that into consideration before attending. I personally don't like crowds, but I have to say, the people at the event were very friendly and polite. I had a wonderful conversation with the family in front of us in line as well as visitors throughout the zoo. People-watching can be just as enjoyable as animal-watching.
     Don't forget to get the most out of your zoo ticket by visiting the special exhibits the zoo hosts. When we went, the zoo was hosting the Washed Ashore exhibit, an art show of marine sculptures made from plastic and other human refuse dumped in the sea. Learn more about this awesome exhibit, its creators, and the non-profit organization Washed Ashore at
     Finally, if you want to save money, take a lunch to the zoo. The prices of the zoo's café aren't actually that bad, but when you can take your own lunch and snacks, why not take advantage of it? If you're not so concerned about a budget, there are plenty of souvenirs to buy, and you can pay with cash or credit (even at the small booths right next to the event).
    Below are pictures from the event as well as an adorable penguin shirt my sister just couldn't resist. Waddle on, my friends.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Richmond Art Center's Upcycle

     You really can't say you've fully enjoyed the Bay Area until you've taken advantage of its unique creative opportunities. This is an area filled with artists, crafters, and visionaries. It's also an area where people look at the everyday and see the fantastic, and their materials matter just as much to them as the things those materials make. When you see all the wonderful creations that give the Bay Area a lot of its character, it's hard to resist the urge to participate in that creation. So why try?  The Richmond Art Center's Upcycle fair is one opportunity to get your hands crafty in an earth friendly and conscientious way. The whole focus of Upcycle, as the name implies, is to reuse materials for art and practical items that are considered trash or leftovers.
     Upcycle is still new (this year was its second go), and already it's run like a years-hardened event. The organization, atmosphere, and layout create a low-stress, high-fun environment. There are many great things about this art and crafting extravaganza, but two of my favorite are that it's free, and it's not just intended for kids. The event is held at the Richmond Art Center, mostly in the inner courtyard, and this year it took place on Saturday, April 12, from 1-4 p.m. Driving is probably best for this event, and parking is available (and also free) on the road and in the Center's parking lot.
     The variety of things to do at Upcycle pretty much guarantees that no one will be bored. Even grownups seemed unable to resist the gleeful cries of their inner child when presented with the opportunity to make something like a drawing robot. I went to the event with a seasoned crafter, and while she put me to shame at many of the booths, I still walked away with something I was proud of. We tried most activities, and though some booths were busy and required people to wait to participate, the wait was worth it. Besides, it was entertaining just watching what everyone chose to make.
     The first activity we did was make screen-printed patches with Joyce Shon and Monica Gyulai. They explained how screen printing works and what to do and then let us apply the ink to our patches. My sister, the crafter, then made a robot that draws by itself at the California 4-H Foundation. The gentleman at the booth taught everyone how to attach markers to a paper cup and to attach the battery pack and rotor to the top of the cup. The table and the nearby ground was covered with paper, so when a robot was finished, it could be set loose on a blank canvas. This was my favorite station. I loved seeing all the robots humming away and imagining the chaos they would happily cause in each creator's home.
     We then made bracelets out of bike inner tubes with Holly Carter. There were numerous examples available to guide one's design, and Carter was generous with advice and instructions. All of the equipment and supplies one could want were available, and we were impressed with everyone's results. There was a young girl next to us who created two bracelets like a pro.
     The final activity we did was make a metal leaf with Ed Lay. He taught us how to fold the metal, cut it, pound the side to elongate it to the shape we wanted, and then fired the metal to make it pliable enough to open and finish. He was able to tailor his instructions to any skill level and age, and everyone seemed to be happy with the result of their work.
     Other activities that were a joy to observe was the creation of a garbage can by Daud Abdullah and visitors using glass shards, glass beads, and other items, the blending of smoothies by stationary bike with Urban Tilth, the weaving of small rugs with Susan Sterling, and the creation of hats with Kiki Rostad. There were many more booths and activities to choose from. While enjoying the activities, we were treated to the otherworldly yet delightful sounds of the Crank Ensemble. They had a variety of what appeared to be hand-crafted instruments that made a music to resonate with one's inner funk and quirk.
     We walked away from this event with a wonderful variety of creations, and everything was free! However, many booths had donation jars to help make up for the materials used.  All of the activities were quick and easy to complete, and visitors of all ages seemed to enjoy them. If you want to participate in a family-friendly event that has a good purpose and teaches valuable lessons, then this is a definite miss-me-not. Check out the Richmond Art Center website to learn more about the booths and performances:


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Treasure Island Flea Market

     The best thing about flea markets is the unique items one can find: historical relics that contain the traces of a thousand owners and their stories, odd-shaped furniture that would look perfect in the upstairs hall, a statue of a plump and quirky quail to amuse visitors, and even lawn creatures made out of odd bits of old metal. Flea markets are as much for the looking as the shopping. They are literally a treasure hunt, so it's fitting that the largest flea market I've been to occurs monthly on Treasure Island.
     Despite renewed concerns about radiation contamination on TI, I love visiting because it's a beautiful place with panoramic views of both spans of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco. The large palms that circle the island and the time-worn and abandoned buildings scattered here and there give TI a mystique that can be found nowhere else in the Bay Area.
     Treasure Island Flea is held in and around the World Fair building, and with over 300 vendors, the space still doesn't feel large enough. I was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of merchandise and the size of the crowd. The vendors outside the front of the building form a large market by themselves, but the bottom floor of the building is filled with more vendors. Vendors even fill most of the second floor. I was alarmed to make it through all these vendors and find even more gathered outside the back of the building.
     Vendors include craftspeople as well as antique and collectible sellers. We saw old war uniforms, cameras, typewriters, furniture, art, frames of every shape and size, fine and antique jewelry, new and vintage clothing, scarves, shelves made from skateboards, picture hangers made from crates and shutters, and much more.
     There were also quite a few of the famous Bay Area food trucks in attendance. We ate pork and chicken sliders and had a scoop of gourmet, preservative-free ice cream. There were also bartenders circulating through the market with carts where one could pick up mimosas, Bloody Mary's, and beer. In the back of the building an excellent DJ kept feet tapping and hips swaying, and trampolines entertained the kids.
     This event, like the Jack of All Trades Market that Treasure Island Flea hosts, is dog friendly. We passed many happy pooches enjoying the sunshine, crowd, and each other. The market organizers even had a jar of dog bones at the front entrance that were free for four-legged guests. Another bonus is the free parking, and we had no problem finding a spot.
     Even though the views, weather, and atmosphere of the market were beautiful, the crowds were the biggest I've seen at a Bay Area market or festival. It was nearly impossible to look in any depth at vendors inside the building because of the people trying to file past. Trying to make our way through the building felt like being stuck in rush hour traffic before a three-day weekend. The vendors outside the building were easier to shop, but the crowds were still large. If you don't like crowds, this event will probably not be enjoyable for you.
     There's also the cost to consider. There is a fee to get into the market (a modest $3). And the prices at the market were higher than I expected, even on the items that were not antique.
      Even with the crowds and higher prices, this market is a must. The variety and amount of vendors is unparalleled, the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, and the location is beautiful. You can like Treasure Island Flea on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. The next market dates are February 22nd and 23rd, March 29th and 30th, and April 26th and 27th. Visit for more information.

The views:

The vendors in front of the building:

The biscuit bowl and a couple dog visitors:

The crowds:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jack of All Trades Market at Jack London Square

     Jack London Square is a beautiful area that resembles a ghost town many days of the week, but great fairs and markets are starting to bring the foot traffic it deserves. Besides Patchwork and the Sunday farmer's market, Jack London also hosts the Jack of All Trades Market on the second Saturday of every month. This market is from the same folks who do Treasure Island Flea. My sister and I visited January's market, and we were impressed by the variety of vendors and pleased to see some of our favorites like OodleBaDoodle and hrvst/3D.
     Jack of All Trades is really one of the best markets in the Bay Area to find craftspeople from, you guessed it, all trades, and judging by foot traffic and shopper enthusiasm, I think this market will only keep expanding. There are vendors who work with metal, wood, fabric, plastic, and repurposed items. They sell antiques, art, vintage clothing, jewelry, furniture, food, craft beer, pet toys, olive oil, perfumes, soaps, and more.
     January's market was held indoors, but craftswoman Lisa Inez DeFehr told us that the market is sometimes held outside and stretches all the way down the waterfront. Lisa's shop was one of our favorites. She handcrafts unique pieces of jewelry: necklaces with bottle charms containing tiny bird feathers, dandelion seeds, paper roses, or flash mobs. She also had a necklace with three little pig charms and a wolf. She said many of her pieces have an element of fairytale in them, and one walks away from her booth feeling a bit of the enchantment.
     One of the best parts of Bay Area art and craft festivals is that you get to meet the designer, creator, or artist and talk with them about their creative process. Artist Sean Murphy ushered me to his booth with the Force. Actually, it was his Star Wars-themed art, specifically a picture of the Millenium Falcon flying over the Golden Gate with the Death Star posing as the moon in the background. He also had a picture of storm troopers sitting in a vintage Batmobile and a Darth Vader Buddha. Besides Star Wars, Murphy had pictures of Smurfs engaged in a little illegal gardening, if you know what I mean, and alien ships flying over the Golden Gate.
     All of Murphy's art is funky, surprising, and humorous. He signed the print I purchased and told me about how each is made, what the materials he uses are, and the effort it takes to produce just one. I plan to make my living room wall a tad cooler with the Millenium Falcon print I couldn't pass up.
     I was pleased to see hrvst/3D at the market and to check out the new Bay Bridge charm I hadn't seen before. Hrvst/3D makes earrings, necklace charms, and tiny figurines of beloved Bay Area landmarks and features like shipping cranes, the Transamerica Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Sutro Tower, and the oak tree (for Oakland). Most of their charms are made of 3D printed nylon, but they also have sterling silver and gold charms. Their pieces are so local and so unique!
     We were able to find items that friends and family will love, such as Giants wine glass bottle cap charms and finger puppets/pen toppers. There were multiple vendors selling a large variety of scarves in beautiful and unexpected shapes and sizes. There was a vendor selling rubber ducky soaps, another selling recycled steel drum sculptures, and still another selling repurposed wood tables of all shapes and sizes. And many of the Bay Area food trucks that have become a favorite at Off the Grid were gathered outside the market to satisfy hungry shoppers.
     One of the best things about this market is that it's dog friendly. Many people usually ignore the posted "No Pets" signs that are common at Bay Area festivals, but the atmosphere is not welcoming. At Jack of All Trades, pets were warmly acknowledged. I was happy to see the many dogs at the market and to do my shopping beside them.
     Overall, this market has one of the friendliest atmospheres of the Bay Area fairs, markets, and festivals. The latest Patchwork Show at Jack London required visitors to sign in at a table and walk down a sort of chute into the show, which made the atmosphere a little less inviting and a tad more chaotic. At Jack of All Trades, there were security guards but the atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming. If you're in the Bay Area, you can't miss this market. Not only will you find items that will surprise and delight you, but you'll be supporting many local and independent craftspeople. And that just feels good.

Giants Wine Glass Bottle Cap Charms

Hand Knit Finger Puppets and Pen Toppers

Bottle Charm Necklace with Dandelion Seed by Lisa Inez DeFehr
Visit her on Facebook at

Shipping Crane Earrings by hrvst/3D
Visit their website:

Dog Friendly!

Trendy Furniture Pieces

Handcrafted Tables

Food Trucks!

Golden Gate Bridge Pillow by OodleBaDoodle