Outdoor Summer


8 Awesome Reasons to Call In Sick at Work

Updated: June 17, 2014


One of the hardest realities we have to face as grown-ups is that we will never have another real summer vacation again. You will never again get two to three months of riding your bike in gangs with your friends, soaking up sun, reading books, playing softball every afternoon and getting on a first-name basis with the lifeguards at the outdoor pool.

But all is not lost! If you’re a hard worker — and we know you are — you deserve to call in sick every now and then. Now, it isn’t a great idea to use up all your sick time on things that aren’t being sick — that’s just asking for a month long flu in December. But we all need a little vitamin D, nature and/or non-computer time to keep up our mental health. Here are a few reasons to fake a case of food poisoning and experience summer.


You don’t have to be the girl from Blue Crush to catch a few waves. Just get yourself down to Santa Cruz! Any place worth its salt will have boards and wetsuits for you to use and if you sign up for surf lessons, you’ll be standing up before the end of the day. If you already have a little surfing knowledge, check the surf report to pick the optimal day for your illness and head down to Cowells for a nice manageable day in ocean. Bonus: you’ll be very hungry when you’re done. Best to hit up Cole’s BBQ on the way out of town, since you have just used up so many calories it is totally okay that you are eating a slab of cheese-covered garlic bread with your fries and ribs.


Get up when you would usually go to work, grab some breakfast, and then get to the earliest movie — it might even be at 10:30 am. Matinees only cost $7! Here’s the trick though: don’t leave when that movie is done. Go to more movies! Go to all the movies! The Metreon in San Francisco recently underwent a huge remodel. Now there are tons of food choices so you don’t even have to leave the building for lunch. Bonus: no sunburn means no one will doubt your food poisoning story.


Just because the days of pre-teen bike gangs are over doesn’t mean you can’t have adventures on two wheels. Pack a picnic and take a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge up a (very serious) hill to the Marin Headlands. Don’t worry, it’s totally acceptable to walk your bike. Visit the Visitors Center or old military ruins and take pictures of yourself looking out over the Bridge and the city. Just don’t post them on Facebook.


So, you aren’t the type to spend a day off getting sweaty or sitting alone in the dark. Avoid the crowds (and maybe your boss) and head for Sonoma, Napa’s prettier but less self-promoting cousin. Start with the Jacuzzi Family Winery, mainly because the building and grounds are so gorgeous you’ll feel like you took your sick day in Italy. Then, go wherever the spirit moves you! There a couple good lists of wineries in the area (here and here) but why not just drive down the road and check out the ones that look interesting? Extra points if you can get one of your children who is over 16 but under 21 to act as a designated driver.


If you already have a base tan and are not at risk of developing a suspicious sunburn, head out to Healdsburg and rent a canoe at River’s Edge Canoe and Kayak. All you have to do is make a reservation and they will bus you up the Russian River to a beach full of boats. Get in a boat and paddle downstream. Bring water and snacks and stop wherever you want. You’ll spend a couple hours on the water and then you can pull your boat up on shore and a strapping young man will put it away for you! Don’t forget to drive to Healdsburg for a meal and your weekly quota of cuteness.


If a brush with wildlife is what you need, drive out to Año Nuevo State Park. If you get a permit at the Visitors Center, you can take a walk out to the elephant seals. If you haven’t seen elephant seals, you are missing out. In the right light, regular seals are little and cute. Even sea lions are a manageable size. But elephant seals are named after elephants first for a reason. Don’t be surprised if at first you mistake an elephant seal for a sand dune. Note: bring a windbreaker! It gets cold out there!


Want to practice climbing rocks without all those pesky ropes and anchors? Check out Castle Rock State Park, southwest of San Jose. It helps if you know a little about climbing so you can make sure you are doing it safely but once you get that taken care of (you’ve got to know SOMEONE who can help you), take a nice day trip. Just try not to hurt yourself, as that will be difficult to explain to your boss tomorrow.



Exercise, movies, sunshine and drinking are all fine but let’s get down to business: if you take a weekday off of work you might actually be able to get a reservation at Hog Island to shuck oysters! Oh, what’s Hog Island? Only an oyster farm in between Bodega Bay and Point Reyes where you can have a picnic and shuck oysters for three hours with all your closest friends. The problem: it’s really popular so you have to book months in advance. So book now! Call your friends and plan a sick day together! Just remember the important axiom of the “sick” day: Instagram no pictures, leave no oyster shells laying around if you are part of the carpool.

-By Lizzy Acker

Coolest Exotic Plants: Guide to the Bay’s Beautiful Botanic Gardens

Updated: June 1, 2014


Looking for a local outdoor adventure that doesn’t require much prep? Check out one of the many fantastic gardens in the area, many of which have rare and endangered plants. Enjoy the summer sunshine and boost your botany IQ in one fell swoop.



Back in 1915, Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn began construction on Filoli, and today both the opulent house and its magnificent gardens are open to the public. Check out the Plane Tree Allée, which features London plane trees that have been pruned to be uniform, as in a classic English garden; the magnolia and camellia collections (the latter includes about 150 different varieties, of which about 50 are only found in private collections); the New Zealand Black Beech tree, which first arrived in the U.S. as part of the PanPacific Exposition in 1915 and is the oldest outside of New Zealand; and the red and white amaryllis that flower during the summer. And don’t miss the orchards! Tree fans will particularly appreciate the Camperdown elms at the estate. Many Camperdowns are vulnerable to Dutch elm disease, but those at Filoli, like the one down by the swimming pool that is among the largest and oldest in the country, has survived because it’s isolated from other elms. See what’s blooming on Filoli’s calendar. $18/person, children under 4 free.


Flickr: Silvain LeProvost

Head south to Palo Alto to visit the Elizabeth Gamble Garden, where you’ll find more traditional formal gardens as well as “working beds” – a terrific place to see summer flowers like foxgloves, zinnias, and massive dahlias (the size of plates!) in full bloom. In the Woodland Garden, you’ll find the shade created by the magnolia trees and maples brightened by white, purple and pink hydrangeas. The Elizabeth Gamble Garden also hosts great special events like plant walks, lunches and dinners in the lovely house on the property, flower arranging courses, puppet shows and even a Grandparents’ Day Spaghetti Dinner. Free admission, though special events often require a reservation and a fee.


Melanie Hofmann

The collections at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, focus on plants from Mediterranean climates around the world — not just those from the Mediterranean Basin but from Australia, South Africa, Chile and California as well. With nearly 10,000 species represented, the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley has particularly robust collections from the cactus, lily, heath, sunflower and orchid families. If you’re looking for examples of rare and unusual plants, however, you might want to keep an eye out for cycads, primitive plants whose origins date back over 200 million years but have been on the decline in the past few hundred years. Near the entrance plaza you’ll see one particular cycad species, Encephalartos laevifolius, which is critically endangered in the wild in its native South Africa. In the Mexican and Central American area of the garden, you’ll see another example of Deppea splendens, which specialists believe has been extinct in the wild since 1986. It blooms with dangling clusters of yellow flowers during the summer. If you venture into the Tropical House, keep a lookout for the surreal looking Amorphophallus titanum, otherwise known as the corpse flower, which is from Sumatra, is one of the largest flowering structures in the world, and stinks to high heaven during the first 12 hours after it opens. It will bloom again in 2013 (keep an eye on the web site if you want to catch it), but in the meantime, even its leaves are worth a visit: a single leaf is over six feet tall. $10/person, children under 5 free.


San Francisco Botanical Garden

Located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is planted with more than 8,000 plants from around the world, including those rare and endangered plants that are the objects of conservation. Check the site to see what’s in bloom, and don’t miss the “cloud forests” – gardens that have the same conditions as rainforests at high elevations in Mexico, the Andes, and Southeast Asia. There you’ll find some of the garden’s most treasured plants, like the golden fuchsia (Deppea splendens) from Mexico and a type of passion flower called Passiflora parritae native to Andean cloud forests. San Francisco Botanical Garden is in fact one of the only outdoor gardens in the world that can grow these species, largely thanks to Bay Area fog mimicking high altitude cloud cover. Free admission.


In 1971, the last bits of the Bancroft family’s walnut orchard were cut down, and Ruth Bancroft took it upon herself to create a world-class garden of water-conserving plants in its place. Today the Ruth Bancroft Garden is home to hundreds of succulents and trees that don’t need much water, such as flowering aloe plants like Gasteria polita, which has cascades of tubular flowers; the propeller plant (Crassula falcate ), a native of South African with red blooms; Parodia warasii,  a native cactus from South America that is spherical in shape and bears clusters of lemon-yellow flowers that perch at the very top of the plant; and a 25-year-old Agave colimana plant, the likes of which are rarely found cultivated in gardens. The Ruth Bancroft Garden has all sorts of events should you need a special incentive to visit: pruning classes, yoga in the garden, and summer plant sales, just to name a few. $10/person, children under 12 free. Free entry on the first Tuesday of every month.


Flickr: Thomas Pix

Fans of Japanese gardening should not miss Hakone in the hills of Saratoga, established in 1917, listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and reportedly the oldest Asian-style estates and gardens in the Western hemisphere. Hakone’s lineage is impressive: the property is a replica a Japanese estate garden, and it was designed by one of the descendents of the families of gardeners that tended to the imperial gardens. Explore Hakone’s Hill and Pond Garden, where the sound of water accents the carefully designed aesthetics, the mossy tea garden, which is traditionally used as a serene place to purify one’s hands before a tea ceremony, and the Bamboo Garden, which is cared for by the Bamboo Society and includes specimens from around the world. $8/person, free for children under 4

– By Meghan Laslocky


Secrets to Scoring Last-Minute Campsites

Updated: June 2, 2014

David Woo

Not everyone is a planner. Not everyone, while bundled in January fleece and dodging rain puddles, can imagine ahead to balmy summer months and envision pitching tents under the stars and building bonfires for s’mores. So camping in California can be a little unforgiving for those of us who like to fly, if just a little, by the seat of our pants; who get inspired mid-week on a sunny day and want to go camping NOW. Luckily, if you forgot to book through recreation.gov or reserveamerica.com last winter, you can still find great camping – last minute – this summer. Here’s how.


Unless you are very, very lucky, there is no such thing as last-minute summer camping here.  The big national and state parks (like Yosemite, Big Sur, etc.) and popular campgrounds can vanish within hours after the reservation windows open (most parks open up availability for campsite reservations six months out, so if you want a spot in June, you should get online in December).  However, if you absolutely must go to a national or state park, then try these tricks.

  • Walk-in

Some parks reserve a certain number of campsites for “walk-ins.” These sites operate on a first-come, first-served basis. If you arrive to find all the sites are taken (which is very likely as some people from the reserved camps extend their visit by moving here), your best option is to stalk a site like prey: Go a day early and ask campers when they’re leaving. Then you can hotel/motel it your first night and be waiting at the walk-in sites at 8 a.m. when campers start packing up.  You could also rough it with a wilderness permit for a couple of nights until your luck comes for a walk-in, but this could add stress to what shouldn’t be stressful. (PS: If you’re up for this kind of adventure, the National Park Service has published a handy list of non-reservation sites in Yosemite.)

  • Watch the weather

Another trick for popular parks is to watch the weather.  Mt. Lassen, Shasta, and the High Sierras (including Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia) are subject to closures when the temperatures go below freezing, forcing the roads to close (most due to falling rocks, not the snow) for winter. While the parks post predictions, they could be off, which might leave vast openings for reservations late in the season when the Sierra passes would typically be closed.

  • Visit less popular national and state parks.

This option is much less stressful than the two above. Forget Yosemite. Just put it out of your mind. Make your natural spontaneity (a.k.a. lack of planning) an opportunity to explore less popular parks, such as Mt. Lassen, Calaveras Big Trees, Humboldt Redwoods, etc.).


David Woo

On the stretch of coast between Big Sur and Mendocino, finding camp spots is tough during summer months. The only trick here is to hit campgrounds that aren’t part of the state or national park system. There are numerous small campgrounds managed by the municipalities (reservations can be made online or by calling them directly), and you never know what special treat you’ll find.  For example, venture out to Stillwater Cove Regional Park, which is a Sonoma County Park, and you can add abalone diving to your camping adventure.

For the Big Sur to Monterey coastline, head to Veterans Memorial Park just east of the downtown Monterey.  Most don’t know that it offers camping right in the middle of an urban area.  Might not sound all that beautiful but it’s located on a 50-acre park at the top of a hill overlooking Monterey Bay. While not a preferred campground, a Friday night here can have you in striking distance of Andrew Molera or Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parks for the 8 am stalking of the walk-ins. Alternatively, head inland to the Carmel Valley.  Some lovely campgrounds here just to hang out or to make day trips to the Monterey area.


David Woo

The ultimate secret to great camping in Northern California during the summer is the National Forest System. Grab any National Forest Map (available online or at outdoor stores like REI or Big 5 Sporting Goods) and you can be guaranteed open campgrounds with lots of availability.  No reservations required. Keep the Sierra National Forest, Eldorado National Forest, and Inyo National Forest maps handy. These campgrounds, by the dozens, are typically smaller, off the main highways and offer fewer amenities but are no less beautiful than the popular parks.

One perfect example is Fresno Dome in the Sierra National Forest. The campground surrounds a lovely meadow that opens the forest to a spectacular view of Fresno Dome, which is no different than North Dome in Yosemite. Only the locals from Fresno come up and the lack of a water faucet keeps this little gem from filling up. The back side of the dome offers an easy class-three hike to the top, while the front of the dome offers 500 vertical feet of face climbing and sport routes.

Another favorite is Silver Fork Campground in Eldorado National Forest. You can arrive on a holiday weekend without reservations and find the campground far less than full. Situated between Route 50 and Route 88 on the way to Tahoe, the campground overlooks the Silver Fork River, a tributary of the American River.  With lots of backcountry hiking in the Sierras and a wonderful swimming hole to cool off in what is not to love about true solitude?

The National Forest campgrounds are monitored by fabulous campground hosts during the summer months who offer plenty of information and firewood for the all important evenings.


Timing could be everything. Go midweek. Or, better yet, wait until after Labor Day. Mid-September, after school is back in session, to mid-October is often the best time: weather is still nice and you avoid the summer congestion.

Think outside the state. Are you pining for the lovely Lake Tahoe? For Californians it’s easy to forget that half the lake is in Nevada, so all the typical California websites will miss the other side.  Nevada State Beach has the best beach on Lake Tahoe and is one of the longest (thus, not as crowded). The best part? You can walk from the beach right into the campground nestled in tall pines.  Sunset over Lake Tahoe is best in Nevada. It’s also close to South Lake Tahoe and the lovely Emerald Bay.

Try fire lookouts. Talk about room with a view. I won’t say any more other than you can reserve them through Reserve America. They just aren’t listed under camping.

Think off the road. Of course, the obvious characteristic of these wonderful off-road campgrounds is that they aren’t along a main highway. It takes more time to get to them, and a map sure comes in handy finding them. You don’t need a four-wheel drive to get there, but there won’t be a yellow line down the middle of the road. They also don’t offer as many amenities. And again, no access to water guarantees vacancy. But these might take just a little bit of planning. Maybe next year.

– By Deb Zambetti

All photos: David Woo

Party with your Parents: Where to Let Loose at Summer Festivals

Updated: June 2, 2014

Where there’s wine, there’s a way. Here are golden opportunities to loosen up and enjoy some wine with your parents. The live music is sure to get them dancing — and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss that.

Aug 8-10, 2014
Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park
San Jose Jazz brings international musicians, emerging artists and regional favorites to Silicon Valley to play jazz, blues, salsa, Latin, R&B and more at the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest. Proceeds go to bringing music to schools and supporting local musicians. Artists slated to appear in 2014 include: Bootsy Collins, Snarky Puppy, Pacific Mambo Orchestra, Pedrito Martinez, and the Otonowa Project.

Aug 9-10, 2014
Los Gatos Town Civic Center, 100 E. Main St, Los Gatos
Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this small town art fair offers local wines from Cabernet Sauvignon to Cypress Chardonnay. Live music and family-friendly entertainment are also available, including a jump house.

Aug 23-24, 2014
University Avenue, Palo Alto
Attracting more 150,000 people from throughout California and the West Coast, the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts takes place on tree-lined University Avenue, offering entertainment, food, arts, and crowd favorite Italian Street Painting.

Aug 30-31, 2014
Broadway Avenue, Millbrae
The Millbrae Art and Wine Festival is a Mardi Gras-style festival welcomes you to the “Big Easy.” Live music, premium wines and 250 professional artists’ works to see.

– By Nicole Zeichick and Adrienne Blaine

The Most Inviting Outdoor Drinking Spots in the Bay

Updated: June 2, 2014

Lake Chalet in Oakland

In the South, swampy summer weather means Mint Juleps on the veranda. Here in the Bay Area, we enjoy our drinks outdoors as soon as we glimpse the sun’s intermittent rays. Want to sip a G&T while feeling the warm sun on your face? Here are some great places to go.


Zeigeist falls under Outdoor Drinking in the Bay 101, the most well-known and oft-suggested place for an al fresco beverage. Want rows of picnic tables, burgers off a grill, pitchers of beer and the atmosphere of the Waffles-For-Dinner night at the cafeteria in your small liberal arts college in the woods? This is your place. Please note: if you are offended by any type of smoking, biker dudes, rubbing elbows with strangers or port-a-potties, I recommend moving on to the next place on the list.

Southern Pacific Brewing Company


If you like the picnic tables, the pitchers and the burgers aspect of Zeitgeist, but also want to bring your babies and/or puppies along to chaperone while you drink, try Southern Pacific Brewing Company , also in the Mission (the best weather means the best bars with outdoor seating). Here you can get house-brewed beers for a reasonable price and one of the best burgers in the city while paying for the whole thing on your credit card (a rarity in this part of San Francisco)! The crowd here is a little older, calmer and better-dressed than the horde at Zeitgeist. However, the level of fun you will have is exactly the same.


A Berkeley perennial favorite, Jupiter is a sweet spot for sharing micro-brews with your friends out on a big patio. Besides the great food and the great beer, heat lamps keep you warm outside so you can drink in the fresh air even when the sun isn’t shining on full blast. And if you go on the right night? Live jazz!


Enjoy your drink overlooking a body of water — and even literally out on a dock — at the Lake Chalet. While opinions on the food, service and prices wildly differ, even the most disenchanted Yelp reviewer can’t help but appreciate the view out over Lake Merritt from the renovated Municipal Boat House. Bonuses: affordable Happy Hour and GONDOLA RIDES on the lake! Call ahead to make a reservation.


Flickr: Michael Hickey

Pack some snacks and some cash for beer and hike through the redwoods in Mill Valley to the Tourist Club. Make sure you have a map and that it’s open (the hours are very particular for non-members) and carve out a good amount of time for the walk in, some good chill time with a beer in the sunshine and a board game (provided!) and the walk back. A hike, a beer and some greenery on your eyeballs will cure anything you might be suffering from. Repeat as necessary.


Little known fact: You can drink alcohol legally in a public park — Sonoma Plaza Park, that is — after 11 a.m. until dark. Goes to show you don’t need to be a millionaire or even gainfully employed to enjoy some wine in wine country. Share a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and some crackers and cheese with your honey in the Sonoma Plaza Park. Watch people go in and out of the stores on the square while you make up stories about their lives.  All you need is a bottle, a bottle opener, a blanket and someone good to giggle with.

– By Lizzy Acker

6 Ways to Escape the Fog in Less Than an Hour!

Updated: June 2, 2014

Flickr:Marcin Wichery

The lack of seasons in San Francisco is a sore point for many of us, and the subject of plenty of digs. But here’s the truth that makes those weather-related barbs slide right off our backs: Even in the soupiest thick of fog, all it takes is an hour’s drive and you can be somewhere where you don’t need a light sweater at all. (Of course, you’ll want to keep one in your backpack. You’ll need it for the ride home.)

1. MT. TAM

It’s hard to believe there is a forest on a mountain just an hour outside of the home of Rice-A-roni and cable cars. Mt. Tamalpais is full of places to hike, bike and view the fog-shrouded city, outside of the fog. Any level of hiker can find a scenic, exhilarating hike. You can look for native flora, like chaparral plants, rare and endangered plants, and when in season lovely wildflowers. With so many different routes to choose from, your best bet is to seek out some recommended loop hikes that go through all kinds of different terrains, from shaded woods to sweeping coastal trails.


Sweeney Ridge, between San Bruno and Pacifica is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which means sometimes you can even get a themed walk led by a ranger. Beware, the hiking is a bit steep but if you make it to the top, you’re rewarded with an amazing view. Bonus: bring your binoculars and look for hawks!


Flickr:Bryce Edwards

Whether you take a car, a bike, a bus or the ferry, it doesn’t take too long to get over the Golden Gate Bridge and down into Sausalito, where you’re almost always guaranteed a sun rays and shadows. Walk down Bridgeway and find a cheeseburger or an ice cream cone to enjoy while looking out over the water to the city. If you have kids with you, make sure you stop by the Bay Area Discovery Museum and check out the Imagination Playground.


Get on your bike and take BART to Downtown Berkeley for a leisurely ride around town. You can use the Biking and Walking Map to navigate the wonderfully wide bike lanes. Head to the Marina or explore U.C. Berkeley’s campus. Check out the street vendors and musicians on Telegraph Avenue and eat like a college student for an afternoon by getting cheap pizza and self-serve frozen yogurt by the pound. You deserve it after so much bike riding in the sun.


Here’s a secret: the people who misquote Mark Twain, saying “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” have never been to Dogpatch. This neighborhood on the east side of the city is as far away from the ocean as it is possible to be within city limits, which means it’s protected from the fog by two sets of hills. The neighborhood is pretty industrial but it’s up-and-coming, with fun brunch spots, bars and a great butcher. If you see the fog rolling in, hop on a bus to the Dogpatch and buy yourself a few more hours of sunshine.



While San Francisco does have its own beaches, the typical wind patterns make them not quite the most relaxing spots to for summer sunbathing or playing in the water. Less than an hour’s drive north is beautiful Stinson Beach, where the fog typically lifts by late morning, leaving a wide, inviting stretch of beach while still keeping a little of that wild, Northern California feel. You can grab picnic lunches from a variety of eateries in the small village, and stop for ice cream on the way home. A day spent here feels like a mini-holiday.

-By Lizzy Acker

Tidepools: Guide to Explore Amazing Marine Life

Updated: June 2, 2014

Flickr: Ingridtaylar

When it comes to the Bay Area’s hidden outdoor treasures, our local tide pools are comparable to some of the best around the world. With a little advance planning, you can pay a visit an ecosystem teeming with marine life and get up close and personal with beautiful sea creatures that only low tides reveal.

You want to hit your destination at a zero or negative low tide. (“Zero” is the average low point, and a negative or “minus” tide is an unusually low tide that occurs around the full and new moons.) You’ll get plenty of tide-pool action during a regular, zero tide, but extra-low negative tide reveals more of the rocks that are normally covered with water, and more creatures that are usually submerged. To get the timing right, be sure to check a tide table before you go, either the NOAA  or Saltwatertides.



Accessible via a short trail off of Elm Road in Bolinas in West Marin, Agate Beach, located about 30 miles or an hour’s drive northwest from San Francisco, has a huge stretch of tide pools as well as great bird watching. Duxbury Reef is a soft shale reef – the largest in California – and is part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Together the reef and the beach are among the most biologically diverse coastal areas in the Bay Area. Go during a very low tide and you might see a bat sea star, an unusual kind of sea star that has webbing between its arms, or a giant green anemone (rumor has it that at this location, specimens of the latter can measure six inches across!) Bonus: On a clear day you can get a great view of the Farallon Islands.


You’ll find Pigeon Point’s tide pools about 100 yards or so north of the hostel building at Pigeon Point, located about 50 miles or an hour’s drive south of San Francisco. And they’re chock full of anemones, crabs, abalone and mussels. If you’re there between March and May, you might see migrating whales as well, and Año Nuevo State Reserve, where you can catch elephant seals and their pups in the winter, is right nearby. Bonus: The inside of the Pigeon Point lighthouse is closed to the public, but it’s still worth seeing from the outside – at 115 feet, it’s one of the tallest lighthouses in America. The lighthouse keeper’s lodging has been renovated and operates as a hostel, making an overnight stay an option!


Flickr: Panegyrics of Granovetter

If you’d like a guided tour of tide pool beauties, check out Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, where volunteer docents can introduce you to some of the 200 species of animals and 150 species of plants that make their home in the reserve’s tide pools. While you’ll never be guaranteed a sighting of an elusive red octopus, chances of seeing one at the reserve are better than elsewhere. Each ecosystem is different and therefore is home to a different array of creatures, but in general, here’s what you can keep an eye out for in the Bay Area’s tide pools: barnacles, sea anemones, sea stars, sea urchins, mossy chitons (a type of mollusk), skates, coralline algae, pebble crabs, turquoise sculpins (a bottom dwelling fish), mussels, broken-back shrimp, sea cucumbers, iridescent algae, sea grapes (a type of seaweed), iridescent algae, and if you’re super lucky, red octopi. Bonus: 126 species of gastropods (snails) live in the reserve’s tide pools. How many can you find?

Check out this in-depth video about the wonders of Fitzgerald Marin Reserve, by Quest’s Joshua Cassidy.


  • Bring warm clothes and closed-toe shoes (leave your flip flops at home — those in the know recommend old sneakers or even rain boots).
  • Remember that creatures in tide pools are for looking at, not prodding at or even touching at all. Even though they’re battered by waves on a daily basis, tide pool organisms are in fact very delicate and vulnerable to disturbance by humans. One well-meaning, curious poke from you could mean death for a tide pool inhabitant.
  • Consider buying a field guide. Pacific Intertidal Life: A Guide to Organisms of Rocky Reefs and Tide Pools of the Pacific Coast by Ron Russo and Pam Olhausen is inexpensive and comes highly recommended. A more expensive option is The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life of California, by J. Duane Sept.
  • Plan to arrive at the tide pool at least 30 minutes before low tide so you have time to explore before the tide starts coming back in.

For more about exploring tidepools in the Santa Cruz area, check out Science Hikes on KQED’s Quest.

-By Meghan Laslocky

Tour the Globe in Your Own Backyard

Updated: June 2, 2014


Who needs a passport to see the world? The Bay Area has one of the most diverse and vibrant populations in the world and, thanks to these cultural festivals, you can learn J-Pop dance moves, hear unique music from around the world, and try exotic foods for the first time for less than the cost of a cab ride to the airport.

Nihonmachi Street Fair

Japantown Peace Plaza, San Francisco
August 2-3, 2014

This annual festival celebrates Asian/Pacific communities in the Bay Area with live music, dance performances and food. The fair also features handmade crafts from Asian artisans like Waka Ozawa, Pomegranate designs, Kayoko Designs and more.

September 13, 2014
San Francisco Italian Athletic Club, 1630 Stockton Street

Join the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club at North Beach for a fun-filled day celebrating the rich Italian culture that has existed in San Francisco for generations. Indulge in this free mouth watering festival that’s the only one of its kind!

Flickr: Kennejima

July 19 & 20, 2014
Japantown & Union Square
A collaboration between New People, the Japantown Merchants Association, and interested vendors, the J-Pop Summit Festival presents handmade arts and crafts, modern Japanese films, fashion, music, art, retail design and pop culture. The event includes exclusive celebrity appearances and film premiers. You’ve also got contests for Pocky-eating, “Odottemita” (Dance karaoke. Google it.), “J-Pop Idol,” and a cosplay masquerade.

Check out KQED Arts for more arts-related ideas.
– By Nicole Zeichick and Adrienne Blaine

Guide to the Bay’s Most Offbeat Events

Updated: June 2, 2014

San Francisco Mime Troupe

Introduce these oddball events into your social network and watch your Klout score climb. Of course, what might be offbeat elsewhere is often a cultural mainstay in the Bay Area. Warning: Your trendsetting may vary.

July 25 – 27, 2014
Christmas Hill Park, Gilroy
The annual Garlic Fest is described as the “Ultimate Summer Food Fair,” with three days of food, beverages, arts, crafts and live entertainment. Don’t worry, you won’t be the only one who needs a mint.


July 26-27, 2014
Berkeley Marina
A quirky festival for more than just kids, the Berkeley Kite Festival features artistic kites, high-flyers, and plenty of opportunities to make your own.

July 27, 2014
Dore Alley at Folsom, San Francisco
This is the ultimate fetish fair with 15,000 “leatherfolk” in attendance. Not for the traditional tourist, and even more hardcore than the Folsom Street Fair, Up Your Alley invites you to dig into your naughty drawer and flaunt it for a day!

Flickr:Michael R Perry

Aug 16–17, 2014
350 La Plaza St, Cotati
$17 for one day or $25 for both
The humble accordion, most associated with generations past, has experienced a revival of late, championed by bands like DeVotchKa, Beirut, Arcade Fire and Gogol Bordello. While none of those bands will be at this year’s fest, dulcet accordion music from Zydeco to Polka will be wafting through the air. Even better, proceeds from multi-generational, multi-cultural Accordion Festival benefits local youth groups.

Various locations, starting July 4th, 2014, in Dolores Park
check each venue for prices
Through September 1, 2014
These mimes are far from traditional, and are not afraid to talk — especially about controversial subjects. This year’s play, Ripple Effect, will almost certainly skewer San Francisco’s most cherished stereotypes, lovingly and hilariously. For full event calendar, visit the site.

July 6 – September 8, 2014
cost per event varies
Soundwave’s sixth biennial, Water, is designed to “explore developing ideas about the ecologies, stories and properties of our most important natural resource.” The festival features commissioned performances and pieces of art at various indoor and outdoor venues throughout San Francisco.

Check out KQED Arts for more arts-related ideas.

– By Nicole Zeichick and Adrienne Blaine

Indie Craft Fairs You Can’t Miss

Updated: June 2, 2014

Flickr:Orin Zebest

Offering way more than your grandma’s tchotchkes, these fairs feature indie crafts that refuse to be confined to glass-encased china cabinets. Whether it’s free-trade handicrafts from around the world or the best locally made jewelry and clothes, you’re sure to find a one-of-a-kind piece perfect for your own collection.

Renegade Craft Fair

Sat-Sun July 19-20, 2014, 11am-6pm
Fort Mason Center
Keep track of your expenses at the Renegade Craft Fair — it’s hard not to succumb to buying all the goodies you’ll find here. With wares from hundreds of talented crafters, hands-on workshops, music, and food, it’s best to set aside at least a few hours for this outing.

Flickr:Gary Soup

Treasure Island Flea

2014 Dates: Sat-Sun June 28, 29; July 26, 27; August 30, 31; September 27, 28; October 25, 26; November 29, 30
$3 or get a deal via funcheapSF
Great Lawn, Ave of the Palms, Treasure Island
The Treasure Island Flea is a monthly open-air flea market held the last weekend of every month. Along with local vendors, this market features outdoor exhibits, gourmet food trucks and spectacular views of downtown San Francisco.

Fair Trade Bazaar

Fri July 25, 2014, 9:30am – 8:30pm; Sat July 26, 2014, 9:30am – 4:30pm
De Young Museum Store, Golden Gate Park
This two-day event features 16 traders selling fair trade products from around the world including jewelry, textiles, native handcrafts and decorative accessories. Museum members receive 10% discount. All proceeds support exhibition program and art conservation and preservation efforts at the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor.

Check out KQED Arts for more arts-related ideas.

– By Nicole Zeichick and Adrienne Blaine