Back to Berkeley: East Bay Celebrates Diversity With Festivals, Fairs, Parades

By Joe Eaton, Special to the Planet
Friday August 25, 2006

Diversity is not just a lofty abstraction: it tastes great, and you can dance to it. With the exception of the wet months, the Bay Area calendar is full of street fairs, music festivals, parades, and other events where you can hear everything from mariachi to taiko and sample endless variations on grilled-meat-on-a-stick. 

A sampling follows, and my apologies to anyone whose favorite event I’ve inadvertently omitted; write to the Planet if you have suggestions. Once again I tried really hard to find a local observance of Loy Krathong, the Thai celebration where you apologize to the spirit of the waters, but no luck. 


Oakland Chinatown StreetFest, Aug. 26-27: A pan-Asian event, bigger than anything in San Francisco; martial arts demonstrations, music, food. (510)893-8988. 


Art and Soul Festival, Sept. 2-4: A multi-block Labor Day weekend party in downtown Oakland. Rickie Lee Jones headlines. http://www.artandsouloakland.com 


Scottish Gathering and Games, Sept. 2-3: Watch out for the caber! Food (haggis at your own risk), music, dancing, sheep dog trials, falconry exhibits. Alameda County Fairgrounds, Pleasanton. www.caledonian.org 


Arab Cultural Festival, Sept. 17: Food, dance, crafts, with a side of politics. San Francisco County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (415) 664-2200. 


How Berkeley?! Parade and Festival, Sept. 17: Is Berkeleyan an ethnic group? A philosophy? A cult? You decide. The parade down University Avenue ends at Martin Luther King Park with more entertainment (hip hop, samba, and cosmic rockabilly), Interactive Theme Villages, and a beer festival. 644-2204. 


Ardenwood Cajun/Zydeco Festival, Sept. 23: Local and Louisiana talent perform at Fremont’s historic Ardenwood Farm. Zydeco matriarch Queen Ida Guillory heads the bill. There’ll be gumbo and crawfish, of course. www.ebparks.org/events/zydeco_06.htm 


Sebastopol Celtic Festival, Sept. 21-24: Mostly music—Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Celto-Spanish, Cape Breton, Quebecois—in a great outdoor venue. Sebastopol Community Center. (707) 823-1511. 


Reggae in the Park, Oct. 1-2: Legendary bands, tasty Caribbean food and culture. Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (866) 384-3060. 


Indigenous Peoples Day, Oct. 7: Pow-wow dancing and drumming, traditional and modern arts and crafts, frybread, bison burgers. Martin Luther King Park, Berkeley. 595-5520. 


San Francisco Italian Heritage Parade, Oct. 8: Columbus and Queen Isabella preside over North Beach’s big day, with wine tasting in Washington Square Park. http://sfcolumbusday.org/parade 


Oktoberfest by the Bay, Oct. 12-15: Closer than Munich. Organizers promise “nonstop music, dancing, and singing”; the Chico Bavarian Band headlines. Fort Mason, San Francisco. (888) 746-7522. 


Vietnamese Tet Festival, January 2007: Celebrate the Lunar New Year in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district with the people who brought us banh mi. (415) 351-1038. 


Cherry Blossom Festival, April 2007: For two successive weekends, taiko and tako in Nihonmachi; classical and folk dances, martial arts. Remember, it’s a good thing if the lion bites you. Japantown (Post and Buchanan), San Francisco. (415) 563-2307. 


Ukulele Festival of Northern California, April 2007: All ukuleles, all day, with occasional hula. Kalua pig and other island treats available. 

Hayward Adult School, 22100 Princeton St., Hayward. (415) 281-0221.  


Portuguese Pentecostal Festival, seven weeks after Easter, 2007: Not a fiesta—a festa. Half Moon Bay. (650) 726-2729. 


Oakland Cinco de Mayo Festival, May 2007: Celebrate the end of one of Napoleon III’s really bad ideas, when Mexico defeated French imperial troops in the battle of Puebla. International Boulevard between 34th and 41st Avenues, 535-0389. Other Cinco de Mayo events in San Francisco, Berkeley and elsewhere. 


Polish Festival, May 2007: Polka til you drop. Folk dance and choral performances, art exhibits, food. County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (408) 396-3023.  


Norway Day Festival, May 2007: Experience Norwegian culture and cuisine at Crissy Field, San Francisco. www.norwayday.org 


Festival of Greece, May 2007: Souvlaki, bouzouki, maybe ouzo in the Oakland Hills; dancing with and without tables. Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, 4700 Lincoln Ave., Oakland. 531- 



Himalayan Fair, May 2007: Safer than Katmandu—music, dancing, arts, and crafts from the Roof of the World, plus curries and handmade momos. Live Oak Park, Berkeley. 869-3995. 


Carnaval San Francisco, May 2007: A couple of months later than the rest of the world, but it’s colder here in February than it is in Rio or Trinidad. San Francisco’s version centers on a huge parade through the Mission District. (415) 920-0125. 


Fiesta Filipina, June 2007: This Independence Day bash at San Francisco’s Civic Center is the biggest event of its kind in the United States, with cultural events and a beauty pageant. www.fiestafilipinausa.com. 


Israel in the Gardens, June 2007: More than just falafel; this year’s event featured Israeli pop stars, a fashion show, and a backgammon tournament. Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco. (415) 512-6423. 


Juneteenth, June 2007: Commemorating the day that word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, this celebration of African American heritage also features music, food, and crafts from Africa and the Caribbean. Adeline Street, Berkeley. 655-8008. 


Japantown Bon Festival, July 2007: Another Nihonmachi event, this one marking the Festival of the Souls. Don’t miss the sake barrel cracking ceremony. www.sfjapantown.org 


Eritrean Western USA Festival, August 2007: Listen to exotic Red Sea beats and learn how to handle your injera. Wood Middle High School, 420 Grand Ave., Alameda. 986-1991. 


Nihonmachi Street Fair, August 2007: Japantown hosts a celebration of Asian and Pacific cultures, with great street food. Post Street between Laguna and Fillmore San Francisco. (415) 771-9861. 


San Francisco Aloha Festival, August 2007: Polynesia (and Micronesia) at the Presidio. Hula, slack key guitar, canoe races, island-style plate lunches, miles of vendors. Parade Grounds, Presidio of San Francisco. (415) 281-0221. 


International Dragon Boat Festival, August 2007: Drums propel the rowers at Oakland’s Jack London Square. 452-4272. 


Pistahan Festival, August 2007: The Bay Area’s Filipino community follows a parade down Market Street with music, traditional dancing and hip hop, art exhibits, and an adobo cook-off. Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco. (415) 777-6950. 


Festival of India, August 2007: Fremont’s Indian community hosts a two-day event with Bollywood celebrities and a dance competition.