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Best of Bay Area
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The Eclipse - April 2014 Eclipse & Golden Gate Bridge
Photo Courtesy of Mike Moir

Bay Bridge - Courtesty of Stephanie Tovrea Guilin, SLG Photography

Pier 39: Fresh seafood and sea lions
Photo courtesy of California Travel and Tourism Commission/Andreas Hub
Mandarin Oriental San Francisco: Best rooms with a view
Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental
San Francisco Pride: The largest LGBT gathering on the planet
Photo courtesy of Victorgrigas
Alcatraz Island: Former home of Al "Scarface" Capone and Robert "Birdman" Stroud
Photo courtesy of Dawn Ellner
Chinatown: A city within the city
Photo courtesy of Ed Schipul
Beach Blanket Babylon: Longest running musical revue in the country
Photo courtesy of Beach Blanket Babylon

San Pedro Square San Jose
 henner7

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

 David Herberg

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

San Jose Center for the Performing Arts 
 Andrew Sims

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

 hempomania

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

San Jose State University (Tower Hall with Ivy)
 d. yalamidis-gr

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

Knight Ridder Building San Jose
 JiPR

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

 stevenjssanders

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

Adobe World Headquarters San Jose
 RamaReddy Vogireddy

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

VTA Train and Bus Stop Downtown San Jose
 Nathan Cook

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

The Sainte Claire Hotel San Jose
 hookjaw

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

Balloon Ride Over Napa: Get a romantic bird's eye view
Photo courtesy of chadh
Di Rosa: Art, wine and gardens
Photo courtesy of Di Rosa
Cycling Napa: An active winery tour
Photo courtesy of Neeta Lind
The French Laundry: Award-winning French cuisine
Photo courtesy of Matthew Hine
Auberge du Soleil: One of Napa's best hotels
Photo courtesy of Auberge du Soleil
Uptown Theatre: Live entertainment
Photo courtesy of Uptown Theatre
Harvest STOMP: Napa's annual fall festival
Photo courtesy of fall-line
World Class Spas: Relaxation and romance
Photo courtesy of Villagio Inn & Spa
Yountville: Home to some of Napa's best restaurants
Photo courtesy of Dave Dugdale
Mustard Flowers: Napa beautiful during low season
Photo courtesy of RC Designer

Saint Teresa of Avila Church in Bodega, CA. It was built by shipbuilders in 1859 and is the oldest church in continuous use in Sonoma County. The church is located directly next to the Bodega schoolhouse, which was the setting for the schoolhouse scene in Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds. Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Bradley Photography

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Ai Weiwei: @Large on Alcatraz

Unique Art Exhibit on Alcatraz Island
Photo by Barry Willis
Photo by Barry Willis

Barry Willis, Best of Bay Area

Artist Ai Weiwei enjoys a unique position in China. A high-profile dissident—he’s been jailed and heavily fined, and is currently banned from foreign travel—he’s known to the general world for such efforts as collaborating on the design of the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the Beijing Olympic Games. A perpetual annoyance to Chinese authorities, he’s also a huge commercial success—too huge to be silenced permanently, but too annoying to be permitted untrammeled freedom.

The Peoples’ Republic of China is perhaps the most capitalistic nation on earth, yet its monolithic government insists that it’s still a Communist country adhering to the egalitarian principles of revolutionary founder Mao Zedong. While encouraging and supporting all varieties of profit-making enterprise, the Chinese government makes every effort to squash political dissidence, applying the tools of oppression whenever needed: censorship, exile, imprisonment, torture, death. The most egregious examples find their way into Western news coverage, but the miserable fates of thousands of Chinese activists usually fall below the media’s radar.

Alcatraz Island and its notorious prison sit in the midst of San Francisco Bay. This photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Alcatraz Island and its notorious prison sit in the midst of San Francisco Bay. This photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Alcatraz Island sits in the middle of San Francisco Bay, in one of the most beautiful spots on earth, with spectacular views in every direction. On a warm day it can seem almost paradisiacal, if one were to ignore its grim architecture and its equally grim history, not only as an inescapable prison for ordinary car thieves, bank robbers, kidnappers, and murderers, but also as a pen for criminals of thought. During the Civil War, it held suspected Confederate sympathizers, and later, Hopi men who refused to send their children to Federally-mandated English-language schools.

“Imprisonment became the government's principal means of intimidation and punishment,” says the website of the National Park Service about this deplorable bit of history. 

Rocktober

This amiable etymological contraction of Rock & October is just another example of how impatient our society has become.

Will Durst, Best of Bay Area

Welcome to Rocktober, Baby. That’s what all the rock and roll radio stations call this, the 10th month of the year. Doesn’t require more than a casually cocked ear to realize the airwaves are flooded with concerts and giveaways and promotional tie- ins. All in the name of Rocktober, Baby. 
 
This amiable etymological contraction of Rock & October is just another example of how impatient our society has become. No one has the time to say… Rocking October. We’re busy people, here. It’s Rocktober, Baby. And the “Baby” is permanently attached like a vestigial accentuater.  
 
This blended word invention was described by Lewis Carroll as a portmanteau. But linguistic compression has picked up considerable generational speed since Humpty Dumpty explained to Alice how “mimsy” is mix of miserable and flimsy; a word that today is often used to describe the Democratic Party’s chances of recapturing the House. 
 
Our enormous appetite for abridgement can also be seen in how Beefalo, frenemy, bromance and Sharknado have squirreled their way into the national lexicon. As has the manner of conjoining proper names: Bennifer, TomKat, Brangelina and Hillbilly. Won’t be long before history books laud the adventures of the outlaws Clonnie. The majesty of Antopatra. Turner Classic Movies hosting a Traburn Film Festival. Ken & Barbie become Karbie. 

"Bell, Book and Candle" at Spreckels in Rohnert Park

'Tis the Season of the Witch
Peter Warden (Nicky), Liz Jahren (Gillian) - Photo by Eric Chazankin
Peter Warden (Nicky), Liz Jahren (Gillian) - Photo by Eric Chazankin

Suzanne and Greg Angeo, Best of Bay Area

Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Five of the best comedic actors in the North Bay are all gathered in one small space to help usher in the season of pumpkins and hobgoblins with “Bell, Book and Candle”,  a thoroughly enjoyable if uneven show presented by the Spreckels Theatre Company.

English playwright John Van Druten was very successful in the 1930s with hit shows in the West End. His play “Bell, Book and Candle” premiered on Broadway in 1950, starring Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer. Van Druten is perhaps better known for 1951’s “I am a Camera” which served as inspiration for the musical “Cabaret”. Ultimately, “Bell, Book and Candle” also served as inspiration – for the popular television series “Bewitched”.

The story: It’s Christmastime in present-day New York City. Gillian, her brother Nicky and their Aunt Queenie form a quirky, crafty trio of witch-folk living the high life. They belong to an esoteric cult that hangs out at the underground Zodiac Club, casting spells but never seeming to get anywhere. Gillian is bored with her life and lack of romance, and decides on a vengeful whim to cast a love spell on her neighbor, a book publisher named Shep, with unintended consequences. One of his clients is an eccentric “authority” on the occult named Sidney who, despite having written a few books on magic, has no clue as to what he’s about to get into.

Sudwerk Brewing Company

Sudwerk Brewing Company - Foams Over with Fun & Bodacious Brews

Cari Lynn Pace, Best of Bay Area

I’m a wine wanderer, and I admit I’d never been to a real beer brewery.  At the invitation of Sudwerk co-owner Ryan Fry we checked out the tasting bar and factory in Davis – what a kick!  Behind the painted roll-up door was the bar with the chalkboard of today’s seasonal offerings.  We were given five small glasses of their handcrafted varieties all set up on a platter.  We compared sips back and forth, learning whether our taste buds favored bitters or hops.  Roshy, our bar brew educator, introduced the characteristics of each different brew, whether citrus or salty or chocolate or malty -  just as one would expect in a winery.  She smilingly explained ales v. lagers, and what IBU (International Bitterness Units) ratings indicate.   Did you know that the Pilgrims on the Mayflower made an earlier-than-planned stop in the New World, as they had run out of beer?  They knew beer to be safer than water for drinking on board.  If their hogshead barrels hadn’t run dry, the Pilgrims might kept sailing and founded our country in sunny Florida!

"Ideation" by SF Playhouse

Dark, Disturbing Hilarity in "Ideation" by SF Playhouse
The Cast of "Ideation:" Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips), Sandeep (Jason Kapoor), Hannah (Carrie Paff), Scooter (Ben Euphrat ) and Ted (Michael Ray Wisely).  Photo by Lauren English.
The Cast of "Ideation:" Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips), Sandeep (Jason Kapoor), Hannah (Carrie Paff), Scooter (Ben Euphrat ) and Ted (Michael Ray Wisely). Photo by Lauren English.

Barry Willis, Best of Bay Area

No doomsday scenario would be complete without a comprehensive plan to dispose of millions of victims.

Coming up with such a plan is the task that’s been assigned to a team of veteran management consultants in Aaron Loeb’s “Ideation,” now at San Francisco Playhouse. In a high-ceilinged conference room in a corporate high-rise, elegantly realized by set designer Bill English, the consultants work up various treatments for mass victims of a biological pandemic or genocidal warfare. 

They don’t know which of any possible disasters they are planning for—all they know is that they must come up with a foolproof plan to make millions of victims disappear with as little notice as possible. They toy with incineration, mass burials, chemical liquidation, and dumping cargo containers into the deep sea, all the while making a strenuous effort not to use “the N word”—Nazis. Each plan has clear advantages and disadvantages, and they strain their brains and their longstanding relationships to come up with one that works seamlessly and undetectably.

Planting a Hit Record: The Grain

Planting a hit record: The Grain at the verge

Shelley Shepherd Klaner, Best of Bay Area

October is traditionally thought of as a time of harvest and the Petaluma band The Grain has been busily working in the studio on their new album, which is near fruition. It is currently self-titled, but that could change, and the band members are excited at the upcoming yet to be announced release date.

Loyal followers of the band know the band’s originals seamlessly work into a long list of covers that it is often difficult to distinguish between the two even when they are belting out songs such as unique rocky versions of Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, Down in Hollywood, and John Denver’s Country Roads.
The new record will feature original fan favorites such as Eastern Sierra, It’s Gonna Happen, Waitresses and more. While band members Pete Delaney, guitar and songwriter (Avocado Sundae); Graham Stearns, bass (Tacklebox); Erik Steig, guitar (Swampthang); and Sean England, drummer (Critical Measures) are putting the polishing touches onthe disc, they aren’t neglecting their live performances.

Theater Review: "Old Hats" a Delight at ACT

Photo by Kevin Berne
Photo by Kevin Berne
Old-fashioned clowning and high-tech set design may sound incompatible but they are a potentially fascinating mix.

Barry Willis, Best of Bay Area

In “Old Hats,” now at American Conservatory Theatre, the mix proves incredibly  compelling. Add a hard-rocking five-piece band—they have—and you’ve got an evening’s entertainment that will keep you happy for days.

With this production, consummate clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner take one of the oldest performing arts into the stratosphere—bulbous shoes, giant baggy suits, floppy hats and all. Irwin, who learned his craft with San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus, and Shiner, a graduate of Cirque du Soleil, are an irrepressible pair of loose-limbed hams who take every possible advantage of ACT’s big stage.  

As the title implies, there are plenty of hat tricks in this show—and plenty of tricks, period, ranging from simple sleight-of-hand to amazing disappearance acts, aided by all-encompassing projections designed by Wendall K. Harrington and Erik Pearson. G.W. Mercier’s costumes and sets by are equally effective. Music director Shaina Taub more-or-less directs the whole affair onstage from behind her keyboard, backed by a band of ace musicians. For the most part, she’s the only one with spoken lines, and toward the end of the second act proves she’s a pretty adept dancer, too. Especially fun are her tunes such as the show-closer “Lighten Up,” a lightweight 

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