Off Beat Bay Area things to do

By Damon Lewis offbeatsanfranciscoTo say that the San Francisco Bay Area is typical of anything is at best a foolish statement, and at worst it is a testament to personal ignorance. From the very first white-man to step foot of the shores of what is now Ocean Beach right up into the present day, San Francisco and her many neighbors have generally flipped the bird to the rest of the World and done things just a wee bit differently. There are many differing theories and philosophies as to why this is, and many a scholar have engaged in discourse as to why and how this all came to be. From the earliest days, there have always been no small amount of off beat Bay Area things to do, whether political or fashionable, and there certainly is no evidence that this amazing characteristic will end any time soon. My understanding of why the Bay Area has been ground zero for multiple instances of breaking new ground is a basic theory stripped down to the core of cultural philosophy, and it started when a certain John Sutter discovered gold just a few hours east of the City by the Bay. Like any self-sustained person, place or thing, the lack of relying on anyone but ourselves has afforded us to march to the beat of a different drum for many, many years. There are hundreds and hundreds of what you might refer to as off beat Bay Area things to do, and this article is only intended to scratch the surface of a few of my favorites. So if, like myself, you are glued to a computer screen at the wee hours of the morning, you too could certainly use a push in the right direction. So if you are looking to find a few of these off beat Bay Area things to do with your time, then look no further my friend; your ship has come in. So get comfortable and read on as I take you on a literary trip of the not-so-typical events you might find at any given moment here on the edge of the Civilized World. What qualifies events as off beat Bay Area things to do goes hand in hand with the often-uttered phrase of “Only in San Francisco.” To my knowledge there are not many places where you will see a naked clown, a man walking another man on a spiked chain decked out in leather bondage or a legion of pissed-off bicyclists contending with high-speed traffic anywhere else in the English speaking world. Granted, cities like New Orleans with it’s Mardi Gras celebration, New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade or the running of the bulls in Spain certainly are specific to their local culture, but there are many other places that celebrate the same occasions so that one city can just as easily be another. And while interesting and intriguing in their own rights, these things surely do not compare with the host of off beat Bay Area things to do. In short, what happens in Vegas might very well stay in Vegas; what happens in San Francisco would result in a whole metropolis trying to post bail all at once. So without further delay, I submit a few of my personal favorite off beat Bay Area things to do. While certainly not the biggest, most expensive or best-attended event that occurs here in San Francisco, The Folsom Street Fair is unlike anything you are likely to witness anywhere else. A few months after I moved here from my home in the conservative bastion of America’s mid-west, I was taking the bus from my dingy hovel in Russian Hill to my place of employment in the South of Market district of San Francisco. As we crept along Bush Street and don through the Tenderloin, I noticed a disproportionate number of seemingly otherwise “normal” people with rainbow Afro wigs making their way through downtown. While this was absolutely no cause for concern, it certainly made the shock of an entire urban scene of leather-bound masochistic people wandering the streets. This was my very first introduction of these off beat Bay Area things to do, and as I made my way from the bus stop on Cyril Magnin Street to the area of Mission and New Montgomery. As odd as it seems even now, I felt so out of place with my jeans and t-shirt look that had served me so well all the years before. Enter the famous Folsom Street Fair, certainly a qualifier for off beat Bay Area things to do. The Folsom Street Fair held annually here in San Francisco is a celebration of sorts of the practice of Bondage, Discipline, Dominance and Submission, or BDSM . This event for the leather sub culture here in San Francisco draws all types of interested parties, from homosexuals and transvestites to bankers and housewives. There was nothing like this going on in Ohio, and the shock was of definite glee at the very idea of this. Held around the area of Folsom Street in South of Market, this fair is the cap of San Francisco’s Leather Pride Week. Started in 1984, this is the World’s largest showcase leather event for BDSM products and culture. The fair draws an estimated 400,000 participants each year and typically raises around $400,000 a year fort various charities. There are two live stages with nearly twenty live acts ranging from world-class DJ’s to performing arts, none of which risk being dull at any times. The fair has been a cause for controversy every year of it’s existence, and it certainly will remain so being one of the more off beat Bay area things to do. While a little more low-key in all of it’s glory, San Francisco’s Exotic Erotic Ball is another of the off beat Bay Area things to do which would never fly in another city here in the United States. Held at The Cow Palace just south of the San Francisco City Limits, The Exotic Erotic Ball is part Mardi Gras, part burlesque and part rock concert. Held every year just before Halloween, this is another of the off beat Bay Area things to do that would be cause for concern in another city with a lower threshold for alternative affairs such as these. Strictly for the twenty-one and over crowd The Cow Palace fills with Bay Area residents clad in lingerie, pajamas, fetish and masquerade costumes. Their motto of “Everyone’s a star at The Erotic Exotic Ball” is s nod to the many off beat Bay Area things to do, and this has been occurring annually for over thirty years. Along with the party, there is also an enormous expo with a manifest of exotic fashion, adult toys, adult websites and so-called “novelties.” Basically anything you might have missed out on at The Folsom Street Fair can be picked up at The Exotic Erotic Ball Expo area. So it seems there is no shortage of bondage and sexual fantasies here in the Bay Area, nor is there a limited amount of off beat Bay Area things to do. Of a less sexually oriented nature, one of my personal favorite off beat Bay Area things to do does not necessarily take place in the direct vicinity of San Francisco and her neighboring cities. However, the Bay Area has functioned as the Port of Call for its’ participants going on more than twenty-five years. While a bit more of the tame off beat Bay Area things to do, Reggae on the River, held annually in southern Humboldt County about three hours north of San Francisco, has consistently been the premier reggae event in the United States and possibly the World over. Known by the locals as simply “Reggae,” the event started in 1983 in the dense thicket of redwoods just outside of Garberville, California. This traditionally three-day concert is held as a benefit for the Mateel Community Center in Garberville and has been the cause of a lawsuit against a production company who sought to commercialize the event instead of putting the profits back into the community. This is the World’s premier reggae festival and has been for nearly three decades. And with passing of Proposition 215 legalizing medical marijuana, this is not just any off beat Bay Area things to do but instead a celebration of reggae, community and the sacrament of marijuana by a good portion of California’s marijuana growing constituency. Of the many off beat Bay Area things to do, this is personally my favorite of them all and despite the constant blazing of reefer; it is also possibly the safest and most family-oriented event in the western United States. Many other off beat Bay Area things to do take place right here in San Francisco, from the U.S. Air Guitar National Finals to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-sexual Pride Parade, the list of events that are particular to this region of the World goes on and on. Love Fest, The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and the How Berkeley Can You Be would not only probably not find homes anywhere else, they definitely would not all take place together in the same city. While some of theses events are free to all, reality states that someone must pay the piper, so to speak, and one of the best ways to gain entry is through the “deal oriented” website So while there are many, many more off beat Bay Area things to do constantly occurring in this great metropolis, there are plenty more outrageous things being dreamed up as we speak that would have no home were it not for the magnanimous disposition of the areas residents. And this benevolent and accepting attitude that is shared by nearly every person who lives here, it is the disposition of our welcoming perspective that is the finest of the offbeat bay area things to do.