A well-kept secret, the best upcoming cultural events and festivals in San Francisco uphold the city’s tradition of irreverence, wackiness, elegance and childlike joy. From the Easter Parade to the Berkeley Bay Festival, this year holds some promising events. Included are special activities for the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge and the 75th Stern Grove Festival. Even better, these festivals remain family friendly, ticket free and open to all. If you have a quirky sense of self-expression, promenade your Easter bonnet at the Union Street Festival or strut your twisted attire at the costume contest at the 101st Zazzle Bay to Breakers.

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April Events

21st Annual Spring Celebration and Easter Parade
Union Street, Gough to Fillmore
Sunday, April 8, 2012 at 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Parade at 2 p.m.
Easter Bonnet Contest judging 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Awards at 3:30 p.m.
Steven Restivo Event Services
(800) 310-6563

Spring fever finds a home as Easter becomes a circus on Union Street. If you want a place for your children to bounce, climb, create, ride ponies, pet animals and experience live entertainment, here’s a day of it. The whole family will enjoy the outdoor bistro setting with parade floats, gardens, classic cars, art and musicians. Even pets may compete in the Easter Bonnet Contest, with categories like most comical, most elegant, most creative and largest.

(credit: Cindy Warner)

Berkeley Bay Festival
Berkeley Marina
Sunday, April 14, 2012, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Parks Recreation & Waterfront
2180 Milvia St.
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 981-6700

Berkeley Bay offers more than boats, restaurants and a park at the Berkeley Bay Festival. If you love the bay and the environment, this waterfront festival includes dinghy and keelboat boat rides for the public at Cal Sailing, dragon boat rides, food booths, crafts, a nature center and a visit by the Marine Mammal Center. There is also an adventure playground with a zip line, jazz, street theater and circus art, rock oldies and bicycle valet parking by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. The parks department holds regular public boat lien sales and the boats up for auction dock at the marina.

May Events

Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary
Crissy Field and the marina main events
Golden Gate Festival May 26 and 27, 2012
(415) 561-3000

(credit: goldengatebridge75.org)

Have you ever walked, jogged or ridden your bike across or even sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge?  It’s a world class thrill and for the 75th anniversary, celebration runs from the waterfront at Fort Point to Pier 39 with 1930s music, films featuring the Bridge, bike trips to the Bridge (but not over it), vintage cars, an historic watercraft parade, performers and more with fireworks from Crissy Field and the marina on Sunday at 9:30. SFMOMA’s location at Fort Mason will display bridge-related art. The Presidio will display art plus show bridge-related films on Film Night.

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101st Zazzle Bay to Breakers 12K Race
Friday May 18, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, May 19 – Noon to 6 p.m.
7 a.m. Race followed by Final Mile Festival, Sunday, May 20

Expo free and open to the public
Race fees: $57 Basic Registration, $72.00 Plus Registration, $89.50 Premium Registration

(credit: zazzlebaytobreakers.com)

Zazzle Bay to Breakers elite, costumed and seeded runners along with centipedes (teams tied together) race from Howard and Beale Streets over Hayes Street Hill through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, finishing with the Final Mile music festival in Golden Gate Park.  Usually Kenyans stand among the winners and still hold the course record, but last year a Moroccan won for the first time in the 100 year history. Just wear any unusual or irreverent item and make new friends while the costumed crowd seems to remain in the back of the pack while the elites lead the front. Costumed revelers include the perennial fleet of Elvi in white jumpsuits who speed along with the front runners for a few hundred yards. Bands perform along the way and sponsors and other exhibitors participate in the Final Mile Festival. Runners enjoy more competition with the costume contest at the Conservatory of Flowers. The Breakers and Beyond Photo contest takes submissions anytime to win a training t-shirt, with participants sending a photo of themselves from any unusual or exotic location in the world while wearing any year’s T-shirt.  Send pix to info@BaytoBreakers.com.

Mission District
Festival Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27–Memorial weekend
Grand Parade Sunday, May 27 starting at 24th Street and Bryant
Carnaval salute to Golden Gate’s 75th anniversary Saturday, April 7, 2012

(credit: carnavalsf.com)

Sometimes it’s what you’re not wearing. If you like the vibrance and abandon of Carnaval, samba yourself to this family-friendly, multi-cultural celebration. Carnaval enlivens the Mission each spring with floats and performers.  Artists join together creating a syngergy of multicultural music, dance, food and color.  This year means a special celebration of Carnaval with the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge at the concourse in Golden Gate Park.

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June Events

Stern Grove Festival
Stern Grove
19th Avenue and Sloat Blvd.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 252-6252
June 24th through August 26th, 2012
Sunday concerts begin at 2 p.m.

(credit: sterngrove.org)

The Stern Grove Festival celebrates its 75th anniversary with the San Francisco Symphony and Beethoven’s “Symphony Number Nine” conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, along with the indie rock band OK Go. World class performers from the San Francisco opera, SF ballet, SF Symphony, international jazz and more perform at admission-free concerts under the tall trees of Stern Grove.

If you love picnics, toss your name into the picnic table lottery or spread a blanket on the lawn on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Grove Café offers food, but visitors may bring their own, plus beer and wine. Stern Grove celebrates it’s 75th season this year just as the Golden Gate Bridge celebrates it’s 75th anniversary.

Cindy Warner is a freelance writer and a San Francisco Bay Area native. Cindy has covered SF theater and opera for Examiner.com via her bicycle since January 2009. Check out her work on Examiner.com.