Multicultural Field Trips



One of the wonderful things about the Bay Area is the wide diversity of people who live here. Our editors have put together a roundup of field trips to help families get a strong sense of our various cultural communities. This summer, why not explore an unfamiliar culture or get a deeper appreciation of your own?

The Chinese Community

I wanted to explore San Francisco’s Chinatown with my children but knew very little about the neighborhood, the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America.

So we decided to mix our educational outing with entertainment by using a smartphone scavenger hunt from Stray Boots, which offers both interactive tours and competitive team scavenger hunts for more than 50 cities.

Our $5 download (available for iOs or Android) took us from a teashop to a Chinese bakery visited by Bill Clinton and from a store full of traditional instruments to a Taoist temple. Along the way, we worked together to solve clues, sampled moon cakes, took silly photos, explored streets and architecture we could have easily passed up – and learned lots of interesting and fun information along the way.

Stray Boots estimates the tour takes 1½ to two hours, but with a break for lunch, ours took significantly longer (probably a little too long for my kids’ patience but I was insistent on finishing).

You can also just wander on your own from the gorgeous entry gate on Grant Avenue, sampling treats and popping into stores. Two popular times to visit include the two-week Chinese New Year celebration with its famed parade in January or February and the Autumn Moon Festival, which takes place Sept. 30-Oct. 1 this year.

For more information, visit www.strayboots.com, www.sanfranciscochinatown.com, www.chineseparade.com or www.moonfestival.org.

Among other great places to experience Chinese culture or to learn about the history of Chinese immigrants in the Bay Area is China Camp State Park, four miles east of San Rafael on San Pablo Bay, which includes the remains of a Chinese shrimp fishing camp dating to the 1870s. A replica Chinese sailing junk docks there during the summer. Visit www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=466 or friendsofchinacamp.org.

Another area to explore is Oakland Chinatown, also founded in the 1870s. While smaller than San Francisco’s, this Chinatown is actually a diverse pan-Asian neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and many markets offering produce, herbs and traditional cultural items and imported goods. A Lunar New Year Bazaar is typically held in January and the Oakland Chinatown StreetFest, one of the largest Asian festivals in the country, takes place the fourth weekend in August. Visit www.oaklandchinatownchamber.org for more information.

– Janine DeFao

Mexican Culture

San Francisco’s Mission District is known for its rich Mexican culture. One of my favorite ways to enjoy this culture with my family is trying the cuisine. In my opinion, some of the best spots to grab a burrito or taco are La Taqueria (2889 Mission St.), Taqueria Cancun (2288 Mission St.), El Farolito (2779 Mission St.) and Papolete (3409 24th St.).

If you want to get your food to go, head to Dolores Park (19th and Dolores streets). This Mission District landmark is the perfect place to have a picnic on a sunny day and enjoy fantastic views of downtown San Francisco.

Another great way to enjoy the Mexican culture of the Mission is to check out its murals. The community has two mural projects that are directly involved with the community: Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) and Precita Eyes Muralists. CAMP is a group of artists that create murals in Clarion Alley. CAMP artists give tours every Saturday at 1 p.m. (weather permitting), starting at the Valencia Street entrance to Clarion Alley. It asks for a $5 per person donation and children are free. Precita Eyes is an arts organization that provides tours of the murals and low-cost art classes for all ages. Check its website for tour and class information.

For more information about these organizations, go to clarionalleymuralproject.org and www.precitaeyes.org. The Mission District comes alive on Memorial Day weekend every year for Carnaval San Francisco. This two-day multicultural celebration features a parade with colorful floats, dancing, global cuisine, international music, arts and crafts and more. You can spot young and old dancing along the parade route. For more information, visit www.carnavalsanfrancisco.org.

Another area worth exploring is Fruitvale. If you head to this vibrant Oakland neighborhood, you must check out Peralta Hacienda Historical Park.  It is full of history about Native and Mexican Americans and features tours, events, youth programs and interactive museum exhibits. The six-acre park includes the historic adobe area, 1870 Peralta House and the Peralta nature area. When you’re hungry, don’t leave the Fruitvale neighborhood without ordering from the taco trucks. Some favorites are Taqueria Sinaola, Guadalajara and Pipirin.

For more information about Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, visit www.peraltahacienda.org. For information about the taco trucks, go to

www.facebook.com/TacosSinaloaOak/, www.yelp.com/biz/guadalajara-taco-truck-oakland and www.yelp.com/biz/pipirin-taco-stand-oakland.

In San Jose, be sure to check out the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Opened in 1999, this unique facility in the heart of San Jose is home to the School of Arts and Culture. There are community classes for both adults and children. The plaza includes a theater, pavilion, art gallery, classroom space and an outdoor square and gardens built in the style of a traditional Mexican plaza. Among events are plays and other performances, art exhibits, community events, corporate meetings, weddings and more. For more information, go to www.mhplaza.com.

– Teresa Mills-Faraudo

A Potpourri of Cultures

If you’ve walked around downtown San Francisco, you’ve probably seen the giant blue cube outside The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM).  The inside of the museum features special exhibitions by Jewish artists, with the offerings ranging from cartoonist Roz Chast to children’s book author Ezra Jack Keats. 

Many of the exhibits are interactive, including the recent tribute to Warren Hellman, founder of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The programs aim to showcase the work of great artists, while educating, inspiring and sparking debate about the Jewish experience.

There’s a great gift shop too, where you can pick up books, tchotchkes or Hanukah gifts. Don’t miss the chance to grab lunch at Wise Sons on the first floor. You can get a white fish sandwich or cream cheese on lox on a homemade bagel or bialy. Still hungry? They make their own babka in-house. The museum features a free drop-in art studio for kids on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free on the first Tuesday of each month.

A few blocks down from the CJM, a giant photomosaic can be seen from the street through glass window of the Museum of the African Diaspora. It’s one of the few museums in the world dedicated to the art and stories focused on the migration of people from Africa. You can hear a slavery narrative or learn about the life of Jimi Hendrix or listen to community poets reflect on the themes of current exhibitions. The museum has a chef-in-residence, Bryant Terry, who works with locals schools to create programming that celebrates the intersection of food, farming, health, activism, art and culture. www.moadsf.org.

In Novoto, be sure to check out the Museum of the American Indian, located on the actual site of a Miwok village. The Museum was founded in 1967 after an explosion of construction in the region unearthed archaeological objects. The upstairs features an exhibit of ancient Puebloan sites. The museum store has items to purchase and look at, and a regalia room. In September, the museum will host a celebration for its 50th anniversary. Be sure to check the website for seasonal hours and special activities. www.marinindian.com.

– Amy Ettinger

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