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San Francisco: Night at the museum

By Justine Sharrock
updated September 29, 2021
blog_100203_sanfranfish_pano_original.jpg
Courtesy <a href="http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_California-Academy-of-Sciences-aquariums/photo/7319499/21864.html">Cheryl Lemanski/myBudgetTravel</a>

We're seeing a trend of nighttime museum parties here in San Francisco—think of them more as chic cocktail parties than those Ben Stiller mega-movies.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the SF MOMA are famous for occasional opening-night parties, which draw a who's-who crowd of local artists, musicians, and philanthropists (with its 75th Anniversary, the SF MOMA's parties are getting particularly scene-y). But other museums are jumping on the after-hours bandwagon, hoping to attract new visitors with cash bars, dance floors, club music, live performances, and special exhibits.

Every Thursday night, the California Academy of Sciences rolls out internationally renowned DJs like Jeff Stallings, plus appetizers, a cash bar, and a dance floor, creating a party zone in the academy's four-story rainforest, hands-on insect lab, and aquarium (reader dcaliendo recommends it as a must-see anytime). This month's eclectic mix of events include a pre-party for music festival NoisePop (Feb. 18), featuring live performances by local experimental groups the Frail and Brookhaven. 21 and over. 6-10 p.m. $12. 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, 415/ 379-8000.

Kids get to stay up late too during Friday Nights at the de Young. Music, poetry, films, dancing, interactive art projects, cocktails (for adults only, of course) and a special dinner are all on the docket. This month's calendar features a Mission-style Carnivale party with projected images of murals and street art, headdress-making, and Latin music. Feb. 5, 5-8:45 p.m., $10 adults, $6 youth and students, free for children under 13. Dinner and drinks not included. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, 415/ 750-3600.

The "After Dark" parties at the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum located next to the Palace of Fine Arts on the Presidio, happen the first Thursday of every month. Each event explores a different theme through film screenings, exhibits, performances, and talks. Appropriately, this month's theme is sex. The wild night will feature bull testicle dissections (you'll definitely want a cocktail before that), a Condom Couture Fashion Show, and take-apart sex toys. March's "Distortion" night will have visual music and psychedelic animation. February 4, 6–10 p.m. $15. 3601 Lyon Street, 415/ 561-0360.

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San Francisco: 5 Best February Values

Tour Chinatown's bakeries Start the Chinese New Year (Feb. 14 this year) out right by visiting two Chinatown bakeries that still make fortune cookies the old-fashioned way: by hand. Stop by Mee Mee Bakery or the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, located in Chinatown's oldest alley, to watch a free demo. While you're there, pick up a bag of fortune cookies&mdash;a perfect souvenir to share (or not). Reservations not needed. Mee Mee Bakery, 1328 Stockton Street, 415/362-3204. $3 for a bag of cookies, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, 56 Ross Alley, 415/781-3956, $1 for a bag of cookies, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. everyday. l See Kermit Lynch at Omnivore Books On Feb. 20, the famed Berkeley wine importer Kermit Lynch, whose wine business earned him France's highest national decoration&mdash;the Legion d'honneur&mdash;will be hosting a free wine tasting and reading. Sample the latest vino discoveries while Lynch reads from two of his books, Adventures on the Wine Route and Inspiring Thirst. The event is being held at Omnivore, Noe Valley's book store dedicated to all things food, where the collection of vintage cookbooks (including the first-edition signed copy of Chez Paniesse Desserts) is worth a browse in itself. The hour-long event begins at 5 p.m., 3885 Cesar Chavez Street, omnivorebooks.com, 415/282-4712 San Francisco IndieFest's Big Lebowski Party at CellSpace The annual film festival launches Feb. 4 and features award-winning independent films like Wah Do Dem (with Norah Jones) and Harmony and Me. Each film is $10. Be sure to buy tickets in advance, since this festival, which has premiered big films in the past from indie favorites like David Lynch and Gus Van Sant, draws crowds. Additionally, The Big Lebowski Party on Feb. 12 is always a highlight, complete with white Russians, mini-bowling, a trampoline, and a costume contest (expect plenty of bathrobe-clad Dudes) held at the arts co-operative CellSpace. Save 5 bucks if you show up in costume. Film Festival February 4th-18th, at a variety of locations. $10 tickets. Big Lebowski Party starts at 9 p.m., 2050 Bryant Street, 415/648-7562, $10 ($5 in costume); free with Indie Film fest ticket stub. $3 Moonlight Martinis at the Cliff House Sutro's bar at the Cliff House has floor-to-ceiling windows directly overlooking the Pacific ocean, the famous Seal Rocks, and the Sutro Bath ruins, making it a perennial favorite among visitors and locals alike. It's the perfect spot to end up after an afternoon hiking the rocky shoreline at the Presidio's Land's End or visiting the Camera Obscura. Try visiting on a weeknight (Sunday through Thursday) to get the most bang for your buck&mdash;$3 Skyy and Tanquery martinis (usually $8) mean you can still afford a cab ride back. 1090 Point Lobos, 415/386-3330, 6- 10 p.m. $5 stand-up at the Clubhouse Clubhouse, a downtown underground Comedy Club, features some of the best up-and-coming local stars, like Ali Mafi and Nico Santos. Normally, these comedians perform at high-priced clubs like Cobb's or the Punch Line&mdash;but at Clubhouse, see them for a fraction of the price. The BYOB policy creates a no-holds-barred atmosphere where comics can test new material and crack jokes too off-color for the mainstream. 414 Mason St., 415-921-2051, Tuesdays through Sundays, tickets start at $5. Just back from San Francisco? Going there soon? Leave your recommendations, comments, and questions on our city page.

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London: Best places for afternoon tea

The top traditional places downtown for afternoon tea are Browns (brownshotel.com) which won the Tea Guild's award for the best tea in the capital in 2009 and the Dorchester (thedorchester.com). Both are expensive at around $50, and whilst you don't have to dress up to the nines, they are conservative establishments where people talk in hushed tones. Personally, I'd opt for somewhere cheaper, younger and less stuffy. Go to Bloomsbury (a neighborhood near the British Museum, made famous by the Virginia Woolf and her literary set) and drop into Bea's (beasofbloomsbury.com), which offer sumptuous cakes and tea in a little caf&eacute; for around $12. And whilst it's a 40-minute subway trip from the city center near the Canary Wharf financial district, the Mudchute Kitchen (mudchutekitchen.org) has generous farmhouse teas with a strong brew and cream cakes, on a 32-acre urban farm, also for around $12. It's cozy spot, and kids are welcome as well. EARLIER Pinkies In! London Teatime Etiquette Budget Travel's London City Page

Inspiration

Ithaca, N.Y.: A travel deal for teachers

Why aren't more travel deals aimed at teachers? Leading by example is the small town of Ithaca. From Feb. 12-21, Ithaca is holding its fourth annual Winter Recess, with deals offered explicitly for educators and their families. About 5,000 school employees and family members are expected to show up to enjoy buy-one-get-one free snowshoe rentals, spa treament discounts, and half-off restaurant meals. More than 100 events, include a free guided tour of New York state's largest waterfall, Taughannock Falls. Another deal: Teachers get half-off admission to the Museum of the Earth, which is currently featuring a hands-on fossil identification workshop on Valentine's Day weekend. Learn more at ithacalovesteachers.com.

Inspiration

London: Mamma Mia! The Abba exhibition opens

The Swedish pop group Abba&mdash;the top-selling band of the '70s&mdash;is now being celebrated with a touring exhibition. All of the blitz and bling debuts today in London at ABBAWorld. Strut your platform disco shoes to the Earl's Court exhibition center, and join a "hologram" of the band onstage&mdash;and other karaoke-style opportunities to belt out the group's hits. Who will go? Fans of Mamma Mia (both the musical and the movie), kids who adore MTV's Taking the Stage, and some gay guys. Together, they love Abba. The movie Mamma Mia alone has grossed more than $600 million. The exhibition is complete with memorabilia and original costumes and instruments. Tickets: livenation.co.uk, $36 (&pound;22) plus the usual outrageous booking fee. Can't make it to London? Good news: This exhibition will go on tour worldwide. No dates for a U.S. visit yet announced. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 5 Places Conan Should Go on Vacation Plan your trip with our London city page