Burning Man Exhibit and Other Bay Area Holiday Discoveries

By Robert Bernstein

I am still catching up editing thousands of photos from our two trips to the Bay Area over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. I want to share some highlights of our Thanksgiving trip that are worth seeing, especially if you are going up there soon.

Here are my videos and photos from our Thanksgiving Bay Area Travels arranged in several galleries.

Our main destination after visiting family and friends was the Burning Man exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California. I learned about this exhibit by accident from “Burner” Laura Mancuso, also known as Luna Glow. I was giving a slide show at Vista Del Monte and she was giving one after me. I was very grateful to watch her slide show and for her tip to visit this exhibit in Oakland.

It is hard to imagine capturing the vastness and complexity of Burning Man in a museum exhibit. Not everyone agrees, but I was very happy with what they did with this exhibit. They offered an excellent history of Burning Man with various displays and videos. And they had a number of art pieces that gave a flavor of Burning Man art.

One highlight: These interactive mushrooms. When you touched them they would transform from the form on the left to the form on the right. And vice versa.

Here is my video of the transformation:

Another experience at the exhibit involved lying on your back in a circle with other visitors and looking up at this trance-inducing video:

There were also several “music machines” including this one:

The exhibit offered a variety of costumes and jewelry from Burning Man. People often talk about the nudity at Burning Man, but the costumes are actually even more interesting.

One of the most notable aspects of Burning Man is the Gift Economy. It is forbidden to exchange money at Burning Man. Or to exchange goods (barter). However, it is very much encouraged to “gift” items and services. Participants in the exhibit were encouraged to make small art pieces which were then delivered in a vending machine that was free to operate.

Burning Man is also famous for its “Art Cars” or “Mutant Vehicles” which can be enormous. (There is a Department of Mutant Vehicles – DMV – that regulates these artistic wonders.) The exhibit included this entire theater on a Mutant Vehicle:

It seemed that you were watching an old-time silent movie from 100 years ago. But on careful inspection it turned out the Burning Man artists not only created the old time theater on wheels. They also created the entire movie which looked like a high production commercial film from the silent era!

Perhaps the most impressive part of the exhibit is an actual Temple section like the ones that are constructed at Burning Man.

Most people are familiar with “The Man” that is constructed and burned at Burning Man. But the Temple is at least as impressive. It is a massive multi-story structure with staircases and elevated walkways. Participants are invited to leave photos and writings. Often to honor people who have passed. But sometimes just to express deeply ideas.

At the very end of Burning Man the Temple is burned. Along with the memorabilia that people have left there. Because of the symbolism of burning, people often use it to unburden problems that have been troubling them.

This section of Temple will be delivered to the next Burning Man and burned along with items that we were invited to leave with it. I chose to write this deeply held message:


“No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” will continue at the Oakland Museum of California through February 16, 2020. If you have never been to Burning Man, here is your chance to experience a bit of it. And if you are a Burner, I hope you will learn more about the history and art as I did.

Here you can see all of my photos and videos from this exhibit.

Although that exhibit was our main destination, we then took a walk around Lake Merritt in Oakland. Lake Merritt is the largest body of salt water within city limits in the United States. There is a three mile walkway around the lake, offering endless views of the lake, the city skyline and the Oakland Hills. A very beautiful experience.

Someone told us to check out the Oakland Cathedral of Christ the Light near the lake and I am grateful for that tip. It is a very modern architectural creation that manages to give some of the awe-inspiring feel of a traditional European cathedral.

Here I made a short video inside the cathedral as a choir practiced:

Here you can see some of my photos of the outside and the inside of the cathedral.

After that we were walking to the nearest BART station to get back to our hotel in San Francisco. We saw an old theater advertising a performance by DL Hughley that evening. We knew of Hughley from his appearances on the Bill Maher program “Real Time”. We were delighted to discover that the theater had just released some of its best seats at the last minute and got those prime tickets.

The Paramount Theater holds over 3,000 seats and it was full. My wife amused herself while we waited for the show by counting people who were not African-American. There were less than a dozen by her count, including us. It took me back to my youth growing up in the DC area and we very much enjoyed the experience. The woman sitting next to me was especially helpful in explaining the format of the evening as she was a regular attendee.

There were two female warm-up acts for the first hour or so. Then a break. Then Hughley came on for about 90 minutes for a brilliant comedy performance. I was delighted that the theater was very relaxed about taking photos during the performances. Here I captured Hughley as he seemed to perform just for us

Here are more of my photos of the theater and the performers. I definitely recommend a performance there if you are in the Bay Area!

Our stay in San Francisco was on Union Square. A highlight of staying there at Thanksgiving is attending the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. It is hard to find a good viewing spot for the performances, but they do have big view screens which can be seen all around the square. Here is a short video at the moment of the tree lighting that gives a small taste of the experience there:

A short walk from Union Square is Chinatown. I thought I had seen all the highlights there in all of the decades of visiting there. But we found something new there: The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where workers form the cookies by hand and insert the fortunes one by one. Who knew? We bought a bag of “adult” fortune cookies that were actually quite sweet and funny, not at all crude. And we were invited to take a photo as long as we paid 50 cents. They were not very strict in counting the photos.

Near that is the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum which offers a valuable history of Chinatown and the experience of Chinese immigrants to America.

I thought I had found all of the other cool spots in San Francisco over the years, but found The Lyon Street Steps to be a new discovery:

There were many more wonders during our travels. I will mention just one more. We went to Moss Landing near Monterey to see the sea otters. We had seen them there before, but for some reason they were not to be found during this visit. But we did get to see some surfers in the area:


Written by sbrobert

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