Featuring: The Berkeley Kite Festival

Instagram – Berkeley Kite Festival, July 2012.

“Getting high” means something completely different at the Berkeley Kite Festival.

Held this past weekend at the Berkeley Marina, it was the first festival I’d been to in a while that didn’t include women in feathered headdresses and men spinning fire. In fact, most people seemed fairly sober, a good thing considering the ultra-family-oriented nature of the gathering. (But in case anyone forgot, there was a Mothers Against Drunk Driving exhibit featuring a totaled sedan smack dab in the middle of the grounds. A thoughtful gesture, but perhaps a bit unnecessary in this crowd dominated by public-transporters, carpoolers, and the unlicensed.)

The event reportedly drew around 75,000 attendants over two days. A majority of those visitors must have been under 4″, because I nearly stepped on at least ten children while navigating the crowded pathways. Imagine Whack-A-Mole, or the mushrooms in Super Mario Bros – except they’re all some human’s wayward child.

This is something the parents should have anticipated. With so many cool things in the air, including an amazing four-kite synchronized performance and a giant spiraling kamikaze kite, it’s hard to keep your eyes anywhere but up. It’s also probably a good safety precaution, considering I witnessed at least four people hit by maverick kites – including my own brother, seconds after I voiced my concern about kite attacks.

(I just reread that last paragraph. Damn, I used the word “kite” a lot. “Flying apparatus”? “Floating contraption”?)

Admittedly, it’s an all-ages event that certainly caters to the younger demographic. Train rides, a petting zoo, face painting, and bounce houses were all child-only zones (semi-disappointingly to my mom, who loves trains). The Festival also featured a candy drop (presumably from the kites themselves) that the announcer cheerfully declared was “Just for the kids!” The result was a hilarious near-stampede of a group of innocent adults by sugar-crazed Oompa-Loompas.

Apparently, there’s quite the kite culture in Berkeley and in the Bay Area in general, which now that I think about is a very lemons-to-lemonade approach to our perpetual blustery weather. The first I’d heard about it, though, was from someone who doesn’t even live in California. My cousin, visiting from Texas, called me that morning to inform me that his friends had invited him to go. Did I have plans; was I thinking of attending? I admitted that I didn’t know about it, but was down to check it out.

My family head up from Campbell, and I lead the way to the Berkeley Marina. The congested roads of University gave us time to read the electronic board on the side of the street.

“Berkeley Kite Festival.

Berkeley Marina.

July 28 – 29.”

No instructions or warnings, just advertisement for the Festival. How did I not know about an event that was featured on the side of one of the busiest streets in Berkeley?! (My laziness will retreat come August 25, I promise.)

Surprisingly, the event didn’t seem to feature too many Afghani vendors or presentations. The festival organizers focused on Japanese-style kites, though of course, anyone was allowed to bring their own kite. Unfortunately, this led to several near-decapitations and tangled strings, as well as the aforementioned dive bombing kites.

Regardless, life was good. Even the water’s chill couldn’t distract from the beautiful views of the Bay, which created the Festival’s western border. The sun decided to dress to impress for once, and bathed the hills of people with its rare warm rays. My brother got free ice cream from the Willy Wonka truck. I didn’t actually squash any children.

All in all, it was a delightful afternoon filled with impressive kites, adorable (but overabundant) children, and a true community spirit. I’ll try to keep my eyes open (i.e. “sleep less than 12 hours every day”) and find more daytime events, because I now only have less than two weeks left in this lovely city!

Instagram – Berkeley Kite Festival, July 2012.

Note: Afterwards, my family and I went to grab a bite at Vik’s Chaat Cafe. Even at 4 PM on a Sunday, the place was packed, though we luckily found a perfect spot for our giant group. After years of hearing praise about its delicious authentic taste – from Indians, no less! – I will give my uncertified stamp of approval that it’s pretty legit. If I were less lazy (read: awake more often, see above), I probably would have visited it sooner/ returned to Vik’s more often.

However, is it good enough to overcome my laziness in the next few weeks? My lassi was perfect, and my samosa cholle literally made my mouth water (partially from the cholle’s spiciness, but I’m also a total lightweight when it comes to spice; #IknowImanawfulIndian). The only downside was that my mysore paak (dessert) was a bit dry – not bad, just different than I had expected. That being said, everyone at the table seemed pretty satisfied with their order. 

I would highly recommend it to someone willing to make the trek to 4th and Channing, or someone who wants to eat legitimately delicious Indian food (in large portions). Vik’s emerges as the obvious top choice for authentic Indian in Berkeley, and it deserves a ton of credit for delivering when several other restaurants fail (or worse, mix it with Mexican food). But I’ll admit it, my interest is tempered by the fact that I’ve been spoiled by living in the South Bay and having visited India quite often. Overall, I give it a 8/10.

Bottom Line: Check it out. You won’t regret it.

(Aaaaand this is why I shouldn’t be a food critic.)