I've said it before, but I'll say it again: The annual Solano Stroll, which takes place this Sunday, is the best party of the year.
I've been going to the stroll since it began in 1974 as a one-block sidewalk sale on the Berkeley/Albany border, drawing maybe a hundred people.
Today it has grown to a 1¼-mile extravaganza stretching the whole length of Solano Avenue, drawing 300,000 people each year. But in many respects, it still retains its down-home, small town flavor.
If you're planning to go to the stroll -- and who isn't? -- here are a few tips to maximize your enjoyment:
1. Go early, for two reasons: First, you won't want to miss the parade at 10 a.m., featuring some of the wackiest floats and marching bands ever, including art cars, belly dancers, incredibly adorable kids, and more golden retrievers than you've ever seen in your life. By coincidence, motorcycle cops from all over Northern California are in town this weekend for a statewide competition, so a lot of them will be riding their Harleys in the parade, too.
The other reason is that if you arrive early, you stand a fighting chance of finding a nearby parking place on the street, which brings us to Tip No. 2:
2. Don't drive if you can help it: Take AC Transit or BART, instead. To make it easier, free shuttle busses will be running all day to and from the North Berkeley BART station. And if you really want to arrive in style, ride your bicycle. There will be free valet parking for bikes at two locations on Solano Avenue: Wells Fargo Bank on the east end of Solano and the Sophia Café on the west end.
3. Bring the kids: The Solano Stroll is extremely family friendly, with lots of fun things to do for toddlers, tweens and teens, including a Ferris wheel, dunk tank, and more than a few youth-oriented entertainment acts, including five boy bands, headlined by Cheating Daylight, winner of the Los Angeles Music Festival rock artist of the year award in 2012.
4. And here's a tip for parents: Don't miss the one-stop shopping youth and school services area, where dozens of schools will have information booths. You can interview a preschool for the newborn while exploring the world of private high schools, charter schools, and more, all under one "roof."
5. And a tip for animal lovers: Be sure and visit the animal care and companionship area, including booths by the House Rabbit Society, Save The Chimps, the Berkeley Humane Society, Berkeley Animal Care, the Beagle Freedom Project and Tails a Go-Go.
6. Bring an empty stomach: This year, a record number of restaurants on Solano will be participating, augmented by 50 outside vendors offering both ethnic and traditional county fair food of every imaginable variety.
7. Take your time: The whole idea is to walk down on one side of the street, munching all the way and taking in as much of as little of each entertainment act as you like. Then walk back doing the same thing on the other side. You won't want to be rushed. In 2000, the Library of Congress designated the stroll as a National Local Legacy. Check it out on Sunday and find out why. See you there!
Reach Martin Snapp at email@example.com.