The Bay Area's fair and festival season has arrived -- a season that, with our glorious weather, actually spans most of spring, all of summer and part of fall. This year, as usual, there are myriad events to choose from, ranging from the really big ones (San Jose Jazz's Summer Fest, Eat Real in Oakland, Outside Lands in San Francisco) to the major art and wine festivals to the street fairs that let you sample the ambience of different neighborhoods. Here are tips for enjoying five of our favorite festivals, plus a sampling from our annual roundup. The complete festivals calendar is posted online at www.mercurynews.com/summer-guide. Should you find yourself with free weekend hours, check it out.

Jeremy Barney, of the Paiute tribe, left, helps his son Sunhawk Barney, of the Paiute and Navajo tribes, with his headdress before a competition dance
Jeremy Barney, of the Paiute tribe, left, helps his son Sunhawk Barney, of the Paiute and Navajo tribes, with his headdress before a competition dance during last year's Stanford Powwow. (Kirstina Sangsahachart/Staff Archives)
We'll gladly help you fill the time.

Stanford Powwow

The mascot is long gone, but Stanford's reverence for Native American culture remains. For more than four decades, students have hosted a celebration that's open to the public.

When/where: May 9-11 in the Eucalyptus Grove at Galvez Street and Campus Drive

Why go: With dozens of tribes in attendance, this festival is a great opportunity for others to soak in Native American culture.

Must do: The tribal dancing starts at 7 p.m. Friday with the Grand Entry of dancers and continues all weekend long. Music, too. Between performances, longtime attendees of the powwow head to the booths for fry bread (savory or sweet) and serious shopping. You can buy authentic pottery, artwork, drums, jewelry and beaded pieces, carved sculptures, dolls and more.


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Admission: It's free to get in, but donations are welcome. For details on hours and parking, go to www.stanford.edu/group/powwow.

Tips: Stop by on opening night, Friday, to capture the excitement of the festival's first day and enjoy shorter lines at the food booths. Then come back early Saturday or Sunday when all the vendors will be in place.

-- Linda Zavoral, Staff

Bay Area KidFest

Let Mom and Dad have their art and wine festivals -- this colorful, activity-packed festival is designed for children.

When/where: Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26, at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord

Why go: Looking for a way to avoid the high prices of amusement parks? This fun, affordable festival will do just that.

Must do: You'll find standard carnival rides, but your kids will love the wide array of bounce houses. And make sure to check out the performances. Lots of adorable children show off their dance, karate, gymnastics and other skills.

Admission: $6 with donation of a can of food for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, $7 without. Children younger than 24 months and adults 65 and older get in free. On-site parking costs $5. If you take BART to the Concord station, the festival is about an eight-block walk from there.

King Cavity, of the Velocity Circus, hands out candy to the crowd during the KidFest event at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.
King Cavity, of the Velocity Circus, hands out candy to the crowd during the KidFest event at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff Archives)

Tips: Prepare yourself for the stroller onslaught. Going early is best to avoid the crowds. And consider parking in a nearby garage at Salvio and Colfax streets. It's free, and the streets near Mt. Diablo High are narrow and will fill with cars quickly. While many of the attractions are on a grassy field, some are on a blacktop that can get uncomfortably warm.

-- Kristen Crowe, Staff

Gilroy Garlic Festival

Every California food festival -- from artichoke to zucchini -- has its roots in this event. This year is the 36th festival for the granddaddy of them all.

When/where: July 25-27 at Christmas Hill Park

Why go: It's a rite of passage for Bay Area foodies. You attend, you eat, you reek. Yum.

Must do: Watch the pyro chefs perform fiery feats at Gourmet Alley. Then head over to the Cook-off Theater for chef demos, competitions and tips on cooking with garlic. And you have to sample the garlic ice cream -- it's free, but it's definitely an acquired taste.

Admission: Buy discount tickets online or at Nob Hill/Raley's stores; it's $18 adults and $8 for kids and seniors. Food is extra. Parking and shuttle rides are free. (BTW, festival proceeds go to good causes: Booths are staffed by Gilroy community and student groups, and the proceeds are apportioned according to how many hours of work the volunteers put in.)

Volunteer Erik Avila cooks up some redolent calamari on a flaming grill during the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy.
Volunteer Erik Avila cooks up some redolent calamari on a flaming grill during the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy. (Patrick Tehan/Staff Archives)

Tips: To beat the traffic south to Gilroy on Highway 101, leave very early in the day. Ditto for beating the heat. And to beat the crowds, consider taking a day off from work and attending the festival's first day, Friday. That's when Bay Area colleges will square off in the Garlic Bowl.

-- Linda Zavoral, Staff

Art + Soul Oakland

Like the name says, there's plenty of art and lots of soul at this festival, which heads into its 14th year. The event in downtown Oakland replaced the old Festival at the Lake, a popular music and art event.

When/where: Aug. 2-3, downtown Oakland, 14th and Broadway

Why go: It's a happening place to listen to some great music, dance, buy original art and meet new friends.

Must do: This year's musical lineup hasn't been announced yet, but you can expect to hear blockbuster blues, funk, gospel and more. For the first time, Art + Soul will hold the Oaktown Throwdown BBQ Competition on the opening day, with connoisseurs and aficionados putting their smoke skills to the test. If you're bringing kids, let them unleash their creativity at the street mural projects and other crafts areas.

Admission: Ticket prices for 2014 haven't been set yet, but you'll save a few bucks if you buy them online in advance at http://artandsouloakland.com. Kids 12 and younger get in free.

Tips: The best way to get this event is to hop on BART and get off at the 12th Street station. You'll be in the heart of downtown Oakland, just steps away from the entrance. But if you must drive, there is parking at the City Center Garage West, 12th and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. If you're coming on bike, you can park your wheels at the entrance at 14th and Broadway.

-- Pamela Lewis-Turntine, Staff

Scottish Highland Gathering & Games

Thousands flock to celebrate their Scottish heritage -- or simply to celebrate Scottish heritage in general -- every summer at the Scottish Games.

When: Aug. 30-31 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton

Why go: You haven't seen tests of brain, brawn and beauty until you have visited the games. See ancient battles of strength with the javelin toss, scores of Scottish beauties take a turn on the stage with traditional dances, and enjoy native foods from bonnie Scotland while listening to bagpipes and fiddles blasting in the background. If you aren't Scottish after you attend the games, you are going to wish you were.

Must do: Bagpipe competitions and strength tests are by far the most entertaining to see. The dance performances are fun to clap along to, and the fiddlers and bands that play will get your juices pumping as you can't help but get out on the dance floors. Those who show up in costume and those who come in "clans" make this festival authentic. Enjoy visiting each clan and take a turn wielding swords and learning of Scotland's diverse and delightful history.

Admission: $20 for adults, $12 for students and seniors. Children 11 and younger get in free. Food is extra. Details: www.caledonian.org.

Tips: To beat the traffic to the fairgrounds off Interstate 680, prepare to leave very early in the day. The same goes for beating the heat. Bring lots of water and sunscreen.

-- Katie Nelson, Staff

Contact the Travel staff at travel@bayareanewsgroup.com.