Balmy Alley is one of the Mission's more colorful side streets, and not just on the Day of the Dead, when skeleton-costumed revelers parade through it by candlelight. Balmy has been home to more than 400 murals in the last 30 years; some have been preserved, while others have been painted over as artists move on and society shifts.
Murals are an essentially democratic (if periodically embattled) art, created collaboratively and shared publicly. They typically chronicle some mix of political, social, and community concerns: The local group Placa, for example, has produced nearly a dozen works documenting Central American military clashes. Cesar Chavez Elementary School celebrates its namesake on one side of its building with a portrait and the Sí Se Puede slogan, and its sign language program on the other side with The Silent Language of the Soul, a painting of hand signs and rosy-cheeked children against a vibrant blue base.
Murals here often illuminate Mission landscape and lore, and the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center, a 26-year-old collective dedicated to the creation and preservation of muralism, honors that tradition with S.F./Bay Area Mural Awareness Month (May 2-17). The celebration opens with a public party at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 2, at the center and features live music, food and drink, exhibits, and artistic presentations.
Later in the month, the Cruzin' Coyotes play live at the Mural Arts Festival, held from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, at Precita Park. A public awards ceremony celebrates local muralists at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 17, at Mission Cultural Center.
And if that's not enough art for you, the center also hosts ongoing weekend mural tours led by experienced artists, including bike trips (by appointment only) that cover more than 70 Mission murals and walking tours that begin at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information about Mural Awareness Month and Precita Eyes' programs, call 285-2287 or visit www.precitaeyes.org. -- Heather Wisner
Be a Wine-er
No Dining, Just Wining
Calling all winos! Pour out that screw-top swill you've been chugging and get your quality-vino fix at the third annual World Wine Market Exhibition and Conference. The expo opens its doors to all wine lovers (as opposed to professionals only) on Saturday; there you can sip succulent vintages from all over the fine state of California as well as an international selection offered by 16 different countries. Wine-producing strongholds such as Italy and France will, of course, be present, alongside regions not renowned for their wines, such as Hungary, southern Bulgaria, and Idaho. Increase your wine IQ with a plethora of tasting seminars throughout the day, with names like "Wine, Women & Chocolate," "Understanding Pinot Envy," and "Que Syrah, Shiraz." Another highlight is the much-anticipated blind tasting of the cabernet champs -- winners of the "Cabernet Sauvignon Shootout" -- at which you can see how your taste buds compare with the experts'. Pour yourself a glass and come on down to the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $35-120; call 383-1226 or visit www.world-wine-market.com. -- Sunny Andersen
A festive fiesta for everyone
Commonly mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla, during which Mexican President Benito Juárez's ill-equipped soldiers defeated Napoleon III's army. Generally speaking, the holiday has become a symbol of national pride and a day to recognize the contributions of Mexican-Americans. Culturally speaking, it's an occasion for Mexicans and gringos to dance in the streets with cervezas in hand.
Even without a parade, local celebrations should not be missed. The Mission Economic and Cultural Association throws the annual Cinco de Mayo San Francisco Festival, scheduled to take place on May 4, since May 5 is a school day. This year the theme is world peace. With three entertainment stages of live music -- soca, banda, cumbia, merengue, and mariachi, natch -- as well as a classic lowrider car show, kids' activities, and plenty of grub, there should be no reason for strife. The festival begins at 11 a.m. at Civic Center Plaza, Polk & McAllister, S.F. Admission is free-$5; call 256-3005 or visit www.latinbayarea.com. -- Lisa Hom
Get Off the Bus
Traveling by bicycle is the perfect way to tour: It's faster than walking, more fun than sitting, and the view is superior. San Francisco Labor History Bike Tour guide Chris Carlsson has been madly in love with the city's alternative past since at least 1994, when he became executive director of Shaping San Francisco, a CD-ROM project that incorporates 1,300 screens of video, images, and text plus input from citizens at public kiosks. In his capable brain lies a vast treasury of overlooked stories about the struggles and victories of regular people. The leisurely ride explores some better-known locales, such as the spot on Pier 38 where a train was rolled out to break the massive general strike of 1934, as well as sites of more recent goings-on, like the largest white-collar strike in S.F. history (1980-81) at the former Blue Shield building. The tour starts at noon at Harry Bridges Plaza, Market & Steuart, S.F. Admission is free; call 431-2453 or visit www.sfbike.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser