Kayaking in San Francisco's mellow McCovey Cove is like going to Hawaii to swim in a pool: The real action takes place elsewhere. Local paddlers have a bounty of bays, wetlands, and sea caves in which to test their mettle or merely enjoy the ride. You can get equipped this weekend at the Bay Area PaddleFest, California's biggest canoe and kayak festival, where paddlers enjoy more than 50 classes from experts, test the latest boat designs, and meet the guides, retailers, and reps who make the region a kayaking mecca. Beginners and kids get the hand-holding they need, but adventurers looking to ride the surf or tackle the frightening currents under the Golden Gate Bridge (including the feared “standing waves”) can get started on their journeys, too. Registration for classes begins at 8 a.m. both days at Coyote Point County Recreation Area, 1701 Coyote Point (at North Bayshore), San Mateo. Boats are supplied; bring quick-drying clothing or a wet suit. Admission is $10-40, parking $5; call (650) 306-0405 or visit www.bayareapaddlefest.com.
— Michael Leaverton
Even though the city's swells sniff at the Western Addition, the neighborhood cherishes a secret advantage: The fire of 1906 demolished many Victorians downtown, but it was halted at Van Ness, so the area west of that street still contains some of the oldest and finest San Francisco buildings. Get a look at the aftereffects of that fateful blaze at “Walk the Fire Line: Van Ness Avenue,” a monthly stroll offered by the San Francisco Architectural Heritage that explores the boulevard's change from an upscale residential corridor to a car-strewn commercial row. The tour starts at 1:30 p.m. at the Haas-Lilienthal House, 2007 Franklin (at Washington), S.F. Admission is free-$8, and reservations are required; call 441-3000 or visit www.sfheritage.org.
— Joyce Slaton
It's No Myth
Dragons glide on Lake Merced
The original Chinese dragon boat races were bloodthirsty battles, with the crews of competing boats hurling stones and insults at each other, and hitting one another with long sticks if they could get close enough. If someone fell in the water and drowned, all the better, as the races were considered unlucky without at least one human sacrifice. These days the competitions are kinder, gentler affairs, with crews furiously rowing gorgeously decorated boats fronted by fierce-looking dragon figures, to the beat of onboard drummers. Get an eyeful at the Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival, with nearly 100 teams competing, plus live music, dance, and martial arts demos starting at 9 a.m. both days at Lake Merced, Sunset at Lake Merced Boulevard, S.F. Admission is free; visit www.sfdragonboat.com.
— Joyce Slaton