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A Cultural Day Trip

As we enter the often superficial joy and very real frenzy of the holiday season, don’t forget to take a little time for yourself between cursing Amazon’s “Free Super Saver Shippings” program and fixing the string of Christmas lights that plunged the nighttime outline of your house into unacceptable invisibility. At least, I did.

Me, in front of the De Young Art Museum

My boyfriend, Kevin, and I drove down to San Francisco recently to take in some culture and get away from “it all.” Specifically, we went to see the Post-Impressionist exhibit that is currently at the De Young Fine Arts Museum in Golden Gate Park. Kevin’s mom had suggested the idea a while ago, and even though it involved a long drive and a large parking fee, we said yes. We also tacked on the California Academy of Sciences, which is conveniently located across the street from the art museum.

We bought tickets for the De Young a week in advance, but the exhibit is so popular that even then there were few tickets left. The De Young is the only museum in the U.S. that gets to exhibit these paintings while the Musée d’Orsay in Paris is under construction, because the De Young museum director is friends with the d’Orsay museum director.

When we arrived at the museum, we saw a sign for a free docent tour of the exhibit. On the lookout for anything to say yes to, I immediately found the information desk and signed us up for the tour. When we found the docent, we were given fancy headsets and radios that were tuned to the docent’s headset, so we could hear what she was saying no matter where she was in the crowded gallery. We began the tour with Vincent Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait, and it only got better from there. Although the galleries were extremely crowded, we could hear the docent clearly as she talked about each painting’s medium and technique, and told stories about the painters. The free tour lasted for an hour, and afterwards we were encouraged to wander back through the exhibit on our own, which we did. Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and I plan to go back soon to explore the rest of the museum.

My favorite animal at the Academy

After a brief sack lunch on the benches outside of the De Young, we bought our $25 (!) tickets to the California Academy of Sciences. The first thing we did was find out what free shows and talks were happening that day, as we were determined to get our money’s worth. And we did. We saw a show at the planetarium about the origins of life, watched a scuba diver feed the fish in a tank holding 212,000 gallons of water, and got to touch live starfish and sea cucumbers. My favorite part was the aquarium, but the 4-story rainforest and “living” roof with grass, plants, and wild birds were also stand-outs. We stayed until they announced that they were closing, and then we stayed a little longer. And we still hadn’t seen everything!

Even though my feet were killing me by the end of the day and my mind felt fuzzy from all that I had seen and read, I was content. I could now drive back to Davis and happily spend the rest of my weekend shopping for gifts online and putting up Christmas lights.

If you are interested in either of these activities, the “Van Gogh, Gauguain, Cézanne, and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay” exhibit at the De Young Fine Arts Museum will be open until January 18th, and free docent tours are available throughout the day. You can order advance tickets online (I would advise it), and the museum is open T-Sun.

The California Academy of Sciences is open seven days a week with free shows every day, and offers discounts if you present evidence of using public transportation to get there or if you bring in a toy to donate to “Toys for Tots.”

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