With the approach of the Fourth of July comes an opportunity to reflect: on what liberty means, on what a nation is, the gravity of calling a series of events "revolutionary" and the challenges implicit in it all.
Which is to say, take a moment to think seriously. Then kick back and enjoy the glimmers of history tucked away in a whole host of carefree Independence Day festivities.
Palo Alto's official party, as usual, is the 30th annual Summer Festival and Chili Cook-off, noon to 5 p.m. at Mitchell Park, 600 E. Meadow Drive. There'll be music provided by DJ Joe Sheldon and the band Johnny Super, line dancing with Hedy McAdams, face painting and other children's activities, food vendors and samples from the culinary showdown, which are up for tasting at 1:30 p.m.
Information is available at 650-463-4921 and cityofpaloalto.org/recreation.
If the 5K Chili Chase, also at Mitchell Park, sounds just distantly familiar, it's because it last took place in the late '90s. Revived for the first time this side of Y2K, the 10 a.m. run starts and ends in the park, segueing into the chili-themed afternoon proceedings. Racers can pre-register at active.com (search for Chili Chase Palo Alto). General registration is $20; $15 for students and kids.
In Menlo Park, the city holds its annual parade, starting at 11:45 a.m. at the Wells Fargo parking lot on Santa Cruz Avenue and Chestnut Street, and winding down at noon in Burgess Park at Burgess Drive and Alma Street. There, games, crafts, music and other family-friendly activities will last until 2:30 p.m. The event is free, with a $6 wristband required for some activities. Information is available at menlopark.org (search for "July 4th") and 650-330-2200.
Redwood City's celebration, honoring 150 years of the Redwood City Fire Department, promises to be a host of things happening at once, beginning bright and early as the firefighters serve up a fundraising pancake breakfast at 755 Marshall St. from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.
The annual festival starts at 9 a.m. and fills the day with arts and crafts for sale; a jump house and other kids' activities; a car show; a fire engine display; and live music, including the marching bands of Stanford University and the University of California at Davis. Maps of the festival area and the route to be taken by the 10 a.m. parade are posted at parade.org, where there is also information about the 35th annual Fun Run, which meets at Brewster Avenue and Arguello Street and takes off at 9 a.m. Race registration specifics have been posted at redwoodcity.org.
Not far from the parade, the San Mateo County History Museum at 2200 Broadway offers something a little more retro: a chance to churn one's own ice cream and make parachutes, whirligigs and flags from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $2.50 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and students. Information is at historysmc.org and 650-299-0104.
In Mountain View, the San Francisco Symphony will play marches and patriotic songs at Shoreline Amphitheatre. The 8 p.m. concert concludes with a fireworks display. Tickets are $19.50-$47.35. Information at sfsymphony.org.
Lastly, a reminder that the American Automobile Association (AAA) offers a nifty free tow of up to five miles for drinking drivers from 6 p.m. on the Fourth to 6 a.m. the next morning. To request a tow, drivers can call 800-222-4357 (AAA-HELP) and say they need a "tipsy tow." The service is available to both AAA members and non-members.