“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” ––Sophia Loren
I originally compiled this list when I had to face reality, telling myself, “You can no longer pretend that you can afford to live the life of the daughter of the CEO.” I took early retirement after over three-decades with an airline because my job was moving out-of-state and my husband, a recent amputee, could not move his business. When he died a few months later, I was surprised to learn the extent to which his years of illness had adversely affected his decisions on paying our bills. I had a car loan and a mortgage that I thought had been settled years before.
What brings a sense of well-being in retirement? The answer is different for each of us. Certainly, the discovery of the monies I owed affected my own well-being. I think we can agree that physical and mental activity, friends and family are key components. How to be active and balance a budget also is different for each of us. Some may want to know how to get a free tour of the Old City in Prague or how to find the shortest line for beignet at Café du Monde. They are living the life of travel some of us envisioned. Many more live the experience now called “staycation” and want to know the nearest hiking trail or where to find inexpensive admission to local events and venues.
Let me share some suggestions for living a bountiful, active life in the San Francisco Bay Area where I attend plays, free and low-cost concerts, lectures and other happenings. My best resources are newspapers, networking and the web. Above all, I am alert to resources. I live in the East Bay; therefore, many of my suggestions begin here.
Ground transportation. Bay Area Rapid Transit, BART, offers a senior Clipper Card to those over 65. Go to www.bart.gov to find out where to buy yours. Those flying into SFO can find an outlet there. Check the same site to determine the most economic times and stations for BART parking and how to connect your Clipper card to BART parking and for use on buses. When I last updated this in 2015, those under 65 paid $11.30 round trip on BART between Concord and Civic Center in San Francisco; seniors paid $4.20. Parking at my home station was $1 on weekdays before 3 PM and free later and on weekends. Though after 3 PM and weekends are still free, the rest is more expensive. If we seniors connect to a bus in San Francisco, we pay a greatly-reduced rate with our Clipper cards. The BART website offers some connection information. Look at 511.org for trip planning for once you get off BART in San Francisco. If you need to drive, make sure you log onto http://www.gasbuddy.com for the lowest fuel price in your area. If you are driving to San Francisco and need a parking lot, check ParkWhiz. At SFO, I use SFO Park. Go to their website as they AWAYS have coupons for at least one free day.
Books. The most obvious cost-saving is the library. The last time I counted, Contra Costa County had 25 branches. If you are going on vacation and don’t use electronic books or want to take books that you can leave behind, there are several economical options to purchase reading materials. Most libraries have shelves of books for sale. In my opinion, the queen of these is the Friends of the Library Book Store at The Lafayette Library. Volunteers shelve the books by category and in alpha order by author. Watch for their sales when you can take advantage of their organizational skills and pay even less than their already low prices. To purchase books you cannot find at the library book sales, I recommend http://www.abebooks.com/books/free-shipping/. On the website, compare prices between books that offer free shipping and those that do not. My local brick and mortar suggestion for used books is Half-price Books which has many outlets in the Bay Area. Please, please, please purchase books from your local book store and directly from the authors, as well.
Author talks. Get on the e-mail lists for Rakestraw Books in Danville, Swan Books in Walnut Creek, Orinda Books, Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley, etc. to know when they hold author talks and other events. Be sure to purchase your new books from them periodically, instead of online. We need them; they need us. Look at the library activity calendar. Lafayette Library holds “Sweet Thursday,” an interview with an author, one evening a month. Author websites feature appearance schedules. Sometimes they are just book signings; sometimes there is a reading, interview or talk. Have a favorite author? Subscribe to his/her website to receive updates and tidbits. Most author talks are free. You can get ideas for new reading, buy autographed books, browse the shelves, and spend a wonderful time with books and book lovers. A friend and I spent a whole mystery-lovers’ day at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park listening to individual authors and panel discussions. Once, I heard about an invitation-only reading of noir literature by female authors. How art-deco San Francisco! If you wanted to attend, you went to City Lights Book Store (yes, Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s bookstore founded in 1953) in San Francisco early one specific morning to request “the black envelope.” The envelope contained a pass for two, a password and the location of the event. On the night, I wore all black, including a beret, and we went to dinner beforehand in the Mission District. At the appointed time, we gave a knock, the password, and were invited into a unique setting and a great evening. What fun! Please, please, please purchase books from your local bookstore and directly from the authors, when the opportunity arises.
Libraries for books and other fun. In Contra Costa County, go to ccclib.org. On the site, click on the events calendar to find out about the free lectures, films, music, gardening classes, puppet shows, et al. Some libraries have docent talks for museums and previews of plays. Check the calendar for things that interest you. My youngest granddaughter and I spend a lot of time at free kiddie events. My book club meets monthly at a library. One of the librarians gathers our suggestions, puts together a schedule of the books for us to read, and orders enough books for each participant to have one. We also get a dispensation to check out the books for an entire month. I belong to a political group that meets at Ygnacio Valley library and know someone who hosts a knitting group there. You can subscribe to a monthly events e-mail from your favorite library. I participated in a ten-month National Endowments for the Arts grant, at no charge to participants. The topic was “Muslim Journeys.” We read one book a month and met once a month for a lecture by a professor, followed by small group discussions and a Q & A. Back to the library website– Under “services,” find “Discover & Go.” Alameda county libraries offer “D &G,” too. Through that service, you can find FREE tickets to all types of venues in the Bay Area—museums, tours, plays, etc. Also watch the library website for the annual give-away when they pile zillions of books on the ground in a parking lot behind the current Pleasant Hill library during a very hot summer week. I suggest arriving early with bags and a wagon.
Theater. Many theaters give discounts to the under-30 crowd hoping to develop life-long habits. A few small theaters offer senior discounts. Some theaters offer “rush” tickets. You stand in line until a few minutes before the performance and buy a discounted ticket if there is an empty seat. The A.C.T. ticket office is on Geary near the theatre. Broadway San Francisco has same day “rush” tickets at their theatres but read my notes on TodayTix for the kind that don’t require standing in line there. Aurora in Berkeley has you take a seat in the entry to their lobby. www.auroratheatre.org. Some performances at the Lesher Theater in Walnut Creek offer same-day discounts at The Walnut Creek Library, a block away. Shotgun Theatre across from Ashby BART (park there for free) offers “pay what you will” previews on their website shotgunplayers.org. Central Works performs original works at the gorgeous Julia Morgan designed Berkeley City Club. I’m a “full price” subscriber but they do offer same day discounts on a standby basis. centralworks.org Cal Shakes in Orinda offers “20-for-20” tickets. To be one of the lucky 20 to get a $20 ticket, call the box office on the day of the performance you want to attend. calshakes.org. Marin Shakespeare has discounted “Senior Sundays” once during the run of each play. marinshakespeare.org. Friends from San Francisco often buy “rush” tickets to Marin Theatre Company which you buy at the theatre in Mill Valley. I choose to subscribe or buy on goldstar. If you want to try “rush,” check the info at marintheatre.org. I have subscriptions to several other theater groups. Some offer an annual subscription educators’ discount to those who teach K-12. I am only a substitute teacher; however, I qualify for one subscription for myself and one for a companion. In addition, I can get a $5 discount for others, even if it is a different performance. SF Playhouse (sporadic Monday nights) does free readings for subscribers but never turn away my non-subscribing friends. The performances are so good that you forget the actors are reading from scripts. Check their website and subscribe to their e-mail list to know dates. SF Shakespeare travels to Bay Area parks in the summer, doing one of the Bard’s plays each year for free. Look online for other free theater performances. I have never been disappointed in the productions. I also attend plays at the movie theater: ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk. The National Theatre of London films some of their plays and broadcasts them across the world. The cameras are at every angle—a better view can’t be had. In the East Bay, I usually go to the Elmwood in Berkeley or Cerrito in El Cerrito. Once in a great while, they extend to the newer theaters in Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek where you can enjoy the fancier lounge-type sets. The plays and performances are top-notch and cost only about $20. I purchase the majority of my single play tickets through www.goldstar.com. The website has discounts on plays, comedy clubs, tours, concerts, etc. There are some free events, plus service charge. This website is GOLD!GOLD! GOLD! In December, they sell discounted gift certificates that lower your costs even more. I also use TodayTix which offers better seats than goldstar, though not as many plays. Additionally, they offer some rush tickets for popular plays. You register on their app that you want an alert that rush is available. They send you an alert the day before. At 0900 the morning of the event, be ready to grab the discounted seat. This usually applies to the musicals, such as “Hamilton,” on the stages now known as BroadwaySF.
Film: Did you know that Concord Library shows a first-run film for free on the third Thursday evening of every month? (Doggone.That competes with Concord free concerts on Thursdays mid-May thru mid-October). The library website will show which films are on the shelves and what you can order shown on your computer through a program called kanopy. http://www.ccc.lib.org/events. Contra Costa Cinemas has $5 Tuesdays in Martinez. The Veranda in Concord sells Tuesday tickets for $6. Cinemark has $7 tickets for seniors on Mondays and a discount on Tuesdays for film and concessions for members of their movie club. I belong to Mountain Shadows Film Society. We meet at the Downtown Walnut Creek Library to view newer independent and foreign films seldom released on this side of the tunnel. Non-members can show up on the dates and take unused seats for $12. Not only do we see great independent and foreign films plus shorts, we host a short-film competition and have a lending libray for members. Free parking in the Civic Park lots, including behind the senior center. Paid parking at meters, in the library garage, and a block away at the city lot. www.mountainshadow.org/
Life-long learning. Check library, civic arts and adult ed offerings. Osher Lifelong Learning, (OLLI), which operates on university campuses across the US, affiliates itself with several Bay Area universities. The website for my local classes at CSU East Bay, Concord campus is www.scholarolli.com. Of all the OLLI affiliates, I believe it is the most economical. Most classes are on campus; however, there are offerings at other venues in the East Bay. This OLLI offers four or five-week long classes that meet once a week for two hours, a monthly lecture series, and several field trips. Find other OLLIs, such as Berkeley, on the web. The original model, Fromme Institute, operates at University of San Francisco. Emeritus College is another good source of learning for seniors. It operates through Diablo Valley College with several sites for classes: http://www.dvc.edu/emeritus. I hear good things about classes through this program and have classes from some of their profs through other outlets: http://www.acalanes.k12.ca.us/adulted
Lectures. Check the library events calendar; you will find free lectures for many interests. I belong to The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. I purchased my initial one-year membership through one of the online discount sites (maybe livingsocial.com?), then renewed for three years with a discount offer from the club. www.commonwealthclub.org. They offer a few lectures in Silicon Valley, too. With their move to their own building-with-spectacular-views on The Embaracdero, prices rose so I volunteer several times a year as an usher or ticket-taker to receive a discount on my membership. I am intrigued by the three two-day seminars offered each year through Humanities West. I became a volunteer usher and am privileged to attend all the lectures at no cost, other than time: www.humantieswest.org. They hold the seminars at the beautiful Marines’ Memorial Theater on Post Street in San Francisco.
Museums. I use my senior discount for annual memberships to The Asian Art Museum and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (The De Young and The Legion of Art). For other museums, I use “Discover & Go” on the library website or other free days. The little Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek offers one pass a year on “D & G.” The Exploratorium has a few general free days a year and is sometimes on “D & G.” Some of the museums on large ships in the bay offer discounts on goldstar.com. Target sponsors FREE FIRST SUNDAYS each month at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Oakland Museum of California is another “FFS.” Both charge small fees for special exhibits on free days. In San Francisco, The Conservatory of Flowers, The De Young, The Legion, The Contemporary Jewish Museum, and The Arts and Craft Museum offer FREE FIRST TUESDAY each month. SFMOMA offers certain free days to teachers.
Music-Check the library website. Check city websites. There is a lot of free music here, including some festivals. Clayton has two free concerts a month in the Grove May-September. claytonconcerts.com Concord runs free concerts in Todos Santos Plaza every Thursday (along with a Farmers’ Market) from May-September. During July, they also have a free Jazz Tuesday. If you are a Concord resident, watch the newspaper or check with a Concord city council member to find out when they are offering free tickets to The Concord Pavilion for Concord residents. Pleasant Hill offers two free “Sunset by the Lake” concerts monthly May-September at their city hall.pleasanthillconcerts.com. Walnut Creek has a summer concert series www.walnutcreekdowntown.com/event/98-broadway… Orinda has a free opera-in-the-park and other music events. Look for info online in the spring and summer. I can’t think of a city in the area that doesn’t offer some free music.Google it! San Francisco Opera offers one free summer evening simulcast at the baseball park around 4th of July. Check their website for the date and for free tickets. I attend the opera at the movie theater: www.fathomevents.com. I am a relative newcomer to opera, having seen one in Rome when I was 18 and nothing else until a decade ago when a friend introduced me to these simulcasts from The Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The cameras shoot from intimate angles, there are English subtitles, and a diva interviews cast members during the intermissions while the audience watches behind-the-scenes changes. The senior ticket is about $22. I attend at Cinemark in Pleasant Hill or Walnut Creek; with the new larger lounge chairs, there are fewer seats available in each theater. San Francisco Opera has senior and student rush tickets. Register in advance on their website http://www.sfopera.com then check the day before to find out if they are offering rush. Purchase online, or save a service fee by purchasing at the box office. The San Francisco Symphony performs at Davies Hall, across the street from the Opera House in Civic Center. Read the website about their $25 discounted rush tickets: http://www.sfsymphony.org/Buy-Tickets/Discount-Tickets. Goldstar.com offers free and discounted tickets (plus service charge) to music venues all over.
Ballet: San Francisco Ballet offers good “same day rush” tickets for seniors, students, and military. I understand students can get them in advance. http://www.sfballet.org/tickets/season-tickets/rush-tickets. Smuin Ballet is often on Goldstar and TodayTix. Several friends enjoy watching international ballet companies on screens at local movie theatres. Rialto Elmwood in Berkeley shows many. Sometimes they come to Cinemark.
General discounts-Besides goldstar.com, sign up for emails from livingsocial.com, amazon.com and other websites offering free and discounted tickets to events, services and venues. Restaurant.com is not as useful for me as it once was, but I still use it occasionally. This is a good source: www.sf.funcheap.com. It lists free and cheap events, plus offers contests for free tickets to things that don’t have general freebies. One Tuesday I went to two Free First Tuesdays at museums and could have topped off the day at a free showing of a soon-to-be-nominated-for-an-Oscar-movie if I had just read the website e-mail when it arrived. Unfortunately, I read funcheap two days later and missed the free film ticket. http://www.bartable.bart.gov is a resource for contests, events, deals and more. My friend won two tickets, twice, to Smuin Ballet’s Christmas show. I won two to an interview of a popular entertainer.
Walking Tours in San Francisco- My favorite is Don Herron’s tour about Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon. Herron dresses as a 20s detective and knows more than he can share in one tour. We arrived early and he was open to questions. I determined to be quiet during the actual tour, but he kept saying, “Lynne will want to know that Hammett …” which, to my delight, added an extra 45 minutes to the tour! He’s been leading this very affordable walk since 1977: www.donherron.com/. The normal tour is $20 for four hours of information-packed walking up and down these means streets. That’s a crime; we added a hefty tip. Another good source is www.sfcityguides.org/. So far I’ve only taken their “Back Alleys of Chinatown” walking tour but I am definitely planning to take more. The tours are free; everyone should leave a tip. By the way, the answer to where to find a free walking tour of Prague is—go to the old town center and look for students holding signs. These students lead free walking tours and love us seniors because we are very interested and leave good tips. Quicker way to get beignets at Café Du Monde in New Orleans: join the take out line at the back door.
Volunteer opportunities- You benefit the community, meet/make friends, and learn about other opportunities to enhance your life. Check the libraries, Project Second Chance (an adult literacy program) ccclib.org/psc, hospitals, and stage theatres for their volunteer programs. If you are interested in volunteering to tutor in reading at an elementary S.T.E.M. school, let me know and I will connect you with the person in charge of volunteers. Isn’t it wonderful to hear the volunteers play the piano in the lobby at Kaiser in downtown WC? I can’t remember the name of the group that does it. If you want to play, contact Kaiser for a volunteer match. Bay Area Crisis Nursery in Concord has volunteers who go there to cuddle and rock the babies. bayareacrisisnursery.org. B8 Theatre Company in Concord uses volunteers for several projects. I sometimes “tend bar.” www.b8theatre.org
Hiking and biking and walking. Oh, my! I am not a good resource for this. My hiking consists of walking the hills in San Francisco between museums and theaters and climbing the stairs to transfer BART lines (I do like sharing the source of the portmanteau word hiking, however). The websites for Save Mt. Diablo or for East Bay Regional Parks can better help you here. We have miles and miles of trails for your enjoyment. Take the free bus driven by National Park rangers to Tao House in Danville. You can tour the home where Pulitzer-winner Eugene O’Neill wrote his final plays and hike the hills. http://www.nps.gov/euon. Check meetup.com to find other people interested in the same thing as you–camera clubs, nature study, hiking and biking and walking, etc.
We didn’t know that Landon Jones would coin the term “Baby Boomer” and explore our lives in a book, “Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation,” but we always knew we would redefine “Old.” The time when we would “grow older, losing our hair, many years from now” arrived; however, the world around us changed in unexpected ways. We want to make the most of our days, no matter how we characterize them, and watching our wallets is one way to add a plethora of happy times to our calendars and to our memories.