Pandemic-friendly ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Sonoma County

02 / 2021 | by: The Press Democrat


As we face our first Valentine’s Day since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shelter-in place orders almost a year ago, the local arts community not only embraces the situation but waxes philosophical, even though many venues remain closed.



“We’ve been forced to step up and find a new way of looking at things,” said longtime artist and arts advocate Barbara Harris of Sebastopol. Despite the circumstances — and continued uncertainty — local venues offer a variety of entertaining ideas for this Valentine’s Day weekend. Closed on and off since early last year, the 400-acre Safari West wild animal preserve outside Santa Rosa will reopen Saturday and Sunday for its 21st annual “Wild Jungle Love Safari Tour,” an adult-only socially distanced tour by open-air bus and on foot, with guides filling in guests on animal sex life.



“These are wild animals,” said Nate Woodward, guest services and front office manager at Safari West. “They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. Our guides get turned loose and talk about the courting and reproductive behaviors of the animals. “We will be following social distancing protocols for our event,” he explained. “Folks will have a chance to be appropriately distanced on the walking tour, and the vehicles have clear vinyl barriers between the rows of seats. The truck, of course, has open sides to allow an unobstructed view of all the animals.”



Regular tours at Safari West, where even wildebeest can fall in love. The 6th Street Playhouse pays tribute to romance among humans with “Love Is a Valentine’s Cabaret,” streaming on demand Friday through Tuesday and featuring recorded performances by Broadway actor Patrick Page, Tony nominee for ”Hadestown,“ and more than a dozen other performers.



“They are making videos of themselves performing at home, which we will then be editing in an evening of songs that people can watch,” said Jared Sakren, artist director at the theater. “All of them are connected with us through having performed before at the 6th Street Playhouse.”



The one exception is Page, Sakren added. “He’s a an old college friend of mine.” “Valentine’s Day means a lot to people,” said Anne Clark, managing director at the 6th Street Playhouse. “We can reach people even if they’re home alone. We can be their valentine and let them feel the love all weekend.” Romance will be in the air online Friday during the Luther Burbank Center’s “Date Night with LBC,” featuring jazz artist Jonathan Butler. Food from chefs at six participating local restaurants can be ordered in advance and picked up before the show.



“We’re doing Date Night for the first time,” said Christopher Hunsberger, vice chairman of the board of directors for Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. “We’ve gotten a great response. We’ll probably make this an annual event.” The Sebastopol Center for the Arts has gone online with its “Open Studios Valentine Pop Up” art sale program at, offering jewelry, glass art, ceramics, fiber art and more for sale as unusual yet romantic gifts.



“You can choose something made by someone in Sonoma County,” said Harris, who is offering her jewelry made with found objects, from buttons to bits of metal. “You can find something that will be cherished because it’s handmade. It’s taking Valentine’s Day to the next level.” The program also can help local artists overcome their financial losses due the cancellation of annual art tour events, Harris said. At the Barlow shopping district in Sebastopol, both the Lori Austin Gallery and Gallery 300 are open for business, with limited capacity and social distancing protocols in place.


“Flowers and chocolates are lovely and traditional, but a thoughtfully chosen piece of art is the ultimate act of romance,” gallery owner Lori Austin said. “There are incredible pieces of original art you can find for under $100. I just want people to know there is accessible art out there.” A gift of flowers is nice, but what will you put them in? The Sonoma Community Center is offering handmade vases by local ceramicists for sale online at



Santa Rosa’s Earle Baum Center for people with sight loss, long the home of the annual Earlefest music festival (which ended years before the pandemic), continues to offer classes in music and poetry online. Founded in 1999, the center assists up to 1,500 sight-impaired people a year. Named for blind farmer Earle Baum, it focuses on independent living skills, mobility and adaptive technology. This year, the center decided to try something different and invited clients to write love letters to the agency. They got a strong response. “I love the fact that Earle Baum Center is offering all its classes using Zoom so that I can stay safe in my house and still enjoy the services available there,” one fan of the center wrote in a love letter. “I miss everyone and all our activities together, but this is so great that they’ve adapted so well to our current reality.”



The center staff drafted their own love letters to clients in return, said Bob Sonnenberg, CEO of Earle Baum Center. “It’s so important to maintain contact, especially for people with sight loss, because it’s so isolating anyway,” he said.

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