Eclectic Escape: The Best of the East Bay Area
Towering redwoods, stately Victorian homes and a world-class food and wine scene are just a few of the things that draw visitors to the picturesque San Francisco Bay Area. While many limit their adventures to San Francisco proper, there are countless things to do right across the Bay. With its museums, hiking trails and foodie enclaves, this cluster of cities just over the Bay Bridge offers a sampling of what makes the Bay Area so special.
The Castle on the Hill
A glowing white beacon in the Oakland Hills, the Claremont Club & Spa, a Fairmont Hotel, encompasses the beauty and elegance of Northern California. With a sensational history involving a Gold Rush-era dreamer, a tragic fire and a high-stakes poker game, the hotel offers plenty of California lore. Its breathtaking location provides an ideal vantage point for gazing out over the treetops at San Francisco’s skyline, bridges and bay—which you can enjoy over a traditional afternoon tea in the lobby lounge, a healthy bite at the Bayview Cafe or an elegant, locally sourced meal at Meritage.
When it's time to venture out of the castle, there's no better place to start than Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, a 200-acre natural wonderland featuring forests, grasslands and sweeping views. The trailhead for the Stonewall-Panoramic Trail—a steep yet rewarding three-quarter-mile hike—is located one mile from the hotel.
A Day on the Bay
From boating and biking to dining and dancing, it's easy to spend a full day at Oakland’s Jack London Square. Named for the iconic American novelist (and former Oakland resident), the historic port is now a hub of eateries and activities. History buffs delight in a tour of the USS Potomac, FDR's Presidential Yacht, followed by afternoon drinks at Jack London's old haunt, Heinhold’s First and Last Chance, while active types can follow up a bayside bike ride with a moonlight kayaking trip. No matter how you choose to spend your day, you'll be spoiled for choice when hunger strikes, and evenings bring live music at local mainstay Yoshi's Jazz Club.
Wine Without Vines
It may not be as well known as Napa or Sonoma, but the East Bay is a California wine destination in its own right. In fact, its warehouse wineries hearken back to the origins of winemaking in the United States. Before Prohibition, most of the wine sold throughout the country was made from grapes that were grown in rural California but blended and aged in warehouses around San Francisco. Winemaking moved closer to the source during the 1960s and 70s, but now the urban warehouse wineries of yesteryear are cropping up all over the East Bay.
A cluster of 10 wineries form Oakland’s Urban Wine Trail, or you can see a variety—and learn more about vineyard history—by biking to wineries in Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda and Emeryville with East Bay Winery Bike Tours.
Of Mist and Might
Unfathomably tall and unquestionably magnificent, redwood trees are quintessential California. After Gold Rush-era loggers claimed the ancient trees that once called this area home, second-growth redwoods reclaimed their territory. Today, the 1,830-acre Redwood Regional Park feels like a hidden redwood forest. Its trees might be slightly skinnier than the mammoths residing in Muir Woods, but here you’re likely to have the giants—and the ethereal fog that shrouds them—all to yourself.
Another good place to Zen out, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve is one of the East Bay's oldest parks. Its showstopper, Round Top Volcano, soars 1,763 feet above sea level. The 2.5-mile Round Top Loop Trail winds through eucalyptus, pine and oak trees, then over rolling hills and grasslands before opening up to tremendous views of the valley—including a couple mysterious labyrinths—and even out to the Sierra Nevada on a clear day.
Art, Science and Culture
A melting pot of creative types, the East Bay offers all manner of tidbits for the artistically inclined. Oakland Art Murmur, an association of local art galleries, runs weekly Saturday Stroll events, during which participating galleries hold trunk shows, receptions and more, as well as monthly First Friday street festivals, featuring live music, food trucks and extended gallery hours.
The Oakland Museum of California brings together art, local and natural history, while the newly reopened Berkeley Art Museum + Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is a treasure trove for art, film and architecture lovers alike. Its mammoth collection includes more than 19,000 works of art and 17,500 films and videos—ranging from Mughal dynasty Indian miniature paintings to the largest collection of Japanese films outside of Japan—all housed in a vast and striking space.
Science lovers will swoon at the hands-on world of wonders that is the Lawrence Hall of Science. UC Berkeley's public science center, this spot inspires a sense of wonder in children and adults alike, through its fascinating and interactive exhibits that include a NASA Mars Rover Landing game, a Gravity Wall, a Planetarium and much more.
Sampling the Bay
San Francisco has long been known as a foodie heaven, but the East Bay eateries rival those across the Bay. North Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto hosts some of the Bay Area's most renowned eateries and USA Today named Oakland one of the 10 "Best Local Food Scenes" of 2015. From classic spots such as Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ storied homage to fresh, locally sourced foods, to hot new spots such as Itani Ramen, the East Bay is a foodie mecca.
In fact, the breadth of options may make choosing a place to eat seem overwhelming. Never fear, there's a broad menu of food tour options to help you chomp your way through Oakland's Chinatown or Jack London Square, sample the eats (or ice creams) of Rockridge or explore Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto and Oakland's Uptown or Temescal neighborhoods.
Suzanne Russo is a freelance writer and editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her works have appeared in CNN Travel, GOOD, CBS Watch! and offMetro, among others. When she’s not seeking out eco-adventures, urban palimpsests and ghost stories, she is overseeing Lit Crawl National, a network of madcap literary pub crawls founded by San Francisco’s literary festival, Litquake.
Bench overlooking mountains by hallenbrook
Seagull and Oakland Bay Bridge in background by PytyCzech
San Francisco city skyline reflected wine glass on Angel Island by David Rigg
Winding Dirt Road Through a Redwood Forest by AlbertPego