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5 Amazing Things to do in Berkeley and Oakland

The East Bay’s vibrant cities attract a young, free-spirited crowd with avant-garde art and culture, a ridgeline graced by tree-lined parks, and a revolutionary food and cocktail scene

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San Francisco’s other bridge—the Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate—stretches about 4.5 miles between Oakland and Berkeley, cities that lay claim to a world-class university, lively music venues, legendary bookstores, groundbreaking restaurants like Alice Water’s Chez Panisse, and major bragging rights. In 2019, National Geographic Traveler rated Oakland as one of 28 must-see destinations around the world. All that, plus the East Bay’s weather is famously sunnier and warmer than San Francisco, so pack your shorts and T-shirts.

Jack London Square

Browse waterfront boutiques, graze on global cuisine, tour a historic ship, and fully immerse yourself in bayside splendor at Jack London Square, south of downtown Oakland. This nautical neighborhood, now a stylish bastion of condos, cocktail joints, and entertainment hot spots, was where adventurer and writer Jack London caroused in his younger days. Check out the replica of London’s Yukon cabin and the next-door Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, an 1883 watering hole where London was a regular. (The 1906 earthquake torqued Heinold’s into a permanent slant—the bar floor has a jaunty 20-degree grade.) Dine on modern Arabic food at Dyafa, bowl a few rounds at Plank or mingle in its sunny beer garden, and take a tour of the USS Potomac, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht (the “floating White House”). Jack London Square is a lively spot any day or evening, but it’s especially bustling during the weekly Sunday farmers market.

Tilden Park 

The hills above Berkeley and Oakland are graced by a 20-mile string of East Bay Regional Parks, and their crown jewel is 2,000-acre Tilden. The park’s huge array of activities caters to every kind of nature-loving urbanite: Families with young kids have fun feeding the pigs, chickens, and goats at the interactive Little Farm and riding Tilden’s miniature steam train and hand-carved antique carousel. Plant lovers make a beeline for the beautifully landscaped botanic garden featuring 10 acres of California natives, including rare and endangered species. For swimmers and sun-worshippers, spring-fed Lake Anza has a sandy beach and warm water. For calorie-burners, the summit of Wildcat Peak is a solid workout. And for anyone who enjoys a lovely view, the paved Nimitz Way Trail travels to Inspiration Point. It’s an easy walk to a spectacular ridgetop overlook—a fine spot to watch the sun set over San Francisco Bay.

Oakland Museum of CA

This fascinating museum provides a window into California’s culture, its three floors documenting the state’s art, history, and environment. In the Gallery of California Natural Sciences, wander through models of California’s extraordinarily diverse ecosystems to learn about the Coachella Valley’s palm trees, Yosemite’s granite peaks and domes, and Point Reyes’ nutrient-rich coastal waters. In the Gallery of California History, view exhibits dedicated to California’s past, including Hollywood moviemaking, the Black Panthers, and the Gold Rush. In the Gallery of California Art, admire photographs by Dorothea Lange, Eadweard Muybridge, and Imogen Cunningham; sketches made by Gold Rush pioneers; and Barry McGee’s vivid acrylic assemblages. Don’t miss the rooftop sculpture garden with views of Oakland’s Lake Merritt and the city beyond. On Friday nights, the museum buzzes with food trucks, dance performances, DJs, and late-night gallery hours (open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.).

Claremont Club & Spa, a Fairmont Hotel

This posh 1915 hotel is the East Bay’s gleaming white fairy-tale castle, a dreamy spot to hold your wedding or anniversary party, celebrate a romantic weekend, or savor luxurious spa treatments solo or with friends. Surrounded by the wooded Berkeley Hills, the Claremont is perched high enough to enjoy lavish views of San Francisco Bay (for the best view, splurge on an upper-floor room). Three heated pools, 10 tennis courts, four on-site restaurants, a 20,000-square-foot fitness facility, and the luxurious Fairmont Spa at the Claremont are spread across 22 landscaped acres. Take a walk at Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve directly behind the hotel, then sit down to a house-crafted cocktail and regionally sourced cuisine on the bay-view patio at Limewood Bar & Restaurant.

Comal

Berkeley is considered the birthplace of ingredient-driven cuisine—thank you, Alice Waters—and that influence shows up at almost every eatery in town. Comal, an airy 170-seat restaurant in downtown, is a perfect example. Upscale south-of-the-border favorites—tamales, ceviche, fish tacos, and mezcal-drenched cocktails—are prepared with fresh, seasonal, local, sustainable ingredients. A lofty warehouse-style dining room with concrete walls and recycled-wood tables gives Comal’s modern Mexican cuisine a chic, cosmopolitan accent, but the most popular seats are outdoors on the intimate back patio, where flames dance in the fire pits and servers push around margarita carts.

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