East Bay’s Berkeley & Oakland: Urban Fantasies
for Young & Old Come True
By Kathy Chin Leong
Berkeley? For vacation? Oakland? For vacation? Berkeley is often thought of as being a radical and zany planet all to itself, and Oakland may not be Hawaii, but a one to three day romp in these cities will change your preconceptions.
When you go to Berkeley, take in the local color and visit the neighborhoods we recommend. It is an urban town with plenty of street people, but hey, that’s part of the city experience, isn’t it?
First, shopping and eating on Fourth Street is an absolute must when you come to Berkeley. Located south of UC Berkeley on Fourth Street and University Ave., this is a place where you and your kids can enjoy Cody’s Bookstore, Bette’s Ocean View Diner, the Crate and Barrel Outlet, a stained glass window store and others. Look up www.sfbayshop.com to see the listing of shops.
Nearby is the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, which has a free tour suitable for kids ages 10 and up. Sign up in advance. A simple no-nonsense tour of the small factory is interesting and the gift shop, while small, is packed with all types of chocolate confections, artwork, books, and cooking supplies. Location: 914 Heinz Ave., Berkeley. 510/981-4066. See www.scharffenberger.com .
Hold small animals or just learn about them at the Lawrence Hall of Science , a hands-on science museum that’s worth at least a two-hour visit. Location: Centennial Drive, Berkeley, 510/642-5132. See www.lhs.berkeley.edu .
When the weather is fair, hit Tilden Regional Park. With entrances off Wildcat Canyon Rd. and Grizzly Peak Blvd, Tilden features a carousel, picnic areas, swimming, a steam train, and botanic garden. Call 510/562-PARK or visit www.ebparks.org .
Next, drive to the historic Piedmont neighborhood in Oakland for a treat at Fentons Creamery & Restaurant, a Bay Area institution for 111 years. Drawing families from all over the country, Fentons is known for its enormous homemade scoops as large as a baby’s head. Ice cream production tours are available when visitors call beforehand. Location: 4226 Piedmont Ave., Oakland; 510/658-7000. Check out www.fentonscreamery.com .
Zip over to Oakland’s Chinatown to check out the Fortune Cookie Factory. This self-guided tour shows the machines which dole out pancake-sized squirts of batter onto metal circles. Location: 261 Twelveth Street, Oakland; 510/832-5552. See www.fairyland.org for more details.
For the ultimate in Asian gastronomy, it’s the Oakland Chinatown Streetfest, August 26 and 27, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The two-day party will feature over 280 food and craft booths, representing the largest Asian street festival in Northern California.. Chinatown is located Seventh to Eleventh streets bordering Broadway and Harrison Ave; 510/893-8979. See www.oaklandchinatownstreetfest.com for more info.
Not far is Children’s Fairyland for toddlers up to age 6. Small rides, scaled down play structures for this age group, and tiny fairy tale houses make up this delightful 10-acre park. Next door is Merritt Lake where you can bring your breadcrumbs to feed the waterfowl. Fairyland location: 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland; 510/238-6876.
Want more wildlife? Come see the 440 animals that are arranged according to geographic regions at the Oakland Zoo . It is also the home to the Valley Children’s Zoo with hands-on activities, petting zoo, and play areas. Location: 9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland; 510/632-9525. Click on www.oaklandzoo.org .
Unique to Oakland is the historic T.J.’s Gingerbread House, which prides itself on over 25 flavors of gingerbread cookies. Located under the 880 Freeway, this kitschy establishment features a Louisiana-style menu. This white tablecloth restaurant with a pink exterior looks like it was pressed together with slabs of pink clay or cookie dough.
Inside, a gingerbread gift shop sells every gingery item you could imagine and gingerbread-like rag dolls dangle every which way in the restaurant. Menu items start at less than $10 and go up to $40 for pheasant. For $5.50, kids can get a drink, salad, and dessert. Parents can then share their main entrée with their little ones. Entrees include squab, rabbit, jambalaya, and a notorious gingercake dessert filled with chocolate chips, walnuts, and pecans. Location: 741 Fifth Street, Oakland; 510/444-7373. See www.tjsgingerbread.com .
Claremont Resort & Spa is your top-of-the line accommodation when it comes to posh luxury with rates starting at $269 per night. The lush garden historic hotel with 279 guestrooms features two restaurants, a full gym, two pools and jacuzzis, and tennis courts. 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, 510/843-3000, 800/551-7266; www.claremontresort.com .
Oakland Marriott City Center is only a mile away from the action at Fairyland, and it is a full service hotel with 21-stories and 476 rooms and 7 suites. Rates begin at $120. Location: 1001 Broadway Ave., Oakland, 510/451-4000; www.marriott.com .
Kathy Chin Leong's mother-in-law Susan lives in Oakland and has always loved Lake Merritt.
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