Hidden Treasures

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TRUCKEE • DOWNTOWN NAPA • SUISUN CITY • OAKLAND • THE PRESIDIO 

Over the past few years, Oakland has earned a rep as the West Coast Brooklyn. The comparisons are easy to make. Both have the history of being port towns, Navy towns and towns for the working class. Like its East Coast soul brother, Oakland also lives in the shadow of a showier metropolis, one that has grown so posh and sophisticated that many artistic types have fled across the Bay Bridge in search of a cheaper life. But along with their U-Haul boxes, those refugees of the $82,000 parking spot brought their knitting needles and letter presses, their artisanal cocktail recipes and locally sourced dinner menus, their backyard chicken coops and their Americana banjo ballads. So in between the grit and grievances that have too long defined Oakland in our minds, there’s now another town to explore, one anchored by the neighborhoods of Uptown and Temescal. This Oakland has raw energy and nothing to prove. There is a freedom to create that reinvigorates the spirit, just by proximity. It is the perfect getaway spot when you don’t just want to escape, but recharge, renew and, well, have some really good gin and garden-grown cucumber cocktails..

 

WHAT TO DO

Have a Close Encounter
Stargazing at the Chabot Space & Science Center.Leave the clubbing to the kids. After dark on a Friday or Saturday night, take the winding road to the pinnacle of Roberts Regional Park in the hills of Oakland, where you’ll find the Chabot Space & Science Center (10000 Skyline Blvd., chabotspace.org, 510-336-7373). There, 1,800 feet above the bay, three telescopes named Rachel, Leah and Nellie are open to the public for free from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Peer through their lenses to get stellar views of the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, the center of the Milky Way, the Perseid meteor showers and more. Come during the day and check out the museum’s historical displays of humankind’s ventures off the planet, including a photo booth-sized Russian Soyuz space capsule, which ferried three astronauts at a time on two-day journeys to dock with the International Space Station.

Explore the Golden State
The Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak St., 510-318-8400, museumca.org) underwent a massive $63 million renovation and expansion in recent years, including the May debut of its natural history gallery, which takes visitors on a tour of California’s biodiversity by highlighting unique environments—like the Sutter Buttes, Coachella Valley and Yosemite—with interactive displays. Also inside is an underrated collection of art and historical objects that captures just how vast, diverse and influential the Golden State is. The Gallery of California Art groups its works by commonalities (landscapes, for example) and includes iconic names like Dorothea Lange, Richard Diebenkorn and Sacramento’s Wayne Thiebaud. And on Friday nights, the museum is open late, is half price (free for ages 18 and under) and hosts family-friendly food truck parties.

Duck Down the Alley
Intrigued by a Venus flytrap in a funky tin can pot, or home accessories made entirely of cast-off, upcycled materials? Then Temescal Alley is a must-stop. Running parallel to Telegraph Avenue just off 49th Street, this stylish enclave, more courtyard than street, is a lane of low-slung little 1920s buildings (former horse stables and garages) remade into chic boutiques by local artists and designers. Crimson Horticultural Rarities (470A 49th St., crimsonhort.com, 510-992-3359) is a jungle of exotic plants and gifts, while Walrus (470G 49th St., 415-265-3238, shopwalrus.com) is a kitschy mix of handcrafted home goods like wine racks made from wood pallets and pillows sewn from donated pashminas. Marisa Haskell (470D 49th St., 510-325-0019, marisahaskell.com) bends metal to her will at her eponymous jewelry store, while nearby, lean men with weekend stubble wander into Standard & Strange (484A 49th St., standardandstrange.com, 510-373-9696) for hip, most-ly made-in-California guy gear like cycling apparel and handmade leather shoes.

Drink It In
Sip a seasonal cocktail with house-grown herbs at Plum Bar.Oakland is deluged by artisanal cocktails, delicious drinks heavy on local ingredients, mysterious house-made mixers and old-fashioned bartender know-how. The epicenter of this beautiful art is Make Westing in Uptown (1741 Telegraph Ave., 510-251-1400, makewesting.com). Crack open its red leather menu and order a Williamsburg Lemonade (bourbon, pear liqueur, lemon and club soda) or a Penultimate (gin, elderflower, green chartreuse, lime and prosecco) served in a coupe glass. At nearby Plum Bar (2216 Broadway, 510-444-7586, plumoakland.com), the narrow drinkery attached to chef Daniel Patterson’s lauded restaurant, cocktails follow seasonal ingredients (pumpkin rum, anyone?) and are accented by house-grown herbs. In Jack London Square, Bocanova (55 Webster St., bocanova.com, 510-444-1233) turns classics into modern quenchers, like a Cereza Lime Rickey (Espolón Tequila Blanco, cherry bitters, lime, agave nectar and soda water).

 WHERE TO EAT

Hawker Fare
Uptown’s Hawker Fare (2300 Webster St., hawkerfare.com, 510-832-8896) may look like an average corner joint with close-quarter tables and walls lined with music posters from bands like The Coup, but the Southeast Asian street food dished out in clay bowls is anything but ordinary. Since it’s the second Oakland venture of chef James Syhabout (whose high-end Commis boasts a Michelin star), it’s no surprise that the menu is both inventive and deeply satisfying. The rice bowl with 24-hour pork belly and a fried egg is already a local legend. So are the Siamese peanuts—sweet, salty flavor bombs coated in anchovy. Come hungry, order to share.

Restaurante Doña Tomás
The warren of rooms in this mainstay on Telegraph Avenue in Temescal is always packed for a reason: good Mexican food is hard to beat. And Doña Tomás (5004 Telegraph Ave., 510-450-0522, donatomas.com) is good—everything here is made from scratch with the requisite local, sustainable ethos. Opt for a seat in the courtyard, where colorful floral tablecloths and umbrellas set a festive mood. Melon with grilled octopus and coffee oil at Haven.Then order up a margarita and the delicate chiles rellenos de elote y calabaza—mild roasted poblano chiles filled with zucchini, corn, red onion, lime zest and cheese—or the tasty carnitas with Niman Ranch pork.

Haven
It used to be that Ben & Jerry’s was one of your best bets for food in Jack London Square. But those bleak culinary days are long gone, and the area is now a gourmand hot spot. Opened in December 2011, Haven (44 Webster St., 510-663-4440, havenoakland.com) is one of the newer kids on the block, but it’s already secured its berth as a dining destination. Take a seat on the patio facing the wharf in warm weather or inside its industrial but inviting main room and get ready for inventive, unusual combinations that are tasty, fresh, complex and sometimes challenging, like the recent melon dish with grilled octopus and coffee oil, and the pork belly braised with oatmeal, beet, chocolate and spring onion soffrito.

WHERE TO SLEEP

Waterfront Hotel
The nautical-themed  Waterfront Hotel.The Joie de Vivre hotel chain (owners of The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento) is known for its affordably chic style that evokes the culture of each location, and the Waterfront is no exception with its modern take on nautical-themed rooms. But it’s what is outside that makes the stay here worthwhile. Located on the docks of the revived Jack London Square, this modest property ($159-$289; 10 Washington St., 510-836-3800, jdvhotels.com) looks out over a slice of the bay that’s industrial and gritty, but also intriguing and engaging. Off toward the Bay Bridge, looming container cranes dominate the landscape, living up to the myth that they were the inspiration to Star Wars’ AT-AT vehicles. Along the back of the hotel, small boats are tied up, their masts bobbing and swaying with the current. It’s a scruffy, scrappy, soulful take on the bay, one you probably won’t see in San Francisco, at least not from your hotel. So make sure to request a waterfront room with a fireplace. —A.C.