Best of the East Bay
Fun and Adventure
In 2002, San Francisco’s Cowell Theater invited Charles Anderson to pull together a group of dancers to fill a vacancy. The former New York City Ballet dancer gathered Bay Area talent, gave them his own choreography, found them a rehearsal space in Walnut Creek, and billed them as Company C.
Blending ballet and modern dance—and often incorporating music from classical to country to club—Company C Contemporary Ballet has charmed audiences since the first performance, filling theaters from San Francisco to Antioch. The 12-member troupe performs innovative choreography by artistic director Anderson as well as by outside stars such as San Francisco Ballet’s David Anderson and contemporary dance icon Twyla Tharp. In 2004, Company C started the annual Oakland Dance Festival, which brings together similarly styled local companies for two performance-filled weekends each June.
Catch Company C at the Mendocino Music Festival on July 14 (www.mendocinomusic.com), or await their return to Walnut Creek’s Regional Center for the Arts in January.
Company C Contemporary Ballet, (925) 708-0752, http://www.companycballet.org
Hotel in Wine Country
Auberge du Soleil is a little bit of Provence in the Napa Valley. The woodsy hillside grounds are dotted with lavishly appointed private maisons from which you can look out on the vineyards below. Service at the hotel is supremely polite, and the concierge will help you line up everything from private wine and cheese tastings to cycling trips.
In summer, the pool at Auberge cannot be beat: Attendants will bring you an iPod so you can listen to music while you sunbathe, and they’ll also drop off refreshing gelatos and granitas. The hotel’s spa features a unique and luxuriant option: Head sommelier Kris Margerum will pair wines with the scents of an aromatic bath, so that the bouquets harmonize.
Auberge du Soleil, 180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford, (707) 963-1211,
You’ll have to arrive early for the primo spot at Juniper Campground on Mount Diablo. It’s at the end of the loop under the trees, which provide some of the coolest shade on the mountain. If it’s taken, don’t worry, because at 3,200 feet of elevation, the view from any of the 32 campsites is to die for. To the left is the San Ramon Valley and to the right is Walnut Creek, with Lamorinda and the Berkeley Hills beyond. As dusk falls, the lights in the valley start to twinkle, the fog creeps in, and the sky becomes a kaleidoscope of colors. Check-in is at 2 p.m. from the Danville entrance on Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard. Juniper has restrooms and hot showers, and a trail will take you straight up to the 3,849-foot summit. Camping costs $20 per family per night. Make sure you pack what you need, because the gates close at sunset, and you are mountain-bound until 8 a.m.
Juniper Campground, Mt. Diablo State Park, (925) 837-2525, http://www.parks.ca.gov/
North of San Francisco: If you’re up for a stroll on a well-groomed trail through a green valley, you’ll find a quiet cove waiting at the end. Tennessee Cove is a favorite among locals who enjoy its black sand and quiet atmosphere. The beach is tucked between giant cliffs that rise out of the ocean to meet the plush green hills of Marin County. At low tide, the beach will sometimes reveal its secret: the remains of the USS Tennessee, a wooden, side-wheel steamship that ran aground in 1853 while trying to enter the Golden Gate.
Before you visit, grab lunch at the Mill Valley Market or swing by the fruit stand at the beginning of Tennessee Valley Road. And when you reach the cove, don’t be ashamed to simply lie against the red cliffs and let the waves lull you to sleep.
Tennessee Cove, Marin County. An easy 1.8-mile stroll on a wide, well-groomed path; portable bathrooms at trailhead; no dogs. Contact: Marin Headlands, (415) 331-1540, www.marintrails.com/beaches.html. Mill Valley Market, 12 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley (415) 388-3222, http://www.millvalleymarket.com
South of San Francisco: On the rare hot summer day, Linda Mar has the feel of La Jolla Shores in San Diego. The water is full of surfers, and the beach is packed with families whose kids can play safely in the shallow surf without the threat of rip currents or sneaker waves.
Although Linda Mar may not have many tourist accommodations, it makes up for its lack with a laid-back vibe and a variety of surf shops, delis, and restaurants within walking distance—plus a rating of zero for shark danger. By contrast, Surfline.com rates Stinson Beach at an eight (10 means bring an iron cage!). The paved bike path that winds along Linda Mar’s mile-long stretch of beach is popular with joggers and bikers.
Linda Mar, Pacifica. Ten to 15 mintues south of San Francisco off Highway 1, exit at Pacifica. Go past the stoplight at Crespi Avenue, and turn right into the beach parking lot. If you get to the light at Linda Mar Avenue, you’ve gone too far. —Tony Vala-Haynes
Venue to Hear Live Music
It’s all about the room at Yoshi’s. Whether you’ve come for straight-ahead jazz or something right out of a mambo dance hall, you’re drawn right into the pulsing heart of the music.
Of course, it’s the excellent acoustics of Yoshi’s intimate performance space that ensures the music comes alive. But the sleek and simple room works visually, too, with its dark purple walls and black-and-white portraits of jazz greats. All of the 320 seats on the tiers ringing the stage feel front and center, and nothing obstructs the view.
Little-known fact: Sunday afternoons at Yoshi’s make a great kids’ outing. The matinee performances of the big weekend acts are usually $5 for kids, and each adult who brings a child gets a discount. And Yoshi’s renowned restaurant offers a kids’ bento box, which is like a Japanese version of a Happy Meal, with one difference: It’s healthy.
Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero W., Oakland, (510) 238-9200, http://www.yoshis.com
No matter how big the plasma TV or how comfy the couch, watching a movie at home will never beat sitting in a darkened theater and taking in larger-than-life characters on the silver screen. Make good use of that Costco card, and pick up some discount movie theater passes.
Regal Entertainment Super Saver. Five tickets, $34.95 ($6.99/ticket). Berkeley 7 on Shattuck Avenue, Hacienda Crossing in Dublin, Emery Bay in Emeryville, Jack London in Oakland, and Crow Canyon Cinemas in San Ramon
Cinemark Super Saver. Two tickets with gift card, $17.99 ($6.50/ticket plus $5 gift card). Blackhawk Movies 7 in Danville
AMC Theaters Gold Movie Pack. Five tickets, $37.50 ($7.50/ticket). The only local AMC theater is in the Bay Street Emeryville mall. Otherwise, you’re crossing the bridge.
Costco, 2400 Monument Blvd., Concord, (925) 566-4003; 3150 Fostoria Way, Danville, (925) 277-0407; 2800 Independence Dr., Livermore, (925) 443-6306; www.costco.com —Jamie Menaker
Instead of zoning out in front of the TV after work, why not wind down throwing pottery, belly dancing, or playing the steel drums? Walnut Creek’s Civic Arts Education is more than your average community arts program.
More than 15,000 adults and children enroll annually in the courses taught by working professionals. You can sketch flowers with Peg Steunenberg, whose science illustrations are exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution. Or learn the shuffle-ball-change in a tap-dance class with Celeste Lococo, a performer who has choreographed 49er halftime shows. Or play simple melodies on the violin with Rem Djemilev, a violist for the Berkeley and California symphonies. Before you know it, your little creative outlet might turn into a lucrative second career.
Civic Arts Education, (925) 943-5846, http://www.arts-ed.org —LeeAnne Carson
Crooked Vine Winery burst onto the Livermore wine-making scene in 2000 with one of its first vintages, a multiple award–winning Sangiovese. The winery has been collecting acclaim ever since, and now our readers have picked it as their favorite boutique winery.
That’s unusual about Crooked Vine is that everything—from grape selection to punching down fermenting grapes—is done by hand, to avoid any taste contamination from machinery. Owned by Dale Vaughn-Bowen, the daughter of Stony Ridge owner Clyde Vaughn, the winery makes 700 cases of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier a year.Two of the owner’s favorites include the peppery, full-bodied 2003 Zinfandel and a new wine, the 2004 Viognier (a summery white filled with floral accents and peachy flavors).
Crooked Vine will host a Southern barbecue on July 15, a lobster bake on August 12, and a three-day open house to celebrate the arrival of the winery’s brand-new Cabernets August 25–27. The winery is open for drop-in wine tasting Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Appointments are available Monday through Wednesday.
Crooked Vine Winery, 4948 Tesla Rd., Livermore, (925) 371-8156, http://www.crooked vinewinery.com
Arlen Ness bought his first Harley in 1963, a slightly modified used Knucklehead. Over the next few years, he rebuilt and repainted the bike, named it “Untouchable,” entered it in a custom show, and won. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ness is now known throughout the world as the foremost motorcycle customizer, thanks to his innovative sense of style and willingness to take risks with design. At his 70,000-square-foot headquarters in Dublin, you can view his creations past and present in the second-floor museum. The “Untouchable” is there, as well as the candy-red “Ferrari Bike,” which has a car tire in the back and an enormous 122-inch Harmon motor. Don’t miss Ness’s supersized “Hulkster,” which was created for Hulk Hogan in proportion to his body and features a painting of the wrestler on the gas tank.
Articles and awards covering the walls tell of Ness’s impact on the motorcycle community, and bike books are available to read at one of many tables. On your way out, stop in the store on the first level for Ness shirts, helmets, and collectible 1:6 motorcycle models.
Arlen Ness, 6050 Dublin Blvd., Dublin, (925) 479-6300, http://www.arlenness.com —L.C.
Getaway for Parents of Young Kids
The beauty of spending an overnight at the Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa can be summed up in two words: stress free.
As parents of young kids know, your ability to relax and renew is divided by the number of miles between you and your children. The farther you travel, the more likely you are to end up as stressed as when you started.
So, while you’re visiting, uh, Lafayette, do not forget to lounge by the pool, which is in a garden of cypress and rose bushes. Equipped with an outdoor fireplace, the pool patio is especially lovely in the evening. Get a massage, facial, or herbal body wrap at the spa. Sip one of the East Bay’s best martinis from the bar.
The décor inside the hotel is a little dated, but no matter. Try to get a room on the fourth floor with a vaulted ceiling, and pretend you’re Madame de Maintenon, spending the night with Louis the XIV. Yee-haw.
Lafayette Park’s Romantic Escape Package is $239–$489 per night, including a complimentary bottle of Champagne, breakfast for two delivered to your room, and the option of a late 2 p.m. check out.
Heck, you could even arrange to run over there for the night after you and the sitter put the kids to sleep.
Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa, 3287 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-3700, http://www.lafayetteparkhotel.com —Martha Ross
Two Left Feet, 194 Diablo Rd., Danville, (925) 831-8111, http://www.twoleftfeet.com
East Bay Adventure
A Hike on Mount Diablo, (925) 837-2525, http://www.parks.ca.gov
The Course at Wente, 5040 Arroyo Rd., Livermore, (925) 456-2475, http://www.wentegolf.com
HorseBack Riding Lessons
Castle Rock Arabians, 1350 Castle Rock Rd., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-7661,
Century 14, 1201 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-7025, http://www.centurytheatres.com
Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1978,
Place to Spend a Sunday Morning
Lafayette Reservoir, Lafayette, (925) 284-9669, http://www.ebmud.com/services/recreation/east_bay
Northstar, 100 Northstar Dr., Truckee,(800) 466-6784, (530) 562-1010,
Store to Spark your Creativity
Michaels,various East Bay locations, http://www.michaels.com
With the Kids: Lafayette Reservoir. The walk around this man-made lake is open enough to give you and your kids a sense of the wilderness and just suburban enough to get the kids home in time for their naps. The paved trail is easy for strollers, and there is a good mix of sunshine and shade.
Lafayette Reservoir, Mt. Diablo Boulevard between Acalanes Road and Happy Valley Road, Lafayette, (925) 284-9669, http://www.ebmud.com/services/recreation/east_bay, one-day parking pass $6, or bring quarters for the two-hour meters
With Your Sweetheart: Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve. Huckleberry feels like your own secret hideaway as you and your partner wander along a path shaded by lush trees, bushes, and plants. A perfectly placed bench overlooks the hills when you reach the top of the loop.
Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, Skyline Boulevard (just past Chabot Space and Science Center), Oakland, (510) 562-7275, http://www.ebparks.org , free parking
With Your Dog: Point Isabel Regional Shoreline. The only East Bay Regional Park where dogs are allowed off leash, Point Isabel offers breathtaking views of the bay. The park is a whopping 21 acres, and the water is accessible, so dogs can splash around in the channel and the Bay. Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, Central Avenue, Richmond, (510) 562-7275, http://www.ebparks.org, free parking —Jamie Menaker
Place to Take Out-of-Town Friends
Mt. Diablo State Park, enter at Danville’s Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard or Walnut Creek’s North Gate Road, (925) 837-2525, http://www.parks.ca.gov
Place to Putt
There are no mini-golf clowns and windmills at Grayson Woods in Pleasant Hill, the only 18-hole putting course in Northern California. Instead, you get to putt up and down hills and around bends on 10- to 30-yard greens with roughs that slow your ball. A man-made creek runs through part of the course, and you’ll cross sandstone bridges as you chase your ball across the Astroturf greens. There’s even a tree in the middle of one green. If you’re still missing the windmills, you can console yourself with beer and wine from the snack shop.
Grayson Woods, 400 Iron Hill St.,Pleasant Hill, (925) 935-7277, http://www.golfgraysonwoods.com —Susan Safipour
New Wine Country
So many winemakers are putting down city roots these days that Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda, and Berkeley have become their own little wine region. In Oakland, Lost Canyon Winery, which makes spectacular Pinot Noir, has opened a tasting room on Dennison Street, and you’ll find Dashe and JC Cellars sharing space on Fourth Street.
Va de Vi Wine Director Brendan Eliason opened a tasting room for his label, Periscope Cellars, in Emeryville. Alameda, an island once known more for its military base than its Merlot, is home to Blacksmith Cellars, which opened not far from long-standing Rosenblum Cellars. In Berkeley, Harrington Wines and Eno Wines share space on Camelia Street, and on Fourth Street is Rubissow-Sargent Winery.
For a complete list of the East Bay’s urban winemakers, visit http://www.eastbayvintners.com. —Kathryn Jessup
When it comes to favorite coffeehouses, Diablo readers enjoy the freshly roasted offerings of Pacific Bay Coffee Co. This Walnut Creek java stop brews beans in-house, and serves the full gamut of espressos, teas, and chais. Pacific Bay also hosts frequent live music events, and lets customers surf the Net with a free Wi-Fi connection. And for singles hoping to meet an attractive doctor, this friendly café is a good bet—it’s right across the street from Kaiser Hospital.
Pacific Bay Coffee Co., 1495 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1709,
Off-Road Biking Group
The East Bay is all about rolling hills and valleys, and Mount Diablo is the defining sight on our horizon. Don’t ooh and aah at these natural wonders from afar—it’s time to traverse our green-and-golden landscape mountain-bike style.
The Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay can help get you sailing up and down the mountain in no time. Free lessons, including skill-building, sharing the trails, and safety, get you on the trails for the first time or brush up skills that may have gotten rusty. The council’s website is so lush you’ll want to stop surfing the web and start riding the hills. All levels welcome.
Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay, (510) 466-5123, http://www.btceb.org —Jamie Menaker
Summer: Alameda County Fair. Nothing says summer like an old-fashioned county fair. Beat the Tri-Valley heat with a towering ice cream cone and a roller coaster ride—or slip inside one of the exhibition buildings for locally produced food and artwork. When the sun goes down, head to the bright lights of the midway, where you can win a stuffed animal in a dart game, or score seats at the amphitheater for free nightly concerts. July performers include KC & the Sunshine Band on the 3rd and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on the 6th.
Alameda County Fair, June 23–July 9, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton, $6–$9, (925) 426-7559, http://ww.alamedacountyfair.com
Fall: Livermore’s Corn Maze. Seen from the air, the corn maze at G & M Farms is amazing. Last fall, the design replicated the California state quarter, featuring John Muir and Yosemite’s Half Dome. Inside the maze, trivia questions along the way point you in the right direction—if you answer correctly, and netting prevents your scheming friends from hiding among the stalks and scaring the daylights out of you.
Corn Maze, October 1–31, G & M Farms, 487 E. Airway Blvd., Livermore, (925) 447-3276, http://www.gmfarms.com
Winter: Walnut Creek on Ice. When the holiday season rolls around, Walnut Creek’s Civic Park transforms into a winter wonderland with an outdoor ice skating rink—the only one in the East Bay. Expert spinners and wobbly newbies share the space under twinkling lights, gliding around to holiday music and Top 40 hits.
Walnut Creek on Ice, November 17–January 15, Civic Park, Broadway and Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7669, http://www.iceskatewalnutcreek.com
Spring: Wildflower Trains. Board a restored vintage train, and travel the original transcontinental railroad route through scenic Niles Canyon. April is wildflower month, and you’ll see plenty of mustard flowers, poppies, rosemary, wild almond, and other spring flora between Sunol and Fremont. On Sundays, Livermore Valley vintners host onboard wine tasting.
Niles Canyon Railway Wildflower Trains, April and May, Sunol Depot, 6 Kilkare Rd., Sunol, $5–$10, (925) 862-9063, http://www.ncry.org —LeeAnne Carson
For years, local nightlife lived up to its reputation. Sub-urban.
But we’re experiencing the dawning of a new era with the opening of Groove, Six80 Lounge, and Aura, the Pleasanton scene that snagged the most votes for its fabulous vibe.So what happens when two East Bay gals set out to experience the wonder?
Thursday, 9:35 p.m.: The evening is young by club standards, and hipsters are already clamoring to get inside. Armed with dinner reservations, we sail to the head of the line into the VIP loft to feast on lamb chops and halibut lovingly prepared by chef Garrick Penn.
11:05 p.m.: A crowded dance floor eases self-doubt. One Red Bull and vodka later, we’re taking in a bird’s-eye view from elevated dance platforms (not to be confused with cages).
2:45 a.m.: Just as we declare Aura officially hip, out of the blue, a white shirt approaches to ask if we’ll put his next drink on our tab. OK, so some things never change, but what this fella lacked in sophistication, Aura made up for with fanciful design. And the evening’s best line? “Save me the last dance.” Whatever.
Aura, 4825 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, (925) 416-0777, http://www.nightclubaura.com
On those days when Mount Diablo just seems too far away, take the family and head to Touchstone Climbing and Fitness in Concord for the ultimate rock climbing experience. Touchstone offers more than 11,000 square feet of indoor climbing terrain just off Willow Pass Road in Concord.
The facility is the brainchild of Mark and Debra Melvin, who first brought indoor rock climbing to the Bay Area. Their first location, San Francisco’s Mission Cliffs, opened in 1995, and the Melvins now operate eight climbing and fitness centers throughout the Bay Area, including Ironworks in Berkeley.
Membership at Touchstone gives you reciprocal membership at the club’s other locations, allowing you to climb whenever and wherever you want. Other benefits include free child care; a weight room; locker rooms with showers, saunas, and steam baths; and a full range of exercise classes, including sports conditioning, yoga, and Pilates.
Nonmembers can buy a day pass or take climbing lessons. After-school climbing classes, summer camps, and awesome birthday parties are offered for children five to 18. The facility also holds team-building seminars for businesses, offering a new way to bond with your coworkers.
Touchstone Climbing and Fitness,
1220 Diamond Way, Ste. 140, Concord,
(925) 602-1000, http://www.touchstoneclimbing.com