Best of the East Bay - Fun
|Photo by John Curley|Photo by Scott Hein
Slice of Mining History
No park in the East Bay can match the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve for its combination of history and natural beauty. The preserve takes up nearly 6,000 acres in the Antioch hills and is the site of what was once California's most productive coalfield. The mining industry supported five towns here during the second half of the 19th century; for a poignant reminder of the people who lived here, hike up to the Rose Hill Cemetery, the burial ground for Protestant residents of the mining towns. Also check out the Greathouse Visitor Center, a cavern blasted out of the hillside that was once the entrance to a sand mine, or take a guided tour through the former Hazel-Atlas Silica Mine. Even if you're not interested in the mining history, take a hike through the park's chaparral hills and manzanita-lined canyons for myriad wildflower-viewing and bird-watching opportunities.Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, 5175 Somersville Rd., Antioch, (925) 757-2620, www.ebparks.org. -- Justin Goldman
Diablo readers picked Berkeley Repertory Theatre as the East Bay’s best theater experience, but the group is also getting props from outside the area: Recent productions of Brundibar and Oliver Twist were both nominated for national Drama Desk Awards.
This August, Berkeley Rep will kick off its 40th anniversary season. The juicy 2007–08 schedule includes a staging of George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House, the world premiere of a new show by Hip-Hop Theatre performer Danny Hoch, and the West Coast premiere of the outrageous comedy Glorious!, featuring the legendary Rita Moreno.
By the way, Berkeley Rep is wooing a younger audience: Tickets for all performances, except Saturday nights and Sunday matinees, are half price for patrons under 30.
There are plenty of great places to ride a bike in the East Bay hills, but according to Danville’s champion triathlete, Chris Lieto, the best place is our biggest hill: Mount Diablo. Specifically, he recommends riding up the Walnut Creek side, which is light on traffic and quite pretty. “You get a great perspective on the valley the whole way up,” he says. “It’s a great workout that goes by quick because of the views and nature.”
The ride is about seven miles from the entrance on Northgate Road to the junction ranger station, and then another four and a half miles to the summit.
Mt. Diablo State Park, (925) 837-2525, www.parks.ca.gov. —J.G.
|Photo Courtesy of Savage Jazz Dance Company|
Shunning Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky for a repertoire of Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, Oakland-based Savage Jazz Dance Company combines contemporary and jazz dance with ballet to mirror the complex moods and styles of jazz music. And unlike the uniformity of a traditional corps de ballet, the individual strengths of the troupe’s eight dancers are emphasized in Artistic Director Reginald Ray-Savage’s unique choreography—from playful dance-acting to mind-blowing flexibility. But no cheesy jazz hands. Never those. Catch Savage Jazz during its February home season at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland.
Savage Jazz Dance Company, Oakland, (510) 496-6068, www.savagejazz.org . —LeeAnne Carson
If you ever forget why California is such a great place to live, the Oakland Museum of California has your refresher course. The museum, located smack between Lake Merritt and Oakland City Center, has three floors, each dedicated to a different aspect of the Golden State.
The first floor features the natural sciences gallery, in which visitors walk through displays—moving east from the coastline to the deserts beyond the Sierra—showing the flora and fauna of California’s diverse ecosystems.
On the second floor, you’ll find the history gallery, which contains artifacts from Native Americans, Spanish colonists, and 19th century gold miners, an Oakland fire truck that helped put out the fires of the 1906 earthquake, and much more.
The third floor houses the art gallery, which includes photography by Dorothea Lange, sculpture by Peter Voulkos, and paintings by Richard Diebenkorn. Just be sure you set aside a good block of time for your visit, because none of these exhibits should be missed.
Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, (510) 238-2200, www.museumca.org.
There is no spectacle in this world that can compare to the sight of a raptor swooping out of the sky to capture its prey. If you want to see for yourself, check out the Vasco Regional Preserve. The preserve is accessible only via guided tour groups that the East Bay Regional Park District shuttles there by bus, but the hassle of getting there (along with the $28–32 entrance fee) is worth it for the chance to see the amazing variety of predatory birds the region has to offer. Resident raptors include harriers, prairie falcons, kestrels, red-tailed hawks, and owls. Most impressive, the area has the world’s largest nesting population of golden eagles. If you’re lucky, you might get to see one of these majestic birds make the loooooong dive from the sky.
For information, call (925) 757-2620; for reservations, call (510) 636-1684; www.ebparks.org. —Justin Goldman
The Contra Costa Wind Symphony is a community group in the sense that its 55 musicians are volunteers. But this 26-year-old Walnut Creek ensemble doesn’t limit itself to marching band tunes. Conductor Duane Carroll has led the group in exploring the far reaches of the musical world.
The symphony, which performs three times a year at the Lesher Center for the Arts, has devoted entire programs to the music of Russia, Japan, and South America. It has also commissioned original works by talented young composers, such as a symphony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. Plus, Carroll invites other musicians, singers, and dance groups to perform with the symphony, often with dance-in-your-seat results. This past April’s South American fest featured dazzling string work by Lafayette’s Carlos Reyes, an internationally renowned master of the Paraguayan harp and violin. Coming this coming season? A Celtic-based concert, perhaps with some bagpipes thrown in.
For information, go to www.ccwindsymphony.org . —Martha Ross
In East Bay days of yore, a Saturday night at the drive-in was a way of life. Families crammed into station wagons and headed to park ’n’ view theaters in Antioch, Concord, Dublin, Oakland, or Pleasant Hill to watch Disney flicks on one screen while, one lot over, teens made out in backseats by the flickering light of muscle-car movies.
But times changed. The VCR appeared, and the property value of giant parking lots skyrocketed. One by one, drive-ins gave way to strip malls. When Concord’s Solano Drive-In shut down in 2005, an East Bay tradition seemed to be ending.
So many people complained that the West Wind Drive In company decided to renovate the Solano. Potholes were filled, bathrooms were refurbished, and the snack bar added a Dreyer’s ice-cream cone counter. When the Solano reopened this past May, the streets surrounding the drive-in were packed with the happiest traffic jam of the year.
We have a drive-in again, one of only 21 operating in California. It’s still a cheap night out: Admission is $6.50 per person ($4.25 on Tuesdays), and children 11 and under are free.
West Wind Solano 2 Drive-In, 1611 Solano Way, Concord, (925) 825-1951. —Peter Crooks
Side of jazz with your pancakes? At Pleasant Hill’s Smokin Okie, the extensive list of pancakes, omelets, breakfast burritos, and country potatoes aren’t all that’s on the menu. On Sundays, starting at 9:30 a.m., a talented jazz duo called the Smith/Stern Duo will make sure your morning is served sunny-side up. Just in case you need to get your strength up for toe tapping, the Smokin Okie serves a side of barbecued meats—including ribs, brisket, and links—in addition to the usual breakfast ham, sausage, and bacon. If the music doesn’t make your kids dance for joy, the Mickey Mouse pancakes will get them moving like Steamboat Willie.
Smokin Okie, 1941 Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill, (925) 942-0149.—Michaela Jarvis
|Photo by Thomas Hawk|
If you’ve never experienced Chabot Space and Science Center’s planetarium, you are overdue for a visit. Daytime shows explore the possibilities of life on other planets and simulate walks on Mars. But the pièce de résistance takes place on Saturday night, when the starry sky above the Oakland hills is projected onto the surface of the 70-foot-wide dome, allowing viewers to enjoy a guided tour of the planets and constellations. Afterward, head to the observatory to take in the actual celestial sphere through Chabot’s telescopes.
Chabot Space and Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, (510) 336-7300, www.chabotspace.org. —Jamie Menaker
Everyone knows that the cars at the Blackhawk Museum are cool. But there’s no way you’ll know how cool until you take the museum’s docent tour. On the hour-long exploration, which is free with admission and begins at 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday (tours are also scheduled independently for school groups), you’ll see which Duesenberg Model J Howard Hughes owned and which one Clark Gable owned; you’ll learn that the 1924 Tulipwood Hispano-Suiza was driven during the early years of the 24 Hours of Le Mans; you’ll see the Ferrari that racing legend Phil Hill drove in the final race on Pebble Beach’s 17-Mile Drive; and you’ll discover why Mercedes-Benz made a convertible 300SL (because the “gull wing” design of the original 300SL caused extremely poor ventilation). The tour is inspiring for mechanics and lead-foots alike.
Blackhawk Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville, (925) 736-2277, www.blackhawkmuseum.org . —J.G.
|Photo Courtesy of the Greek Theatre|
This 100-plus-year-old amphitheater on the Cal campus has fantastic acoustics and spectacular views of the Bay, but for many years the Greek Theatre was underused as a concert venue.
Then Gregg Perloff’s Another Planet Entertainment started booking the venue in 2003. Perloff, a Lafayette resident, was the head of Bill Graham Presents for many years, and he has used his Rolodex of rock ’n’ roll contacts to bring big-name artists (Tom Petty and Radiohead last summer) who normally play larger sheds, such as Mountain View’s cavernous Shoreline Amphitheatre, to the intimate 8,500-capacity Greek. This summer’s lineup includes Incubus on July 14, String Cheese Incident on July 21 and 22, Daft Punk on July 27, the Berkeley Jazz Festival on July 28, Wilco on August 24, Beastie Boys on August 25, and the White Stripes on September 21.
Greek Theatre, Hearst Avenue and Gayley Road, Berkeley. For tickets, go to www.apeconcerts.com or call (510) 809-0100. —Peter Crooks
If you want the best view of the night sky in the Bay Area, take California Canoe and Kayak’s monthly moonlight kayaking trip. Paddlers take to the water at Jack London Square shortly before sunset and head toward the multicolored horizon and the lights of the city. As the sun disappears, you’ll turn your boat to see the full moon rising over the Oakland hills. Novices must take a class before participating or share a boat with an experienced friend.
California Canoe and Kayak, 409 Water St., Oakland, (510) 893-7833, www.calkayak.com. —Justin Goldman
Forget the wimpy grills at your neighborhood park. For a real outdoor cooking experience, head for the hills. Mt. Diablo State Park is home to 100 large stone stoves built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers during the Great Depression. Constructed from native rock quarried on Mount Diablo, the stoves can be used as barbecues, but some are also equipped with a chimney, a damper, and a dual griddle system, so a full meal can be prepared on each one. The stoves remain functional, and now they’re getting a tune-up: Stone masons recently restored 12 stoves at Live Oak Campground, the site of the original CCC camp, and the park is planning to refurbish the rest over the next few years.
Mt. Diablo State Park, (925) 837-2525, www.parks.ca.gov. —J.G.
Jaws. Raiders. Jedi. If you grew up in Contra Costa in the 1970s and ’80s, the dome in Pleasant Hill was the place to see summer blockbusters. The dome’s giant screen—a now-rare remnant of the 1960s wave of Cinerama theaters—made the theater the King Kong of movie-viewing destinations for suburban cinephiles. When megaplexes entered the fray, the dome seemed destined for the wrecking ball. But for now, the theater’s owners have retooled the dome into an art house theater that screens independent, foreign, and smaller movies. The new plan has been a godsend for East Bay film fans, who no longer have to drive through a tunnel or across a bridge to see a film with substance (or subtitles).
Cinemark CinéArts Pleasant Hill, 2314 Monument Blvd., Pleasant Hill, (925) 687-1100, www.cinearts.com. —P.C.
Head to the Diablo Light Opera Company (DLOC) building on the first Monday night of the month, and you’ll see a diverse queue of patrons, from teens to senior citizens, dressed in faded jeans or decked in diamonds. They come for the eclectic, lighthearted mix of open mic singing, bantering hosts, and bingo at the monthly Firehouse Cabaret. The DLOC provides a stage for amateurs and professionals alike, and offers attendees an inexpensive night—just $8 gets you admission and one item from the concession booth—that goes way beyond the dinner-and-movie routine. Unlike some big city venues, Firehouse Cabaret ditches pretentiousness in favor of friendliness, with rounds of bingo played between performances (past bingo prizes have included DLOC theater tickets and a 10-pound block of chocolate). Reservations are recommended.
Firehouse Cabaret, first Monday of the month at 8 p.m., 1948 Oak Park Blvd., Studio A, Pleasant Hill, (925) 944-1565, www.dloc.org. —Julie Miller Dowling
On the first Friday night of every month, a multitude of art galleries in downtown Oakland host free openings from 7 to 10 p.m. Art lovers invade the neighborhood around the 19th Street BART station for the Art Murmur, walking from gallery to gallery to see works ranging from the smooth professional paintings and sculptures at the Esteban Sabar Gallery to the DIY crafts on display at the Rock Paper Scissors Collective. The vibe is festive, whether you’re bobbing your head to music on the street or sipping a beer at Luka’s Taproom, and the diversity of the art and the people make the Art Murmur a quintessentially East Bay experience.
Art Murmur, www.oaklandartmurmur.com. —Justin Goldman
Actually, you won’t find any Oompa-Loompas, chocolate rivers, or everlasting gobstoppers at the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, but sign up for the free one-hour tour, and you will get an up-close look at how some of the best chocolate in the country is made. The tour starts with a presentation about where cacao is grown and how it is harvested and turned into chocolate. Afterward, you’ll walk through the factory and see the machinery that produces Scharffen Berger’s fine chocolate. And, oh yeah: free samples! Private tours are also available, and if you don’t feel like venturing through the Caldecott, there is a virtual tour (sans free samples, sadly) at www.scharffenberger.com.
Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, 914 Heinz Ave., Berkeley, (510) 981-4066, www.scharffenberger.com. —J.G.
Every Wednesday night, the Starry Plough Pub on Shattuck Avenue comes alive with the whirling, winding words of slam poets. Slam poetry combines elements of beat poetry, performance art, comedy, and hip-hop. Each poet at the Berkeley Poetry Slam has his or her own style—some calmly read lines from their notebooks, others spit furious freestyle rhymes reminiscent of Eminem lyrics—and the standing-room-only audience hollers encouragement and snaps their fingers to the rhythm of the verse. Judges are chosen at random from among the crowd, and they score each poet’s work from one to 10; the winner takes home a cash prize. Sign-up for the slam starts at 7:30 p.m., and the competition begins at 8:30. The slam also features outstanding guest poets from around the country.
Hike Mount Diablo, (925) 837-2525, www.parks.ca.gov.
Bedford Gallery, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 295-1417, www.bedfordgallery.org.
Stinson Beach, Highway 1 at Stinson Beach, (415) 868-1922, www.nps.gov/goga/stbe.htm.
Company C Contemporary Ballet, 1280 Boulevard Way, Ste. 203, Walnut Creek, (925) 708-0752, www.companycballet.org.
The Course at Wente Vineyards, 5050 Arroyo Rd., Livermore, (925) 456-2475, www.wentegolf.com.
Mount Diablo, (925) 837-2525, www.parks.ca.gov.
Lafayette Reservoir, 3849 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-9669, www.ebmud.com/services/recreation/east_bay/lafayette
Two Left Feet, 194 Diablo Rd., Danville, (925) 831-8111, www.twoleftfeet.com.
Mount Diablo, (952) 837-2525, www.parks.ca.gov
Squaw Valley USA, 1960 Squaw Valley Rd., Olympic Valley, (530) 583-6985, www.squaw.com.
Auberge du Soleil, 180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford, (707) 963-1211, www.aubergedusoleil.com.
Wente Vineyards, 5565 Tesla Rd., Livermore, (925) 456-2300, www.wentevineyards.com.