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2019 Best of the East Bay: Arts and Leisure

Renowned theater groups? Check. Oscar winners? Several. Beloved arts institutions? You bet. The East Bay’s diverse cultural scene has it all.


Don’t miss the exhilarating exhibitions at the Oakland Museum of California.

Photo courtesy of Oakland Museum of California / Matthew Millman



Illustration by Chantal Bennett

Eric Ting
Artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater

When Eric Ting took the reins as artistic director of Cal Shakes in late 2015, theater lovers watched closely to see what changes would follow. After all, Ting had spent the previous 11 seasons as a champion of fresh voices and new plays at the acclaimed Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. How would his creative edginess jibe with the beloved Shakespeare festival in Orinda? Yet Ting quickly proved that his dynamic, inclusive vision was the perfect fit for a company known for staging the classics.

“One question we always ask is: What’s the role of classical theater in the 21st century?” Ting says. “Typically, theaters have held the classics up on a pedestal, and part of what’s so compelling about Cal Shakes is its commitment to dismantling the pedestal. Our role is not preservation but [building] bridges. We’re a theater, not a museum.”

During his tenure, Ting has overseen bold reinterpretations of Othello and As You Like It, but it was his 2017 production of Oakland-born playwright Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey—a dazzling reimagining of Homer’s epic, set in Gardley’s hometown—that broke box office records and opened doors to new audiences. This summer, don’t miss Ting’s direction of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan, which runs July 3 through 21 and promises to be one of the highlights of the 2019 season.

“It’s difficult to imagine what we do at Cal Shakes being done anywhere else,” the West Virginia native says. “The East Bay is in a moment of profound transition, and how we engage in this exciting change is a test of our mettle.”

Ting's Picks
Favorite cultural experience: The Berkeley Kite Festival. “I am the father of a 4-year-old,” Ting explains.
Favorite festival: The Youth Speaks’ Life Is Living Festival in Oakland.
Favorite multicultural meal: Sunday brunch at Berkeley’s Wat Mongkolratanaram, a Thai Buddhist temple. —D.K.


Reader Picks

Art Gallery
Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery, Lafayette

Golf Course
Boundary Oak Golf Course, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Blackhawk Country Club, Danville

Leanne Borghesi, Lynda Divito, and Alison Quin in Mamma Mia! at the Lesher Center for the Arts. Photo by Le Mello.

Performing Arts Venue
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: Bankhead Theater, Livermore

Lafayette Reservoir Rim Trail, Lafayette
Runner-up: Iron Horse Regional Trail, multiple locations

Movie Theater
Century Blackhawk Plaza, Danville
Runner-up: Luxe Cinema and IMAX, Concord

Oakland Museum of California, Oakland
Runner-up: Blackhawk Museum, Danville

Local Food Adventures, Oakland
Runner-up: Velocipede Tours, Oakland


Editor Picks

Ultimate East Bay Summer Playlist
These musicians with local ties bring out the best sounds of the season.

“Backstreets,” Shannon and the Clams (Oakland)

“Every Moment,” Rogue Wave (featuring Moraga-raised Zach Rogue)

“The Great Pixley Train Robbery,” Cass McCombs (Walnut Creek)

“Jesus of Suburbia,” Green Day (Berkeley/Oakland)

“680 South,” The Story So Far (Walnut Creek)

“Berkeley’s On Fire,” SWMRS (Oakland)

“The Letter U And the Numeral 2,” Negativland (Concord)

“Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival (El Cerrito)

“Four White Stallions,” Tender Mercies (cofounded by Danville-raised guitarist Dan Vickrey)

“Bad Vibes,” K.Flay (former Oakland resident) —R.O.


Animation Sensation: Domee Shi

Pixar storyboard artist Domee Shi made cinematic history as the first woman to direct a short film for the Emeryville-based animation studio, winning hearts and an Academy Award for her bite-size movie Bao. (When Shi accepted the Best Animated Short Film statuette at the Oscar ceremony in February, she also became the first woman of color to win the category.) The charming short tells the story of a Chinese woman whose handmade dumpling comes to life as a tiny baby, and Shi has said she took the film’s crew on inspirational trips to dim sum restaurants in the Chinatown neighborhoods of Oakland and San Francisco. —R.O.


Mahershala Ali. Shutterstock.

Most Supportive Movie Star: Mahershala Ali

Saint Mary’s College alum Mahershala Ali has received praise aplenty in Hollywood for his work—including a 2019 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in Green Book—but his generous support of his alma mater is earning him a passionate hometown fan base. In October, Ali arranged an advance screening of Green Book at Moraga’s Rheem Theatre to bene­fit Saint Mary’s Moonlight Scholarship, which aids first-generation college students. The actor helped launch the scholarship after he won his first Oscar for Moonlight in 2017; Ellen DeGeneres even donated $10,000 following Ali’s appearance on her show in January. —R.O.


Photo courtesy of Oakland Museum of California/Odell Hussey Photography


The Big Semicentennial

50 Years that the Oakland Museum of CaliforniaDiablo’s 2019 winner for Best Museum—has educated and enthralled visitors with its dynamic series of exhibitions devoted to the Golden State. museumca.org. —R.O.




Days of Wonder

From educational excursions to open-air outings, there’s an itinerary for every taste.

Hike to the summit of Mount Diablo to immerse yourself in the natural world. Shutterstock.


For Literature Lovers
Start your day at Danville’s Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, the onetime home of the only American playwright with a Nobel Prize to his name. Continue your literary journey at Orinda Books; Contra Costa County’s biggest independent bookstore offers more than 16,000 volumes. Enjoy a book and a beer at the literature-infused Novel Brewing Company in Oakland, which features pours with read-themed monikers (think Dog-Eared Hazy Pale Ale). Finish off with a word-centric evening at Berkeley’s The Starry Plough Pub, which hosts the Berkeley Poetry Slam (the longest-running event of its kind in Northern California) on Wednesday nights. nps.gov/euon, orindabooks.com, novelbrewing.com, thestarryplough.com.


For Outdoor Aficionados
Head to the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez to tour the iconic naturalist’s mansion and walk around Mount Wanda, where Muir spent time with his daughters. For more hiking opportunities, visit Mount Diablo State Park  in Walnut Creek and Danville, one of the East Bay’s most famous natural wonders, or walk the Iron Horse Regional Trail, which traverses the cities of Concord, Alamo, Danville, San Ramon, and more. Those seeking a more leisurely stroll will enjoy the Hayward Japanese Gardens, a 42-year-old Zen oasis. End your day with a drive up to Berkeley Bay View Point next to the Lawrence Hall of Science to take in a spectacular sunset. nps.gov/jomu, parks​.ca​.gov, ebparks.org, haywardrec.org, lawrence​hallofscience.org.


For History Buffs
Travel to the past aboard the USS Potomac in Oakland, formerly the presidential yacht of FDR, or Alameda’s USS Hornet Sea, Air, and Space Museum, a World War II aircraft carrier. Explore the Tri-Valley’s past at Pleasanton’s Museum on Main, or get a broader sense of California history at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park (California’s only remaining original capitol building) and Benicia’s Fischer-​​Hanlon House, a Gold Rush hotel. Cap off your outing at a historic movie theater, such as Oakland’s storied Grand Lake Theatre or the Orinda Theatre, which dates to 1941. uss​potomac.org, uss-hornet.org, museumonmain​.org, parks.ca.gov, beniciamainstreet.org, ​renaissancerialto.com, lamorindatheatres​.com. —E.W.


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