Eight Must Experience Summer East Bay Activities
Conquer Mount Diablo, catch a foul ball, sail by moonlight, and discover five more warm-weather adventures.
1. Sail Into the Sunset
by Nicholas Boer
The sea has always beckoned. I’ve lived blocks from Ocean Beach, alongside the surf in Kauai, and in a tiny Sausalito studio with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve ventured on kayaks, cruises, and catamarans.
But until now, I had never been on a yacht. In the Bay. At sunset.
That all changed when I signed up for a Moonlight Sail with OCSC, a sailing school based in Berkeley.
I boarded the 36-foot yacht at the Berkeley Marina, and it tootled in the general direction of Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. While the rest of the party chatted with the captain, I awkwardly clambered to the bow, grabbed hold of the railing, and let my feet dangle just above the splash.
Along the way, I squinted at the setting sun, eyed the city skyline, glimpsed the bridges, and smiled at the moon. But then, settling in, I took in the undulating waves and meditated on life’s ebb and flow.
The two-hour tour rekindled my lifelong love affair with the sea. And while OCSC’s yacht is worth a quarter-mil, the experience on board leant me a visceral sense of how wealth will never fulfill me—a priceless revelation. The hypnotic power of those waves was both restorative and transformative.
OCSC’s Moonlight Sails go out the first and third Wednesday during summer months, and the July 20 and August 17 tours will occur within one day of a full moon; $75 per person, ocscsailing.com.
2. Climb Your Local Mountain
by Katie Henry
My husband and I love to explore nature, and we are of the opinion that if we don’t break an intense sweat, there’s no point in doing it. One recent morning, my gaze fell upon Mount Diablo looming above the valley, and I decided it was the day to conquer our backyard Everest.
With our trusty Mount Diablo map in hand, we started our 7.5–mile trek at Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center in Clayton. As we set out on the trail, the fog settled around us, making us feel like we were miles away from civilization. The incline was barely noticeable, and soon we found ourselves above the fog, tucked away in the valleys of the mountain’s rugged northern side.
Our next trail junction led to the most challenging portion of the hike: We had reached the bottom of the famously steep Prospectors Gap, which ascends 826 feet in less than one mile of trail. When we finally reached the top, sweaty and legs shaking, the view was our reward. Ahead of us, the Livermore Valley; behind us, the Delta; to our left, North Peak; and to our right, the summit.
With only a mile and a half to go, and with the hardest part over, we continued. The trail snaked along the side of the mountain and showcased the dramatic burn area from the fires of 2013. Pops of wildflowers and small buds on the burned branches showed life returning to the area scarred by the mountain’s largest wildfire in decades. Soon, we crossed the road for the last quarter mile and met our ride, who we’d scheduled to shuttle us back to our car.
We had made it: We cheered and smiled at the people taking in the spectacular view. One onlooker asked why we were so excited.
“We just hiked from the bottom,” my husband said.
“Really?” replied the onlooker. “Now, that’s an accomplishment.”
Save Mount Diablo’s map is available at savemountdiablo.org.
3. Take a Tropical Staycation
by Rachelle Cihonski
I've been dropping not-so-subtle hints to my guy that a tropical vacation should be on the to do list this summer, but he hasn’t been picking up on my message. So I tried leaving one last big clue by way of a tropical-themed experience that doesn’t require a plane ticket.
The tiki-outfitted bar at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville offers an urban island escape, and it has the credentials to prove it. The Trader (Vic Bergeron) himself is famous for inventing the first mai tai in 1944, at his original Oakland saloon, Hinky Dinks. The cocktail—Jamaican rum, lime, rock candy syrup, orange curaçao, and French orgeat served over crushed ice—is paradise in a glass, and the perfect combination of sweet and sour.
We sipped our drinks and watched the sun set over the marina. Soft ukulele music played overhead, transporting us to a fantasy of white sand beaches and salty ocean breezes. After the sun sank behind the city skyline, we said our alohas and headed back to the car.
“I felt like I was in Hawaii,” he said, as we pulled out of the parking lot. I let out a small sigh and steered us home. tradervicsemeryville.com.
4. Ride a Carousel With Your Kid
by Peter Crooks
My wife and I recently came into guardianship of a four-year-old girl and two-year-old boy, sweet little siblings with vibrant imaginations and endless energy. As a new parent, I’ve been fascinated to see them enjoy new experiences—watching them whoosh down Children’s Fairyland’s dragon slide or stare awestruck at a movie screen for the first time.
The highlight of these adventures occurred the afternoon I took them to the historic merry-go-round in Berkeley’s Tilden Park. Driving to the park, the boy slept deeply in his car seat, as his sister machine-gunned questions: “Where are we going? What are we doing? Are we almost there?”
“It’s a surprise,” I said. “I think you’ll like it.”
We parked next to the century-old merry-go-round. She popped out of the car, her mouth agape.
“It’s a carousel in the middle of the woods!” she said. “Is it magic?”
I pulled her sleeping brother out of his car seat, and he clung to my shoulder, still deep in a REM cycle. I bought a block of tickets and gave one to the girl. She hopped on a zebra and squealed, as she began bobbing to jangly organ music.
The boy continued to sleep, so I let his sister take a few more spins. Eventually, I handed over three tickets to the attendant and carried the boy to one of the ride’s benched chariots, and held him tightly.
The ride shook him out of hibernation, and his eyes fluttered open. The double take, as he assessed his surroundings—carved wooden animals carrying children on the spinning carousel—was priceless. His eyes sparkled when he saw his sister, now riding a giraffe, a few feet away. Eventually, the ride stopped. The boy looked at me with enthusiasm.
“Again?” he asked. “Please?”
I went to buy more tickets. tildenparkmerrygoround.org.
5. Find Inner Peace
by Rachelle Cihonski
In a boat I had rented at the Lafayette Reservoir, I rowed out to a solitary alcove along the shore where the fish hang out, baited my hook, pulled the rod behind me, and flung the line out into the water. I was looking for a way to relax and reconnect with nature, and I’d found it in the form of fishing.
A light breeze kept me cool, as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I had been at this for more than an hour—just me and the sound of water lapping against the metal boat. The bright green hills, wind whistling through the reeds, and clear blue sky were calming, as my boat bobbed on the water.
Suddenly, my line tightened, and my rod began to bend. I’ve got one! I thought, and grinned excitedly, as I began to reel in. The tension broke, and the line went slack. Up came an empty hook. Oh, well.
I didn’t catch anything that morning, but it didn’t matter. I’d found what I was looking for: peace and quiet. I headed home renewed and refreshed, and confident that I’d be back again to connect with the great outdoors—and maybe an actual fish—soon enough.
Fishing California waterways requires a state fishing license. Single day licenses can be purchased at CVS for $15. The reservoir charges $5 for its fishing access permit, and the visitor center sells fishing rods, nets, and worms, and rents rowboats and paddleboats. ebmud.com.
6. Search for a Famous Frog
by Katie Henry
In my past life as a high school English teacher, Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was one of my favorite stories to teach. When I learned that Twain’s famous frog, better known as the endangered California native red-legged frog, calls Sunol Regional Wilderness home, I knew I had to find it.
Determined to see one, I called Steven Bobzien, from the East Bay Regional Park District, to ask where I could go to spot, without disturbing, a red-legged frog. He directed me to the pond near Indian Joe Creek Trail, a steep but scenic 2.5–mile climb that leads past gnarled oak trees, rock caves, and a rushing creek.
At the top of the trail was my pond, the place Bobzien said offered the best chance at a sighting. Taking out my binoculars, I scoured the water’s edge. Sure enough, I noticed a small splash, a flash of red, and the kick of webbed feet going deep into the water. I saw it again: splash, red legs, kick of webbed feet. Ten more times these little creatures came to the surface, then kicked their red legs down to the depths. Could these be red-legged frogs, hunting for a snack?
After consulting with Bobzien, I know they could have been—but they also could have been the red-orange California newt. I like to think they were our famous jumping frogs giving this Mark Twain fan a show. ebparks.org/parks/sunol.
7. Listen to a Music Legend
by Peter Crooks
As a live-music lover, I’m smitten by the wealth of outdoor concert options in the Bay Area. But my hands-down favorite musical experience is my annual pilgrimage to Wente Vineyards in Livermore.
I love the delicious anticipation that comes when loading a plate at the gourmet buffet with, say, fresh salmon, a side of risotto, and a salad accented with vegetables from Wente’s garden. At the table, there is a feeling of festivity while sharing a bottle of Nth Degree Chard with fellow concertgoers, as the sun sets into the balmy evening. As the stars sparkle in the sky above, the headliner takes the stage—and oh, the talent: Ray Charles was the first Wente headliner, many years ago. I’ve seen Blondie, Tony Bennett, Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, B.B. King, ZZ Top, and many others over the past dozen summers.
I haven’t decided which concert I’ll pick this year. I’m leaning toward the Motown pop of Diana Ross on July 7. Then again, I’ve never seen Lynyrd Skynyrd play “Free Bird,” and the band is coming on August 16. It really doesn’t matter. Dinner and a concert at Wente is a perfect summer night. wentevineyards.com/concerts.
8. Catch a Foul Ball
by Peter Crooks
I’ve had some amazing moments in my life. Seeing Star Wars when I was seven. Winning the school spelling bee in the sixth grade. Eloping in Bali with the most beautiful woman in the world.
But none of those compares to the thrill of catching a foul ball at a baseball game.
The memory is still tattooed in my mind: Seattle Mariner Raul Ibañez sliced a foul straight over the backstop. Fans in the front of the second deck rose excitedly, as the ball shot toward them. Then they groaned, as it ricocheted off a cement wall and reversed course toward the lower section.
Right. At. Me. I was walking back to my seat, carrying a cup of soda in my left hand. I reached up with my right, and . . . whap! The ball stuck to my palm.
Adrenaline rushed through my body, as the surrounding crowd applauded my lucky grab. Engulfed with bliss, I thought, This is what my soul will feel like after I die.
Now, many fans go to a lifetime of games without even coming near a foul ball, but you can stack the odds in your favor to make a catch.
First, head to an Oakland A’s game on a Monday night (such as June 13 vs. Texas or July 18 vs. Houston), which typically brings out the smallest crowds of the week.
Next, buy a Plaza Level ticket in section 212–214 or 218–220. These sections attract foul balls from left-handed or right-handed hitters, respectively, with enough distance from the plate to give you time to react.
A final point of etiquette: If you do snag a foul ball, score infinite cool points by casually handing it to the cutest kid nearby after catching it. There’s a good chance your benevolence will be captured by TV cameras. oakland.athletics.mlb.com.