Oakland, California, which is situated on the mainland side of San Francisco Bay, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. (more than 80 languages and dialects are spoken there). There's a small Chinatown with authentic dining options, and a vibrant and large population of Ethiopians and Eritreans.
Several of the city's attractions are related to author Jack London, who spent much time in the city in the 1890s. Jack London Square, at the corner of Broadway and Embarcadero West, is a colorful waterfront area that has been refurbished with shops, restaurants and bars, including Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, once the author's favorite haunt and currently a national literary landmark. London's sod-roof cabin is also in the area. Jack London Village is a turn-of-the-20th-century shopping center one block south. Phone 510-645-9292. http://www.jacklondonsquare.com.
Also at Jack London Square, you can visit the presidential yacht the USS Potomac, which served as former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's floating White House. The yacht was later owned by Elvis Presley, but the current interior decorations reflect the president's spartan tastes rather than the King's more lavish style. Trips on the Potomac are available.
Preservation Park is one of the state's most attractive commercial centers. Located in downtown Oakland, the district contains dozens of restored Victorian homes that now house businesses and nonprofit organizations. The Paramount Theatre is a lovingly restored art-deco theater, now home to the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and a venue for big-name artists—see whatever's playing, if only for the experience of sitting in the theater. http://www.paramounttheatre.com.
The Oakland Museum of California is a large and diverse museum with excellent exhibits on the environment, history and art of the Golden State. It displays both a permanent collection and limited-run exhibits. http://www.museumca.org.
Lake Merritt is a picturesque lake that's a good place to walk, jog or rent a boat and go sailing; you can even rent a gondola with gondolier. At night, the lake is transformed into a giant reflecting pool by the 3-mi/5-km necklace of lights that circles the water. On the north shore of the lake is Lakeside Park, one of the prettiest urban parks in the country.
Lakeside's reasonably priced Children's Fairyland offers child-size depictions of fairy tales along with puppet shows, animals to feed and carnival rides. Fairyland's Play Island gives kids a chance to dig for buried treasure and have fun in a treehouse. (We really like the simplicity of the Fairyland: It's the antithesis of the giant theme parks, although it is starting to show some wear and tear.) At the east end of the lake, the Grand Lake Theater still features its original organ in working order.
Knowland Park, in the Oakland Hills, is the home of the Oakland Zoo, which houses 300 exotic animals and includes an African Savanna habitat. At the Oakland International Airport is the Western Aerospace Museum, a full-scale aviation-history museum. Exhibits cover early aviation, women in aviation and more—all illustrated with vintage aircraft.
Oakland is known for its jazz and blues clubs. If you have a free evening, try Yoshi's (jazz served with a side of sushi at Jack London Square) or Eli's (known as the home of the West Coast blues).
About a half-hour east of Oakland, on the east side of the Oakland Hills, is the small town of Danville, home to one of California's outstanding automotive museums. The eclectic Blackhawk Museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and features rotating exhibits on natural history, pop culture and other wide-ranging subjects.
The museum's piece de resistance is its display of about 90 one-of-a-kind luxury collector cars, including a dramatic presentation of coach-built cars. Car connoisseurs will appreciate Rudolph Valentino's Isotta-Fraschini, a maharajah's Daimler, Clark Gable's Deusenberg and FDR's Packard as well as such rareties as a 1903 Mors J. Rothschild & Fils limousine, a 1909 Winton Touring Model 17, a 1911 Mercedes Labourdette Skiff and the 1937 Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye 135, among others. http://www.blackhawkmuseum.org.
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