The other side of San Fran Bay: Discover Oakland

Associated Press
In this photo taken Wednesday July 4, 2012 a gondola makes its way past the skyline along Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif. It’s not easy being Oakland. Growing up in the shadow of an icon is never a shoe-in, whether you’re a wannabe princess related to that attention-grabbing vamp Cinderella or a city living next door to fabled San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — It's not easy being Oakland, existing in the shadow of glamorous San Francisco. But this is no ugly stepsister of a city.

It's true Oakland has some big-city blues, including a perennial struggle with crime; this is one of those places where you want to stay aware of your surroundings. But whether you live in the area or are just contemplating a quick stopover during a visit to that other city by the bay, Oakland has a lot to offer, from elegant neighborhoods and beautiful parks to a thriving food and arts scene. Not to mention lighter crowds and generally balmier weather than the big city.

Getting here from San Francisco is as simple as driving east across the Bay Bridge or catching the Richmond or Pittsburg/Bay Point Bay Area Rapid Transit trains to the 12th or 19th Street stations that put you in the heart of Oakland. What to do? Here are few things to consider.

GET INTO A GONDOLA: Row, row, row your boat is one way to go, but wouldn't it be more relaxing to have someone else do the heavy lifting? You can take a gondola — yes, gondola — ride from the Lake Chalet restaurant on Lake Merritt, which serves as a relaxing oasis near downtown. Also at the lake are paddle or other boat rentals, restaurants and cafes, a jogging path and a bird sanctuary (watch where you step). Catch a movie at the Grand Lake Theater at the top of the lake, home to a mighty Wurlitzer that plays before selected shows. Or, if you have small children in tow, take in the mild thrills of Children's Fairyland, an amusement park for the pint-sized set.

SEE STARS: Catch a musical act at the renovated Fox Theater; see a classic movie amid the old-time glamour of the Paramount Theater; settle in for some cool jazz at Yoshi's Oakland. Or go for a different type of stellar experience with a visit to the Chabot Space & Science Center set in the hills above the city.

STICK A FORK IN IT: For a restaurant with a casual vibe, try Plum and adjoining Plum Bar in the Uptown neighborhood. Reclaimed wooden tables and benches and an open kitchen set the mood here with the focus on local products. Another option is Camino, not far from the Grand Lake Theater, where local specialties are cooked in a wood-fired oven right in the dining room. For a chilly treat, visit Fenton's Creamery, a hometown favorite that just may look familiar. It was featured in the movie "Up" made by Pixar, headquartered just across the border from Oakland in Emeryville.

SOAK IN A LITTLE HISTORY: The USS Potomac, a Coast Guard cutter that became FDR's "Floating White House," had a rough time of it after Roosevelt's death. After passing through the hands of a number of owners, it was seized in San Francisco in connection with drug smuggling and sank after being impounded. Left to rot on an estuary, the ship was rescued in the nick of time from becoming scrap and was painstakingly restored. You can take a dockside tour, join one of the cruises scheduled throughout the year or even charter the vessel yourself for a very special event.

HIT THE (URBAN) WINE SCENE: Visit wine country, minus the country. Oakland is home to a number of urban wineries, many of them scattered along decidedly unromantic Fourth Street. You won't find vistas of sweeping greenery here but you may encounter some enthusiastic vintners and interesting wines. Of note, Dashe Cellars, producer of some standout zinfandels.

LONELY PLANET FAVE: One of the world's biggest travel guidebook publishers, Lonely Planet, happens to have its U.S. headquarters in Oakland. And where do these world travelers go for fun after work when they don't want to stray too far from the office? The Linden Street Brewery, an Oakland microbrewery with a taproom.

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If You Go...

GONDOLA SERVIZIO: 1520 Lakeside Drive, Oakland; http://www.gondolaservizio.com or 510-663-6603. Reservations strongly recommended. Thirty-minute gondola tours started at $40 a couple.

LAKE CHALET SEAFOOD BAR & GRILL: 1520 Lakeside Drive; http://www.thelakechalet.com or 510-208-5253.

GRAND LAKE THEATER: 3200 Grand Ave.; http://www.renaissancerialto.com or 510-452-3556.

CHILDREN'S FAIRYLAND: 699 Bellevue Ave.; http://fairyland.org or 510-452-2259. Open daily in summer, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Admission $8, children under 1 free. No adult admitted without a child; no child admitted without an adult.

FOX THEATER: 1807 Telegraph Ave.; http://www.thefoxoakland.com or 510-302-2250.

PARAMOUNT THEATER: 2025 Broadway; http://www.paramounttheater.com or 510-465-6400.

YOSHI'S OAKLAND JAZZ CLUB AND RESTAURANT: 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square; http://www.yoshis.com/oakland/ or 510-238-9200. Acts upcoming in August include Elvin Bishop Band, Ravi Coltrane, Jonathan Butler, The Blackbyrds. Dinner: Monday-Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 4 p.m.-9 p.m.

CHABOT SPACE & SCIENCE CENTER: 10000 Skyline Blvd., http://www.chabotspace.org or 510-336-7300. Closed Mondays. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. most days, and until 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Adult s, $15.95; children 3-12, $11.95.

PLUM RESTAURANT: 2214 Broadway, http://www.plumoakland.com or 510-444-7586.

CAMINO RESTAURANT: 3917 Grand Ave., http://www.caminorestaurant.com or 510-547-5035. Closed Tuesdays.

FENTONS CREAMERY & RESTAURANT: 4226 Piedmont Ave., http://www.fentonscreamery.com or 510-658-7000. Open until 11 p.m. most days.

POTOMAC: 540 Water St., http://www.usspotomac.org or 510-627-1215. Dockside, free guided tours, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. Cruises start at $45 per adult, $40 for seniors.

DASHE CELLARS: 55 Fourth St., 510-452-1800. Thursday-Sunday, 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Mondays by appointment only. Tasting fee $5 per person.

LINDEN STREET BREWERY: 95 Linden St., http://www.lindenbeer.com/ or 510-812-1264. Taproom open Tuesday-Friday, 5 p.m.-8 p.m., Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Tours by appointment only.

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