Many of us have beaten a well-worn path to San Francisco, but how often have we explored the “other” side of the Bay?
In our last two trips to the Bay area, most recently this October, my husband and I have chosen to stay in Berkeley – partly for the cost (cheaper accommodation) and partly because it’s much more laid back. Over seven days with a seniors’ travel card, we travelled constantly on BART (rapid transit), trolleys and buses for only $20. The accommodation in the East Bay, especially Berkeley, mostly consists of elderly Spanish-style motels that have been purchased by large hotel chains and modernized (at least on the inside).
So, what’s the pull of the East Bay, you may ask. Staying near the UC Berkeley campus we were treated to a plethora of international restaurants, an opportunity for concerts, and the ever-present smell of the huge eucalyptus trees that border the campus. We attended the opening night of the Berkeley Symphony – a 75-member ensemble that played beautifully. The players were predominantly quite elderly and we assume that many are emeritus professors of the Music Department. One violinist, for example, was lauded on stage for achieving his 49th year with the orchestra!
One day we took BART to downtown Oakland, where we spent an enjoyable morning at the Oakland Museum of California. Within its sprawling rooms is told the whole history of the state, including the gold-mining era, railroad building, agriculture, and so much more. The story is long and the displays told a brutally honest story of the killing of Indigenous dwellers and the cruelty shown towards Chinese railroad builders and Mexican farm labourers, Upbeat sections told of the rise of the film industry and the attempts of folks to grow their own food locally.
A travelling exhibit visually displaying the history of the Burning Man annual gathering in Nevada was the highlight of our museum visit. Many of the strange artifacts displayed are still in use, and others were assembled in homes and transported to events over the years. A car made of pots and pans and a huge lighted mushroom that opens to display more colours are only two of the fanciful objects on display.
Another day my husband decided that we should take BART to the end of a line, but we decided instead to hop off at Walnut Creek. At first glance, it is a maze of concrete and glass buildings, many of which seem to lack business tenants. But we knew from our research that a lovely succulent garden lies as a hidden gem a short cab ride away. The 3.5 acre Bancroft Garden is filled with desert plants from around the world – some tiny, some huge. Sprinkled around the garden are old metal or wooden chairs and tables placed so one can relax and listen to the birds and bees.
Of course we did not ignore San Francisco itself. We did lots of wandering, ate several great meals, took a ferry to Tiburon, and generally acted the way tourists act! It’s a 30-minute trip by BART.
The one down side of our trip was the evidence of fires raging from the north – the Bay area became smokier each day, as temperatures ranged from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of October. More and more folks were being uprooted from threatened homes in Sonoma County. As we made ready to return to the Coast, we were warned that power in the Bay Area would be shut down later in the day, so we hightailed it to the airport to avoid being stranded. Although, in hindsight, it’s a great place to be stranded – if the power is on!