California’s East Bay offers culinary delights, scenic lakes and shopping

Bring the kids for fun times at the Oakland Zoo, Children’s Fairyland and more.

California’s East Bay, which encompasses the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, is a bustling region just across the harbor from San Fransisco and an hour’s drive from the Napa and Sonoma valleys. It’s a destination chock full of art and culture, escapes into nature, culinary delights and off-the-beaten-path family experiences.

Start your day in Berkeley with breakfast at La Note (2377 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-1525, lanoterestaurant.com), a French-inspired bistro popular with students from the nearby University of California, Berkeley. Think lemon gingerbread pancakes and poached pears and omelets filled with potato and caramelized onion.

Next, walk it off in Berkeley’s busy Fourth Street district (for reference use1834 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-644-3002, fourthstreet.com) a neighborhood lined with independently-owned shops and cafes, like the kid-friendly Five Little Monkeys (1810 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-833-3958, 5littlemonkeys.com/), a toy store and crafts classroom. It’s walking distance to Berkeley’s marina, and its Adventure Playground (510-981-6720, cityofberkeley.info/adventureplayground/, free), a unique play space right on the water. 

Take a stroll along Lake Merritt, (for reference: Lake Merritt Boulevard and Lakeside Drive, Oakland, lakemerritt.org) a picturesque saltwater tidal lagoon and wildlife refuge in the middle of Oakland’s city center. The waterway is very close to the Oakland Museum (1000 Oak St., Oakland, 510-632-9525, https://museumca.org/, adults/$16, seniors /$11, children 9-17/$7) which houses permanent exhibitions focused on science, California history and art. On Friday nights, there’s live music and food trucks — and admission drops to half price. It’s also a stone’s throw from the retro theme park Children’s Fairyland (699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland, 510-452-2259, fairyland.org, adults and kids 1 and over/$12).

Next, grab a dockside table at the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar and Grill (1520 Lakeside Dr., Oakland, 510-208-5253, thelakechalet.com) located on Lake Merritt’s waterfront. Housed in an old boathouse, the restaurant serves farm-to-table California dishes like fresh fish ceviches, tacos and pasta with seafood sautéed in white wine and tomatoes.

Kids get a menagerie all to themselves at the Oakland Zoo (9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland, oaklandzoo.org, ages 15 and over/$24, ages 2-14 and most seniors/$20), which emphasizes learning through play. Check out the interactive bug house and a goat petting yard, and don’t miss riding in the zoo’s gondola, which passes grazing bison and has scenic views of San Francisco Bay.

For outdoorsy fun, there’s plenty to do at the more than 2,000-acre Tilden Regional Park (2501 Grizzly Peak, Berkeley, 510-544-2747, ebparks.org/parks/tilden), where there are several free or low-cost attractions suited for little ones. The park’s Little Farm is home to cows, pigs, chickens, goats and rabbits, and there’s a botanic garden, a carousel and a steam train that passes around the park. Tiden Park has also got its own lake, where visitors can swim and picnic.

For a special treat, head to Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood, for Donato & Co. (2635 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, 510-838-1131, donatoandco.com/), an Italian restaurant serving modern, hearty dishes like braised oxtails over risotto and wild swordfish with black rice — all paired with a large selection of Italian wines.

GOOD TO KNOW

Getting there: JetBlue offers nonstop flights to Oakland International Airport from NYC’s John F. Kennedy Airport. From there, both Berkeley and Oakland are a short cab ride away.

Getting around: The BART System runs throughout the East Bay area, and the cities of Oakland and Berkeley are walkable, but car services like Uber and Lyft are also ubiquitous.

Where to stay: Perched in the Berkeley hills with views of San Francisco Bay, the century-old Claremont Hotel and Spa (41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley, 510-843-3000, fairmont.com/claremont-berkeley) boasts amenities including three restaurants, a world-class spa, a tennis club and a pool area made famous by 1993’s “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-7800, berkeleycityclub.com) is a historic boutique property in the former women’s club that has an early 20th Century vibe, but with modern touches, like complimentary Wi-Fi. Its location downtown makes it a convenient starting point to tour the city.

Jennifer H. Cunningham