Hidden Gems of the East Bay

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Hidden Gems of the East Bay

No matter what your interests, the East Bay offers incredible diversity, cultural richness, and natural beauty. Here are 10 hidden gems that you can find around the Bay.

Port Costa

A small scenic town founded in 1879, Port Costa is ideal for a relaxing day trip –– you may feel as if you’re going back in time! Be sure to visit  The Warehouse Café, a kitschy watering hole. And don’t miss  incredible dining at the Bull Valley Roadhouse –– family style meals done to a “T.” Across the street you’ll find The Burlington Hotel (1883), a “Victorian jewel” that has been renovated and now draws people to its cafe. Once a bordello, this building is said to be haunted, with secret passages throughout. But our favorite hidden treasure is Wendy Addison’s Theatre of Dreams, open the first weekend of every month at 11 Canyon Lake Drive. Her mad skills with paper and scissors is off the charts; you’ll find vintage and handmade paper goods and decor that is utterly inventive and beautiful.

Albany Bulb

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Okay, this place is just weird. And fun. Known for its art and stunning Bay views, this former landfill (read: construction dumping ground) is now a public park, full of unusual artwork created by local artists. You’ll discover sculptures, graffiti, and a fair amount of installations. There’s often a lot of rebar sticking up or lying around, so watch your step. See why “urban wild” lives on at the Bulb.

Point Isabel

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Off-leash dog areas are a thing here!

Richmond also offers a shoreline destination: Point Isabel has 22 acres of paradise for your pooch. As one fan bluntly puts it, “Point Isabel is the best off-leash dog park on the planet,” which isn’t surprising, since it’s the largest off-leash dog park in the country. Open to visitors between 5 am and 10 pm; bring a leash to carry, and keep Fido within sight. Hot tip: go at sunset. WOW. What a view! And best to go on a weekday to avoid rush hour traffic.

Point Pinole

If you can’t get enough of our local scenery, visit Point Pinole, too. Also in Richmond, this state historic landmark has scenic trails leading through marshlands, eucalyptus woods, and beach. The payoff? You’ll discover views of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin shore. We think East Bay Parks says it best: “The journey is as scenic as the destination.” Tip: Before you go, check the official site for up-to-date info, as sometimes the trail is closed after heavy rains.

Secret Pathways

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Discover the lush hidden pathways and vibrant floral displays of the Berkeley Hills by picking a path and exploring. There are 126 pedestrian paths in Berkeley, most of them tended by dedicated volunteers.  Standing at the corner of The Alameda and Solano Avenue in Berkeley, California, you’d never guess that just 3 blocks east, following a concrete path tucked between two homes, you’d end up in an open space called Indian Rock Park. Indian Rock Path is one the many public pathways which connect residential areas to natural locations. This  collection of footpaths, actually a vast network of walkways all over the city, allowed early residents to use secret pathways to reach rail stations and street cards. Today Indian Rock is one of our favorite places; a stairway carved into this immense stone leads one up 50 feet to a fabulous vista point. Kids come to practice climbing, friends bring picnics and perch at the top, watching clouds and taking in the city skyline.

Using hidden pathways, you could walk a big loop from the Berkeley Rose Garden all the way to Lake Anza. Granted, it’s hilly terrain and might take a while, but you’ll share the path with wild turkeys…

Rose Garden

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Speaking of the Rose Garden, With more than 1500 rose bushes of 250 varieties and wonderful Bay views, the Rose Garden is not to be missed. Inhale!  Hot tip: the garden opens at 6 am and stays open till 10 pm. Eat nearby at the Cheeseboard or visit Saul’s Deli.

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A Scent Museum

In a small Berkeley backyard cottage at 1518-1/2 Walnut St you’ll find the first museum in the whole country dedicated to natural fragrances: The Aftel Archive of Curious Scent. Here you can touch, see, and smell the raw materials used to make perfume. The outdoor garden annex offers over forty essences made from fruits, flowers, grasses, trees, and animal secretions. Open only on Saturdays, from 10-6. The New York Times said of the Aftel Archive: “This tiny museum manages to contain the olfactory history of the world: hundreds of natural essences, raw ingredients and antique tinctures gathered from every corner of the globe, and all available for visitors to smell. Spending an hour in here, which is what one is allotted with the purchase of a $20 ticket, is an emotional journey of inhaling odors that conjure ancient civilizations and one’s own past.” Mandy Aftel has created real magic in her backyard.

The Claremont

The stately Claremont Hotel, just twelve miles from San Francisco, is a landmark worth exploring. Opened back in 1915 for wealthy city dwellers and visitors, the Claremont offers a gracious restaurant and bar, as well as a spa, tennis courts, and a spectacular view. On a clear day this perch is the perfect place for a luxurious getaway, or simply savor a drink on the deck high above all the hustle and bustle. And before you head home: stroll down the driveway to Domingo Avenue. Right next to Peet’s you can pick up a delicious Fournee tart or croissant; this is one of the best French bakeries around!

Sci-Fi Bookstore

Not far from the elegant Claremont Hotel sits the quirkiest bookstore ever––a Sci-Fi, fiction, mystery bookstore and gift shop called Dark Carnival. This wondrous (and humorous, and utterly delightful ) shop has been there forever, which is to say. almost 50 years. Stacked to the brim with titles and odd toys, you’ll find plenty to enjoy. This is a super place to find unusual gifts for the young reader in your life. Grownups love Dark Carnival, too! Cruise on down to 3086 Claremont Ave (open 10:30-7 most days).  Check out all the nooks and crannies. And if you’re lucky you’ll get to have a friendly chat with owner Jack Rems.

Urban Ore

Not too long ago, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about this ginormous facility which houses, well, everything, including multiple kitchen sinks: “Entering the vast warehouse that is the Urban Ore salvage yard in Berkeley has the uncanny feeling of wading into the subconscious of a well-organized hoarder.” This 3-acre eco-park repurposes and sells building materials, furniture, clothing, art supplies, theater seats, film props, stage lights, Zero Gravity recliners and funky old jewelry. And that’s just the beginning. Be sure to visit this great destination for the curious; it’s a delight for bargain hunters.