There's more to the Bay Area than San Francisco. Contra Costa County and Alameda County generally have finer weather than their better-known counterpart, and they're full of leisure activities and beautiful nature. From the innovative cities of Oakland and Berkeley to Robert Sibley Volcanic Park, Wildcat Canyon, and the countryside of Del Valle Regional Park, the East Bay will not disappoint. That's something the region has in common with its beloved Golden State Warriors. In 2016, Condé Nast Traveler named Concord one of the best places to retire in the entire world. Your East Bay education begins here.
Open since 1883; this museum and dome planetarium makes learning about NASA, space travel, and astronomical phenomena a blast for kids and adults. You can test the powerful observatory telescopes when you attend evening stargazing sessions over the weekends. Because it's situated in Redwoods Regional Park, spend part of your day biking or strolling between the Coast Redwood trees before lifting your gaze to the skies after sunset.
You can enter Mt Diablo State Park from Walnut Creek or Danville. Climb or drive to the summit at 3849ft for breathtaking views of the bay and the Farallon Islands and out to the Sierra Nevada when looking eastward. There are miles upon miles of trails, and when you're done walking, you can head for historic small inland towns and one of America's oldest wine regions to take a breather. Walnut Creek is also known for its shopping, so you know where to go if you like to get your steps in stores.
Moe's Books, one of the best bookstores in the nation, has cast an appraising eye over rare and collectible books for over 60 years. This landmark on the equally renowned Telegraph Avenue is California's version of The Strand in Manhattan and comprises four floors of new and used books. Bookworms are guaranteed to find something to gift to themselves or a loved one, and it's worth checking out the biography of the store's dramatic founder. You'll come across classics, antique books, academic texts, and every genre and subject imaginable, including a children's section. The Channing Durant Garage is an excellent place to park, FYI.
Not everyone's into books—we get it. Thankfully, Telegraph Avenue is just a stone's throw from UC Berkeley and packed with other attractions. Amoeba Music is the world's largest indie record store. Then there's Walrus, a place for upcycled treasures. Be warned—you'll often be tempted to part with your money. Many live performances occur on the first Friday of every month, so try and time your visit accordingly. When you're in the mood for some grub, visit Burma Superstar for tea leaf salad and samosas.
Oakland's Temescal Alley is arguably the East Bay's most hip street. Check out Ali Golden's boutique for chic women's clothing made in the Bay Area. Find interior decor accents and unique jewelry at Esqueleto and Marisa Mason—the beautiful pieces here are made by local artisans. Procuring pizza from Pizzaiolo is mandatory, and you'll rave about the antipasti too. Arrive early to avoid gastronomic disappointment. Finally, get a haircut the old-school way at Temescal Alley Barber Shop.
Crown Memorial State Beach on Alameda Island's western shore is a hub for locals looking to swim, windsurf, kiteboard, kayak, barbeque, or play tennis. Some areas are wheelchair-accessible, so everyone in your group can enjoy themselves and get a dose of vitamin D. Parking is straightforward, the views are pretty, and you'll be able to just relax for a bit amid a potentially hectic holiday schedule. Kids can splash in the tidal pools and check out the crab museum, and the pathways are dog-friendly.
San Francisco's painted ladies are travel-brochure-worthy. These colorful Victorian and Edwardian buildings show up on shows like Full House and are fascinating to learn about, whatever your interests. A 4-mile walking tour will give you the lowdown on the architecture, and you'll likely pass the angular and ornate Queen Anne houses facing Franklin Park. City Hall and the Masonic Temple are some of the other highlights you might encounter. Many of Alameda's Victorians were designed in the 19th century by Marcuse and Remmel.
Lake Merritt is where Oaklanders go for a brief break from urban life. You'll see loads of folks running the 3.5-mile circular path around the lake, but you'll quickly realize there's more to this place than a boathouse and gondola rides. There's a bonsai garden, a bird sanctuary, a kid's amusement park, and a highly-recommended donut shop on East 18th Street called Vegan Donut Gelato for those with a penchant for sugar. Get the classic jelly or matcha donut, the lemon cheesecake gelato, a bear claw, cinnamon rolls, or the yummy apple fritters.
Yoshi's began as a sushi bar before becoming an acclaimed jazz bar and club with 310 seats wrapped around a live performance stage. The venue is intimate and classy and has stellar acoustics. Go hungry and get your fill of delicious Japanese cuisine—the shrimp and scallop fritters receive particular praise. Service is friendly and efficient too. Overall, this is a fab spot for a date or a night out with pals in Jack London Square.
You've got your pick of 10 eateries when you head to Swan's Market's upscale food court. Expect A-plus oysters, sausages, cupcakes, and noodles—basically, all your breakfast, lunch, and dinner cravings will be satisfied at this buzzy eat-out spot. This is Old Oakland, and the market's housed within a registered historical building constructed in 1917.
Tilden Regional Park is a Berkeley gem. The little ones will have plenty to occupy them with steam engine rides, a vintage merry-go-round, and the Little Farm. Bring celery and lettuce to feed the animals, swim at Lake Anza, or play a round of golf. For the more active in your party, the Bay Area Ridge Trail is a 550-mile multiuse trail linking numerous parks.
Even if you've never heard the name before, you've likely felt the impact of John Muir's efforts. After all, he helped co-found the Sierra Club, and his passion for conservation and the environment played a part in establishing the National Parks Service. Visit Muir's home in Martinez and explore the surrounding area via oft-held hikes and nature-related events.
Chez Panisse is the kind of unpretentious eatery you hope will get recognition. And indeed it has, with a Michelin star coming and going over the years. Alice Waters opened this restaurant over five decades ago with a simple farm-to-table ethos. The focus on regenerative agriculture has meant that ingredients are always ethically sourced, fresh, and of the highest quality. You have to try the galette desserts.
This national historical park pays homage to the women's equality and civil rights movements. During the Second World War, a recruitment poster depicting a bandana-donning lady with a flexed bicep and the caption "We Can Do It!" would become an iconic image of the working woman. Prior to the war, women were often confined to the home and domestic work, but when many men went off to fight, there was a glaring hole in the labor force, and the rest, as they say, is history. You can learn all about it in Richmond.
Do you have skydiving on your bucket list? You can get a taste of what awaits you at iFly Indoor Skydiving in Union City. The vertical wind tunnel may activate your fear of heights, but the environment is safe, and you'll get a thrill out of lifting off the ground. Fun for all ages!
Early iterations of pinball and pachinko machines first came about in the 18th Century. That's a lot of history rolled up into one recreational pastime. Lean into the nostalgia at this niche museum in Alameda, complete with jukeboxes, rare bagatelles, and dozens of playable pinball machines.
The waterfront at Berkeley Marina has a long, largely defunct pier, a Yacht Harbor, and Cesar Chavez Park, which is fantastic for kite flying, jogging, and dog walking. You can see out to Alcatraz, AKA The Rock, and Angel Island.
Why, pray tell, would anyone want to spend time at a cemetery on vacation? Well, when it's been designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the legendary landscape architect who created Central Park in New York and many other favored urban green spaces, you can't not visit. Mountain View is tranquil, ideal for a stroll, and offers some of the most rewarding views in the area. Look at some of the memorials to the socialites of yesteryear for insight into life in the Bay Area back in the day. After you pay your respects, Fenton's Creamery down the road will make you glad you still have your corporeal form for all the ice cream you're about to consume.
Who thought a museum could be a cool place to hang out on a Friday night? The OMCA ensures all are welcome, from the elementary schoolers in the family to grandma. Learn everything you've ever wanted to know about the Golden State and get answers to questions you never thought to ask.
Look, just about every major city has a botanical garden. With so much to see and do in the East Bay, why is UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden on this list? It's simply a cut above the rest with one of the most impressive plant collections in the U.S., and various specimens are studied by researchers around the globe. Themed sections cover different habitats, and there's flora from the Americas, the Mediterranean, and southern Africa, for example. Check out the giant cacti and the carnivorous plants. The garden isn't flat, so you'll feel like you're hiking in certain parts, and the air has a natural floral perfume.