THINK of a city break to California and, most likely, it’ll be Los Angeles, San Fransisco and San Diego that come to mind.
But there is far more to the state than that and a new low-cost route from Gatwick opens up all kinds of options.
Norwegian Airlines now flies direct to Oakland, which, as well as being just across the bay from the more glamorous San Francisco, has a lot to offer in its own right.
Californians will tell you the state ranks as the eighth largest economy in the world (or higher depending on to whom you speak) and the state capital, Sacramento, is just an hour and a half’s drive to the north-east of Oakland. The life-size bronze bear that Arnold Schwarzenegger left behind at the entrance to the office when he finished his stint as governor is nearly worth the drive alone.
The flight into Oakland takes about 10 hours in a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. On my visit I had the luxury of flying in the premium cabin, which though not up to traditional transatlantic first class standards is very comfortable and comes at a fraction of the cost.
Oakland itself is a busy, working city and the fifth largest port in the country.
We visited the Temescal neighbourhood which is packed with coffee shops and independent traders.
The secreted-away Temescal Alley boasts a book shop, called Book/ Shop, which sells an ever-changing stock of collectable literature, and a gallery space displaying works for sale by local artists, among other gems. At Jack London Square you’ll find restaurants, bars and wine traders, perfect for outdoor dining and socialising.
Moored beside the square is the USS Potomac, which was not only President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht during the Second World War but was later owned by Elvis Presley. These days it is used for cruises.
Oakland Museum of California boasts not only the usual offering of art and culture, but live music on Friday evenings, with catering from a fleet of up to 20 food trucks.
The city certainly has its charms but it is undeniable that one of its chief attractions is San Francisco. Sharing a metro system within a few stops you have crossed under the bay.
We stayed in the Oakland Marriott City Center hotel and the journey to San Francisco on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) metro system takes just 12 minutes – less time than it takes to get from Waterloo to Camden in London. Little needs to be said about San Francisco. Whether it is Dirty Harry or Sly and the Family Stone, it is a city embedded in popular culture.
I would only add that hiring a bicycle to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, before crossing back on the ferry from Sausalito, past Alcatraz Island, is well worth the effort.
Sacramento may lack the ocean but it too has plenty going for it, including a rich history. Though decked up for tourists, Old Sacramento retains some of its original buildings and is home to some impressive museums.
Sacramento History Museum does as it says on the sign, telling the story of the city’s gold rush history, and gives visitors a chance to try their hand panning for gold.
California State Railroad Museum may sound made for train enthusiasts but anyone entering its halls cannot but be impressed by the sheer mass and power of the engines on display. Across the tracks is the restored Delta King Riverboat which is now a hotel, bar and restaurant (vegetarians will not be disappointed by the tasty black bean burger).
A short walk from Old Sacramento is the impressive Crocker Art Museum which has plenty to explore, from California and around the world. While I was there Andy Warhol: Portraits was the main event – certainly the largest Warhol collection I’ve seen in one place.
With national parks like Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree; major cultural and historical centres; and hundreds of miles of coastline, California can compete with many countries as a tourist destination, whatever its economic chart position.
n NEW ROUTE: The Norwegian Dreamliner 787-9 The West Coast city of Oakland may not be some visitors first choice of destination, but ANDRé LANGLOIS finds it is an ideal base from which to explore the great state of California