Golden won­der

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS -

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

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