Says Oak­land is a must-do when head­ing to the Bay area

Rochdale Observer - - TRAVEL -

IT must be hard hav­ing a younger, hip­per, more in­ter­est­ing brother.

I wouldn’t know, of course, be­cause in my fam­ily I am the younger, hip­per, more in­ter­est­ing brother.

Which is why I don’t re­ally know how San Fran­cisco feels about Oak­land, the city across the Bay.

I’m jok­ing, of course there is a lot that is hip and in­ter­est­ing about San Fran­cisco, but Oak­land has cer­tainly got an edge at the mo­ment. It is, as they say, the place to be.

And if you take ad­van­tage of the new flights from Manch­ester di­rect to San Fran­cisco from Vir­gin At­lantic, the first air­line to sched­ule di­rect flights on the ManFran route, you could do a lot worse than to set aside a day or three to check out all there is to of­fer across the Bay Bridge.

You will, of course, have to do San Fran­cisco as well - and there are two head­line ac­tiv­i­ties that every­one who vis­its there just has to do. But more on that later. that most dreaded of ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment ex­pres­sions – gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

It hasn’t lost all its edge, though – it is widely re­garded as be­ing one of the most de­mo­graph­i­cally di­verse cities in all of the United States.

That in it­self makes it a very in­ter­est­ing place to visit. There truly is a healthy mix of cul­tures that man­age, on the face of it at least, to avoid clash­ing.

They mean there’s more to the place than the sum of its parts.

Our visit fo­cused on the down­town area around Tele­graph Av­enue, a street which runs from the cen­tre of town all the way up to the edge of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia cam­pus in the neigh­bour­ing city of Berke­ley to the north.

With its ex­traor­di­nar­ily di­verse col­lec­tion of shops, restau­rants and cafes, Tele­graph Av­enue is a big at­trac­tion for tourists, and you should cer­tainly make a walk along its length the cen­tre­piece of your visit.

Look out for the beau­ti­fully re­stored Fox The­atre, now a fan­tas­tic mu­sic venue.

Next door is my first eat­ing out rec­om­men­da­tion – Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, a very cool diner part-owned by Mike Dirnt, the bass player from the band Green Day, which hails from these parts.

Green Day fans can also visit the gui­tar shop owned by the band’s front­man Bil­lie Joe Arm­strong, Bro­ken Gui­tars, in the hip Temescal district of Oak­land, on the way up to Berke­ley just off Tele­graph Av­enue.

You won’t be short of places to stop for a drink or a bite to eat, but for a cut-above din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence visit the “mod­ern Amer­i­can” restau­rant Flora, just op­po­site the Fox The­atre.

Head­ing the other way down Tele­graph Av­enue you’ll even­tu­ally come to Broad­way, which takes you all the way down Jack Lon­don Square, named af­ter the cel­e­brated writer who hung out in these parts and has a statue here in his hon­our.

The square it­self boasts another se­lec­tion of eat­ing and drink­ing op­tions if you find Tele­graph Av­enue a bit too cool for you. Which you might.

Close to Jack Lon­don Square is But­ter­cup, the only place to visit for break­fasts (which are ab­so­lutely not for the faint­hearted). My son Finn en­joyed waf­fles with fried chicken for his.

There’s no doubt a lot more to see in Oak­land, and I loved my first toe-dip into its wa­ters so much that a re­turn visit has made it onto the itin­er­ary for my next sum­mer hol­i­days.

We stayed at the Oak­land Mar­riott City Cen­tre – it’s on Broad­way, close to the ac­tion, and has re­cently been re­fur­bished.

It’s not too pricey, but per­fectly com­fort­able, and it’s a great cen­tral lo­ca­tion. We’ll be back in there next sum­mer, too.

Our time in San Fran­cisco was all too brief – we spent more time in Oak­land than in the Bay Area’s main at­trac­tion.

But as first time vis­i­tors there were two things that we needed to tick off our list – a visit to Al­ca­traz Is­land and a cy­cle across the Golden Gate Bridge.

We stayed at the Parc 55 ho­tel close to Union Square in the city – ideally lo­cated by the Pow­ell Street BART sta­tion, which will be your best way of get­ting from the air­port into the city, and up to Oak­land be­yond.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Tran­sit) is a rail sys­tem that runs from the air­port, some 13 miles south of down­town San Fran­cisco, up through the city, across the Bay to Oak­land, with four lines then fan­ning out to con­nect with Rich­mond, Pitts­burg (no, not Pitts­burgh), Dublin (no, not that Dublin), and Fre­mont.

It’s by far the cheap­est and fastest way to get from the air­port into San Fran­cisco.

How in­ter­est­ing can a for­mer prison be? That was my ques­tion, as my son – who has ap­par­ently vis­ited a vir­tual Al­ca­traz many times, shoot­ing zom­bies in one or other of the Call of Duty games – as he pestered for a visit to the real thing.

Of course Al­ca­traz isn’t just any old prison – the fa­mous say­ing goes some­thing like “if you break the rules, you go to prison, if you break the prison rules, you go to Al­ca­traz”.

In other words, it housed the cream of the crim­i­nal crop - in­clud­ing Al Capone and Robert “The Bird Man” Stroud – dur­ing its sur­pris­ingly brief 29-year ca­reer as a fed­eral prison.

It closed in 1963, a vic­tim of cost-cut­ting. The prison build­ings were erod­ing badly be­cause of its salty lo­ca­tion on an is­land in San Fran­cisco Bay.

You can catch a ferry out to the is­land from Pier 33 in San Fran­cisco, and once on the is­land are free to wan­der around for as long as you like.

The cen­tre­piece of the visit, though, has to be the au­dio tour (in­cluded in the price).

It takes you around the prison block on the is­land, de­scrib­ing the var­i­ous es­cape at­tempts and point­ing out the cells of the most fa­mous pris­on­ers.

It’s all the more af­fect­ing as the tour is nar­rated in part by for­mer guards and pris­on­ers who ac­tu­ally spent time on the is­land.

As the an­nouncer on the ferry told us as we made our way out to the is­land… ‘“Al­ca­traz is so much more than just a prison”.

If you want to visit Al­ca­traz you must book in ad­vance – very few tick­ets are avail­able on the day and you’ll have to get up very early to snag one. Visit al­ca­trazcruises.com for all the de­tails – tick­ets cost $37.25 for a day-tour and it’s to­tally worth it.

The bridge from San Fran­cisco across the mouth of the Bay to Marin County is one of the most recog­nis­able land­marks in the world.

Opened in 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge is an ab­so­lute must on a visit to San Fran­cisco.

It’s one of those land­marks that doesn’t dis­ap­point – de­spite be­ing so fa­mil­iar, it re­mains more breath­tak­ing in real life than it ever could be in a pho­to­graph.

And cy­cling across it, de­spite be­ing a some­what alarm­ing prospect given the high winds, is just one of those things you must do on your first visit to San Fran­cisco.

You can pick up a bike for hire on Beach Street at the hi­lar­i­ously named Blaz­ing Sad­dles – it’s cheap at around $8 an hour, and you can make it across the bridge and back from there in less than three hours.

Beach Street is just up the road from another tourist hotspot in Fish­er­man’s Wharf, which should be avoided un­less you like large crowds, tacky gift shops, and seafood restau­rants.

Any­way, cy­cling across the bridge of­fers one of those won­der­ful travel moments when you can’t quite be­lieve where you are and what you’re do­ing. And al­though it’s quite a re­lief to be out of the wind when you get back across – the sense of ac­com­plish­ment is re­ward­ing.

If you like, you can cy­cle all the way up to Sausal­ito in Marin County, ditch the bikes there and take the ferry back, which is more than we had time for.

Our 36 hours in San Fran­cisco was packed with just those two ad­ven­tures.

And that’s why SF, too, is on the list for a re­visit next year. Our few days in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia was a mere taster for a fuller Cal­i­for­nia ex­pe­ri­ence.

We didn’t head home af­ter­wards, we headed south in an RV on an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent ad­ven­ture.

●●The view from the Oak­land Mar­riot City Cen­ter

●●Finn and Justin Con­nolly af­ter cy­cling across the Golden Gate Bridge

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