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The Best of the East Bay 2015

Romping through Martinez's wild hills, noshing on Oakland's Caribbean fare, and simultaneously guzzling beer and playing with kids in Berkeley.

Friday nights at Oakland Museum of California

 

Read more of the Best of San Francisco 2015 here.

 

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Recreational Adult Dodgeball 

Outdoor Bar: Lost & Found Beer Garden
2040 Telegraph Ave. (Near 21st St.), Oakland, 510-763-2040
Between the cornhole boards and that East Bay sun, it’s easy to spend several hours—or, hell, the entire afternoon—sucking down local saisons and snacking on fried chickpeas in this Uptown beer garden, whose sprawling, succulent-studded backyard is about twice as big and half as crowded as comparable back patios in San Francisco.
Runner-Up: Forbidden Island, Alameda

Arts Event: First Fridays
Telegraph Ave. From W. Grand Ave. to 27th St., Oakland, oaklandfirstfridays.org
Yes, still. Over 10 years and many, many iterations after its founding, Oakland’s premier monthly festival is just as lively, multifaceted, and surprising as ever. enter at the corner of West Grand and Telegraph and wend your way north, stopping inside any (or many) of the festival’s 20-odd open-after-hours art galleries; taking in a free fashion show, dance performance, or impromptu stand-up comedy showcase; and, finally, ending up at the cluster of food trucks that park near 27th Street and Telegraph.
Runner-Up: Beast Crawl Lit Fest, Oakland

Campground: Briones Regional park
Brookwood Dr. and Reliez Valley Rd., ebparks.org
Between the rolling hills, the wildflower-covered canyons, and the fog-free weather, Briones— which offers three group camping sites as well as horseback riding, archery, and a number of hiking trails—feels worlds away from the urban East Bay. But in truth, it’s only a tidy 30-minute drive from downtown Oakland, making it an ideal destination for traffic- and stress-free weekend car camping. Bonus: It’s typically fairly easy to find a site, even at the last minute.
Runner-Up: Del Valle Regional Park, Livermore

Summer Camp: Urban Adventure Camps
urbanadventurecamps.com 
Mornings at day camp Urban Adventures begin at the Rockridge Bart station. But from there, who knows? Experienced counselors take each group (kept to 15 kids—ages 8 to 15— and organized around a theme, such as cooking, art, or science) to museums, zoos, historical sites, and various other places where they can get their hands dirty and their minds blown.
Runner-Up: Sarah’s Science, Castro Valley

Brewery: Drake’s Barrel House
1933 Davis St., Bldg. 177 (Near Timothy Dr.), San Leandro, 510-568-2739
Drake’s Brewing Company‘s popularity has stretched well beyond the East Bay for more than 25 years, thanks to the quality of its well-balanced, often very hop-forward beers. So we’re jumping for sheer sunny-day joy that it finally opened its new San Leandro beer garden, where you can sip on a brew from one of 24 taps (many of which feature special-edition, nitro, or cask beers), munch on a plate of duck-fat fries, and listen to live music.
Runner-Up: Jupiter, Berkeley

Family Night Out: Friday Nights at OMCA 
1000 Oak St. (Near 11th St.), Oakland, 510-318-8400
Sick of scrambling for a Friday-night activity that doesn’t involve screens or babysitters? Get thee to this off the grid–Oakland Museum of California collaboration, where you’ll find a rotating cast of food trucks, free live music, discounted museum admission, complimentary arts and crafts activities, and plenty of families to mingle with.
Runner-Up: Golden State Model Railroad Museum, Richmond

Rec League: Recreational Adult Dodgeball
radleague.com
This Oakland–based league’s acronym is “rad,” and it’s apt: this coed adult rec league offers the same sport you know and love from recess—except with special “no-sting” balls, a group bar outing afterward, and zero adolescent social anxiety. Rad is open to all experience levels; players can sign up as part of a full 15-member team or individually, and sessions run one night a week (currently Thursdays) for several weeks at Claremont Middle School.
Runner-Up: Waka Kickball Mosswood Park, Oakland

Art Classes: The Crucible
1260 7th St. (Near Union St.), Oakland, 510-444-0919
“Art classes” is a grave understatement: Classes on offer at this cavernous West Oakland studio space include—but are certainly not limited to—blacksmithing, enameling, jewelry making, welding, glass casting, and fire eating. They’re geared toward various experience levels, and price points are reasonable (from $315 for an eight-week session). Fall registration starts soon; don’t miss out on the chase to learn how to eat fire.
Runner-Up: UC Berkeley Art Studio, Berkeley

Sporting Evet: Bay Area Derby Girls
bayareaderbygirls.com 
Between the Warriors, the Raiders, the A’s, and the Golden Bears, the East Bay offers plenty of spectating opportunities. But if what you want is wall-to-wall athletic action with a healthy dose of self-aware show(wo)manship in the form of punny names and a generally goofy, nonaggressive atmosphere—plus a gorgeous setting in the form of richmond’s waterside Craneway Pavilion—you can’t do much better than the Bay Area Derby (aka Bad, get it?) Girls.
Runner-Up: Dollar Days at Golden Gate Fields, Berkeley

Eat + Drink

Bar Bites: Plum Bar + Restaurant
2214 Broadway (Near W. Grand Ave.), Oakland, 510-444-7586
Last year, when news broke that Daniel Patterson would be shuttering Plum to expand the more casual offshoot Plum Bar next door, the national food press was taken aback. But the truth is that Plum was always at its best making the kind of fun, maximalist food that it served as bar snacks. The crispy, smoked french fries with mezcal-infused ketchup, say, or the sausage and cheese gravy biscuits topped with a fried egg, or the two different half-pound cheeseburgers. It’s food best enjoyed with a group of friends and one of the bar’s excellent local draft beers.
Runner-Up: Fauna, Oakland

Caribbean: Miss Ollie’s
901 Washington St. (Near 9th St.), Oakland, 510-285-6188
At Sarah Kirnon’s sun-filled Old Oakland restaurant, the food is as bright and as joyful as the electric-orange homemade hot sauce served at the table. This is food you gush about to anyone who’ll listen: Shatteringly crisp, unaccountably plump and juicy skillet-fried chicken; sweet, substantial, garlicky plantains; bright, kumquat-studded salads. It may well be the best restaurant in the East Bay, full stop.
Runner-Up: Sweet Fingers, San Leandro

Pizza: Gioia Pizzeria
1586 Hopkins St. (Near McGee Ave.), Berkeley, 510-528-4692
The East Bay is rife with iconic pizza joints—and the lines to go with them—but the best pizza comes from an unassuming storefront on a quiet, tree-lined street in North Berkeley. That’s where Will Gioia serves up the kind of crisp-doughed, thin-sauced, lightly blistered pie he ate as a child growing up in Brooklyn—decked with the organic veggies and traditionalism-be-damned topping combos he learned to love as a chef at various temples of California cuisine.
Runner-Up: Forge, Oakland

Asian: Fusebox
2311 Magnolia St. (Near 24th St.), Oakland, 510-444-3100
The best Asian food in the East Bay isn’t found in Rockridge or the Gourmet Ghetto or even Chinatown—it’s on the unassuming, industrial West Oakland corner where Sunhui Chang’s tiny jewel box of a restaurant stands out like a delicious sore thumb, offering up affordable, Oakland-ified takes on Korean small plates: unctuous bacon mochi, say, or a pork belly and pickled-vegetable torta.
Runner-Up: Ramen Shop, Oakland

Kid-Friendly Eats: Westbrae Biergarten
1280 Gilman St. (Near Curtis St.), Berkeley, 510-647-9079
Finally, the time has come for the perfect kid-friendly restaurant. A sprawling outdoor bar in one of Berkeley’s loveliest and more underserved residential hoods, Westbrae offers affordable, high-quality draft beer and wine as well as snacks both kid-friendly (chicken nuggets) and adult-satisfying (peppery tri-tip sandwiches)—plus a beanbag toss, a basketball hoop, and various other ways to keep the kids occupied as you sip your beer under the sun.
Runner-Up: Gaumenkitzel, Berkeley

South American: Bocanova
55 Webster St. (Near Embarcadero West), Oakland, 510-444-1233
At Jack London Square’s Bocanova, the “South American” umbrella is as expansive and vast as the continent itself. Start with something like the acerbic, sweet potato–studded Peruvian sea bass ceviche, then head to Brazil for ginger prawns or argentina for a chimichurri-smothered steak. Finish with an order of churros and a strong café con leche on the restaurant’s Bay-adjacent patio.
Runner-Up: Pucquio, Oakland

Brunch: Shakewell
3407 Lakeshore Ave. (Near Mandana Blvd.), Oakland, 510-251-0329
Forget your Denver omelets and blueberry pancakes: the East Bay’s best brunch is also its most inventive. You can’t go wrong among the Mediterranean-inflect- ed dishes served at Shakewell, but the very best is chef Jen Biesty’s take on falafel for breakfast: two perfectly poached eggs perched on a crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on- the-inside falafel, topped with salty chorizo, bright, tomatoey romesco sauce, and a handful of fresh herbs ($14).
Runner-Up: Chop Bar, Oakland

 

Shop

Kitchenware: Umami Mart
815 Broadway (Near 8th St.), Oakland, 510-250-9559
This narrow little shop specializes in Japanese and Japanese-inspired kitchen and barware of all stripes—from the eminently useful (high-quality knife sharp- eners, all manner of kitchen gadgetry) to the plainly beautiful (teak-handled paring knives, heavy clay mugs in lemon, slate gray, and pale pink) to the just plain fun (Death Star ice molds, a porcelain spoon adorned with a panda face). Plus, the shop’s owners make a point of keeping everything affordable—no cuteness premium here.
Runner-Up: Someone’s in the Kitchen, Oakland

Vintage Clothing: Pretty Penny
5488 College Ave. (Near Lawton Ave.), Oakland, 510-594-9219
Vintage can be hit or miss, but nowhere in the East Bay boasts a better ratio of the former to the latter than Pretty Penny, where you’ll find racks upon racks of well-chosen, high-quality, and surprisingly affordable finds dating back to the ’50s through the ’90s, in a number of styles and silhouettes. Upstairs, a small selection of men’s clothing—think vintage Pendletons and perfectly worn-in band tees—will satisfy even the most discerning lumbersexual.
Runner-Up: Mercy Vintage, Oakland

Bookstore: Diesel
5433 College Ave. (Near Kales Ave.), Oakland, 510-653-9965
Indie bookstores may be a dying breed, but Diesel has been standing proud and packed to the gills with great stuff for decades. This isn’t the most expansive shop, but its selection is well chosen, its staff are ceaselessly knowledgeable, and its literary events with local literati like Robert Roper and Ellen Sussman are fascinating.
Runner-Up: Books Inc., Alameda

Bikes: Manifesto Bicycles
421 40th St. (Near Webster St.), Oakland, 510-595-1155
Oakland is an unabashed biking town, and Manifesto is an urban bike lover’s bike shop, specializing in steel-frame road bikes perfect for cycling city streets. The service is knowing and helpful but never snobby; the selection is dizzying; and the in-house repair and parts shop is a lifesaver.
Runner-Up: Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative, Berkeley

Jewelry: Esqueleto
482A 49th St. (Near Telegraph Ave.), Oakland, 510-629-6216
Indie designers, edgy shapes, and alternative materials are aplenty at this Temescal boutique, where you’ll find treasures like a chunky, vintage Elk’s tooth men’s ring or dainty freshwater pearl and oxidized-silver studs made by the shop’s owner, Lauren Wolf. And the extensive collection of engagement jewelry manages to be timeless while transcending the boring diamond solitaire.
Runner-Up: Crown Nine, Oakland

Furniture: Store Mignonne
2447 San Pablo Ave. (Near Dwight Way), Berkeley, 510-388-5830
This San Pablo Avenue mainstay, helmed by the color-loving designer Johnelle Mancha, specializes in reupholstered and reimagined vintage furniture—think mid-century modern designs re-covered in bold, bright fabrics. And all for eye-poppingly affordable prices.
Runner-Up: Le Kube, Oakland

Record Store: Stranded
4929 Telegraph Ave. (Near 49th St.), Oakland, 510-808-5505
At a moment when audiophiles are rediscovering vinyl with an almost religious fervor, Stranded may as well be the temple. If what you’re looking for is a place to not just buy but also discover great music—to browse a thoughtfully selected, approachably small inventory curated by people with a taste for the strange and the sublime—then there’s nowhere better.
Runner-Up: Vamp, Oakland

 

Help

Barbershop: Temescal Alley Barber Shop
470B 49th St. (Near Telegraph Ave.), Oakland, 510-761-5074
There’s a reason the line for this three-chair, walk-in-only barbershop typically snakes out the door: this is the best men’s cut and straight razor shave in town, hands down. The barbers are careful and friendly; the cuts are neat and quick; and the prices—$30 for a haircut and $35 for a shave—are reasonable. It’s worth the wait, we promise, and if you’re lucky, there’ll be a shot of whiskey waiting for you at the end.
Runner-Up: Slick and Dapper, Oakland

Day Spa: Spa Claremont
41 Tunnel Rd. (Near Claremont Ave.), Berkeley, 510-549-8566
The view alone—a sweeping vista that stretches from the hills to the Bay—might qualify the Claremont for this honor, at least until you consider the services offered: 11 kinds of massage; a slew of facials and skin treatments; and special options for men, brides, and pregnant women, all offered by experienced massage therapists and aestheticians in that unbeatable setting.
Runner-Up: Piddmont Springs, Oakland


Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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