Alameda: Little Gem on the Bay

downtown Alameda, California
downtown Alameda, California

Alameda is a charming historic community on two small islands. The naval station (now closed) played a vital role in World War II. Alameda is now a vibrant smallish community in the heart of the Bay Area.

It is an ideal place for rowing and sailing with at least one America’s Cup teams headquartered here.

There are great places to eat and many establishments take advantage of the tremendous view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco.

Kale and avocado salad
Scolari’s kale and avocado salad
Taste wine at the Rock Wall and enjoy delicious food from
Taste wine at the Rock Wall and enjoy delicious food from Scolari’s

You can reach Alameda by car or ferry. There is a terrific bike shop in downtown where you can rent bikes and ride out to the point and see the naval buildings and ships, or dine al fresco at Scolaris, wine taste at Rock Wall, or try Hangar Ten vodka and spirits.

Rent a bicycle and pedal around  historic Alameda.
Rent a bicycle and pedal around historic Alameda.

Alameda would be a great place for a weekend getaway. There are not a lot of traditional lodging options in Alameda; however, there are numerous opportunities on Airbnb and several holiday accommodations on TripAdvisor.

Enjoy outdoor dining at Rock Wall and Scolari's
Enjoy outdoor dining at Rock Wall and Scolari’s
Beautiful view of San Francisco from Alameda
Beautiful view of San Francisco from Alameda

Catching a Concert at Oracle Arena

Recently I attended a concert at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. I do not appreciate reminders of my advancing age. This whole experience made me feel old! First, I could not remember the last concert I have been to at a big arena. (I actually tried to recall.) I do remember going to see U2 at Arco Arena (aka Sleep Train Arena) in 2000. It was amazing. They designed a set that created an intimate-like setting for 17,000 fans. The sound waved through our bodies as we all sang along to every song. I believe Gwen Stefani and No Doubt opened the concert but they did not make a big impression, except that they seemed dwarfed by the set. In contrast, the arena erupted with electric lights and excitement when U2 took the stage and did not ebb until after the last encore. The sound was not as good as a concert hall, but it was as good as it gets in a basketball arena.

Needless to say, my bar was set kind of high. Fast forward to 2015 and the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert. My friend Noel put out the call to action on Facebook and a number of us–all Enrique fans–responded yes! Noel was able to get tickets at the box office. In fact, the price had just been dropped to $29 for nosebleed sections.

The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia
The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia

We agreed to meet for dinner beforehand at the Sushi House in Alameda. It was Valentine’s Day so we expected it to be packed. They do not take reservations so I scrambled out of the car to sign up on the wait list while Noel parked the car. We were seated within 20 minutes.

Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!
Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!

While the service at the Sushi House is intermittent, the food is abundant and delicious. We ate as much as we could before we had to dash to Oracle Arena to make the show. So glad we carpooled! Can you believe parking is $45 a car?

Because I am an Enrique Iglesias fan, I assumed Pitbull was opening for Enrique and not the other way around. Showing my age, right? Oh, it gets worse.

Some sort of DJ rapper was on stage with a couple of excellent hip hop dancers. They were dwarfed by the sets and we could not understand what they were singing for the pounding bass drum beat that felt like a second heart beat throughout my body. I had to overcome the overall desire to retreat to the outside hallway. Conversation impossible. I also kicked myself for forgetting my earplugs.

The view of confetti falling from our seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.
We were in seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.

After what seemed an eternity, Enrique took the stage. Again I was taken by surprise because I was expecting Pitbull. (Full display of the power of assumptions; and admission that I never read my ticket). He sang beautifully on the ballads and with energy on the pop songs. He had a rapper and several excellent vocalists and guitarists accompanying him. He has a couple of songs on his Sex & Love album that feature Pitbull and yet Pitbull did not appear (the rapper filled in) during those performances. I naively thought maybe Pitbull was a no show. The staging was a bit clunky and old-fashioned. The use of fireworks and confetti felt like it was fulfilling audience expectations rather than inspired by the music.

Enrique saved Bailando for the encore and I loved it. My whole fascination with the Sex & Love album was inspired by my Thomson tour guides’ fascination with the song during the Tour de France. We sang it on the bus several times a day and it conjures up fun memories of Aussies and Americans singing in Spanish through the French countryside.

Enrique wrapped up about 11 p.m. and we all looked at each other, gathered up our stuff to go and proceeded to the lobby. Almost immediately another DJ came on to keep the crowd warm. We then realized that Pitbull’s performance was still to come.  We all agreed that we should at least stay and sample his show, so we sheepishly returned to our seats.

The DJ finally ended and six dancers skipped onto the stage and began to disrobe into essentially lingerie. Then Pitbull made his entrance. I know I have been playing the old fart card in this post, yet I do know most of Pitbull’s music from Zumba and pop radio (I adore!). I am still mystified how he can be the main attraction. Most of his songs “feature” Pitbull, that is a singer like Shakira sings the chorus and Pitbull jumps in with his Miami rap schtick. It is all backed up by a club beat. In fact, people play some Pitbull song to get the party started in clubs and at weddings. Now imagine, 15,000 to 16,000 people have been drinking since 6:00 p.m. (or smoking), and then Pitbull starts his act and turns the place into a giant club. People suddenly feel they have permission to act like they do in a club. Only it feels a little overwhelming because it is 100 times bigger. Whereas Enrique talked to us and invited us to drink with him and sing along in Spanish, Pitbull shouted at us to get up and act up. Except his songs did not sound like his songs because he only sampled a little bit of the chorus. So it was a few bars of Shakira and then all Miami club jabber. A few songs in and I let the group know I was okay with leaving. We were of one accord.

We returned to Alameda and found a Mexican restaurant with a bar still open and enjoyed margaritas and conversation. At last the music was not so loud.

Amazing Mac&Cheese at Homeroom

Homeroom restaurant We arrived by bike and the sheer effort to get there created an appetite worthy of the Homeroom’s famous macaroni and cheese. We signed in because even at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday there was a line. We waited about 20 minutes during which we drooled over (at a safe distance) the outside diners’ food. Mulitple friends had insisted that Austin try Homeroom with raves about the mac&cheese so we waited with much anticipation.

Macaroni and Cheese

We decided to split an order of mac&cheese so we could also enjoy fresh asparagus in balsamic vinegar and save room for dessert. There are many variations to choose from and we went for the Macximus–a Greek inspired recipe with artichokes, spinach, feta cheese and we added chicken. Both the asparagus and the mac&cheese were delicious. We may not have had a lot of room for dessert and yet we were anxious to continue the dining experience. We ordered banana cream pie (in a mason jar) and a brownie sundae with caramel sauce. Both were incredibly satisfying. Now we were full.

dessert

The food is reasonably priced and makes an affordable urban dining spot. The service was excellent, and the decor in keeping with the theme of the schoolroom. The food may be inspired by the idea of food we loved in school, but I do not remember any of my cafeteria meals tasting this good!

4OO 4Oth Street, Oakland, CA 946O9  •  (p) 51O.597.O4OO  •  hours: Sun-Sat 11am-1Opm, Closed Monday

 

Urban Bicycling in Oakland, California

Emeryville train stationNeeding to stage a trial run for my Le Tour adventure I arranged to meet my friend Austin for a day of cycling, eating, shopping and fun in Oakland. I barely made it to the Davis station before the train’s departure. The station manager helped me purchase my ticket and directed me to the right car. I pushed my Brompton onto the train and folded Black Beauty and stowed her on the luggage rack. I was a little nervous about leaving her on her own as I climbed the stairs to my seat.

Riding the train is so much more fun than driving. 1. No traffic. 2. I can use the time to finish my book, or stare out the window; either way it is very relaxing. 3. My round trip ticket cost $54 for an adult fare. If you compare to the mileage ($0.56 per mile equals $72.80) plus bridge toll ($5.00) plus potential parking fees.  Temescal Alley

Austin and I exchanged emails earlier to share ideas about places to go and things to see. I have been collecting Oakland travel articles from Sunset Magazine and other publications. It was 9:30 a.m. and we set off on our bikes to Temescal Alley, featured in two magazines. Have you noticed how some places get all kinds of attention and then you go and wonder what the fuss?

We parked our bikes and stepped into Doughnut Dolly for a creme filled donut. Dolly has a focused approach to doughnuts–you select either raised doughnut with granular sugar or powdered sugar, then select a filling and they inject them and they are ready to go. It’s an interesting idea and we munched our doughnuts on a bench outside. We compared our Yelp rating systems and I like Austin’s. One or two stars neither of us bother to review. Three stars we would go back if friends all wanted to go there. Four stars is awarded to a great place we would return to if we were in the neighborhood and five stars for a fabulous place that we would go out of our way to visit again and again. Doughnut Dolly was a 3 for me and a 3.5 to 4 stars for Austin.

Bee Healthy HoneyWe took off on our bikes to Telegraph Avenue towards downtown Oakland. We made a U-turn to stop at the Bee Healthy Honey store. We both love bees and are fascinated with beekeeping. It is a lovely shop and smelled like hamsters (pine shavings from the newly constructed hives reminded us of a clean hamster cage).

Continuing on our way we took a slightly circuitous route to the Oakland Museum. I have been meaning to go to this museum for years. We looked at the current exhibits and decided we really wanted to see the Giant Robot exhibit. My Crocker Museum membership includes a North American reciprocal benefit so I did not have to pay the $15 entrance fee. The “SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot” exhibit was super awesome.

And when did museums step up their quality of their cafe dining? I bought a bowl of sweet potato pistachio soup at the museum’s Blue Oak Cafe and it was delicious. Note to self, bring protein to eat with donuts to avoid bonking from sugar rush and plummet.

Next we rode around Lake Merritt. The trails around the lake are not exactly bike friendly. We stopped at one point for a march organized to keep attention to the plight of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. By this time we were feeling peckish so we began riding our bikes to Homeroom, a highly recommended eatery in another part of Oakland. (Review to follow in next post). We departed from the recommended route on Google Maps and discovered that Google Maps bicycle routes had probably been saving us from big hills. Black Beauty’s brakes work.  I also discovered Oakland has not paved some of their streets for decades (think cobblestones) and the Brompton is a comfortable ride. By the time we got to the restaurant we were ready for a good long lunch break.

Yarn and fabric storeWe had one more stop: a yarn store called A Verb for Keeping Warm at 6328 San Pablo Avenue. The yarn and fabric store is terrific and we enjoyed a good browse and a little shopping.

At this point we were close to the Emeryville train station and we pedaled there. The return train trip was very relaxing and just as easy to travel with my bike. The day made a successful test drive.

I have to figure out a lightweight option for locking the Brompton. And my bike repair classmates feel I should always keep my Brooks bike saddle with me. I am also very interested in the foldable helmet that my friend Hetta brought to my attention.

Children's book author Austin Lan was my bike buddy
Children’s book illustrator Austin Lan was my bike buddy