A friend is coming in tonight for a week working in San Jose, and it occurs to me to make a list of “best”s in the bay area for Michael and any other visiting fire-persons whom might come out for business or pleasure. This is also prompted by the SF Chronicle’s annual top 100 restaurants list, some of which I’ve been to (and agree are terrific) and some I would have listed that aren’t on the Chron’s list.
Best places to go:
The Exploratorium. The world’s greatest hands-on science museum and (dis)organized meeting of art and science. Whether the awesome majesty of the three guysers, who’s periods are determined by the distance between the pool at the top and the heat source at the bottom, or sheer coolness of the string shooter and spinning discs on a spinning turntable, or the interactive the water vortex, the fog vortex, the giant pinboard or the magnetic properties of eddy currents in the giant bar of copper, never mind the tactile dome ( my advice: wear a swimming outfit under your street clothes…), the Exploratorium is better than words can possibly describe. For kids of all ages, and the cafe food is good enough to just go and eat if you get hungry. The original 11 on a 10 scale.
Muir Woods. Accurately described as a cathedral of trees. Its bigger than any of the European cathederals I’ve visited, and I enjoy it more, nice though they are. Less moral ambiguity, though not none (our park did used to be someone’s home and not so long ago…) There are lobster-shaped cray-fish (big claws) in the creek the runs through the middle, and spotting them and the fish in the creek from the many bridges is one of our family treats when we go. I’ve done the hike up from the Muir Woods creek bed to the top of Mount Tamalpias and its steep and exhilerating and you have your choice of how hard to make it, based on the paths you select and how fast you push it. Bring a gallon of water per person if you plan to go all the way up and all the way down. The trees of the Wood are huge, and yet dynamic- some fall in the wind, some expire of age, new ones grow where the old have departed. Besides fish and the predictable squirrels, we’ve seen deer, moms and babys, from pretty darn close, and it was pretty darn cool!
There are also the fire-hollowed trees on the trail on the ocean side of the creek, a bit above ‘floor’ level. Jean and I have several pictures of Benjamin at various ages in these icons, a small, friendly, forest creature, all our own. Its hard to NOT take a good holiday card picture of yourself and your family here. We probably ought to take the Dipsea trail some time. I strongly recomend going out on one of the two trails into the main “cathedral” canyon and coming back on the other- doesn’t matter which you go which way on. Take the map from the gate and plan to cross the creek at the furthest bridge. If you walk that far and back, it’ll make your day better.
Easy splashing/wading in the Pacific Ocean: Drake’s Beach, north-east of Pt. Reyes. A pretty place, a large beach, rotten rock in the cliffs so don’t stand under them, a public restroom at the parking lot and a gentle slope under the water- Drake’s Beach has it all and in abundance. Because the bay its in faces south, the waves aren’t as vigorious as those on west-facing beaches north or south, and the water seems a tad warmer.
Best hat store. The Hat Store on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, just before it turns into a 1-way for the last blocks just south of UC Berkeley. We go here when we need to create a costume- buy an excellent hat and build the rest around it. Notable purchases have included a Jester hat, a soft Viking helmet, an Egyptian Pharoh head-dress and several less-formal choices. We always find something to like and take home, and they hold up well.
Best Aquarium store – Albany Aquarium. San Pablo Avenue, between Solano and Albany Bowl. This was where we wound up when UCB Open House day ran out of complementary goldfish… and $150 later we had a heated, filtered, glass, 10 galllon, aquarium with a bunch of attractive fish. Fairliy tough fish. We’ve always gotten good advice here, their fish, snails, plants and frogs are hale and hearty. They don’t over-sell or low-ball prices, but if you want a gold fish in a gold fish bowl (no heat, no filter…) they’ll help you with that too.
Two bits of wisdom I picked up from them/with them:
A) Fish aren’t like hamsters- you don’t have to put them all in a pickle jar and scrub out the tank once a month… Get a cleaner/vaccuum/syphon, learn to use it (There is a non-return valve, you have to ‘pump’ the big tube full and then it’ll syphon, without you having to suck on it) Use a 2-5 gallon bucket or trash-can to collect the wastewater and stuff from in between the rocks.. (Pour it out on the fruit tree in the back yard…)
B) pH balancing is VERY important, and if you can’t master it quickly, invest in a buffer solution that will AUTOMATICALLY balance pH to the right-ish area, follow the directions and sleep easy/. At least for the tetras, guppies, etc, this is just fine. Incoming water after I ‘vaccuum’ is treated with a chlorine/chloramine treatment product so the fish aren’t poisoned, and the pH balance stuff. Works every time.
Best Bowling Alley: Albany Bowl. On San Pablo, between Solano and the strip-mall/bart-station about a mile north. Games are reasonably priced, you can get shoes that fit, pool tables are $10/hr, they have bumpers to block the gutters and do kids birthdays. In short, they do it all. Nice people, nice place to bowl, great family ‘go out’ spot. We usually bowl a couple of games, or more, and then take a pool table for an hour. WAY fun! Someday I’ll get to the black-light miniature golf in the South Bay and I can compare the two.
Chef Chu’s (Los Altos/Palo Alto/Mountian View)
Armadillo Willie’s (all)
Venezia Cafe (University Ave, Berkeley)
Cliff House, Ocean Beach, SF
Caesar – Piedmont Ave, Oakland
Little Shin Shin, Piedmont Ave. Oakland
Becky’s Chinese Food, College Ave, Oakland,
Barney’s (Hamburgers, salads) College Avenue, Piedmont Avenue
Both Japanese places on the last block of Shatuck, northbound, before University
Sam’s Log Cabin, San Pablo, Albany
Montclair Egg Shop, Medau Place, Oakland
Pizza Pastino’s Park Blvd, Glenview,
Buttercup coffee shop- just south of the Cotton Mill, now home of West Marine and Numi Tea, on the bay side of 880.
Jolie’s Coffee and Gifts- at the street side of the lighthouse anchorage in the Oakland Estuary, near Livingston and also the bridge to Coast Guard Island.
Bowser’s Pizza, Park Avenue, Alameda
<Restaurant in the Lighthouse>, Oakland Estuary, near Livingston and the bridge to Coast Guard Island…