California: Oakland, Family Vacation Ideas – Stargazing, Zoo Safaris, and an Asian Connection.
For families looking for an easy- paced, affordable, urban adventure Oakland delivers one-of-a-kind Northern California experiences – fresh, lively and rewarding. Here’s the scoop.
On a recent trip to the Bay Area I took time to ride the BART from San Francisco to Oakland. It was easier than I imagined and the discoveries better yet. Oakland has plenty to share with young children and just as much to share with older ones. My advice: go for dim sum and stay for pizza. I have included my favorite choices which reflect a sense of place and include an educational fun factor. Connect the science.
At Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland Hills the focus is on astronomy and the space sciences. . A Smithsonian affiliate, it features state-of-the-art exhibitions, observatory, planetarium, theatre and interactive exhibits, all geared to education. Glimpse into the life of an astronaut; crawl into a black hole; see what happens when galaxies collide; take a simulated Moon-walk; gaze through the Chabot telescopes. Bonus points:
One of the theater options is DINOSAURS ALIVE is a global adventure of science and discovery that follows American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) paleontologists as they explore some of the greatest dinosaur finds in history. Wait for it!
This is the home of Bill Nye's Climate Lab featuring new games and activities, new avatars, and new ways to earn and use your Climate Lab points in the online game Lab Dash! (10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, CA. (510) 336-7300 or www.chabotspace.org)
Make an Asian connection.
Oakland's historic Chinatown in downtown area of the city is place meant to be browsed on foot. The 16-square block area is populated with restaurants, shops, and historic buildings. The community’s cultural mix includes Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thais. The area is known for lively open-air markets featuring a potpourri of wares including herbs, plants, bonsai, exotic live fish, authentic crafts, and jewelry. Bonus points:
Chinatown is home to the Oakland Asian Cultural Center - the largest Asian-American culture center in the country. It anchors the area hosting annual events and festivals as well as offering cultural programs, live performances, art and photography exhibits, workshops, and classes. Wait for it!
StreetFest is held each August and the annual Lunar New Year Bazaar celebrates the progression of time. (Oakland Asian Cultural Center 388 Ninth Street between Franklin and Webster Street on the second floor of the Pacific Renaissance Plaza, Oakland CA. (510) 637-0455 or www.oacc.cc
)Go on safari.
Oakland’s zoo has a spunky, family friendly atmosphere making it a delight to share with young children. It is home to more than 660 native and exotic species from the African savannah to the rainforest. The methods of movement (footpaths, train, or aerial gondola) within the zoo complex provide dozens of ways to view animals in their own habitats. The savannah features lions, tigers, giraffes, gazelles, and an award winning elephant exhibit. The rainforest area features tigers, snakes, birds, and primates including gibbons, chimpanzees, and tamarins. Within the complex there is a four-acre span reserved for young children. The children’s zoo features live animals and a museum plus playground with a hippo tunnel and climbable turtle. Most popular is the 50-foot-high Malayan fruit bat exhibit. Bonus points:
The zoo complex also has a small rollercoaster, zoo themed carousel, and the Outback Express Adventure Train connecting passengers to Australia of course. Wait for it!
It is possible to sleep under the stars at the zoo. The Family Sundown Safari is a hands-on educational summer program for parents of grandparent with children ages 4 and older. (9777 Golf Links Road Oakland, CA. (510) 632-9525 or www.oaklandzoo.org
)Enjoy vintage family fun.
Located on the shores of Lake Merritt, Children’s Fairyland is a 1950s era theme park ideal for young children. Its vintage theme park atmosphere is ideal for tykes not yet introduced to the grandeur of contemporary theme parks. I like this location because they offer exceptional puppeteering events and create delightful theatre experiences for children. The complex is magical for young children. They easily relate to scenes from familiar storybooks, comfy fun kid rides, puppet and magic shows, and live animals encounters. Bonus points:
The best annual events include Jack o’ Lantern Jamboree and Fairy Winterland. Wait for it!
Each summer Fairyland creates magical sleepovers for families featuring rides, special performances, dinner, and a continental breakfast. (699 Bellevue Avenue, Oakland CA. www.fairyland.org
) Sail with history on the Bay.
Oakland is home to the USS Potomac- Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous Floating White House. The watercraft served as FDRs presidential yacht until his death in 1945. The yacht has been fully restored and is now open to the public with dockside docent-led tours available any Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. Wait for it!
Special cruises of the bay are available throughout the year including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, July 4th, and Fleet Week. (540 Water Street Oakland, CA. (510) 627-1215 or www.usspotomac.org
)File a flight plan.
Oakland Aviation Museum is located at Oakland International Airport’s historic North Field in a historic hangar. The museum focuses on the history of aviation in Oakland with indoor and outdoor exhibits plus actual airplanes including a Monocoupe, MiG –15, and a Solent Mk lll flying boat made famous by the movie "Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark". Bonus points:
Several times during the year the museum hosts “Open Cockpit Days” giving visitors a chance to sit in various cockpits and i
magine the experience of flight. (8252 Earhart Road Oakland, CA. (510) 638-7100 or www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org
)Go for the dim sum and stay for the pizza.
Oakland has oodles of terrific eating places. Our time was short but I always have my list of places to try. I recommend Legendary Palace in Chinatown for dim sum. The atmosphere is comfortable, and slightly chaotic. The egg tarts are hot and sweet; chasu pork buns - yummie; sticky rice - the best; fried shrimp balls- scrumptious. (708 Franklin St. between 7th & 8th St. Oakland, CA. (510) 663-9188)
For pizza Arizmendi Bakery in the Lower Hills area is a delight. The large windows illuminate the indoor sitting area giving it a casual California eatery ambiance. I love goat cheese with garlic and rosemary so this was the place for me. Pizza choices vary daily but all are thin bakery crust and without meat. Bonus points: The bakery serves awesome pecan-stuffed cinnamon rolls with a caramel-butter glaze and scrumptious gluten-free the corn & blueberry muffins. (3265 Lakeshore Ave. between Lake Park Ave & Trestle Glen Rd. Oakland, CA. (510) 268-8849 or http://lakeshore.arizmendi.coop
/)Content research and written by Nancy Nelson-Duac. Images provided by Chabot Space & Science Center, Oakland Zoo, Children's Fairyland. Copyright 2012.