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California Flying

The other city by the bay

Oakland? Isn't that where all the bad stuff happens? Oaklanders will tell you that the "bad stuff" is confined to an area south of the town proper. Then they will start suggesting their favorite fun things to do in Oakland.


Oakland is called the "bright side of the bay" because, unlike its neighbor San Francisco, Oakland has sunshine 73 percent of the day. It has been said this northern California town has the best weather in the U.S.

Oakland? Isn't that where all the bad stuff happens? Oaklanders will tell you that the "bad stuff" is confined to an area south of the town proper. Then they will start suggesting their favorite fun things to do in Oakland. Things, such as taking in a professional baseball game or joining the regular Saturday morning gathering of runners at Lake Merritt for 5K, 10K, and 15 K jogs. Locals are proud of Children's Fairyland, where Walt Disney got his inspiration for Disneyland, and they'll tell you about the magnificent turn-of-the-century homes of the Piedmont district of town. Soon their suggestions will produce a long list filled with fun activities and spots to visit. First, though, let's fly in.

The Oakland airport

Metropolitan Oakland International Airport is located four miles south of the city center on Bay Farm Island. The Oakland airport Class C airspace extends from the airport surface to 3,000 feet — San Francisco Class B airspace overlays Oakland airport from 3,000 feet to 10,000 feet. Pilots landing at Oakland must establish two-way communications with Norcal approach at least 20 miles out. The airport is huge, with three runways on the north side for general aviation airplanes and one long runway on the south side for scheduled airliners. The parallel runways (9 L and R and 27 L and R) on the north side are both more than one mile long and have a variety of instrument landing and departure procedures. Transient parking space is available at Kaiser Air Oakland Jet Center. There's a one-time $6 service fee, and parking is $11 a day. KaiserAir provides speedy van services to the south side to pick up an airliner, and they'll even zip you and your friends over to McAfee Stadium Coliseum to catch a major league baseball game.

Rental cars can be arranged through KaiserAir's Enterprise auto rental desk located in the lobby.

Jack London Square

Jack London Square is Oakland's most famous draw. It's six miles up "the 880" from the airport. The square covers five blocks along the waterfront. I visited the U.S.S. Potomac, a 165-foot-long steel Coast Guard cutter that was modified in 1936 to become Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential yacht. The Potomac sets out on two-hour cruises with up to 120 guests on Thursdays and Saturdays from May through early November. This unique ship can also be chartered for private parties.

At the other end of the square you can visit what's reputed to be the very same log cabin that Jack London lived in while he wrote To Build a Fire, during the winter of 1897 and 1898. It's situated right next to Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, which inspired London to write John Barleycorn.

There are hundreds of unique and esoteric restaurants in Oakland. Across the street from the square is Yoshi's, a Japanese restaurant that is well known to jazz lovers. Feeling active? Canoe or kayak lessons and rentals for a close-up look at the sights and critters of the Oakland estuary are available at California Canoe and Kayak, and if you're visiting the square on Sunday, you'll enjoy the bustle and activity of the "best farmer's market in the East Bay." Four blocks up Broadway, visitors have the option of turning right to see Chinatown or turning left to stroll through the part of the city known as Old Oakland. Two blocks farther up Broadway and three blocks north is Preservation Park, where visitors will enjoy wonderfully restored nineteenth century homes, the historic First Unitarian Church, and the Pardee Historic home.

Around Lake Merritt

Oakland is all about districts. Chinatown, Old Oakland, Temescal, Piedmont Avenue, Fruitvale, and the Grand-Lakeshore district are just a few of the distinctive areas that make Oakland a thriving, diverse city. Lake Merritt is the largest lake in the center of an urban area, and many attractions are clustered nearby. Children's Fairyland is adjacent to Lakeside Park at the north end of the lake. Opened in 1956 and said to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland, this park features colorful and glee-inspiring three-dimensional sets based on nursery rhymes and folklore. Don't bother to go unless you have a child in tow — adults are not allowed by themselves.

The Oakland Museum of California is located a couple of blocks south of the southern end of the park. Oakland really is a cosmopolitan city with hundreds — perhaps thousands — of unique and comfortable attractions. When the hustle and bustle gets to be a little too much, outdoor exercise options include hiking, walking, or biking in the only urban second-growth redwood forest in the country: Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland Hills. Parks abound in and around Oakland. The 31-mile-long East Bay Ridge Trail connects eight regional parks and includes spectacular San Francisco Bay views.

Pilots may have noticed the Metropolitan Golf Links under the final approach path to Oakland's Runway 27. This links-style course — designed by Johnny Miller and Fred Bliss — opened in 2003, has been awarded four and a half stars by Golf Digest magazine, and offers visitors links-style golf at reasonable rates. Lake Chabot Golf Course, built in 1923 and located abutting Lake Chabot Regional Park in the Oakland hills, has undergone an extensive renovation/rejuvenation and is again open. This hilly course stretches out to 6,004 yards from the tips, and with greens fees that never top $40, it's a treat to play.

Whether you elect to fly up and watch the A's play "Billy Ball," or spend a long day or a weekend nattering around this historic and well-preserved city, you're sure to be surprised and delighted by the charms of Oakland.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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