A 20-minute drive over the Bay Bridge takes you into an entirely different world than downtown San Francisco.
On Saturday, Dave and I packed our overnight bags and headed east for a day of activities that he had planned for us as a belated one-year anniversary celebration. Leading up to Saturday, Dave had fully capitalized on the tradition of the “paper anniversary” and gave me envelopes of paper gifts each day, one of which offered a heads up on our final destination in the East Bay — a stay at a nice hotel.
I usually ask a lot of questions when it comes to surprises, and I am always cold. So on Saturday morning, Dave advised me to “dress for warmer weather, but in something comfortable for sitting on the ground,” and that helped me to gather that a picnic was included in the day’s line-up.
Dave had chosen our picnic destination based on one of his client’s recommendations. But unfortunately, it is not a place we will return. We went to Grizzly Peak in the Berkeley Hills, and while there were some amazing views of the Bay and San Francisco available, this regional park area was not as pristine as the others we have visited in Marin County over the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, we got out of the car at one particularly appealing vista and found heaps of garbage and litter on the mountainside. Uncool. Not to mention, with the much warmer temperatures, the area didn’t appear as lush and green as others we’ve been. Nonetheless, we found a place to picnic under a tree and had a splendid time. There were quite a few families with children at this park, which isn’t always something you see in the City. During our meal, we watched the goings ons of a kid’s birthday party, as well as watched parents changing their babies’ diapers. Clearly, we were not in San Francisco anymore …
With a quest to see all that there is to see in the Bay Area, I had been eager to visit both Berkeley and its Rockridge neighborhood. Berkeley is best known for being home to the University of California, Berkeley campus and as one of the most politically liberal places in the nation. I would describe it as a little bit “granola.” There is a definitely a hippy vibe throughout Rockridge, which is both laid back and welcoming.
However, just blocks from the coffee shops and composting bins, is a huge hotel that is anything but hippy.
After our picnic, we drove about ten minutes to reach The Claremont Hotel Club & Spa, a sprawling, white hotel at the foot of the hills. According to the hotel’s website, the old building it is in was once a castle, and today no two guestrooms are alike. The lobby had a classic old-world charm to it, which is right up my alley when it comes to a hotel stay. From the grand piano to the thick draperies, I was taken by The Claremont upon arrival.
Our room wasn’t ready when we got there, so we amused ourselves by sitting at the hotel bar for a while, and then walking down to the pool area to see the club portion of the hotel. There was a graduation party and several weddings taking place in the ballrooms, so the people watching was quite good. Once our room was finally ready, we were pleasantly surprised to open to the door to a gorgeous suite, with a view of Berkeley and a bottle of champagne waiting for us.
To continue the day of surprises, Dave had made dinner reservations for us at Oliveto, a nice Italian restaurant in downtown Rockridge on College Avenue. We took a cab to get to the restaurant and shared it with some other nice patrons that were waiting outside the hotel, who also happened to be on a one-night staycation from San Francisco. How about that.
During our excellent dinner experience, I taught Dave to sprinkle a little salt on the bread (something I learned while studying abroad in Italy and apparently had never shared), and that was his favorite part of the meal. We had cocktails, salmon crudo, marinated burrata, an excellent steak and a very rich custard dessert served in a stem-less wine glass.
Since we’ve dined at so many Bay Area restaurants where understated is all the rage, it was a nice change of pace to enjoy the white tableclothes of Oliveto. It was an upscale dinner atmosphere, and although the items on the menu were a little hard to picture without a waiter’s description, it was flavorful food and a nice setting.
The restaurant was only 1.2 miles from our hotel, so rather than wait for another cab, we decided to take a nice evening stroll home. This little adventure was one of the highlights of the trip. In San Francisco, it’s usually pretty windy and chilly on our walks home at night, so I am always shivering. But not this night. It was mild and lovely, and we were able to see into some of the old homes lining the streets on our walk. What was strange was that most people had their lights out at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. Once again … clearly, we were not in San Francisco anymore …
With a fun night under our belts, we knew our visit to Berkeley and Rockridge would not be complete without a stop at a “granola” coffee shop to take in some more local flavor. Therefore, on Sunday morning, rather than dining at the hotel, we chose to patronize The Beanery in Berkeley, for some tea, cappuccino and tasty pastries. After that, we drove around the Berkeley campus and the Rockridge neighborhood.
A wonderful part about living in San Francisco is that you can find warmer temperatures and a completely different vibe only a few minutes away. It’s truly a different world over there just 20 minutes outside of the hustle, bustle and high-rises of downtown.
Thanks, East Bay, for providing some warm weather and a very relaxing day and night for our fabulous first anniversary celebration. Until next time …