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Oakland offers repertoire of experiences

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Oakland offers repertoire of experiences

A gondola ride on Lake Merritt.

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POSTED August 1, 2012 6:12 p.m.

OAKLAND (AP) — It's not easy being Oakland, existing in the shadow of glamorous San Francisco. But this is no ugly stepsister of a city.

It's true Oakland has some big-city blues, including a perennial struggle with crime; this is one of those places where you want to stay aware of your surroundings. But whether you live in the area or are just contemplating a quick stopover during a visit to that other city by the bay, Oakland has a lot to offer, from elegant neighborhoods and beautiful parks to a thriving food and arts scene. Not to mention lighter crowds and generally balmier weather than the big city.

Getting here from San Francisco is as simple as driving east across the Bay Bridge or catching the Richmond or Pittsburg/Bay Point Bay Area Rapid Transit trains to the 12th or 19th Street stations that put you in the heart of Oakland. What to do? Here are few things to consider.

GET INTO A GONDOLA: Row, row, row your boat is one way to go, but wouldn't it be more relaxing to have someone else do the heavy lifting? You can take a gondola — yes, gondola — ride from the Lake Chalet restaurant on Lake Merritt, which serves as a relaxing oasis near downtown. Also at the lake are paddle or other boat rentals, restaurants and cafes, a jogging path and a bird sanctuary (watch where you step). Catch a movie at the Grand Lake Theater at the top of the lake, home to a mighty Wurlitzer that plays before selected shows. Or, if you have small children in tow, take in the mild thrills of Children's Fairyland, an amusement park for the pint-sized set.

SEE STARS: Catch a musical act at the renovated Fox Theater; see a classic movie amid the old-time glamour of the Paramount Theater; settle in for some cool jazz at Yoshi's Oakland. Or go for a different type of stellar experience with a visit to the Chabot Space & Science Center set in the hills above the city.

STICK A FORK IN IT: For a restaurant with a casual vibe, try Plum and adjoining Plum Bar in the Uptown neighborhood. Reclaimed wooden tables and benches and an open kitchen set the mood here with the focus on local products. Another option is Camino, not far from the Grand Lake Theater, where local specialties are cooked in a wood-fired oven right in the dining room. For a chilly treat, visit Fenton's Creamery, a hometown favorite that just may look familiar. It was featured in the movie "Up" made by Pixar, headquartered just across the border from Oakland in Emeryville.

SOAK IN A LITTLE HISTORY: The USS Potomac, a Coast Guard cutter that became FDR's "Floating White House," had a rough time of it after Roosevelt's death. After passing through the hands of a number of owners, it was seized in San Francisco in connection with drug smuggling and sank after being impounded. Left to rot on an estuary, the ship was rescued in the nick of time from becoming scrap and was painstakingly restored. You can take a dockside tour, join one of the cruises scheduled throughout the year or even charter the vessel yourself for a very special event.

HIT THE (URBAN) WINE SCENE: Visit wine country, minus the country. Oakland is home to a number of urban wineries, many of them scattered along decidedly unromantic Fourth Street. You won't find vistas of sweeping greenery here but you may encounter some enthusiastic vintners and interesting wines. Of note, Dashe Cellars, producer of some standout zinfandels.

LONELY PLANET FAVE: One of the world's biggest travel guidebook publishers, Lonely Planet, happens to have its U.S. headquarters in Oakland. And where do these world travelers go for fun after work when they don't want to stray too far from the office? The Linden Street Brewery, an Oakland microbrewery with a taproom.

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