Last weekend, the family and I took a 10 minute bike ride down to Lake Merritt and were transported into another world: Children's Fairyland! Since the old lady who lives in the shoe first opened her doors to the public in 1950, the first themed amusement park in the U.S. has become one of Oakland's most iconic destinations. Reportedly, Walt Disney frequented the park to draw inspiration for what would later become Disneyland. In the 1960s, my mom—who lived in Cleveland Heights/China Hill across the lake at the time—visited Fairyland alone, or with her brother, just about whenever she felt like walking over. I must have clocked a few dozen visits during my own childhood, but never unsupervised ;).
In 1950, admission was 9 cents. Today, it's $10 per person, with annual family memberships available for frequent visitors. Followers of the Free Range Kids movement will be disappointed to know that children are no longer admitted with an accompanying adult, and the same goes for the reverse). You'll also want to buy a Magic Key for $3 at the gate if you don't already have one: these keys activate the storybook boxes at each set that narrate the accompanying tale. When it opened, Children's Fairyland had 17 interactive, child-sized sets depicting classic fairytales, and many of these original sets are among 60 sets. Several include live animals, which was a big treat for Dino. Lately, he's been referring to all large mammals as "goats." Indeed, Fairyland is home to two adorable goats, as well as sheep, ponies, donkeys, rabbits, ducks, and chickens.
In addition to the interactive and sometimes kitschy fairytale sets, Fairyland has two merry-go-rounds and a small ferris wheel. Riders must be between 38" and 54" for these rides, no adults, so Dino was out of luck there. Happily, the Jolly Trolly train ride is open to the whole family, and being in a major 'train phase,' Dino was thrilled. You can find out more details about the attractions, rides, and size limitations here.
Fairyland is also famous for its Storybook Puppet Theater, which opened in 1956 and is the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the United States. Several notable puppeteers got their start at Fairyland, including Frank Oz, who is lauded for his performances of Grover, Bert, and Cookies Monster on Sesame Street as well as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and others on The Muppets. You can catch puppet shows at Fairlyand three times each day: 11am, 2pm, and 4pm, and you can see details about the performances here.
In 2008, Aesop's Playhouse was completed (funded by Oakland’s Measure DD, passed by voters in 2002). The outdoor stage accommodates an audience of 200 people, and hosts the annual repertory season of the Bay Area Children's Theatre. If you've got a kid who craves the limelight, keep your eyes open for next year's audition dates in early February! The 2018 performance schedule can be found here.
By the time 4:00pm rolled around, we were feeling hungry so we hopped on the bikes to another favorite spot: Beeryland. Technically, the joint is called Telegraphic Beer Garden, but it's less than 1 mile from Fairyland and has a colorful "Beeryland" sign in homage to the park. Located in Kono (Korean Northgate), which borders Adam's Point and Uptown, 'Beeryland' draws a diverse crowd and more than it's fair share of dogs and babies. The burgers and the brews are excellent, and the mural'ed outdoor patio has partial roof coverage, which is perfect for a day of sun-showers like we had last Saturday.
Last Saturday, the family and I headed south to check out Drake's Barrel House, the taproom at Drake's Brewing Co. An early player in the craft beer revolution, Drake's was founded in 1989 in a former Chrysler Dodge factory in San Leandro, the mixed residential and industrial city of 90,000 that borders Oakland and Hayward.
As a child I travelled to San Leandro for weekly piano lessons, and I've always had a soft spot for the decidedly suburban neighborhoods comprised of mid-century ranch style homes and neatly manicured gardens. These days, the San Leandro real estate market offers a respite of relative affordability within the painfully expensive Bay Area. Much like nearby Fremont and Castro Valley, a San Leandro home can also be a smart choice for families who have to weigh one partner's commute to the East Bay or SF, against the other''s commute to the South Bay. In 2017, the median sale price for a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom single family home in San Leandro was $676,844 (you can compare this to a median price of $861,358 for the same configuration in the wide spectrum of Oakland, $1.26 million in Berkeley, and $1.8 million in Piedmont). But despite the lower price point, the San Leandro market is very hot: the average "days on the market" is 18, roughly the same as most cities our region.
OK, so what about the beer?! We often have Drake's beer in our fridge, because 1) it's delicious and 2) thanks to geography, it's usually the freshest beer you can buy in the grocery store. Chris is extremely discerning about freshness (I think that she's a super-taster, but that's just speculation). We've also visited and enjoyed Drake's Dealership, the brewery's bar/restaurant housed in a former Dodge dealership in downtown Oakland's AutoRow. It was high time for a trek to the center of the action.
As far as brewery taprooms go—and I've seen tons of them, thanks to Chris's passion for beer—Drake's Barrel House is true to genre. It also met and exceeded our needs: plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, lots of space for a toddler to run about, cute dogs at most tables, a band that played danceable (for a toddler) and unobtrusive tunes, a game of cornhole, and proximity to Hayward private airport, which was super exciting for my toddler, who is fascinated with airplanes. Oh, and the food! The food was freaking delicious, and if I had to categorize I'd go with "a Latinx take on pub fare." It was also fantastically messy when paired with a toddler. By the time we left, I had "avocado creme" caked in my hair and smeared all over my pants. But all in all, I'd say the adventure was a success: after all, Dino only got pelted by a beanbag once. What more can you ask for?
This morning I dragged my family out of our Daylight Savings Time confusion into the ultra foggy morning. I love fog—it's so quintessentially Bay Area—and I love the way it makes everything feel slow and suspended. This morning, though, I was in a hurry: I wanted to get to the learn-to-ride workshop hosted by Family Bike Collective at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School (my dad's alma mater!) before we were obliged to turn back for Dino's naptime.
"Training Wheel Liberation" is a monthly learn-to-ride workshop aimed at kids from 18 months and up. Family Bike Collective, a non-profit affiliated with Spokes Bike Lounge in North Berkeley, dedicated "to getting children on bikes that match their sizes, personalities and lifestyles." Because kids grow so fast, it's impractical to buy a new bike every time they grow. Too many kids ride bikes that are ill-suited for them, and FBC combats this trend by providing educational events and offering memberships that allow for trade-ins and size-ups as needed.
FBC, and many other bike advocacy organizations, discourages training wheels for novice cyclists. Training wheels slow down a rider and more importantly, counteract our instincts to balance by allowing the rider to rest the weight of the bike on the training wheel, instead of cycling at adequate speed to maintain a natural balance point. I learned about this method of teaching through Chris, who volunteered with Bike New York's adult learn-to-ride workshops. The method involves removing a bike's pedals and lowering the seat far enough that the rider's feet can rest comfortably on the ground. The rider then strides on the bike in order to practice balancing with speed (the faster you move, the easier it is to balance). When the rider gains confidence, the pedals are replaced, and eventually, the seat is raised up to its proper height. With that, a new cyclist is made! It sounds too good to be true, but it works on tiny tots and grown ups alike. It's amazingly fast and effective: I've personally seen the most stubborn "I can't ride a bike!" adults turn into savvy city cyclists with this method.
We had a great time at MLK Middle School getting Dino set up on the smallest, 12-inch balance bike. He's still a bit too short to stride on it, but he gained valuable experience on the bike nonetheless. We also got the opportunity to meet other cycling families and talk with the instructors and founders of Family Bike Collective—when they weren't busy coaching toddlers and 'tweens on two wheels.
The monthly workshop is free and it's a fantastic way to test ride an impressive array of kid's bike equipment. The next "Training Wheel Liberation" is on Sunday, April 8th from 9am-12pm at MLK Middle School. You can learn more about Family Bike Collective on their website.
Everyone knows about Sunday (& recently, Saturday!) open houses, when homes for sale are open to the public and potential buyers for viewing. But if you're new to the real estate market, you might not know agents preview new listings for our clients on weekday mornings, during scheduled Broker's Tours.
Typically, Monday's Tour is dedicated to Piedmont and most of Oakland, while Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, and North(west) Oakland tour on Thursday. Thursday is a big tour day for me, because it encompasses many of the most vibrant and walkable East Bay neighborhoods—often, the neighborhoods my younger buyer clients are most interested in.
Whenever possible, I try to accomplish my tour schedule by bicycle. It's a three-birds-with-one-stone situation: I keep my car miles down, get some exercise, and enjoy the scenery and weather of the East Bay. And I've already written about the fact that bicycling allows me to learn a lot more about the quality of life within a given neighborhood than I would otherwise, so I won't repeat myself here ;).
Today, my clients needs brought me to the Vue46 condominiums in Emeryville, a building which began its life as the manufacturing plant for Aluminum Cooking Wear before being converted into residential units in 2008. I saw two, two-bedroom units: a super spacious corner unit with views of the Oakland Hills to the east and a straight-sight line to Campanile and the Berkeley campus northwards, and a split-level unit with views westward including the Bay Bridge. "Vue46" indeed!
My next stop was a stone's throw away, but in Oakland instead of Emeryville. If you find yourself generally confused about what's Oakland, what's Emeryville, and what's south Berkeley, you're not alone. In fact there's so much confusion about it that people have given up and adopted the neighborhood name "NOBE" (North Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville). You can check out NOBE's neighborhood association website here, which features restaurant listings, happenings, and more. You can see a border map here.
My bike and I headed northward from there to check out a couple more houses in south Berkeley and an old-fashioned condo in the Elmwood. The Elmwood is one of Berkeley's most impressive neighborhoods, and one of the most expensive. Though it's a bit less fancy than the most tony parts of the Uplands and the Berkeley Hills, I prefer the Elmwood because it's flat, allowing for easy walking and biking, and the College Avenue commercial district is unparalleled in charm and walkability. The Elmwood is comprised of mostly single family residences, but some of it's largest iconic brown shingle houses have been converted to multi-unit condominiums or apartments. Occaisonally you'll see a true multi-unit building, like the 4-unit classic Arts & Crafts style building I toured today. With charming original craftsman details and built-ins, this condo would be the perfect destination for empty-nesters looking to downsize and to simplify their lives by being closer to all the action.
Before heading back to the office, I hit up a couple of my favorite Elmwood spots. Since my idea of dressing up is putting on my good jeans, I stopped in at Slash Denim, a true hole-in-the wall that specializes in new and vintage Levi's, to get a jet-black pair of pants. The shop has been there since ___ and it's my favorite way to buy clothes: all i have to do is walk in, tell the sales associate my size and my need, and be on my way. I grabbed a slice of pizza at Nabolom, bought my son a pack of freight train stickers at Sweet Dreams, and was on my way!
St. Patrick's Day came early to our house this year! My partner, Chris, is ambitious at work and at home, which means she often has the patience and focus to do things like: research the science of curing meat safely, invest in some supplies and tools, and make corned beef from scratch. And I am so glad about that, because dinner was delicious. Even our kid loved it. While he has an unusually large appetite for a toddler, he doesn't usually eat much meat. Yet even he was shouting "mo' beef!" throughout our meal.
Last week, Chris brought home a plain, raw brisket. She set out to cure it, a process that takes 7 days (Luckily, after the initial set up, the process is completely passive). Chris learned to brine and cure by reading AmazingRibs.com, especially this article "The Science of Curing Meats Safely." The article will school you on basics like killing botulism, nitrites vs. nitrates, and it even includes a handy calculator for setting up your curing solution.
Today, the meat was finally ready to be cooked. Chris followed this recipe, which calls for the cured meat to be simmered in water for 3-4 hours (the meat is so full of seasonings and salts from the week in the fridge, there's no need to add anything else). You throw the root veggies into the pot for the last hour, and then the cabbage for the last thirty minutes. Slice up the meat, then serve with veggies and some generous spoonfuls of the simmering liquid.
As a Realtor, weekends mean working for me. Between hosting open houses, showing property, meeting with my buyer clients who work long hours all week, and catching up on the paperwork, there's never as much time for adventuring as I'd like! But since Chris works traditional hours during the week, and Dino is in daycare, we make sure to prioritize a little time every weekend for family fun.
Today we ventured to Little Farm up at Tilden Regional Park after Dino's nap. It's a perfect mini-adventure: Little Farm is very little, so it doesn't take much time to visit every animal. It's completely free, there's plenty of parking (& you can even take the 67 bus!), and since the whole thing is open, there are no lines to wait in even when it's busy with visitors.
My father grew up in the Berkeley Hills just a stone's throw from Tilden, and my grandmother lived on Grizzly Peak for 60+ years, so I visited Little Farm countless times with my cousins when I was a kid. Today was Chris and Dino's second visit: we first took Dino when he was about 8 months old, but at that age he wasn't old enough to really engage with the environment. Nowadays, he's walking, talking, and knows the names of several animals by sight, so we thought it was high time for a return visit.
The cows are the first animals you'll see when you arrive, and Dino was very skeptical about their size and their friendliness. He warmed up as we gandered over to the ducks and geese. Chris and I marveled at the very young piglets, but Dino wasn't as impressed, and he got scared when the roosters started cockadoodling. The goats and sheep were his absolute favorite: he kept saying "Hi Goats!" and "Hi Shee[p]!", and he even tried to climb into the sheep's pen at one point.
When you visit Little Farm, you'll see lots and lots of families with young kids. Many kids visit with their grandparents, and today there were even some teenagers on awkward dates plus a big group of Cal undergrads, who seemed to be there for some kind of class assignment. If you have a couple of hours, you can pair your visit to Little Farm with a trip to the Merry-Go-Round (1 mile south of the Farm via Central Park Drive) and the incredible Redwood Valley Railway, a 15-gauge train ride (3 miles further south via Grizzly Peak Drive). Don't forget to bring lots of celery and lettuce so you can you feed the animals!
As a Realtor, I work a lot of night and weekend hours. In fact, many of my colleagues would argue that Realtors are never not working: as a fiduciary who works with high stakes transactions representing large sums—for many people, the largest financial transactions of their lives—I have to be available for my clients whenever a situation arises.
That said, there are also times when I can be flexible with my time. Today, I was fortunate to be able to take some time to celebrate Valentine's day with my favorite person: myself. OK, I'm kind of kidding (obviously my baby is my favorite person!), but I do love to use the opportunity to treat myself. I decided to take a leisurely 6-mile bike ride from my home in lower Piedmont to Westbrae to take a ballet class at Berkeley Ballet Theater. BBT was founded in 1981 and operated out of the historical Julia Morgan Center for the Arts in the Elmwood for decades, but a few months ago the school moved to a much larger facility in a formerly-industrial neighborhood near the Berkeley waterfront and the ultra-hip 4th Street shopping district. BBT offers a comprehensive and rigorous classical ballet training program for children and teens (I'm a product of that program!) and also offers a full roster of open ballet classes for adults, at every level from absolute beginner to professional. With all those classes, the school badly needed the extra studio space provided by their new home.
Even though the new venue at 1370 Tenth Street is a little further from my home, I hardly mind because there's an excellent safe, beautiful, and most importantly, flat bicycle route between my home and the studios (thank goodness I live in Baja Piedmont!). Berkeley was way ahead of the times when the city introduced the now-iconic traffic-calming bollards in 1975. The bollards in Berkeley are a familiar grievance for motorists: most of us have had the experience of driving happily along, only to be stopped suddenly by a row of barricades and a sign warning not to enter for fear of a $175 fine. I completely understand how aggravating they can be to motorists, but they make a huge difference in the bikeability (how safe and pleasant it is to bike) of Berkeley, especially in tandem with Berkeley's Bicycle Boulevard Network. A Bicycle Boulevard is "a low-speed, low-volume street which has been optimized for bicycle traffic. Bicycle boulevards discourage cut-through motor-vehicle traffic but allow local motor-vehicle traffic. They are designed to give priority to people biking as through-going traffic," and let me tell you, they are glorious. I most often take the California-King Bicycle Boulevard, which runs North-South through Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley. It's relaxing, way safer than biking on a major thoroughfare (GoogleMaps told me to bike on San Pablo to North Berkeley, which is a terrible suggestion), and just an all-around refreshing break from the stress that often comes from being a single, soft body trying to navigate traffic in a see of two-ton fossil fuel powered monsters. My favorite thing about the Boulevards is that it makes biking for transportation so accessible to people who would otherwise be put off by the fear of riding in traffic. When I was biking around Manhattan regularly, I fancied myself pretty tough with regard to traffic conditions. Now that a lot of my biking includes my toddler, I'm much more anxious about road safety.
Beyond being a sustainable mode of transportation, and a chill form of exercise, I love the way that biking through the Bay Area helps me stay in tune with neighborhoods and communities. Biking to ballet class this morning, I passed through Baja Piedmont, Piedmont Avenue, the Temescal, Bushrod, South Berkeley, Northbrae, and Westbrae. If I were driving, I'd be going 30mph on San Pablo, or 65mph on 580, and there's no way I'd be able to take stock of newly opened businesses, freshly painted homes, recently completed renovation projections, or repaired playground equipment. When I'm biking, I have the chance to observe much more about my surroundings and I can watch kids playing or exchange pleasantries with pedestrians and other cyclists. Not to mention the fact that I have much more time to soak in the stunning Bay views to my left and Hills to my right as I pedal on!
After ballet class I jogged across the street to buy a pound of Icelandic Cod from the Whole Foods on Gilman. Chris said she'd make fish tacos for dinner if I picked up the fish. Lucky, lucky me!
Lately, I've been very tempted to start a super serious Real Estate Blog. Before I was a Realtor, I worked as a writer and editor, and I love educating my clients and friends about the finer points of personal finance, property tax laws, the real estate transaction process, and making the most out of your home life. But as much as I would enjoy researching and writing a lengthy treatise on the pros and cons of Prop 13, I realize it'd be more fun for my readers if I took a different approach: focusing on day-to-day adventures.
OK, I'll admit it: I'm being pretty generous with the word "adventure." When I was 17, I spent a month traveling around Europe with nothing more than a JanSport backpack and 25 Euros per day, including lodging. That was definitely an adventure (I also lost a lot of weight without meaning to, as you can imagine).
My idea of what constitutes an adventure shifted dramatically when I had a baby and it became a major feat just to get out the door on time with clothes unsoiled and wallet in tow. In fact, I'll never forget the first outing my partner and I took with our son, to his pediatric check-up when he was 5 days old. While we were waiting for the doctor, Chris opened the diaper bag, which I had packed. "Damn, this is so heavy!" she exclaimed, pulling out three, 24-ounce water bottles, "Um, what's with all the water?" I indignantly explained, "What if something happens to us, and we need water?!" Luckily I quickly became aware of my absurd sleep-deprived, postpartum over-preparation. I had packed enough water for a hundred mile bike ride (something we did before becoming parents and will probably never do again) even though our trip entailed only a 1 mile bus ride from our apartment to the doctor's office! For the record, I'm still an avowed over-preparer.
There's no question that having a baby, and now a toddler, puts limitations on our ability to have spontaneous, complicated, and somewhat rugged adventures. At the same time, these logistical limitations have given me a renewed appreciation for quotidian fun, for all the enjoyable things we can do with a toddler in tow. One of the most surprising parts of parenthood for me has been how much more observant, mindful, and appreciative of ordinary pleasures I've become. I see living in the East Bay as an immense privilege: there is so much here, from pleasant weather to rich networks of community organizing and activism, natural beauty, tons of activities, tons of high and low brow cultural happenings (equally important in my eyes), and of course, delicious food and drink.
In this blog, I'm going to focus on sharing with you all the projects and day trips and happenings about town that my family and I participate in, how we make the most of our time together, and of course our favorite spots and activities in the East Bay. General speaking, my partner and I are both invested in sustainability, financial integrity, and cultivating a fulfilling home-based lifestyle. What that means in practical terms is that you can expect posts from me about biking for transportation, cooking, crafting, beer-making, DIY home improvement, personal finance and budgeting. In the midst of all this, real estate topics are bound to come up and I will arm you with a with a healthy dose of pragmatic resources. Now, for the adventure!