Authentic Chinatown awaits across bay


POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Travelers to the Bay Area looking to escape the tourist crowds for a day will find many other signs of culture beyond San Francisco, in Oakland, including its own separate Chinatown. The bustling, pan-Asian neighborhood covers approximately 16 square blocks. Here, it's rare to find tourist traps selling kitschy souvenirs. Instead, the aura is authentic as residents eat, shop and go about their daily business.




If You Go ...




        Costs are approximate and subject to change

» Getting there: A round-trip economy ticket from Hawaii to Oakland International Airport (OAK) costs $350-plus.


» What to see and do:




» Where to eat:


Restaurant Peony: In the heart of Oakland's Chinatown, Peony features Hong Kong-style dim sum. The expansive main dining room seats up to 700 patrons. At Pacific Renaissance Plaza, Suite 288, 388 9th St.; call (510) 286-8866; restaurantpeony.com.


Scott's Seafood: Scott's serves up a variety of seafood to go with the views from the waterfront. The Champagne Jazz Brunch has been voted “;Best Brunch in the Bay Area.”; At Jack London Square, 2 Broadway; call (510) 444-3456; scottseastbay.com.


Silver Dragon: After starting out as a cafe in 1956, Silver Dragon moved into its current three-story location in 1974. Today it remains a popular spot for banquets and other celebrations. At 835 Webster St.; call (510) 893-3748; silverdragonrestaurant.com.


» Where to stay:


Oakland Marriott City Center: Oakland is best visited on a day trip from San Francisco, but if overnight accommodations are desired, this 21-story hotel is conveniently located downtown and across from a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway stop. Rooms start at $179. At 1001 Broadway; call (510)-451-4000; www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/oakdt-oakland-marriott-city-center.


» More information: oaklandcvb.com




Herbal markets tout panaceas while eateries hang roast duck in their windows. Grocery stores display a wide variety of vegetables from pea sprouts to bitter melon, and patrons chatter in Cantonese over plates of freshly made dim sum. It is hard to resist sampling sweet egg tarts (don tot) or steamed pork buns (cha siu bao) from one of the local bakeries.

In the center of the district, Pacific Renaissance Plaza houses the Asian branch of the Oakland Public Library and the Asian Cultural Center, as well as a number of shops, restaurants and a parking garage to alleviate the hunt for the ever-elusive street parking space.

Restaurant Peony in the Plaza is a good choice for dim sum. For less expensive fare try the dishes at King Wah directly across the Plaza on 9th Street. Silver Dragon is about a block from the Plaza on Webster Street, and is a popular choice for banquets.

Jack London Square

After filling up on dim sum, nearby Jack London Square is a convenient place to stroll and take in expansive views of the estuary, boats and the San Francisco skyline.

The restaurants in the area often host jazz performers, and touches of art, such as a peace mural, can be found throughout.

Jack London Square is also the setting for a Sunday farmer's market, a crab crawl and a visit by historical tall ships.

The handful of retail establishments include a bookstore, fitting for a square named after the author of “;The Call of the Wild.”;

Lake Merritt

Known as the “;jewel of Oakland,”; the lake is bedecked at night by lights that encircle its 3.4-mile circumference. During the day it is a prime recreational area for residents who golf, jog and play tennis in its shoreline parks. Kayaks and even genuine Venetian gondolas navigate its waters.

There is something here for everyone: The Victorian Camron-Stanford House attracts history buffs, Children's Fairyland is a thrill for kids, the Wildlife Refuge and Rotary Nature Center appeals to nature lovers (thousands of migratory birds alight here every year) and the Lakeside Park Demonstration Gardens satisfy one's inner botanist.

Located high up in the hills and surrounded by softly swaying pine trees, the Chabot Space and Science Center seems worlds away from the rest of urban Oakland. Here there are plenty of fascinating hands-on activities to delight visitors of all ages. The littlest ones will enjoy the Discovery Lab, while older children will appreciate the Solar-Go-Round exhibit where they can make their own tornado or toss balls into a gravity well.

Elsewhere in the museum are exhibits on being an astronaut (learn what is on a spaceship's menu), the moon (complete with a lunar lander simulator) and the universe (including definitions of nebulae and black holes).

The planetarium and megadome theater host a wide variety of shows, but for the real thing, the Observatory Complex houses telescopes for viewing the skies.

After this, it's time to head back to earth after a busy day spent taking in Oakland's sights. Perhaps, like me, you'll be enticed enough by the city's diverse offerings to come back and visit again.


Monica Quock Chan is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and former marketing executive. She has lived in Europe and Asia and traveled to 55 countries.