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East Bay expedition


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POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Growing up in Northern California's Bay Area, my earliest memories include field trips to the Oakland Museum, eating dim sum in nearby Chinatown and visiting Lake Merritt's Children's Fairyland. Oakland is, after all, the East Bay's largest metropolis.

Recently, I decided to revisit the highlights of this port city, and was pleased to find that they continue to intrigue.

For a comprehensive overview of the area, the Oakland Museum of California is a useful place to start. In the entrance lobby sits a circular, benchlike sculpture 13 feet in diameter. Back in 1969, woodworker J.B. Blunk carved “;The Planet”; out of a single redwood burl, and it has been an icon of the museum for years.

On the same floor is the Natural Sciences Gallery, which begins with the film “;Fast Flight,”; five minutes of aerial views over California's highly diverse landscape. A giant spinning globe and a topographical map set the stage for the following sections: Aquatic, Coastline, Coastal Mountains, Central Valley, Sierra Slope, High Sierra, Deserts and Great Basin. Each ecosystem features representative flora and fauna, with dioramas accompanied by sounds such as crickets chirping or sage grouses gurgling. Among the roughly 2,500 natural specimens, the colorful bird egg collection is a highlight.

The Art and History Gallery covers turning points in early California history such as the Spanish missions, the 1848 gold rush and the railroad. It also details the cultures of American Indians and the Spanish colonists known as Californios.

Art is found throughout the museum, from an impressive collection of intricately decorated Chinese snuff bottles to traveling exhibitions such as “;L.A. Paint.”; Community ties can be found in displays such as “;Told from a Totem,”; consisting of contemporary totem poles designed by area high school students. The gardens and terraces outside contain modern sculptures, with Lake Merritt providing a scenic backdrop.