San FranciscoSelf Care

Five East Bay Spots to Escape the Rat Race

You thought California was easy living, huh? Maybe you’re from here and you already knew better. There’s no doubt that this is the most beautiful state in the country, perhaps the most beautiful place on earth, but it certainly comes at a price—one you pay in cash, flesh, time, sweat and tears.

Packed like sardines into our cars, onto the highway, into our little rooms and shared homes with their leaking refrigerators and postage stamp yards, we seek any path we can out of this rat race. The laboratory maze, it seems, is constantly reconfigured to confuse us. Must we chew through the walls to escape the noise, the stench and chaos?

Pause! When you’re just about ready to pull your hair out; before you gnash and grind your teeth into dull nubs—just pause. Take a deep breath. Rebuild and restore your sanity at these scattered oases of tranquility in the East Bay—these sacred pilgrimage sites where you can reconnect with the eternity within you. You can get away from it all—even when you’re in the middle of it all. Don’t forget: even the worst days have to end!

Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland
No one knows peace like the dead. Mountain View Cemetery, the sprawling 233-acre cemetery in the middle of Oakland established in 1863, harkens back to the days of pioneers, gold rush hicks, robber barons, and railroad magnates. It is also the single best place to escape for an afternoon picnic, jog, or dog walk in the city of Oakland. Rolling grassy hills, towering palm trees, and handcrafted crypts paint a scene that’s postcard-perfect from every angle. At the top of the cemetery, the “mountain view,” offers the best view of Oakland looking into San Francisco, rivalled only by Grizzly Peak. Take a walk and visit some of the big names laid to rest, like the Ghiradellis, Folgers, early Oakland Mayor Samuel Merritt, early California Governor George Pardee, and of course homegrown Oakland rapper Mac Dre.

Lake Anza, Berkeley
Tucked away in the Berkeley hills is little Lake Anza, a manmade water feature perfect for a dip on hot sunny days or a hike in the cool fall. Take a towel and sprawl out, get a snack at the food stand, or take your canine companions around the lake’s perimeter. Spend an hour wandering the Lake Anza Trail, with its clean, defined path, or walk the Wildcat Gorge Trail along Wildcat Creek and scout the perfect spot to read that book you’ve been wanting to finish. Forget all the hustle and bustle of the city far below. Lake Anza is free to the public, with ample parking. A fee of $3.50 per person is charged for entrance to the beach.

Albany Bulb, Albany
Jutting into the salty Bay, the Albany Bulb, a small peninsula formerly used as a dumping grounds for industrial waste—everything from concrete to steel. The Bulb is a tourable testament to the power of nature over humankind. Save the Bay efforts from the 1960s-1980s preserved this spot for the future, forcing legal action on the companies who used it as a landfill. Today, wandering through the Albany Bulb is like walking among Roman ruins– walls, pillars, columns, tiles, and sea glass shards. Vandal artists have spray painted and recreated every exposed surface of concrete with breathtaking graffiti and mosaics. There are swings, smoking spots, a rock labyrinth, and so much more. Bring the dogs, but watch where you walk!

Hayward Japanese Gardens, Hayward
Zen. To utter the word is to nullify its meaning. Nestled in the dusty Hayward downtown, with its rows of chain stores and groves of eucalyptus trees, the Hayward Japanese Gardens are a sacred 3-acre botanical garden perfect for a lunch break or an afternoon of koi watching. The gardens, which encompass San Lorenzo Creek, make you feel as if you’ve traveled to 16th century Japan. The sounds of traffic fade. You begin to hear birds singing, water babbling, and the faint plunk of a turtle diving off a rock. Free to the public, you can spend hours admiring the flurry of rainbow-colored koi, watching them swirl in unison like the giant stroke of a paint brush, as they nibble fish food on the surface. Let the calm of this place heal the wounds of the day. Soak up the sun. Listen to the sounds. Count the fish.

Robert Crown State Memorial Beach, Alameda
You don’t have to drive hours out of your way to feel the kiss of the sun and hear the crash of the surf. Take a quick drive through the Posey Tube into Alameda. Head for Shoreline Drive. Named for State Assemblyman Robert. W Crown, who campaigned for its preservation, the Alameda Beach was dubbed the “Coney Island of the West” in the 1880s, attracting year-round visitors to carnivals, prize fights, and ball games on the shore. Today, people enjoy this quiet sanctuary for its warm waters, white sands, and plentiful birds. In 2013, a $5.7-million-dollar project pumped 82,600 cubic yards of sand onto the deteriorating 2.5-mile shoreline, restoring the beach and dunes for all the beach blanket sunbathers, volleyball players, and shell collectors to enjoy. Leave the pooch at home—dogs aren’t allowed. Bring your picnic basket, get your sunglasses, and work on that farmer’s tan.

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James Gage

James Gage

James moved from Minnesota to California to fulfill his dream of being a low-level content writer.