Though it sometimes suffers in comparisons with its richer and better-looking sibling across San Francisco Bay, the hardworking city of Oakland (pop. 390,724) is a lively and intriguing place, with a nearly perfect climate and a proudly liberal political heritage. The main attraction for visitors is its waterfront Jack London Square, honoring the city’s favorite prodigal son. Covering a few blocks at the foot of Broadway, the complex contains a couple of good restaurants and nightclubs, a re-creation of the log cabin where Jack London lived when he was in the Yukon Territory, and, last but not least, the truly funky Heinold’s First and Last Chance. This rickety old saloon, serving a wide variety of good beer, is just about the only survivor from Oakland’s wild and woolly past. Jack London Square is pleasant to wander, with a handsome yacht formerly used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and ferries ($13 round-trip) head across the bay to San Francisco.
Oakland’s other main draw is the excellent Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak St., 510/318-8400, Wed.-Sun., $16), housed in a landmark modernist ziggurat on the east edge of downtown, a block from Lake Merritt. Inside, exhibits cover everything from California’s natural history to the photography of Dorothea Lange. An in-depth look at the state’s popular culture is highlighted by a lively display of Hollywood movie posters, neon signs, jukeboxes, and classic cars and motorcycles.