We have travelled to California many times since our first visit in 1981, but the lure of San Francisco is so strong that it was not until 2018 that for the first time we properly explored the eastern side of San Francisco Bay, known as the East Bay. In 1851 the town of Oakland was founded on the eastern shore of the bay, and in 1853 the College of California was established in the town. In 1868 the college became the nucleus of the University of California and plans were made to build a new campus to the north of the town, now the site of UC Berkeley. San Francisco was founded in the era of the sailing ship but its position at the northern tip of a peninsula meant that land access was not so easy. In 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed with its western terminus on the more accessible east side of San Francisco Bay, at Oakland. The railroad access enabled Oakland to grow rapidly as a seaport. The East Bay area suffered relatively light damage during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake so many San Franciscans who had lost their homes sought refuge in the East Bay area. The area continued to grow through the early 20th century, but its only direct link to San Francisco was a ferry service. In 1936 the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge was completed linking the east and west sides of the bay triggering growth across a wider area of the East Bay. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) arrived in 1972 providing a fast direct link between San Francisco and the East Bay.




East Bay


Old State Capitol, Benicia

Benicia dates back to the days of the Mexican-American War. In 1847 Kentucky newspaperman Robert Semple and former American consul to Alta California Thomas Larkin bought land from Monterey born Mexican General Mariano Guadalupe. The General supported the US annexation of California and he asked Semple and Larkin to name their city after his wife Francisca Benicia. It is said that  in 1848 news of the discovery gold at Sutter's Mill first leaked out in a tavern in Benicia, thus starting the California gold rush. After California achieved statehood in 1850 it set up its capital in San Jose, but Legislature did not like the mud and poor facilities there. Sensing an opportunity, Bencia rushed to build a red brick capitol in just four months. It was completed in 1852 but the capital moved instead to Vallejo. In 1853 Benicia achieved its objective of becoming State Capitol, but success was short lived. After just 13 months Governor John Bigler moved the capitol to his hometown of Sacramento where is has remained ever since. The Old State Capitol at Benicia is the only pre-Sacramento capitol building still standing in California. It has been restored with reconstructed period furnishings and is open for public tours Thursday to Sunday.   


BOAC Flying Boat City of Cardiff, Oakland Aviation Museum, Oakland, CA
USS Potomac, Oakland, CA, USA USA
Jack London Cabin, Jack London Square, Oakland, CA, USA
South Hall (1873), University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

Jack London Cabin, Jack London Square, Oakland

Jack London was a writer who is best known for his novels set in the Klondike Gold Rush. He was born John Griffith Chaney in San Francisco on January 12, 1876. Astrologer William Chaney refused to accept that he was the father of Flora Wellman’s child and he had already abandoned them when John was born. Flora moved to Oakland and married Civil War veteran John London. Taking his stepfather’s name, the boy grew up to be an adventurer. At the age of 14 he left school to become a sailor travelling as far as Japan. Returning to Oakland he went back to school and in 1896 he was admitted to UC Berkeley but he left after a year to join the Klondike gold rush. He was not one of the lucky ones, returning the following year and deciding to become a writer.  In 1903 Jack London published ‘The Call of the Wild’, a novel set in the Klondike which is widely considered to be his best work. Seventy years after Jack London went to the Klondike, his biographer Russ Kingman travelled there to see if his cabin was still standing. It was, and Kingman did a deal with the Canadian government to dismantle the cabin with half of the logs going to Dawson City and half to Oakland to build a replica in both cities. The Oakland replica is the centrepiece of Jack London Square. Next to the cabin stands  Heinold's First & Last Chance Saloon dating back to 1880. As a schoolboy Jack London studied sitting at one of its tables. Click Tab 2 to see the saloon, including the bar left sloping bar by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

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Pachypodium Lamerei, University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley, CA, USA



Pachypodium Lamerei, University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley

A small garden was included in the Berkeley campus back in the 1870s  on the site now occupied by Moffit Library. In 1890 the University of California Botanical Garden was formally established on the campus by the chairman of the Department of Botany, E L Greene. He established a living collection of native Californian trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants and also specimens from neighbouring Pacific Coast States. In 1894 a large conservatory was built in the garden. By the 1920s room was needed for more buildings on the campus, so the garden had to move. U C Berkeley had purchased Strawberry Canyon in the hills overlooking the campus back in 1909, so between 1925 and 1928 the Botanic Garden was relocated to a 13.7 hectare (34 acre) site on that land. The new garden was designed by Berkeley professor and landscape architect, John William Gregg. The University of California Botanical Garden now includes much more than the plants of North America; it has gardens with living specimens from Southern Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and South America. Over the other side of the road from the main garden there is also a redwood grove. The garden climbs up the hillside and on a good day you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of San Francisco Bay, unfortunately the day we visited there was a major storm brewing so there was not much to see. The picture shows a Pachypodium Lamerei, a stem succulent that comes from the island Madagascar.

Muir-Strentzel Home, John Muir National Historic Park, Martinez, CA, USA

Muir-Strentzel Home, John Muir National Historic Park

John Muir is known as ‘The Father of the National Parks’. Born in Dunbar, Scotland on April 21, 1838, as a child he wandered  the countryside, developing an interest in natural history. His family moved to Wisconsin in 1849, where they started a farm. Muir studied at the University of Wisconsin, but never graduated. He became a supervisor in a wagon wheel factory in Indianapolis until an accident damaged his eye. While convalescing he decided that his future lay in exploration and studying plants. After travelling across the US and to Cuba, he finally settled in California. He visited Yosemite and was so inspired by its spectacular scenery that he lived there for several years. In 1880, he married Louie Wanda Strentzel and moved to Martinez, California where he managed his father-in-law’s  fruit farm and they raised their two daughters. He began to write books about his travels and articles  promoting the protection of the wilderness. His writings contributed to Yosemite National Park being created in September 1890, but Muir was disappointed that control of the park was left with the State. Louie’s father died in October 1890 and the Muir family moved in with her mother. In 1892 with some of his supporters, Muir founded the Sierra Club to protect the wilderness. As president, a role that he kept for the rest of his life, his first task was to see off attempts to halve the size of the park. His writings came to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt and in 1903 they met in the park. Muir’s influence helped to get Yosemite brought under Federal control in 1906 but in 1913 he failed to prevent damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. John Muir died on December 24, 1914 and his house has been preserved as John Muir National Historic Site. Click tab 2 to see John Muir’s ‘Scribble Room’ wher he did most of his writing.


South Hall, University of California Berkeley

Between 1857 and 1866  college preparatory school the College of California purchased parcels of land north of its base in Oakland on which they planned to build a new campus. Their  site in Oakland lacked room to expand and was in an area that was becoming unsavoury. Having purchased the land, the College did not have enough funds to start building work. In 1867 the trustees reluctantly agreed to merge with the state-run Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College on the condition that resultant college was a full University.  The University of California opened in September 1869 based in the former College of California's buildings in Oakland while the new campus was built. It was not until 1873 when North and South Halls were completed that the university with its 167 male and 22 female students relocated to Berkeley. Phoebe Hearst, mother of William Randolph Hearst, made several large donations to the university from 1891 onwards allowing further construction work including the Hearst Memorial Mining Building and Hearst Hall.  Nowadays Berkeley is the oldest of ten campuses that make up the University of California. Click Tab 2 to see the Hearst Memorial Mining Building.

USS Potomac, Oakland

The US Coast Guard cutter Electra was built by the Manitowoc Ship Building Company of Wisconsin in 1934 but in 1936 she was commissioned as a US Navy vessel called the USS Potomac. She was not commissioned to to be a fighting vessel, her new role was to serve as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential Yacht. The President made extensive use of the yacht both for fishing trips and for holding political meetings in less formal surroundings. The yacht was adapted for Roosevelt’s disabilities, the aft funnel is a dummy that conceals an elevator to to used by Roosevelt in his wheelchair in the event of having to take to the lifeboats. the Potomac was decommissioned by the Navy after Roosevelt's death,  and returned to the US Coast Guard in November 1945. From 1960 onwards she had a number of private owners including, brifly, Elvis Presley. In 1980 she was seized by US Customs at San Francisco for drug smuggling and impounded at Treasure Island, California, where she sank. She was refloated within 2 weeks then left to rot in the East Bay Estuary. She was within a week of being sold for scrap when she was rescued by the Port of Oakland, who set about the task of restoring her the way she would have looked in FDR’s day. Berthed at Jack London Square in Oakland, the USS Potomac opened for public dock side tours in 1995 and is also used for cruises in San Francisco Bay.

BOAC Flying Boat, Oakland Aviation Museum

Oakland Aviation Museum is based on the site of the former Boeing School of Aeronautics. The museum has plenty of American aircraft on show, but it was a rare British aircraft that caught our attention. The Sunderland Flying Boat designed by Short Brothers was used during World War II as a long-range reconnaissance aircraft. In 1945 the an enlarged and more powerful version called the Seaford was delivered, but the end of the war made them surplus to requirements. Short Brothers converted some of the Seafords into a commercial flying boat called the Solent, capable of carrying 34 passengers and 7 crew. In March of 1949 British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC)  inaugurated a scheduled service from Southampton to Johannesburg using a Solent named ‘City of Cardiff’. The aircraft flew only during the day so the journey took 5 days with stops at Sicily, Luxor, Kampala and Victoria Falls. Land aircraft and runways soon made flying boats obsolete, so the service ceased in November 1950. ’City of Cardiff’ was sold in 1951 and used in Australia until 1953. It was then sold to South Pacific Airlines who renamed it 'Isle of Tahiti' and used it to serve Pacific Islands. It was taken out of service in 1958 and left on the US west coast, passing through several hands before being restored and put on display at the Oakland Aviation Museum.  The exterior has been returned to BOAC livery complete with the Speedbird call sign still used by BOAC’s successor, British Airways. The exterior is complete apart from rudder and floats, most of the  interior is complete including some ‘Isle of Tahiti’ decorations. If you want to see what it was like to fly in the late 1940s, the ‘City of Cardiff’ is normally open on Sundays. Click Tab 2 to see the cockpit and click Tab 3 to see the passenger seating on the lower deck.

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Old State Capitol, Benicia, CA, USA


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New Tins Market, 7th & Harrison Streets, Oakland, CA, USA

New Tins Market, Oakland

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Oakland in the 1850s. Construction of the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s attracted even more Chinese. They settled in a number of areas and the people of Oakland began to fear that they would be swamped by Chinese immigrants. In the 1870s local laws forced the Chinese to move to an area centred on 8th Street and Webster Street, creating a Chinatown much  like the one in San Francisco on the other side of the Bay. Oakland still has a Chinatown and it is well worth a visit even if you have been to San Francisco’s Chinatown. In San Francisco you will see a Chinatown that has become adapted to tourism while in Oakland you will see a thriving Chinatown largely untouched by tourism. New Tins Market on 7th Street  is clearly very popular with the Chinese community as there was a line of cars waiting to get in to the parking lot.

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- A diverse area that is well worth visiting if you can tear yourself away from San Francisco.
- The BART system means that there is a quick and easy way to get to several East Bay destinations from San Francisco.
- Traffic around Oakland can be heavy and some of the roads around Oakland are confusing, several times we could not do a direct turn to where we wanted to go but instead had to carry on and then reverse out direction of travel.
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'California or bust' car, Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA, USA
Plants in flower, Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, CA, USA
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'California or bust' car, Oakland Museum of California

In 1969 the Oakland Museum, as it was then known, opened on a 3 hectare (7.7 acre) site just south west of Lake Merritt. It was created from the merger of three museums that dated back to the early 20th century. Designed by architect Kevin Roche and landscape architect Dan Kiley it was an urban park as well as a museum. The museum is devoted to the art, history and natural science of California. It is housed  on three stepped levels where the roof of one level is a terrace for the one above. Between 2009 and 2013 the museum underwent major renovation and expansion with each gallery closed for a period of time. This picture taken in the History Gallery shows a car from the 1930’s when the combination of drought and the depression force many Mid West farmers to move west in the hope of finding greener pastures as described in Steinbeck's book ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Many started their journey in Oklahoma. so they were known as ‘Okies’. On their car they loaded their family and as many possessions as possible. Many displayed a ‘California or bust’ sign to signify their determination to find a new and, hopefully, better life in the west. The Oakland Museum of California is open Wednesday to Sunday.

Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek

Ruth Petersson was born in Boston in 1908, the daughter of Swedish immigrants. The family moved to California after her father was offered a job at UC Berkeley. She enrolled on an architecture course at UC Berkeley but switched to teaching after the Wall Street Crash. In 1939 she married Philip Bancroft and they lived at Mount Diablo Fruit Farm, his family farm in Walnut Creek. Ruth Bancroft began planting a garden around the home and developed a fascination for succulents. By the late 1960s the farm was winding down and the land being sold off to developers. In 1971 Philip offered the last 1.2 hectares (3 acres)  to Ruth as a new home for her collection of succulents which had outgrown the available space. She engaged Lester Hawkins from Occidental to design the garden and then set set about transplanting the best succulents and cacti from her collection. The garden soon became known within the horticulture industry for the quality of its collection. She continued to develop the garden after her husband Phiip died in 1983 and in 1992 she opened the Ruth Bancroft Garden to the public. Ruth Bancroft died in 2017 at the incredible age of 109. Click Tab 2 to see a Silk Floss Tree in flowe.r


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