spring has sprung

places to safely sip outside

It’s gorgeous outside, isn’t it?! The weather has finally taken its turn to full spring and there are so many great places to hang outside and have the spring we all wanted to have last year until the chaos of stay-at-home orders and a promised two week ‘flattening of the curve’ took it all away from us.

But we’re back! We are so back! And we’re going to get back out there and make it count. Though…the curve is definitely where it was this time last year…maybe a little higher even … so… be careful?! I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice.

(photo: npr)

But what I am an expert in and have plenty of unsolicited advice on is places to eat and drink. Here are a few top spots around the east bay to imbibe outside:

The BackYard - Jack London-ish - When this place opened up last year (also I should note that whenever I say ‘last year’, i mean pre-covid, like 2019, because 2020 doesn’t count), bay area foodies let out a collective gasp. Nido’s, a beloved mexican restaurant in West Oakland was expanding and billed their new spot as a “Margarita garden” offering cocktails and cuisine out in the sun. Nido’s has a sprawling outdoor set-up that’s great for kids, and in pre-covid times, this colorful spot was full of toys and a train would go by like every ten minutes - which in most cases would be a bug, but here, its a feature since kids love trains. The BackYard has excellent cocktails and all the classic Mexican dishes, plus a kids menu. They seem to be taking customer and staff safety serious with an extensive list of guidelines for guests.

Calicraft- Walnut Creek - shortly after I had my kiddo, my pal invited me to have a beer at this cool spot in Walnut Creek. I was finally out of that new-mom fog, had the baby on some sort of nap schedule and was starting to feel like a person again, so I put on some cute white pants and a top, dolled up my kiddo and was excited to have half a beer with a friend and pretend to be my old self again. Not more than ten minutes in, the baby, who happens to be on my lap, has a massive diaper blow out all over my white jeans. Cool, cool, cool. I tell you this, not to make you cringe - but to show you the kind of place this is. Literally, no one gave a shit (except the baby), and frankly, once I wiped it off in the bathroom, I wasn’t that worried about it either. This is such a fun, laid back spot where your pants can be soaking wet from freshly cleaned off poop and you can still have a good time. They have a great variety of beers, everything from IPAs to sours (my favorite) and even hard spritzers. Calicraft offers beer-friendly snacks like chicharrones, beef and vegan jerky, thai spiced peanuts - and Thursdays thru Sunday they have a rotating lineup of your favorite east bay food trucks with everything from pizza to burgers to tacos. There’s a huge parking lot with lots of room for kids to roam about and explore and cause just enough trouble without getting into any real trouble. This spring they’re planning to bring back live music on Friday and Saturday nights - so be sure to check it out.

doña - North Oakland - Former Temescal Mexican hot spot Doña Tomas reopened last year with a brand new, massive and beautiful space with two stories of outdoor seating overlooking Piedmont ave. This is one of the few spots you can get some kind of queso dip in the east bay (if you know of others, please, please let me know), so naturally a favorite of mine, plus quick and easy tacos, burritos, bowls and cocktails. They offer to-go and delivery as well.

Donkey and Goat - Berkeley - up until relatively recently, I had no idea this whole little natural wine corridor on 5th street in Berkeley existed. Did you know about it? Well if not, Vogue magazine beat us both to the punch. There are a ton of tiny little tasting rooms in this warehouse district but one of the best spots to socialize is Donkey and The Goat which has a lovely open backyard courtyard. They are taking reservations on Saturday and Sunday and offer cheese and charcuterie and other wine snacks along with their local, sustainable wines.

(Donkey and Goat)

Balestrieri Family Farm - Briones - other things I did not know until recently - but there is a winery in Briones. One day I happened to be driving by and saw a bunch of people and tents and kids and animals and was like what….is that…?! It’s a family-owned winery and vineyard - with 15 acres of vines and 5 acres of olives. On weekends, they host family-friendly pop-up events with food and live animals. They are not regularly updating their website - so follow them on instagram for the latest. And if you’re not ready to get out just yet, you can still find Balestrieri olive oil at your favorite local grocery.

(Photo: Balestrieri family farm)

And coming soon:
Headlands Brewing. Lafayette must have had a little beer-garden envy when Moraga opened Canyon Club Brewery last year (again, think this was really ~2 years ago), so now Mt Diablo Blvd is getting its own outdoor, kid-friendly beer garden, promising a ‘20-tap floating draught tower’, which sounds…intimidating.


In other East Bay news:

👮Danville was named the safest city in California. Which, if you’ve ever been to this little slice of paradise should sound about right.

🏡 This wild 4,200 sq ft home/ party palace dubbed ‘Hearst Castle Meets Disney’ is for sale for just under $3.5M in Pleasanton.

🥯The New York Times continues to recognize the East Bay as the cultural hub of the Bay Area and is frequently mining the region for news content. So many topics we’ve explored here in the East Bae end up in their pages — just last week, they featured an interview with Charles Fleming, the author of “Secret Stairs of the East Bay” - a book you’ll recall from our early pandemic edition last March ‘places to socialize, distantly’. And in an effort to start a war among coastal foodies and garner themselves a bunch of clicks, they also recently featured our most beloved local bagel shop, Boichik (which East Bae first wrote about in 2019) — with a striking claim: west coast bagels like Boichik are better than the bagels in NY.

Now listen, I love Boichik. But having the paper of record in the bagel city of record proclaim that your local spot is better than the bagels they are modeled after… well that’s just too much. We all got comfortable with the ten minute waits at Boichik over the last year, but there are now allegedly HOURS-long waits of hungry hoards of bagel-tourists. It’s like having a favorite band that you see at your local dive bar and get to hang with after the show and they’re suddenly charging $100 for crappy stadium seats and they won’t play the deep cuts. That being said, Boichik’s owner Emily Winston seems like an absolutely wonderful person, their bagels are amazing and they truly deserve all the success, so we’ll figure out a way to get back over there. Maybe they can start some sort of ‘regulars’ program? Like if you know Temmy’s name you can cut the line? But in the meantime, my friend Sonal turned me onto a new, new bagel spot — Poppy Bagels. These are fantastic and yet, also difficult to get your hands on - but delivering limited batches in SF and Oakland and making sandwiches at the Grand Lake Farmer’s market on Saturdays.

And sorry it’s been a month since I’ve written - tell me what you’ve been up to! I’ve been working a lot.