Even though I’m a semi-pro traveler and a pretty good travel planner, the truth is that I wing it a lot more than I’ll admit.
After a recent business trip to San Francisco, that flippancy bit me in the hindquarters, but, as is so often the case, it turned out fine and I got a story out of it, too.
It was a Friday morning; the last day of the eTourism Summit conference. I needed a place to stay that night, and assumed that my basic-but-well-located-and-affordable Rodeway Inn Berkeley would be available. It’s handy to both a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) light rail station and a restaurant where I was meeting a friend.
I ran a quick search, and WHOA, the Rodeway was US$300+ a night that weekend. Had they come in and turned it into a fancy Four Seasons at that price? Or, more likely, was there some event going on? Yes, Cal Berkeley had a Friday night home football game, so of course rates were jacked up at places that were anywhere near the campus.
Suddenly I remembered someone mentioning a municipal ferry service over to the Oakland/East Bay area from downtown San Francisco. Wouldn’t that be more fun anyway? Maybe it would put me off somewhere near a hotel that wasn’t insanely expensive.
Sure enough, the year-round San Francisco Bay Ferry from the Ferry Building to Oakland’s Jack London Square was running a fairly frequent Friday night schedule. Could there possibly be a hotel near the ferry landing?
Yes, the Waterfront Hotel at Jack London Square came up as I searched. It’s part of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain, but the photos and website made it look like an independent boutique property. With a AAA rate I could get in there for $US150-170 a night – not bad for a Bay Area property on the water.
I took one of my first Uber rides from the conference hotel in Japantown down to the Ferry Building. Tactical error – the Ferry Building is also a small food hall, with lots of restaurant options. I wanted to ride the ferry at sunset, so I should have gotten there earlier to grab a bite. It was hard to avert my eyes and walk past all of the culinary delights, especially the seafood.
You stand in line for the ferry at a departure gate like this one….
Tickets are US$6.60 and you buy them on board the ferry.
We passed under the Bay Bridge, all lighted up and pretty and full of swarms of traffic that I didn’t have to deal with – yay! As a former Navy person, any time that I can spend on salt water is soul-satisfying, although it was a bit chilly and dark for really good sightseeing. The ferry stopped off briefly at Alameda, then docked at Jack London Square which is a retail/restaurant/entertainment complex in honor of local author Jack London, best known for his novel Call of the Wild.
I could see the hotel from the landing. A quick walk over, a pleasant check-in process in the compact lobby, and I walked into this cute room….
Such charming nautical details: a wooden oar pattern in the wallpaper, a compass rose on the headboard, boat cleats as drawer pulls, crisp blue and white colors, fun prints on the wall.
Everything was, yes, shipshape!
Jack London Square has lots of restaurants and things to do and see; I satisfied my seafood craving at a place called Scott’s, with super-friendly staff and live music.
While wandering around that night I stumbled unwittingly upon a piece of history that I did not expect – FDR’s Presidential yacht Potomac, which is berthed at the Square and run by a nonprofit. You can tour it dockside or even get underway when it does special cruises in the Bay. It was closed that night so I could only admire it from afar, but it was fun to discover it when I had no idea that it was there.
The Waterfront Hotel would be an excellent base for exploring all the things to do in Oakland, like events at Blue Bottle Coffee (maybe a tasting?) or a performance at the Art Deco Fox Theater, or get on the water with California Canoe and Kayak, or do a little shopping for local goods from Oaklandish.
Or do nothing at all except look out over the water and be happy that I messed up my original hotel plans.
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