GETTING THERE: You don't have to fly to San Francisco to get to Oakland. The East Bay has its own international airport, where, as it happens, many passengers on discount flights to San Francisco end up anyway.
GETTING AROUND: This is California, so you may want to have a car to get around. The subway (BART) and bus system is easy and relaxing, but Oakland is fairly spread out and a car may save you some time. Remember to buckle up, though -- it's a new state law here.
In downtown Oakland, get your bearings at De Lauer's, a 24-hour news and bookstore, with a good selection of area maps. De Lauer's also stocks home-town papers from all over the country, so you can check out what you're getting away from, while you're away from it.
WHERE TO STAY: There is a wide choice of hotel accommodations in Oakland. The Claremont Resort Hotel is like a country estate, all white paint and tennis courts in the green Oakland hills. Doubles range from $124 to $184, without meals. The Hyatt Regency, downtown, is snappy and urban and close to things (BART's across the street) and has doubles at $109. At the Apple Inn on the Oakland Estuary, rooms at bayside are $49; and even closer to the water at the Boatel, a $76 room charge includes a berth should you arrive by boat.
WHAT TO DO: Art galleries and museums are various in the East Bay. There are strong contemporary collections at the University Art Museum in Berkeley and at the Oakland Museum, an amazing place anyway, built around and beneath its gardens.
The fine presses called Magnolia and Crown Point produce beautiful prints and sponsor tours of their facilities, and the galleries at the Richmond Art Center and the large nonprofit show space called Pro Arts have interesting and challenging shows. Oakland's open studio tour occurs on the third weekend in May.
Music clubs abound. In addition to Escovedo's and Eli's Mile High, there is jazz at Ivey's, Yoshi's and the New Orleans Bar and Grill; blues at Ashkenaz and The Hill; rock and roll at Berkeley Square and Larry Blake's. The giveaway paper called The East Bay Express has a complete calendar.
To get to the Mud Flats, take the Powell Street Exit off I-80, go under the freeway and park by the Bay. Walk south. There's a path and a sign.
There is quite nearby, by the way, another city that should not be missed. Just pay your 75 cents and head west, across the Bay Bridge.