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Neighborhood Shops & Such

Reading Retreat

It’s no mystery why this independent bookstore is such a local favorite. On College Avenue since 1994, Diesel, a Bookstore is a haven for readers of all ages. Owners John Evans and Alison Reid wanted to create a beautiful, accessible, customer-friendly place, with books that will “blow you away.” Diesel’s browser-friendly layout, with public space in the middle, encourages customers to make selections and discuss amongst themselves. Staff members relish the opportunity to share new titles and advocate for the reader’s taste, whatever it may be. Young readers have a special spot where they can curl up with a new story. Two book groups meet monthly in the cozy area near the fireplace in the back of the store. Local and nationally renowned authors routinely schedule readings at Diesel. Another in-shop trademark: the monthly cover-by-color display. While this makes for strange shelf-fellows, the staff enjoys creating the literary juxtaposition—part of the joy of bringing readers, authors, and books together.

Diesel, a Bookstore, 5433 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 653-9965;

 —Risa Nye


Rolling Revolution

At Oakland’s Man- ifesto Bicycles, a hub for social unrest of the best kind, the friendly proprietors like to quote H.G. Wells: “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” Owners Mackay Gibbs and Sam Cunningham are eager to share their mission to get as many people on bikes as possible. They sell both new and rebuilt bikes, mostly more affordable single-speed and fixed-gear models, which are easy to use in cities. They offer bike repair for “anything with wheels, from mountain bikes to wheelchairs,” according to Cunningham. He hastens to add that though their emphasis is on low-tech bikes, they make no judgments, and welcome bicyclists of all levels of experience. Open for just a year, Manifesto’s post-modern industrial frontage is decorated by a Lord Mesngr mural of an angelic bike repairman.

On Sunday mornings, the Manifesto shop hosts Bike Church (11 a.m. to noon) in the alley and terrace area, a chance for the owners to relax with customers over coffee and vegan donuts while listening to gospel music. The store also has a small gallery space; snapshots by numerous artists in “The Epic Summer Show” are on display through the end of July. Photos of folks posing with their bikes are up on the website’s bike gallery and the store even has its own clothing line.

Manifesto Bicycles, 421 40th St., Oakland, (510) 595-1155;

—Susan Sanford


A Lot of Hot Air

Nearly 30 years ago, Napa Valley native Bob Barbarick bought a hot air balloon and started taking it out on weekends, just for fun. People would come out to stare, craning to glimpse the novelty that was hot air ballooning. Soon, they wanted to take a ride, too. Barbarick obliged, and before long, he was in business. Today, Barbarick’s Balloons Above the Valley boasts an eight-balloon, wheelchair-accessible fleet that gives groups from two to as many as 100 people a bird’s-eye view of Napa Valley. Balloon adventures begin before sunrise when the air is coolest and the winds are calm, and end with a champagne toast and full breakfast at the Napa General Store. Balloons soar from 1,000 to 3,000 feet, depending on winds. Balloons Above the Valley has witnessed weddings, proposals, corporate incentive events, family get-togethers, and other dreams-come-true, with passengers ranging in age from 5 to 100.

The company has grown with the valley, and pilots are happy to chat with guests about the scenic beauty that unfolds before their eyes. When Barbarick started ballooning in the early 1980s, there were 20 wineries in Napa Valley, says Cindy Barbarick, Bob’s wife and the company’s director of marketing and sales. Today, there are more than 400. There is plenty to see. Check the website for specials that change throughout the year.

Balloons Above the Valley, 603 California Blvd., Napa, 1-800-464-6824; (707) 253-2222;

 —Gina Gotsill


Cerrito Carnival

For longtime Bay Area residents who remember the old San Francisco Playland at the Beach, visiting this former corner market in El Cerrito will be an upbeat blast from the past. If you’ve never heard of Playland-Not-at-the-Beach Museum of Fun, get ready for a real treat—almost as good as an It’s It. Open every weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., this “amazing array of attractions” celebrates amusement parks of the past. Here you’ll find miniature circuses, real old-time carnival games (Skee Ball and Tip a Troll), a haunted house, penny arcades, two Laughing Sals, and more. The wise volunteers at Playland, who designed and built the entire place, suggest that children under 5 might find some displays too scary. Older kids, and even much older kids, will light up when they see the 28 pinball machines set for Free Play. Yes, that’s right: after you purchase your ticket, all the rest is quarter-free entertainment. The Playland-Not-at-the-Beach Museum of Fun is available for parties and other special events.

Playland-Not-at-the-Beach Museum of Fun, 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, (510) 592-3002;

—Risa Nye


Indie-wear. Photo courtesy Diesel, a Bookstore.