We like to think the SORMA West 2012 technical program will make you want to stay in the meeting rooms... most of the time. However, there's no denying that we will be in California at what is usually a lovely time of year, and that the vibrant downtown of a major city is just outside our doors. Here is a small selection of the things you might see and do: some over the lunch break, others that might tempt you into staying through a weekend.


The City Center Marriott is between "Old Oakland" to the west and Chinatown to the southeast—easily walkable destinations for a quick getaway. Just a few blocks further along Broadway are the Jack London Square dining, entertainment, and nautical district to the south, or the dining and nightlife of the Uptown and Koreatown neighborhoods to the north.

Map of Oakland neighborhoods, with link to interactive version at http://visitoakland.org/map.cfm Some of the neighborhoods of Oakland. The Marriott is at City Center. Major streets are shown in white, freeways in yellow. Click to go to an interactive map at http://visitoakland.org/map.cfm where you can learn more about each of these named neighborhoods. The scale of this map is roughly 1 inch:3 miles (1 cm:2.5 km).

Getting Around: BART, the "Free B," AC Transit, and the Ferry

Most of the nearby attractions described on this page are accessible via the "Free B"—the free Broadway Shuttle, which runs from Jack London Square to Koreatown, with the Marriott approximately in the middle of its route.
The B Route is the free Downtown Oakland shuttle, with link to http://meetdowntownoak.com/shuttle.php
The B Route is the free Downtown Oakland shuttle. Click for schedule and service details.

Besides the "Free B," AC Transit, the Alameda-Contra Costa County Transit Authority, also operates an extensive network of routes and stops throughout the East Bay (adult fare $2.10; transfer 25¢) as well as express buses to and from San Francisco (adult fare $4.20). Several AC Transit stops are within a block of the Marriott.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART system is a light-rail trunk line with an underground station just steps away from the Marriott. This is a good way to get to the airports, San Francisco, or Berkeley.

For a different way to get across the Bay—usually an enjoyable and scenic experience in its own right— try the Oakland-Alameda Ferry to San Francisco. Its terminal is just a few blocks from the Marriott in Jack London Square.

511.ORG provides a comprehensive guide to public transit options in the Bay Area, including a trip planner.

Nearby Attractions

Most people would consider these to be within walking distance of the Marriott.

Nearby Dining

No matter how generous the exhibitors and supporters, a scientist does not live by hors d'oevures alone! Fortunately our part of Oakland has a lively and diverse food scene. Everything from American classics to ethnic fare to the avant-garde is available within a few blocks of the hotel. See for instance these dining guides by the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city's Cultural Arts and Marketing Division. The Marriott is in the City Center district, immediately adjacent to Old Oakland and Chinatown. Jack London Square and Uptown are within easy walking distance.

For something fresh and different, Farmers' Markets are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays in Old Oakland (9th Street just off Broadway) and Sundays in Jack London Square—specifically, on Water Street between Franklin and Harrison. Numerous Chinatown stores also have fresh fruits and vegetables, often at a "ready to eat in the next day or two" state of ripeness.

Nearby Lively Arts

The question is not whether you can find something most nights, but whether you walk north or south on Broadway from the Marriott.

Musicians who enjoy national renown (and some who probably will) play Yoshi's when they swing through the Bay Area. When booking performers, Yoshi's doesn't get too hung up on what is or isn't jazz; as Louis Armstrong observed, "if you gotta ask, you'll never know." Other performing-arts fare makes it onto their agenda as well. The club (and well regarded Japanese restaurant) is a few blocks south of the Marriott in Jack London Square.

Or head north to a pair of Art Deco movie palaces that fell into disuse, then were restored and now enjoy second lives as concert and performing-arts venues: the Fox Theater at 1807 Telegraph Avenue (one block west of Broadway and 19th) and the Paramount Theatre at 2025 Broadway. As the street numbers imply, these are a few short downtown blocks from the 12th and Broadway location of the Marriott.

In the mood for a movie? Within easy walking distance is the Regal Jack London Cinema 9 on Jack London Square.

Does The Forecast Call for Participation?

If filling your brain with information at SORMA West 2012 leaves your body saying, "Hey, what about me?", you can rent bicycles or canoes or kayaks or even charter a sailboat at various businesses on Jack London Square.

At Jack London Square you can also tour or even cruise the Bay aboard USS POTOMAC, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's motor yacht. You can also visit one of the few remaining examples of the lightships that for generations guided sailors into harbor or warned them of dangerous waters all around the coasts of the US.

Slightly Further Afield

These attractions are close, though not within walking distance by most people's standards.

Baseball: With Two Teams Like This, The Winners Are Always The Fans

The 2010 World Series-winning San Francisco Giants have a home stand the week of SORMA West 2012. It climaxes May 18 through 20 when they host the Oakland Athletics, celebrated in the book and movie "Moneyball" for their system of finding overachieving, undervalued players. Reserve tickets early for this clash of local rivals. AT&T Park in San Francisco, where the Giants play, is easily accessible by public transit from downtown Oakland (BART + Muni Metro streetcar, or if you want something scenic and different—and convenient to the Marriott—the Oakland-Alameda Ferry).

Arriving early for the conference? The A's are at home the week before SORMA, including games on the night of Saturday, May 12 and afternoon of Sunday, May 13 against the Detroit Tigers. They play at the Oakland Coliseum, just a quick BART trip from the Marriott.

From the Marianas Campaign to the Moon Landings

In Alameda, just a short bus or taxi ride from the Marriott, is USS HORNET (CV-12), an aircraft carrier whose distinguished history ran from the final years of World War 2 through the recovery of Apollo 11 and 12. A docent-guided tour of HORNET (followed by a trip to a well regarded local winery) will be one of the Tuesday-afternoon excursion options on the official SORMA West 2012 social program, but if you are coming in advance of SORMA or staying afterward, you might also be interested in some of the museum's special events. Cut a rug in swing-era style with the Harry James Orchestra the night of Saturday, May 12; or take a behind-the-scenes tour (bring your own flashlight) and watch "Living Ship Day" activities Saturday, May 19. HORNET is docked at the former Alameda Naval Air Station and is open to visitors most days. Changes in the local bus system mean that this end of Alameda Island is no longer conveniently accessible by bus, but it's a quick car trip, or an inexpensive taxi ride, from the Marriott.

"More firepower than the other museums."

It's Not The Years, Honey, It's the Matte Shot

All the authentic Pan Am Clipper flying boats being long gone by that time, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" used a Shorts Solents (with the help of of some Hollywood magic) as a stand-in. You can see it and many other aircraft, both familiar and unusual, up close at the Oakland Aviation Museum, at the historic North Field of Oakland International Airport, across the street from the OAK car-rental center.

Take In One of Those Newfangled Talkies at the Grand Lake

Night photo of the Grand Lake Theater
Photo courtesy Grand Lake Theater.
One of the contemporaries of the Fox and Paramount is still primarily a cinema: the Grand Lake, showing everything from first-run Hollywood fare to foreign and independent film and even an occasional live simulcast from the great opera houses of the world.
Some Friday and Saturday night shows are preceded by a brief concert on the Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ. All this living history is under a landmark electric sign at 2600 Grand Avenue, a somewhat ambitious walk or a short taxi or bus (AC Transit #12 from 19th Street BART) ride from the Marriott.

University of California, Berkeley

SORMA West 2012 takes place immediately after the end of the spring semester and during the height of graduation week at UCB, so commencement exercises will dominate the schedule of major Cal Performances venues such as Zellerbach Hall and the Greek Theatre. However, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive will have ongoing programs. Both are on Bancroft Way at the south edge of the campus; you can get there from the Marriott via BART and a walk of several blocks, or directly on the AC Transit 51 bus line. (Buy a transfer when you board the bus because you will have to change from the 51A to the 51B about halfway through the route.)

About halfway up the campus perimeter, Bancroft is also where storied Telegraph Avenue meets Sproul Plaza and today's students meet the Sixties.

A taxi to the Lawrence Hall of Science(in the Berkeley hills above LBNL) is another rewarding option, especially if your children are with you. The partial solar eclipse visible on May 20 is expected to be a particular highlight, no pun intended, of our timeframe.

Chabot Space and Science Center

A ten-mile cab or rental-car ride from the Marriott takes you to Chabot Space and Science Center, which many SORMA West 2008 attendees will remember from that conference's dinner event.

San Francisco Sightseeing

A visit to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge will be one of your options on the Wednesday-afternoon social program, but many attendees will want to explore on their own as well. The things to see and do in San Francisco could fill a book (and in fact have filled many books) so we limit ourselves here to a few technophilic highlights. If you want to see for yourself, the BART train has direct service from the 12th Street-Oakland City Center station (the one just across the street from the Marriott) to downtown San Francisco and beyond. The East Bay Ferry, mentioned above in the context of baseball games, has other runs that dock at the foot of the high-rise area called the Financial District, and some runs continue on to tourist areas such as Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf and Angel Island State Park.

The routes of the East Bay Ferry. The lines to and from the Ferry Building in San Francisco run daily. Some weekend runs then go on to Pier 41 and loop around scenic Angel Island. Giants home games are served by a ferry route to and from AT&T Park. The Oakland ferry dock is on Jack London Square, a few blocks south of the Marriott.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit light-rail system is a quick, convenient, and inexpensive way to get to San Francisco; the 12th Street Oakland City Center station is next to the Marriott.

Put Some Hallidie In Your Holiday

Chances are that visitors to San Francisco want a cable car ride. If you took BART in, get off at the Embarcadero or the Powell Street BART stations. If you came by ferry, you can walk up Market Street to the Embarcadero cable-car station, or take the ferry to its Pier 41 dock and catch the Powell/Hyde or Powell/Mason lines. The Powell Street cable cars stop at the Cable Car Museum at the highest point of the lines; there you can get an inside look at an apex technology of the Victorian area, still very much in use.

Destinations Along The Way: Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach...

The Powell/Hyde and Powell/Mason cable car lines begin near the Union Square shopping district, and the cable car museum mentioned previously is just uphill from Chinatown (get off at Jackson or Pacific Street and walk downhill). If you walk far enough downhill you get to Columbus Avenue. Then you can turn north (away from the tall buildings of the Financial District) to see the North Beach neighborhood, which still has an Italian flavor after all these decades of the "melting pot," not to mention more than just echoes of the Beat Generation. Did Tosca Cafe really serve America's first espresso? Will Lawrence Ferlinghetti's bookstore really help you find inspiration? Are there really wild parrots on Telegraph Hill? Come find out in person?

Since We Mentioned Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf...

These are general tourist favorites with something to offer the scientifically inclined. Pier 39 / Fisherman's Wharf areas. Near Fisherman's Wharf, you won't want to miss the San Francisco Maritime National Park, with ships ranging from 1886 square-rigger BALCLUTHA to the WW2 fleet submarine USS PAMPANITO. Berthed nearby is a still-functional Liberty Ship: SS JEREMIAH O'BRIEN, now a National Register of Historic Places living museum.

Walking in San Francisco: Flat or Decidedly Not So?

The Embarcadero links the Ferry Building and eponymous BART station to the Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf area; it is flat (and, by San Francisco standards, often sunny) and thus very popular among pedestrians. The cable cars, of course, are for parts of the city that are very hilly. You can easily see how to incorporate a walk into a triangular route that also includes a cable-car ride. (A really ambitious walk could even include the Golden Gate Bridge.)

California Academy of Sciences

In Golden Gate Park you can see the variety of exhibits (and marvelous new eco-conscious facilities) of the California Academy of Sciences. It is a taxi ride from the other attractions we have mentioned; adept users of the "the Muni" (San Francisco's public transit system) may consider the #44 O'Shaughnessy or #5-Fulton buses or the N-Judah streetcar.


In mid-May, Oakland, typically of the inner East Bay, usually has clear or partly cloudy skies and pleasant temperatures (lows and highs from 60-70° F, or 15-20° C) with only a slight chance of rain. San Francisco weather should be similar but about 10° F cooler, with more fickleness and neighborhood-by-neighborhood variability. Locals master the art of "layering" (and take the weather forecast to be merely the centroid of a seasonal parameter space). Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge are more likely to have cooler weather and fog.