4 Bay Area itineraries for the perfect rainy day — like today

4 Bay Area itineraries for the perfect rainy day — like today

Rain is in the forecast. We know we need it — no one wants a return of the dreaded drought years — but we Californians can be weather wimps. We want to go out and DO something, yet not get too wet. So we’ve crafted four Bay Area indoor itineraries around culture and coffee, with an emphasis on the museums you’re always meaning to revisit and the indoor activities you’re admittedly curious to try. Axe-throwing, anyone?

Downtown San Jose, Santa Clara County

Pouring in the South Bay? Head to downtown San Jose to explore the literary, cultural and culinary offerings.

Make your first stop one of downtown’s locally owned independent coffeehouses. Academic Coffee (at Second and William streets), Nirvana Soul (near First and San Carlos streets) and Voyager Craft Coffee (San Pedro Square Market) all offer terrific coffee and a selection of breakfast pastries. And all three open at 7 a.m.

Latte art by Lauren Burns, co-owner at Voyager Craft Coffee. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

If you’d like to immerse yourself in contemporary art, some provocative exhibits are on view this winter at this trio of museums. At the San Jose Museum of Art, the show “Encode/Store/Retrieve,” through April 21, explores “the landscape of memory” in this digital age that allows us to record, store and access more information than ever before. For something completely different, “Nuts and Who’s: A Candy Store Sampler,” up through Feb. 19, looks at the quirky, sometimes irreverent pieces produced during a period in the 1960s, when artists were rejecting mainstream art. Through March 10 at MACLA, Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, the major show is “Enviando Flores a Mi Tierra,” which translates to “Sending Flowers Back to My Homeland.” The exhibition asks the viewer to ponder how one honors two realities, one’s origins and one’s new life. And the 46-year-old San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles is readying its first big exhibit of the year. “Creativity, Collecting & Controversy,” featuring the stunning works of of quilter Jonathan Shannon, will open Feb. 2.

A small bronze maquette of composer Ludwig van Beethoven on display at the Ira F. Brilliant Center. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group archives) 

Any rainy day itinerary would have to include the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, the sleek, eight-story public and university library downtown. Besides tens of thousands of books — enough to keep you occupied through a series of atmospheric rivers — the library houses some amazing special collections:

The Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies boasts the the largest collection of Beethoven works and memorabilia outside Europe, with rotating displays of original manuscripts, early musical scores and the last quill pen Beethoven used. A series of free noontime concerts will resume Feb. 1; admission is free.

If your Steinbeck education stopped at “Of Mice and Men,” consider visiting the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, the world’s biggest publicly accessible John Steinbeck archive. Members of the public can view first editions, original letters, photos, screenplays and movie posters.

Interested in history? You’ll find a wealth of maps, documents, yearbooks, postcards and more in the California History Room. Read up on the orchard history of the Valley of Heart’s Delight or search a city directory to see where your great-grandparents lived back in the day.

Traci Caton, from Santa Clara, throws an axe during her hatchet league match against Marcos Lorigo, from San Jose, at the Axe-Men Throw House. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

What better time to try the popular indoor sport of axe-throwing? The “axeperts” at the Axe-Men Throw House will teach you the techniques (and safety measures) involved, demonstrate some competitive games for you and your group and stick around to coach you through the entire session. They say newbies often get hooked the first time they hit a bull’s eye. If you’d rather get creative and fling something lighter than a hatchet, the new activity offered at this range is paint splattering. Yep, they invite you to put on a poncho and goggles, grab paintbrushes and squirt guns and “unleash your inner Jackson Pollock.” You’ll create your own 8-by-10 masterpiece to take home.

Kevin Bernal, general manager, shows off the “splatter room” at the Axe-Men Throw House in downtown San Jose. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Flinging hatchets and paint are good ways to work up an appetite, eh? You’ve no doubt got tried-and-tried restaurant favorites downtown, but we suggest trying one that’s new to you. Around the corner from Axe-men is the Fox Tale Fermentation Project, where proprietors Felipe Bravo and Wendy Neff pair brewed beverages with fermented foods. Think Winter Giardiniera with Somos Cultura, a Peruvian Purple corn lager. Nearby, chef Channy Laux is cooking dishes from her native Cambodia at the recently opened Angkor Chef. The top sellers are the Amok fish filets and the Somlaw Machu Kreoung, a soup. And for a fun, colorful restaurant with an exciting club vibe, check out El Cabron Kitchen & Cantina and its massive Asadero Molcajete platters of grilled meats and long list of cocktails. You can’t leave without doing the Instagram thing.

Don’t call it a day just yet. You’ll find an entertaining respite from the rain at 3Below Theaters, with arthouse films, professional live theater and family events under one roof. Are you a fan of knights who say “Ni”? On Feb. 2-3, you can holler your favorite lines at the “Monty Python and the Holy Grail Quote-Along” and guffaw with others over “It’s only a flesh wound!” On Feb. 3-4 there’s a “Lion King Sing-Along.” Bonus: 3Below patrons get free validated parking in the garage above.

Before or after shows, 3Below patrons can grab a seat in the lobby’s vintage-style snack bar. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 


Dr. Martin Luther King Library, Fourth and San Fernando streets, San Jose; www.sjlibrary.org

San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St., San Jose; https://sjmusart.org

MACLA, 510 S. First St., San Jose; https://maclaarte.org

San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, 520 S. First St., San Jose; https://sj-mqt.org

Axe-Men Throw House, 14 S. Second St., San Jose; https://axe-men.com

Fox Tale Fermentation, 30 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose; www.foxtalefermentationproject.com

Angkor Chef, 86 S. First St., San Jose; https://angkorchef.square.site

El Cabron Kitchen & Cantina, 155 W. San Fernando St., San Jose; www.instagram.com/elcabroncantina

3Below Theaters, 288 S. Second St. San Jose; www.3belowtheaters.com

Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill, Contra Costa County

Tellus Coffee offers micro-roasted coffee in stylish environs featuring a plant wall and brickwork in Walnut Creek. (Kate Bradshaw/Bay Area News Group) 

Rainy weather calls for hot drinks and cozy surroundings, so head for Walnut Creek’s brick-lined, greenery-draped Tellus Coffee for micro-roasted coffee — and lattes sweetened with housemade syrups like brown sugar and date. Also tempting: Rooted Coffee Co. for a Chunky Monkey waffle and their signature Sweater Weather cappuccino topped with maple and a nutmeg spice mix. (Tip: Ask them to hold the salt.)

Then log some reading time at the Walnut Creek Library. Pick up a new book, a DVD to watch later or browse the periodicals section (we’re not biased or anything) and savor the cozy ambience of the second-floor fireplace and its comfy chairs.

If you’re in the mood to make something – or keep the kids entertained — Color Me Mine will do the trick. Post-purchase renovations, after John Bunn and Juzen Ruelos took over the paint-your-own pottery spot in August, have made the studio brighter and more spacious. Drop-in, choose one of the 100 ceramic pieces available and get creative — then pick up your glazed, fired creation a week later.

Just a few steps away, you’ll find Diablo Escapes, an escape room experience that offers everything from ninjas to pirates, dragons and laserbot adventures for groups of two to 12 people, ages 10 and up.

Curator of animal encounters Emma Molinare walks out with Topaz a Golden Eagle for a program at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

The Lindsay Wildlife Experience makes a fine escape for families and animal lovers alike. This nationally-renowned, 28,000-square-foot wildlife rehabilitation center and museum features a wildlife hospital — it was the first in the country — as well as an exhibit hall with more than 40 animal “ambassadors” representing various California wildlife species.

In the mood to relax a bit? There’s no shortage of luxury day spas here, but for something that won’t hurt your pocketbook, grab a swimsuit and head for Pleasant Hill’s American Family Hot Tub. The complex offers a sauna and 10 private hot tubs — in the winter, that steamy water is 102 to 104 degrees — by the hour ($23).

Pleasant Hill’s post-soak dining options include legendary, deep-dish Zachary’s Chicago Pizza — and for craft beer fans, Morgan Territory Brewing Co. Then catch a movie in Walnut Creek or Pleasant Hill.

Morgan Territory Brewing, a Tracy-based brewery, expanded with a taproom in Pleasant Hill. (Photo courtesy of Cassandra Santos/Morgan Territory Brewing) 


Tellus Coffee: 1410 N. Main St., Walnut Creek; telluscoffee.com

Rooted Coffee Co.: 1321 Locust St., Walnut Creek; rootedcoffeeco.com

Walnut Creek Library: 1644 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek; ccclib.org/locations/26

Color Me Mine: 1950 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek; walnutcreek.colormemine.com

Diablo Escapes: 1948 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek; diabloescapes.com

Lindsay Wildlife Experience: 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek; lindsaywildlife.org

American Family Hot Tub: 2367 Pleasant Hill Road, Pleasant Hill; familyhottub.com

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza: 140 Crescent Drive, Pleasant Hill; zacharys.com

Morgan Territory Brewing Co.: 40B Crescent Drive, Pleasant Hill; morganterritorybrewing.com

Downtown Berkeley, Alameda County

Exploring downtown Berkeley is an excellent way to tackle the rain. You get to live like a real Berkeleyite for a day: Get active in a climbing gym, poke around weird museums, wander labyrinthian book shops and Julia Morgan’s “castle” and end it all with good seafood soup and live, local music.

And on the way, you get to pay tribute to a stunning cat named Lyla – more on that in a bit.

Being a Berkeleyite means getting up early to get sweaty. And in a town that birthed the famous Cragmont Climbing Club – and regularly draws mountain goats in human form to its Indian and Mortar rocks – that means going for a climb.

Benchmark Climbing is a newish gym in North Berkeley that’s designed as an elite haven for bouldering, but offers training and walls to people of all skill levels. Bouldering is a niche sport in the climbing world. Instead of clambering up a sheer wall with a rope and harness, you’re doing shorter, more complex, but closer-to-the-ground climbing. An all-access day pass is $30, and you can sign up for private coaching and complimentary classes like Intro to Bouldering.

Joseph Agnelli, of San Leandro, rocks climbing at Benchmark Climbing in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. He comes to the gym three times a week for five hours, he said. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

To decompress after that tendon-tiring exercise, head down the block to Victory Point Cafe. Here you can grab a craft beer or pandan latte and a slice of veggie-pesto pizza, then pick your way through more than 800 board games. It’s $8 to access them all – including obscure titles like Simpsons Monopoly, Mole Rats in Space and Viticulture: The Strategic Game of Winemaking – and there’s a resident Game Guru on hand, if you need someone to teach you game rules.

Cynthia Mejia, left, Melissa Macias, Tamaya Reid and Patrick Smith, all of Berkley, play Cards Against Humanity game at Victory Point Cafe in Berkeley. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group File) 

Dedicate an hour to one of the nearby “only-in-Berkeley” museums, like the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents, located in somebody’s back cottage. The archive presents the fascinating history of perfume with artifacts like a 1700s pomander for French nobles, resinous agarwood and beaver balls, and a “perfume organ” arranged into the notes of a fragrance. At the end, you can take home scent strips with fragrances derived from flowers, fruits and grasses.

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive has a permanent collection of modern art and rotating exhibits like “MATRIX 283 / Gabriel Chaile” (through April 14), featuring bulbous, room-devouring pottery inspired by the precolonial cultures of Argentina. There’s also a film library and study center, where you can flip through century-old movie magazines and screen the museum’s collection of 18,000-plus films, including classics, experiments and old Soviet animation.

The exhibit “MATRIX 283 / Gabriel Chaile: No hay nada que destruya el corazón como la pobreza” is on display at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive until April 14, 2024. (Whit Forrester/Courtesy of BAMPFA) 

Want to unwind and chill for a bit? Ring the door bell to enter the Berkeley City Club, a historic hotel designed by architect Julia Morgan in the 1920s. Her so-called “little castle” is like the lodge from “The Shining,” if it were haunted by an amenable ghost. It’s full of muted stone halls, little courtyards shadowed by plants, and nooks with ancient yet comfy furniture.

The Berkeley City Club is a Gothic/Romanesque hotel originally designed by architect Julia Morgan in the 1920s with a famous swimming pool and a cozy tavern called Morgan’s Bar and Lounge. (Trevor Johnson/Courtesy of the Berkeley City Club) 

Head to the viewing balcony of Morgan’s lovely, indoor swimming pool to watch private guests do slow laps, then drop into the tucked-away Morgan’s Bar and Lounge on the second floor for an Old Fashioned and to enjoy live piano music on Fridays during the 4-6 p.m. happy hour.

The Berkeley City Club is a Gothic/Romanesque hotel originally designed by architect Julia Morgan in the 1920s with a renowned swimming pool and cozy tavern called Morgan’s Bar and Lounge. (Michelle Castillo/Courtesy of the Berkeley City Club) 

If you have time to kill, it’s fun getting lost in Telegraph Avenue’s book alley. Revolution Books specializes in political and communist-oriented material, as you might have guessed from the name, while the venerable Moe’s Books holds floors upon creaking floors of new as well as rare and collectible titles. Sleepy Cat Books wins the truth-in-advertising award — Lyla, a pure white cat, holds court from a throne of toys by the register. The entire store is a tribute to the queenly creature, who is surrounded by photos of UC Berkeley students posing as if she’s the biggest celebrity in town.

A wet and dreary day calls for soup to warm the bones. Taiwanese Tasty Pot specializes in steamy bowls of hot pot in combos like peppery Sichuan Flavor with beef and fish fillet and Seafood Lobster. Everything’s lovely when dunked into soy-garlic and spicy bean-chili sauces.

A bowl of lobster hot pot is served at the Tasty Pot restaurant in downtown Berkeley. (John Metcalfe/Bay Area News Group) 

Wind down the day at one of Berkeley’s live-music venues, which are surging back after the pandemic. Cornerstone is a restaurant and beer garden with a top-of-the-line sound system for energetic acts like the Delta Bombers or Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country, plus obligatory (but still fun!) tribute shows for Abba, Sublime, Pink Floyd and Blue Note Records.

Freight & Salvage is a Bay Area institution, a venue devoted to traditional music in all its forms. Depending on the night, you might hear blues, country, roots, gospel or a performance from The Cuban Johnny Cash.” On Mondays this winter, Bobby McFerrin himself is leading circle singalongs ($35) – you can beep-skiddly-zoom with the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” star until the drizzle is long gone.


Benchmark Climbing: 1607 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; benchmarkclimbing.com

Victory Point Cafe: 1797 Shattuck Ave. Suite A, Berkeley; victorypointcafe.com

Aftel Archive of Curious Scents: Open Saturdays at 1518½ Walnut St., Berkeley; aftelier.com

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive: 2155 Center St., Berkeley; bampfa.org

Berkeley City Club: 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley; berkeleycityclub.com

Sleepy Cat Books: 2509 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley; sleepycatbooks.com

Tasty Pot: 2115 Kittredge St., Berkeley; 510-898-1202

Cornerstone: 2367 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; cornerstoneberkeley.com

Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley; thefreight.org

Redwood City, San Mateo County

It doesn’t get much cozier than Little Green, the most cottagecore of Redwood City’s cafes. The plant bar and craft shop offers Red Bay coffee-based espresso drinks, Cocola Bakery pastries and Lovejoy’s Tea House brews. Upcoming events and classes include “speed friending” and learning how to make wildflower seed bombs to spread the joy of spring blossoms.

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Then head to the San Mateo County History Museum at Courthouse Square, where the  architectural lessons start before you even enter. (Don’t worry, you’ll be indoors soon.) Would you believe the building’s gorgeous dome survived the 1906 earthquake, while the building beneath it did not? Go on in and look up for the really spectacular view of the  enormous stained-glass dome.

This old courthouse currently houses exhibits on the immigrants and migrants who came here in the years after the Gold Rush, as well as a display on the transportation trends that shaped this county’s growth. Check out Encore Books on the Square downstairs, which holds 30,000 used books; sales benefit the historical society. Bonus: First Fridays offer free admission, along with a children’s craft activity at 11 a.m. and a tour of the museum at 2 p.m.

When you’re ready to really unwind, book an hourlong session ($110) in a sensory deprivation float pod at Solivana Wellness Spa. The water in the pod is infused with more than 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts, so  the liquid supports your body weight.

At lunchtime, the stretch of Middlefield Road around Courthouse Square and the Cinemark Century 20 movie theaters offers a convenient array of casual dining spots, including West Park Farm and Sea and Teriyaki Madness. For a nice sit-down meal, consider the housemade pastas at Donato Enoteca and mole enchiladas at Quinto Sol.

The Guild Theatre glows once again along busy El Camino Real in Menlo Park. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group File) 

Entertainment? Check the lineup at the Fox Theatre, which hosts marquee acts as well as the upcoming A Cappella Collegiate tournament, and at Menlo Park’s Guild Theatre, a nonprofit music and event venue that opened last winter thanks to Peninsulites who grew tired of commuting to San Francisco for live music. More? Check out the new Ghostwood Beer Co. taproom on Main Street or head down the block to Alhambra Irish House, a friendly pub that hosts trivia nights on Thursdays.


Little Green: 1101 Main St, Redwood City; littlegreenaplantbar.com

San Mateo County History Museum: 2200 Broadway, Redwood City; https://historysmc.org/

Solivana Wellness Spa: 1922 El Camino Real, Redwood City; solivanaspa.com

Donato Enoteca: 1041 Middlefield Road, Redwood City; www.donatoenoteca.com

Quinto Sol: 2201 Broadway, Redwood City; www.solrestaurantsca.com/quinto

Fox Theatre, 2221 Broadway, Redwood City; https://foxrwc.com

Guild Theatre: 949 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; guildtheatre.com

Alhambra Irish House: 831 Main St., Redwood City, alhambra-irish-house.com

Ghostwood Beer Co., 911 Main St., Redwood City, ghostwoodbeer.com

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