Venture just a few blocks out of Oakland's buttoned-up downtown to find a lot of fun. The Lincoln Square Recreation Center (250 10th St., 510-238-7738, Oaklandnet.com/parks/facilities/rc_lincolnsquare.asp), one of the only parks in Chinatown, has a restored "junk-boat" playground, while indoors, seniors learn to cha-cha and youngsters learn the art of lion dancing (most programs are free). For basketball aficionados, stop by for a pickup game. "It's a local gathering place where folks can come and exercise, not just their physical bodies but to do their social networking," said center director Gilbert Gong. The bounty of classes includes calligraphy, Cantonese opera, Mandarin singing, table tennis, and tai chi.
To get a taste of Chinatown life, visit Shan Dong Restaurant (328 10th St., #101, 510-839-2299), specializing in Northern Chinese cuisine. If you're lucky, catch the chef roll out dough for fresh veggie buns, pork buns, hand-cut noodles or dumplings. At around $1 apiece for a bun, it's an affordable meal.
You can basically drop off anything at the downtown Salvation Army (601 Webster St., 510-451-4514, SalvationArmy.com), but what makes it a destination is the goods you can find: From old jackets to radios to couches to cars, a deal is to be had if you have the patience.
The Asian Branch Library (388 9th St., Ste. 190, 510-238-3400, OaklandLibrary.org/Branches/asian.html) of the Oakland Public Library is one of the hidden treasures of Chinatown. It's full of tomes, DVDs, magazines, and CDs in eight Asian languages, always crowded, and often noisier than your average library.
Don't miss: The Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak St., 510-238-2200, MuseumCA.org) is undergoing a major overhaul so it's currently closed but re-opens with much anticipation in May. ... Every Friday, downtown workers and Chinatown elders line up at various stands at the Old Oakland Farmers' Market (9th St. between Broadway and Clay St., 510-745-7100, UrbanVillageOnline.com/markets/oldOakland.php), many of them Asian produce vendors. ... Little hands will love the Museum of Children's Art (538 9th St., 510-465-8770, MOCHA.org), where kids can paint, manipulate play dough, or participate in other arts and crafts du jour.