San Leandro and Hayward are often- overlooked cities caught between the hustle in Oakland and bustle in the South Bay. While San Leandro is demure when it comes to offering up its best, Hayward is an open book looking for a good time. You call San Leandro back the next day. Hayward doesn't care if you do or don't.
As San Leandro strives to build up a moribund downtown around East 14th and Davis streets, the town's cooler destinations are somewhat hidden and offer opportunities for pleasant surprises.
No other place dares travelers to find it more than the Drake's Barrel House, located on the grounds of Drake's Brewery in San Leandro (1933 Davis St., 510-568-2739, DrinkDrakes.com). Bring a map because the taproom is nestled between the Walmart and The Sports Authority and unseen from any vantage point. The tasting room opened last summer as an opportunity to highlight Drake's line of barrel-aged stouts. The interior is an unadorned warehouse with dozens of actual barrels producing rich and fragrant brews aged up to two years. Try the Barrel Aged Drakonic with hints of bourbon and the Guthrie; it's an imperial stout reminiscent of a good Port. Both are like no other beers you have ever downed. While the Barrel House doesn't serve food, a food truck parks outside every weekend. Plan your trip wisely because the taproom has limited hours from 3-8 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; noon-8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and Sunday 1-6 p.m.
If you're in the mood for a sit-down meal after knocking back a few in lieu of food truck splendor, Boulevard Burger (1027 MacArthur Blvd., San Leandro, 510-632-3100, BoulevardBurger.com) unintentionally combines the two. Tucked in the shadow of the MacArthur Freeway in a residential area, you will be hard-pressed to find a better burger priced at $4.95. The grass-fed delight has the quality and high-mindedness of a trendy food truck but with the creature comforts of an actual restaurant. Boulevard Burger is the more casual cousin of another hidden gem in San Leandro — Paradiso (685 Bancroft Ave., 510-430-9310, ParadisoSanLeandro.com). Situated on Bancroft Avenue, the spot offers some of the city's more upscale cuisine at affordable prices. Its location anchors an area of San Leandro on the cusp of gaining cool indie cred. Follow your meal up with a cup of organic coffee roasted on the premises next door at Zocalo Coffeehouse (645 Bancroft Ave., San Leandro, 510-569-0102, Zocalo.com) and your senses may betray your location for a small town in the wine country.
If San Leandro appears to covet holding its natural resources close to its vest, nearby Hayward is far more open in attracting a young and hip crowd to its developing downtown. Until the flow of redevelopment dollars from Sacramento dried up this year, Hayward had gone to great lengths to breathe life into a strip of B Street originally anchored by Buffalo Bill's Brew Pub. The city helped expand the iconic birthplace of brew restaurants to include more outdoor seating, but it still feels vaguely like a cool spot in search of a great college town. Further down B Street is Bijou Restaurant and Bar, which features a tasty menu of cocktails made with fruits and freshly squeezed juices. At night on weekends, the restaurant assumes a trendy club atmosphere with a DJ spinning thick, bassy beats.
ME Restaurant and Lounge (926 B St., Hayward, 510-931-7183, ME-RestaurantLounge.com) is the new restaurant on the block and features something in short supply: Southern cuisine. Based upon the prerequisite that any Southern restaurant worth its name must offer fried chicken in all its glory, this place passes the test. Like at many of the options in downtown Hayward, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Editor's Note: This story was changed to reflect Drake's Barrel House's correct hours.