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Albany: Off to the Races 

May 2, 2013

With one of the biggest days in horse racing just around the bend, you don’t have to be in Kentucky to enjoy the derby. Golden Gate Fields in Albany offers a place to watch the race, drink mint juleps and wear glamorous, horse themed or outrageous headwear in the annual hat contest. A Berkeley hat store meets all of those derby hat desires and nearby Albany has restaurants for brunch or burgers and bars to wind down after the excitement.

Jodie’s Restaurant (902 Masonic Avenue, Albany)
A favorite among locals, this 24-year-old Albany secret is a first-rate stop for breakfast, lunch and original takes on diner classics. Seating is offered outdoors as well as at a small counter inside, where newcomers are quickly acquainted with owner Jodie Royston and an amiable crowd of regulars. The philosophy is easy; good food takes time and everything is made to order. The wall is filled with menu items, and “what's on the wall isn't in the menu and what's in the menu isn't all there is.”
Open Wednesday through Friday, 8a.m. to 3p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 8a.m. to 4p.m.

Berkeley Hat Company (2510 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley)
The Berkeley Hat Company is filled to the brim with hats of all color and description. The store has been on Telegraph Avenue for over 30 years, and owners Carol and Ed Dougherty got their start making and selling Panama hats at fairs around California. The store now carries something for every headwear enthusiast. Hats are hand selected from all over the world for the Kentucky Derby season, one of the busiest at the store.

Golden Gate Fields (1100 Eastshore Highway, Berkeley)
Now the only major racetrack in Northern California, Golden Gate Fields hosts horse racing throughout the season, and live coverage of the Triple Crown races. Weekends at the track are fun for the family, racing enthusiasts and the gambling inclined. For those who are green to racing, the website provides step-by-step tutorials on how to pick the winning steed (or come up with a theory of your own). Every Sunday is Dollar Day, an across-the-board winner, which features admission, beer, hot dogs and soda for only a buck each. Bring a hat and get ready to cheer.
The Kentucky Derby party is Saturday May 4, starting at 11a.m. and ending at 4p.m. Check the website for hat contest details. Free shuttles depart from North Berkeley BART station.

Club Mallard (752 San Pablo Avenue, Albany)
Wood paneled and adorned with taxidermy animal heads, this hunting lodge themed neighborhood bar is a must stop for expertly made cocktails and inexpensive billiards. With two floors and an outdoor patio, it is equipped for a casual drink or lively nightlife. Continue the derby theme with an Orange Manhattan made with Kentucky bourbon. With its close proximity to the race track, jockeys have been known to stop by for libation after the races.

Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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