Hayward/San Leandro 

Small Gems Amidst the Big Boxes

If all you know about Hayward and San Leandro are the big flashy stores visible from the freeway, you should check out the local shops in those cities' quaint downtowns. And a more focused gaze reveals many other delights.

After a morning stroll around the center of downtown San Leandro in Pelton Plaza, wake up at Cafe Sorriso (1501 Washington Ave., San Leandro, 510-351-3605). With all the necessary morning accoutrement available; coffee, muffins, bagels, and breakfast specials, the humble cafe has a nice atmosphere to boot. Indoor and outdoor seating are available as well as two comfy couches with relaxing world music playing overhead and free Internet with purchase. Also, for those not wanting to plug in their entertainment, there is a shelf filled with books.

For those in the mood for sweets, head into Jenny's Dulceria (1636 East 14th St., San Leandro, 510-895-5875). The shop separates itself from nearby salons and banks with a colorfully decorated nametag, whimsically painted above the front door. Inside is a cramped treasure chest of candies, sodas, and frozen treats. Hanging from the ceiling is an array of piñatas just asking to be whacked. The shop also offers an assortment of traditional Mexican sweets including Mexican wedding cakes.

The nightlife has something sweet to offer but in the form of food, drinks, and entertainment. Sweet Fingers (464 East 14th St., San Leandro, 510- 553-9869) is a Jamaican bar offering a menu of traditional and Jamaican-influenced entrées and appetizers (try the fried plantains). To wash down the meal, try one of their mixed drinks for a buzz. Their pineapple mixers and the mojito are recommended. The bar/restaurant also triples as a music venue mainly featuring reggae.

Those who define themselves as bookworms definitely need to check out the Book Shop (1007 B St., Hayward, 510-538-3943). This community-oriented store has contributed to Hayward's readership for almost fifty years. The shelves are a tight corset of books with not an ounce of space wasted. The employees are more than happy to help you navigate your way through the paperback mayhem.

In front of the downtown movie theater sits Zuckersuss (1081 B St., Hayward, 510-888-1722), a relatively new natural-ingredient yogurt shop, which in German means "sugar-sweet." Most frozen yogurt shops mix their yogurt with ice cream, but this place offers 100-percent frozen yogurt in all its flavors. Customers can choose between normal frozen yogurt and acai, which is a little sweeter than the regular. The yogurt is purchased by weight, charging by the ounce, and with more than 25 toppings to choose from, it's easy to create the perfectly flavored yogurt.

There is one shop in downtown Hayward that offers a unique niche. La Espuela Charra (1028 B St., Hayward, 510-727-0827), roughly translated, in Spanish means "The Tacky Spur." Offering a wide array of cowboy and cowgirl apparel, the shop has so many different-colored boots, hats, stirrups, and saddles, it would make a rainbow feel inferior. For those who are equine inclined, this is the shop for you.

Don't miss: For good food, good drinks, and a guaranteed good game, head to Englander Sports Pub and Restaurant (101 Parrott St., San Leandro 510-357-3571). ... If you're in the mood for homemade Chinese try the Rose Garden (15754 East 14th St., San Leandro, 510- 278-1788). With fast and friendly service, the MSG-free restaurant will deliver if you want to stay home. ... The Bistro (1001 B St., Hayward, 510-885-8525) offers a great vibe with regular musical performances and a wide variety of beer and wine.

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