A Day in…Oakland, CA!

The once gritty downtown Oakland, has seen a revitalizing in the past couple years to make it one of the hippest areas to hang out in.

Oakland, a melting pot of all cultures. The birthplace of the Black Panther Movement. At one time or another, home to writers Gertrude Stein and Jack London. Continually labeled the Brooklyn of the West, Oakland has been rapidly gentrified with a notable infusion of hipsters and young professionals. Older buildings are being refurbished buildings, as former car dealerships are now breweries, ageing warehouses become art halls, and movie theaters become school and music venues. With far more space than neighboring San Francisco, you can spread out figuratively and literally. While this is only a one day recommended visit, you could easily spend a weekend or more in Oakland itself or throughout the East Bay.

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for the Santa Cruz Mountains, Carmel, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Timing: I recommend checking out Oakland on one of the first Fridays of the Month, when the city hosts “First Friday” events. An alternative would be to time your visit for a show at one of the famous theaters.

View of San Francisco from the Port of Oakland. The city is still a hub for freight shipments, and the iconic cranes are seen in the harbor.

Getting there: The best mode of transport in and out of Oakland is by the ferry, which provides beautiful views. The last ferry leaves at 9:25 PM. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train system is an accessible and reliable alternative.

Novels and movies set in Oakland: The Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel There, There by Tommy Orange won praise for its urban Native American narrative, mostly set in Oakland. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is set in a record store located on the main thoroughfare which runs through Oakland and Berkeley. Movies include Fruitvale Station, a tragic biographical drama about the shooting of a young black man by BART police at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station. Blindspotting and Moneyball are also set in Oakland and are popular movies.

Morning: 

Start your day in the northern sections of Oakland before making your way to the waterfront. 

Enjoy breakfast at Rockridge Cafe, a local diner which was established in 1973. I recommend the ricotta pancakes or the challot bread french toast. If you don’t feel like a sit down meal, Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Temescal will do the trick.

Take your time to window shop the quaint neighborhood of Rockridge and the trendy Temescal area. Temescal, originally a town in its own right, is now part of the larger Oakland.  Both neighborhoods are mostly residential with small commercial districts, and are worth the walk-around. Rockridge is home to Market Hall Foods, with many specialty foods and free samples. For coffee lovers, get a cup from Highwire Coffee Roasters. The local public library is one of the few locations where you can actually borrow tools.  Don’t miss Temescal Alley, the hipster epicenter, complete with artists’ spaces, trendy restaurants and a crowd-funded ice cream store. Self-designed tattoos and shaved hair are popular among the crowd here.

Mountain View Cemetery provides cascading views of Oakland and San Francisco (when it’s not foggy.) 

After window shopping make your way to Mountain View (5492 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618 )…cemetery and the adjacent Church of the Chimes. Mountain View Cemetery was designed by Frank Law Olmstead who also created New York City’s Central Park. The cemetary’s “millionaire row” features crypts of “Merritt” of Lake Merritt, “Folger” of Folgers coffee, and “Ghirardelli” of Ghirardelli chocolate. Among the famous artists and California politicians there are many! Every second Saturday there are docent led tours at 10:00AM. There are clear maps and guides to the cemetery at the office.

Church of the Chimes was designed by Julia Morgan who also designed Hearst Castle. If you are looking through the crematorium (photographed above) make a stop at John Hookers’ grave where visitors have left guitar pics on it.

Afternoon:


Take a walk down Piedmont Avenue. Don’t miss old school, Fenton’s Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611), which was featured in the movie Up. Stop for lunch at Home Room (400 40th St, Oakland, CA 94609) where I recommend their specialty dish, garlic mac n cheese with bacon and bread crumbs. In the alternative, you may want to try Burma Superstar for Burmese food or for pizza lovers you can backtrack to Pizzaiolo.

Continue your walk and burn off those luncheon calories around the picturesque Lake Merritt. If you’ve done enough walking, as I had, rent a Lime scooter for an hour to scoot around the lake. The walkway includes the beautiful Pergola, a Bonsai Garden, and Lake Chalet with its accompanying gondola. On the perimeter, you will notice the iconic Grand Lake Theater, the innovatively-designed Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland Scottish Rite Center, and the Camron-Stanford House.  Many buildings reflect Oakland’s rich history, while the ultra-modern Cathedral of Christ the Light and renovated Grand Lake Theater suggest the city’s resurgence. After your tour, you can relax with a leisurely glass of wine and a dozen oysters during happy hour at Lake Chalet (1520 Lakeside Dr, Oakland, CA 94612). 

Your walk towards downtown and the waterfront will become increasingly more congested. As it becomes more urban, you will see refurbished, multi-purpose buildings that cater to the growing arts, music, and restaurant scenes.

Evening:

For evening festivities, choose among First Friday’s festival, pub-hopping, or a show at the Fox Theater!

Option 1: I would recommend going to Oakland during one of the First Friday events, which typically run from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM along Telegraph Street between 27th and 22nd Streets, and includes food, music and artists. 

Option 2: For those who enjoy the pub scene and favor a relaxed environment, check out one or more of the many bars on Oakland Ale Trail (the full interactive map can be found here): Beer Revolution (464 3rd St, Oakland, CA 94607), Roses’ Taproom (4930 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609), Double Standard (2424 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612), and Drake’s Dealership (2325 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612) all have a variety of brews on tap and the last two have great outdoor seating. My female friends and I favored the decor and the vibe at Roses’ Taphouse the most. Cap your visit off with dinner at Mockingbird (416 13th St, Oakland, CA 94612).  It is known for their brunch, but their dinner offerings are also superb. I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a burger and fries, but the menu has much more to offer. 

Option 3: Another evening alternative would be to watch a show or concert at the iconic Fox Oakland Theater or the Paramount Theater. The Fox was constructed in 1928 with a Middle Eastern and Indian inspired architectural look. The Fox eventually fell into disrepair and closed in the 1960s. In 2009, the Fox Oakland Theater reopened after a $75 million restoration project. Its glamour has been restored and it’s now a charter school, music venue and restaurant.

A huge thank you to Denny for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah, Allison, Laurie. Sean, Meghan, Alex, and Alyx for all your suggestions!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and the Mission District.

A day in…Berkeley, CA

U.C. Berkeley is associated with political activism and it gave birth to the Free Speech Movement, the Center for Independent Living (providing accessibility for people with disabilities), and environmentalism.

A day in Berkeley, California can be an exhilarating college town experience replete with interesting walks,  good food, and a taste of post-war political history. Any tour would have to include the acclaimed University of California at Berkeley campus (known as “Cal” to sports fans) as the college dominates the city. 

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Morning:

Start your day in the quaint Elmwood section of Berkeley. Enjoy breakfast at Bakers and Commons (2900 College Ave). Window shop through the main College Avenue area. Don’t miss Mrs. Dalloway’s Books (the store has a robust collection of gardening books) and Goorin Bros Hat Shop, or bring out your inner candy-loving child at Sweet Dreams Candy and Boutique. 

Incense for sale at bohemian giftshop, Annapurna on Telegraph Ave.

Walk northwest to the quintessentially grungy Telegraph Avenue. If you are interested in learning about Berkeley history you can download this interactive app. You can envision remainders of the anti-establishment Beat Generation which still linger along this street, along with social problems such as homelessness.

UC Berkeley has a free self-guided audio tour (PDF, Website) for a stroll through the campus.  Personal favorites are the iconic Sather Gate, the North Building, the Campile Tower (you can ride up it for $4), the Hearst Memorial Building, the Doe Memorial Library and the T-Rex. 

Take a coffee break and absorb the campus vibe at Caffe Strada or the Free Speech Movement Cafe, both of which are Cal students’ favorites. 

Afternoon: 

For those who want to accelerate their heart rate: you can walk one mile uphill from Normandy Village (photo above) to Rose Garden and then another mile to the Indian Rock Park and take in some interesting sights. 

From the campus, head north to the aptly named apartment complex, Normandy Village.

From Normandy Village take the 67 Bus to Indian Rock Park (which provides a view of the East Bay and San Francisco – or just the fog.) From there, walk one mile downhill to the Rose Garden (there is a tunnel to the cement slide, which is equally fun for adults and children.)

Evening: 

I would recommend Jupiter, a gastropub which provides live music. For the foodies, Chez Panisse caters to an upscale market (you can also get dessert and a glass of wine on the second floor). Comal is a great Mexican restaurant (fun fact it is owned by the former manager of the band Phish). If you go to the left you will be in the less-expensive taco section. 

The iconic Landmark’s California Theater.

Berkeley has an abundance of theaters: UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), provides free screenings during the summer. Within the downtown there are a number of cinemas (Landmark’s California Theater, BAMPFA, and Regal UA Berkeley) and theatrical performance locales (Berkeley Repertory Theater, California Shakespeare Theater, and Shotgun Players). The Greek Theater is beautiful (with great views of the city) and frequently has live concerts. 

A personal architectural favorite is the Berkeley City Club designed by Julia Morgan. You have to ring the bell to enter, just mention that you are on vacation and want to look around. They have a small “museum” dedicated to Julia Morgan, who also designed the Hearst Castle.

There are farmers markets at various Berkeley locations on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For those who like to shop, 4th St and San Pablo Ave (South of University Ave) provide a mix of both independent and large retailers. If you visit the west side, you should not miss a stroll through the Marina, nor sake tasting at Takara Sake. For hikers, Tilden Park provides beautiful views of the East Bay and, on good days, San Francisco. Those architecture lovers, note that Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck have left large footprints on the architecture around town. Sunday you can enjoy a dollar dog while watching horse racing at the Golden Gate Fields in Albany, just north of Berkeley (this could be complicated on public transit and is probably easiest via Uber.)

A huge thank you to Allison and Sean for showing me around their beautiful neighborhood. Another thank you to Shirin, Meghan, Alex, and Sarah for helping!

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Mission District.