It is said that Oakland has the highest concentration of artists in America. With a vibrant arts scene, this city is a must visit for lovers of the arts. Situated across the river from San Francisco, Oakland is only a BART train and a few stations away. A rich history adds to the cultural tapestry of this very inspiring city.
We could not see much of Oakland due to time constraints, but a visit to the New Parkway Theatre with our film ‘Bachelor Girls’ gave us a glimpse into this city’s soul. Diverse and vibrant arts community, great food with vegan options and great conversations. We had tied this trip with San Francisco.
When to visit: Oakland is considered to have the best weather in the United States. Summers are mild and sunny and winters are cool and slightly damp. The weather is mostly sunny throughout. But if you are considering combining your visit to Oakland with some high altitude areas of California, like maybe Yosemite National Park, they are shut in the winters due to the snow. So a summer trip may be advisable.
What To See: A walk around Oakland and you can discover many historical buildings. The Oakland Museum of California, The African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Oakland Symphony, Dunsmuir House and Gardens etc. Plenty of history to see. There are plenty of art galleries throughout. Historically a focal point of the West Coast blues and jazz scenes, Oakland is also home to musicians representing such genres as rhythm and blues, gospel, funk, punk, heavy metal, Rap/Gangsta rap, and hip hop. The Jack London Square is home to many galleries, cafes, Amtrak Station etc. Many Farmers’ Markets keep happening, just look for those. The first Friday of every month is for Art Murmur (The mission of Oakland Art Murmur is to ignite and nurture a lifelong love and appreciation of art. Through public programming and community outreach, we increase awareness of and participation in the visual arts in Oakland.) There are plenty of historic theatres, like the Paramount Theatre, built in 1931, an art deco masterpiece. Also try the Grand Lake Theatre near lake Merritt. If you are visiting in August, time your plans for the Art + Soul Festival. Then there is the Chabot Space Science Center. The 25th Street Colletive Artisan Workshops brings together interesting artisans including food producers, jewellery makers, fashion designers etc. There are also plenty of free things to do in Oakland.
Lake Merritt is the oldest wildlife refuge in America and a must visit. Look for Off The Grid food trucks. They have some of the best food on the move. The Redwood Regional Park has the largest remaining stand of coast redwoods.
Where To Eat: Fenton’s Creamery at Piedmont Avenue has been serving desserts since 1894. A must visit. Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto (since the 1890s) at Berkeley is a classic worth trying. Ensarro at Grand Avenue us highly recommended for Ethiopian food. Phnom Phen House at 8th Street is a must visit for Cambodian food. Marica Oakland at College Avenue is for sea food. Chop Bar at 5th Avenue is a classic steak house. Burma Superstar is for amazing Burmese food. We have been here, we know. Aunt Mary’s Cafe at telegraph Avenue is fabulous for all american breakfast and brunch. True Burger at Grand Avenue for, well, burgers. À Côté, College Avenue, for French, Italian and Spanish. El Taco Zamorano at Foothill Boulevard for the very biggest and best burritos and Mexican.
Getting Around: Very pedestrian friendly, you could walk to most places. The weather and enough pedestrian friendly roads and sidewalks permit that. You could also try the AC Bus Transit System which is citywide. Getting in and out of the airport, you could use the BART trains. We used plenty of BART to go to Oakland and back. From the airport you could even take the Shuttle Vans. For the two of us, it was cheaper than Uber. You could also rent a car or a bike. Oakland is considered America’s most bike friendly city. We downloaded a free offline Oakland map from Here WeGo (formerly Nokia Here Maps). It helped us walk around and did not consume internet data, which on roaming can be prohibitively expensive.
Around and near Oakland: There is plenty to do around Oakland. A drive to Napa Valley is good for exploration, but we found it too crowded and touristy. Try Sonoma County instead. Lovely vineyards and cafes and much less crowded. Go for a walk in the John Muir Woods of Giant Redwoods. Visit Monterey, a classic old city which was also the capital of California till 1849. The drive to Monterey is gorgeous, full of picture perfect scenery. You could visit the University town of Berkeley and also the neighboring San Francisco. If you wanted to travel a bit further, visit the Yosemite National Park. Take the drive via the Big Sur, the most magnificent drive in America. San Francisco to Los Angeles via the Highway 1. Go down to Carmel and eat at Hogg’s Breath Inn (it’s expensive though), a hotel once owned by Clint Eastwood and later sold to a close friend.