What I discovered is that Oakland is one of the Bay Area’s best-kept secrets. A stone’s-throw across the bay, Oakland is undergoing a renaissance of sorts and is both gritty and beautiful at the same time. Forbes even just voted it one of the top 20 coolest cities in America. The city isn’t on everyone’s must-see list, but it should be. And here are my top 10 reasons why:
- You can take the ferry from San Francisco to Oakland! Who knew?! A quick (and beautiful!), 30-minute, watery ride away, the San Francisco skyline sparkles as you head east toward Jack London Square.
- Gondola rides on Lake Merritt! There’s nothing more romantic than a Venetian gondola cruise ... in Oakland? Gondola Servizio offers gondola rides from the historic boathouse on Lake Merritt—and then there’s the night cruises among Lake Merritt’s twinkling “necklace of lights.”
- Heinold’s First & Last Chance Saloon. Step into this bar and step back into another time. Smack-dab in the center of Oakland’s waterfront Jack London Square, Heinold’s was built in 1880 from the timbers of an old whaling ship. Since then, writers like Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as adventurers and politicians, have frequented this watering hole, with its colorful captains’ hats hanging from the ceiling and historic photos adorning the walls. Be sure to hold tight to your drink, as the bar is slanted as a result of the 1906 earthquake.
- The first Friday of every month sees Oakland Art Murmur, a monthly gallery stroll featuring nearly 20 galleries and mixed-use art spaces. This eclectic, multiple-street party in Oakland’s uptown district is a hot spot for innovative art installations, sculptures, ceramics, paintings, textiles and much more. In addition to the exhibitions, attendees can feast on gourmet street food from a plethora of food trucks while applauding street performances and perusing street vendors selling jewelry, clothing, crafts and vintage offerings.
- Started as a sushi bar by struggling students in Berkeley almost 40 years ago, Yoshi’s has become one of the world’s most respected jazz venues with a reputation as the Bay Area’s premier location for great food and great music. Yoshi’s has hosted legendary jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr. and more. Today its Oakland and San Francisco locations feature two shows a night, seven nights a week, where you can snack on sushi and sip cocktails while grooving to music greats.
- Fox Oakland Theater. It can be said that the epicenter of Oakland’s revival is on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 19th Street. It is there the once-neglected, 1928, motion-picture, Art-Deco palace shines as bright as its neon marquee. The Fox Theater re-opened in 2008 after a $73-million renovation and came back to life almost 80 years to the day after its premiere as a first-rate movie house. Today, the venue itself is the showpiece worth visiting. Instead of movies, live acts now clamor to play here.
- Wine! You don’t have to head north to wine country when there is a collection of 23 innovative, urban wineries right at your feet. The East Bay Vintners Alliance (EBVA) spans from Alameda to North Berkeley, producing some of the highest-quality wine around. Founded in 2005 and headquartered in Oakland, the EBVA sources fruit from Oregon to Southern California and as far away as the Rhone Valley in France. Twenty-three wineries and seven tasting rooms produce more than 100 diverse, award-wining wines including whites, roses, reds, ports and fruit-dessert wines, using varietals from Barbera to Zinfandel and everything in between. You can even bike your way from zinfandel to syrah. Cycle through the East Bay on an easy, flat guided-tour that stops at urban tasting rooms.
- Evening star gazing through giant, historic telescopes at Chabot Space and Science Center. The observatory deck offers breathtaking views 1,500 feet above the Bay.
- As much as I love San Francisco, if I could (afford to) live anywhere, it would be Oakland’s Rockridge. I love the arts-and-crafts homes, and the area is also a great retail district. Located between UC Berkeley and Downtown Oakland, the pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined College Avenue boasts more than 80 restaurants, as well as dozens of cafes, specialty-food stores, independent upscale boutiques, galleries, bookstores and more. Shop, dine and stroll the neighborhood with its stunning architecture.
- Saving the best for last, Oakland is giving San Francisco’s dining scene a run for its money. Some of my favorite restaurants include Haven, Plum, Bocanova, Brown Sugar Kitchen and so many more. For a true taste of Oakland, don’t miss the Eat Real Festival this month, Sept. 21-23, combining a state fair, a street-food festival and a block party to celebrate good food.
Have any of your own favorites? Let us know in the comments below.