Oakland 101, or: What should a suburban girl know before moving to Oakland?
March 19, 2009 3:31 PM   Subscribe

What information do you consider essential to being a resident in Oakland? This isn't just a "which neighborhoods are safe/ghetto" question (although I'd like to hear about that, too), I'm also wondering about things like the cost of utilities, how cold does it get in the winter/hot does it get in the summer, local events and attractions like Art Murmur, how efficient AC Transit is (I don't drive or ride a bike so I'll be relying pretty heavily on public transit and my own two feet), how important is it to rent a parking space, and anything else you wish you'd known before moving to Oakland.

My boyfriend and I will probably be moving into an apartment on the 1500 block of Alice Street in the Lakeside neighborhood. I'm in my early twenties and have lived in the suburbs my whole life, as have my boyfriend and my little sister (who will be living with us until September and during the summers). We're not as familiar with Oakland as we are with San Francisco. We'd love some pointers.
posted by foulowl to Travel & Transportation around Oakland, CA (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This link might help you with your question about weather/climate.
posted by jschu at 3:45 PM on March 19, 2009

Thank you! I've never seen a monthly average chart for weather. Awesome!
posted by foulowl at 3:50 PM on March 19, 2009

A parking space IS nice if you're not going to be riding your bike much. I've lived here for almost three years and I can't think of anything you'd really need to know. It's a great place, but not super different. You're not going to get shot.

It can get kind of hot so maybe bring a fan? You're in a great spot (right next to the lake (Yeah, so a Kyaker found a body in it last week, so?!) and next to Bart and great coffeeshops). Just take your time to get to know the place (Red Vic for example) and feel superior to the shady SFers.

MY PG&E (not to say yours will be) in the winter is pretty high - in the low hundred. In the summer it's in the teens.

Go to the farmer's market. You can memail me if you have more specific questions and I'll do what I can!
posted by OrangeDrink at 4:26 PM on March 19, 2009

OrangeDrink is right - you're in a great location. Take a walk around the lake up to Grand and you'll find lots of restaurants. On Saturday's there's a very popular farmer's market on Grand under the freeway. Go to the Grand Lake (vastly superior to Jack London cinemas!). Also, my favorite secret Oakland destination is the lovely Bonsai Garden in Lake Merritt Park.

If you find yourself wanting shop in Emeryville you can take BART to the Macarthur station and get on the Emery-Go-Round, a free shuttle that will get you to Ikea, Trader Joes, BevMo and Bay Street Mall, among other places.

Definitely get a fan for summer, and expect to dress somewhat warmly in the winter. Oakland is a geographically large city and has a surprisingly wide range of climates - the average downtown is going to be on the cooler side because you're a lot closer to the bay. (Btw, it's always colder by the water, so if you're going there bring something warm to wear. Same goes for SF - always take a sweater.)

I would think that you can get a parking permit for your street, but I've never lived downtown so I don't know for sure. I have never know anyone who lived in Oakland who rented a parking spot, but my friends tend to be destitute bums, so what do they know?

Oakland is a wonderfully diverse city and you will run into pretty much every kind of person here. If your background is more homogenous and you're worried about what that will be like (I'm from Idaho, so I have some understanding of this), don't be. Be nice, listen more than you talk and learn, and you'll be fine.

Also, feel free to memail if you have more specific questions.
posted by smartyboots at 4:56 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh man! That's really close to where I grew up!

The weather's pretty good. When it's nice in SF it'll be nice or even nicer over by the lake. And when it's shitty in SF (it is often shitty in SF) you still have a chance it'll be nice over in Oakland. Your spring/summer weather will go from high 60's to low 80's generally speaking with a heat wave here or there getting into the 90's, but anything higher is considered crazy. Winter will get rainy (although we're in a drought and have had some surprisingly dry winters lately) but not too cold ever, especially if you're from the midwest or the east coast.

I've always found PG&E to be pretty reasonable when it comes to pricing, and their customer service gets a solid B for the most part. I did manage to somehow keep an outstanding balance on my old account when I moved to SF, and that got sent to a collection agency, but once I figured out what was going on it got resolved pretty quickly. I never had to pay for water (it's common practice for landlords to pick that one up) but I'd imagine it's rather more expensive than it is in other parts of the country. Still, landlords are willing to pick up the tab on it so it can't be all that bad.

You've got decent bus service over there, but a car might be nice when you want to venture beyond the general Downtown/Lake Merritt area. You might be able to find places to park your car if you're willing to leave it long term/overnight, but I wouldn't really recommend that. It's not that I think Oakland is a cesspool where you can't trust anyone, but leaving your car unattended for long periods of time around Lake Merritt would be disregarding common sense to an unacceptable degree. If you must have a car and your place doesn't come with a spot, I would say rent one. This isn't to say you must have a car. You've got bus service there, although the actual lines escape me at the moment. If you want to head into SF or something you're also super close to BART so that shouldn't be too much of an issue either. If you have a car now, and it's somewhere you can leave it, I'd say give living without it a shot and see how it goes.

As far as art/culture stuff? They just reopened the Fox Theater dowtown which is way close to you and is getting a ton of great shows. If you're into the smaller time punk, indie, metal, general rock 'n roll scene The Uptown gets some really good shows from time to time. There's also The Stork Club which I can also recommend vociferously. If you don't want live music at your bar Radio is the divey/sexy kinda bar that I would recommend. Downtown you'll find The Trappist which is a very classy pub which specializes in Belgian Beer if you're into that kind of thing. They've also got some non-Belgian choices, but it's pretty much beer only there. Next door to the Trappist is a great restaurant called Tamarindo. I also see that Art Murmur is doing stuff with Luka's Taproom which is a cool pub with tasty food to boot. Also, if you like dancing/clubbing they do that on the weekends. Not really my personal scene, but I hear it's a pretty hot place these days and is kinda single handedly revitalizing it's immediate vicinity. I hear they're opening up another place soon. Keep your ear to the ground.

Non-eating/boozing options include The Oakland Museum which I haven't been to in years but which is always getting cool traveling exhibits through it. You'll want to keep an eye on that. The Grand Lake Theater is a landmark and, while it doesn't always get the greatest movies, is a great place to catch a flick when one you really do want to see comes through. The marquee is always a hoot as well! It's always mystified me why they don't have a midnight movie series there, but whatever. Across the street from that, on Saturdays I think, is a pretty good farmers market that has live music and other fun stuff to do.

Ok, jeez, that got really goddamn long. I am happy your are moving to Oakland! You should be happy you are moving to Oakland as well! Several words on the crime reputation: there are some rough parts of Oakland, and it would be silly to say that it's just as safe as your general suburb. It isn't. Furthermore, while you aren't going to the roughest area, you aren't going to the nicest either. Having said that, your day to day experience will not be one of constant terror of having to keep criminal scum at bay. Most everyone in town (and every town for that mater) is a pretty cool cat just trying to get by the same as you.

I hope at least some of that helped. If you have any other questions or need me to clarify something please feel free to drop me a MeMail or whatever. Rock on!
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 5:00 PM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

In addition to all the great advice above, check out Oaklandish for some of their events, and the Oakland Museum for their First Friday After Five. Welcome to Oaktown!
posted by Mountain Goatse at 5:48 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Transit: If you know SF, then you've probably dealt with Muni. AC Transit is a different beast. The bad news is that it doesn't have as much coverage as Muni (although your neighborhood is pretty well-served), it's a little pricier, and the buses don't run nearly as often. You might end up changing your tune and getting a bike, and you'll generally want to check the schedule before heading to the bus stop. But on the plus side, AC Transit is more reliable, less crowded, and faster than Muni. I take the F, 51, 800, and 43 fairly frequently; they usually run on schedule to within a couple minutes, and I almost always get a seat.

Climate: It rains off and on (i.e. almost every day) from mid-November to late February, and temperatures hover around 55-65 with the occasional dip into the high 40s. Once March hits, you get eight months of perfect weather--almost no rain, temperatures between 65 and 85, clear skies.

Neighborhoods: As in SF, money flows uphill. You'll want to get to know the lay of the land in East and West Oakland before you go wandering around there at night. But don't believe the hype--as long as you exercise some common sense, it's a pretty safe city. Some fun streets to check out are Lakeshore, Grand, Telegraph (in Temescal), Piedmont Ave, and College Ave.
posted by hal incandenza at 5:50 PM on March 19, 2009

Google Maps mashup of Homicides in Oakland.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:41 PM on March 19, 2009

Or use Oakland Crimespotting to feed your paranoia. Really, Oakland ain't all that bad. Get hyphy!
posted by Mountain Goatse at 8:15 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

On the art side, there's Jingletown, which has open studios twice a year. There's a lot of great art to explore in Oakland, and seeing work from and chatting with local artists kind of connects you with the community.

I think one thing you should expect (but not be paranoid about) to a certain degree is vandalism. There are ways to protect your property, but if you end up living here around a decade or so, chances are, something will have happened to your car if you do have one. I don't say that to scare you, or to say that you will for sure experience it, but I've lived in several different neighborhoods of varying 'niceness' and have pretty much had *something* happen to my car in each place. That said, I still have the same car I had when moving here 10 years ago and I still hella heart Oakland.

Gloom aside, the area you're talking about is great, you have a Trader Joe's! Lakeshore Cafe is a decent brunch place. You would be very bussable (or walkable, if you're ambitious) to a Whole Foods, downtown, and SF (via BART). The times I've taken AC Transit have been fine, always quiet enough to read a book. I found it quite reliable.

I think the general vibe of Oakland is laid-back and friendly. There is a lot of opportunity to be involved in community happenings, but also o.k. if you just go about your business. Don't be afraid to explore different neighborhoods -- there are some great restaurants in Temescal, as well as Rockridge. Oakland is big, it's easy to stick to your 'hood, so to speak. I'd recommend when you're settled to explore. Just not by the Coliseum or some areas of West Oakland. :)

Welcome to Oaktown!
posted by waitangi at 8:23 PM on March 19, 2009

Here is your hyphy slang dictionary which you should have because E-40 came up with a lot of it so it is pretty great.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:55 PM on March 19, 2009

This is all great information. Thanks for all your input!
posted by foulowl at 10:28 PM on March 19, 2009

Oh yeah, I forgot to say - get used to never EVER leaving anything in your car. Even if you don't value it, someone will eventually break the window to see if THEY would like to value it. I once had the factory cassette deck stolen out of my 91 suzuki (this was in 2002). If it's in sight, someone will try to steal it. Invest in a stereo with a removable faceplate and always take the faceplate out of the car when you go inside.

Geez. Someone stole the digital clock/compass off my dashboard once. But don't worry - that was a hoopty with an already broken window - I was just surprised they even bothered.
posted by smartyboots at 10:32 PM on March 19, 2009

Welcome to Oaktown! You're moving onto the same block as a good friend of mine - its a nice spot. You'll be listening to the drums at Malonga Casquelourd all day! There are a couple City Car Share parking spaces within a couple blocks of there - something that might come in handy. You're right by the main library of course too and if you get interested in learning more about your new home, you should check out the Oakland History Room. If you get REALLY interested in learning more about your new home, there are good bike tours organized through the Oakland Museum and walking tours through the Oakland Heritage Alliance; both run from mid-spring through August or so. I'm not sure if the Black Panther Legacy Tours are still happening though.

There's more Oakland history stuff here, and Oakland Chinatown history here (and speaking of which, Chinatown is great. Lots of folks swear by Shan Dong - I tend to grocery shop more than dine in the neighborhood though.)

Check out Lakeshore and Grand Avenue and the Lake Merritt Farmer's Market on Saturdays, and the aforementioned Grand Lake Theater (free popcorn Mon-Thurs!).

My absolute favorite part of Oakland is International Blvd. It definitely will not feel like the suburbs. If you like to eat, its a great place to hang out. Towards the lake end of this long street, you'll find a ton of great and cheap Vietnamese food. I like Pho King, but there are lots of choices. Towards Fruitvale you'll find more Mexican, Salvadoran, and other Latin American food and businesses (mmm, pupusas...) International is definitly home to a lot of poorer folks, and crime and violence is more of an issue here. Personally, I feel pretty safe in the daytime and hang out all up and down International with my kid etc.

The city itself is chronically strapped for money, but they do still offer some cool resources. There are nice community pools, Studio One in the Temescal (sorry, no good link) offers art classes. It's worth mentioning that the Regional Park system is outstanding: trails, lakes, redwoods, picnics, views, and much of it is very close and accessible by bus.

For some reason I'm not a fan of most of the Oakland-themed blogs out there. Choosing at random here's one. In the lower right they have links to others if you want to check them out. I do love Oakland Geology though (uh, obviously, I'm a giant nerd.) A couple no-longer-updated sites that can give you a feel for Oakland culture are Deep Oakland and the Organic City.

That's most of what comes to mind off the top of my head. This fairly exhaustive list of books that are about or take place in Oakland can probably fill in the rest.

And feel free to memail me with any specific questions! In case its not obvious, I've lived here most of my life.
posted by serazin at 1:12 AM on March 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sorry, one more thing. Jack London Square especially a weekend during the day (I forget which day but they have a farmers market too), is a nice place to go to sort of get a feel for Oakland without feeling too overwhelmed. It's bustling, full of lots of Oakland folks, but also has some new person friendly kinds of spots. On a sunny day its very pretty down there too.
posted by serazin at 1:20 AM on March 20, 2009

Coincidentally and unfortunately, your neighborhood is in the news tonight.
posted by serazin at 1:53 AM on March 20, 2009

You'll be living close to Oakland Chinatown. Lots of great restaurant food and also very well-stocked food markets if you decide you'd like to learn how to cook more Asian.
posted by telstar at 7:55 AM on March 20, 2009

Bakesale Betties at 51st and Telegraph - Fried chicken, jalapeno coleslaw sandwiches. Requried food fare for locals.

Art Murmur is fun, and you can get involved - if you have a skill, offer it up for free to the community, some folks fix bikes for example. Great way to meet excellent folks and spread good will.

Alameda is nearby - movies and great food. Try the bar and food at La Pinata, the tiki bar called Forbidden Island, and the whole rest of the Island.

Taco trucks in the Fruitvale - my fav is Gorditos #2 (or #3) on High and International - across from the Smart and Final on High, across from the Burger King on International. Everything's good, only open evenings except on weekends. Parking behind the truck. Super burritos the size of a heavy new born baby. Ask for extra salsa.

Also, seconding The Trappist - learn your beer here, the aged cheese thing is tasty too, but eat before hand usually.
posted by unclezeb at 9:37 AM on March 20, 2009

Hello neighbor! I live in the 1400 block of Alice and am also in my earlier twenties.

Maybe this is because I have lived in very high crime "ghetto" areas previous to Oakland, but I thought the crime issue was ridiculously overhyped. Like all urban cities there are bad neighborhoods, but downtown near the lake is not really one of them. I have a dog, whom I walk pretty much every night 12-1AM, and have never felt unsafe.

One of the first things I did when I got here was sell my car. You will be walking distance from 3 BART stations (Lake Merritt, 12th St, 19th St) and downtown is pretty well serviced by the bus system. It only takes a few minutes to get from here to SF or Berkeley. I use Zipcar for the occasional big trip to the store but other than that I do not miss having a car at all (and I haven't gotten my bike fixed up yet either).

Oakland Chinatown is awesome, I go over there for grocery shopping (which is kind of an... adventure) and delicious food. The Trappist is really good (but expensive), fortunately there are a couple of cheap divey bars (Radio, Ruby Room) nearby. Obviously being near the lake is sweet, there are bird sanctuaries, places to rent boats or go on gondola rides, and numerous parks (closest to us: Snow Park at the end of Alice which has a putting green and lots of people looking for buried treasure with metal detectors for some reason). The Grand-Lake area has tons of things to do, Old Oakland has a bunch of neat boutique shops, there's a Whole Foods close by, the Farmer's Market, and the Oaksterdam area over near Broadway and 17th if you're into that. The Oakland Museum is close by, and there are a bunch of galleries (including the Paper Rock Scissors art collective).

Climate wise I consider it extremely mild but I'm from the south/east coast. Maybe this is specific to my building, but I think I turned my heater on once or twice this winter (I live in a studio, my PG&E bills are like $20-30). It pretty much never rains here.

I just moved here this past summer and don't really have any friends in downtown, so if you want to go explore some of this stuff MeFi mail me!
posted by bradbane at 11:25 AM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was gonna suggest the Parkway Speakeasy, but apparently they're closing Sunday night..
posted by hobbes at 1:57 PM on March 20, 2009


1) I'd strongly recommend visiting the newly-unveiled The Cathedral of Christ the Light, which is conveniently near Broadway and BART (Google map).

Everyone is welcome to visit - I felt a bit awkward at first but soon realized there were many other visitors as well (this was not during service). I'd suggest visiting in the morning to take full advantage of the incredible way the architecture uses light. The shape of it is very unique for a church, they didn't use the traditional cross shape.

Don't forget to take the elevator down to the mausoleum:

"Operated by Catholic Cemeteries, a division of the Diocese, the mausoleum has 1,300 spaces for crypts and 1,850 niches for cremated remains. There are also 12 crypts reserved for the past, present and future Bishops of Oakland. "

Most spaces are empty, but there are one or two plaques with names inscribed in them. The atmosphere down there is eerie, beautiful, futuristic and moving; well worth a visit.

2) Then you can pop across the street to Oakland's Children's Fairyland (map) - definitely worth a visit even if you're an adult.

There's lots of interesting information on their history page, and an FAQ. I haven't been there in a while and I've been meaning to go.

Walt Disney visited while conducting research for his park:

"Not long after we opened, a fellow named Walt Disney visited Children’s Fairyland. He liked it so much that he incorporated some of our innovations into his “magic kingdom,” which opened in Anaheim in 1955. He also hired Fairyland’s first executive director, Dorothy Manes, and one of our part-time puppeteers, Bob Mills."

Finally, enjoy the weather. Oakland has the best in the Bay Area.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 3:40 PM on March 20, 2009

Can't believe I didn't mention this - the Oakland Zoo, which has a skyride and other rides (train, carousel) in addition to the animals. (map)

You may need a car to get there, though - there's a link about public transport to the zoo at the bottom of this page which I haven't tried.

The Oakland Zoo is a local attraction that's a must. The highlights for me are the monkey cages, the fruit bats, the goat petting zoo (I feel very Pet Sounds in there), and the sky ride which takes you over the animals and past some bison.

Pack some snacks and water, sunscreen and a hat - you're in for a day of fun.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 3:55 PM on March 20, 2009

I live around the corner from you (well two corners, at 17th and Jackson). This is an awesome neighborhood, as several people have pointed out. Generally, people are pretty neighborly. You don't need a car at all ever if you join a car-share. Bikes are good- I know you don't ride, but Critical Mass is on the same day as Art Mumur, and many downtown Oaklanders ride bikes. Just a few other notes: you need a kid to get into Children's Fairlyland, but walking around the lake is still lovely- a great cross-section of Oakland. There's a nice little natural foods market on Jackson at 15th, where we always shopped until Whole Foods opened (now we do both). My favorite pricy places to eat are Franklin square Wine Bar (3 course prix fixe for 22 bucks, delicious food, we actually ate there last night, sitting outside), and Flora. We often walk to Phnom Penh (8th at Alice), Pho 84 (17th and Webster) or Take it Easy Thai (17th and Webster). If I were you, I'd take a bit longer walk to Awaken Cafe for coffee than go to the lousy cafe on 17th, but I like good coffee. There's really a lot of good food, most of it close to BART, if not right downtown.

The climate is very mild- I don't know where you're coming from, but though it is warmer than the City (San Francisco), I thought Oakland was too cold in the summer when I first moved here from a warmer place.

Renting a parking space- most people in this neighborhood don't bother, you just need to watch out for the street cleaning signs, and you will want a parking permit. Use 511.org for transit scheduling.

Crime: I also came from more crime-ridden neighborhoods in Oakland before moving here, so I feel pretty safe in this neighborhood. I use a Club on my car and don't leave stuff in it. I walk purposely and make brief eye contact. I lock my bike. I pay attention to my surroundings. The robbery that happened that serazin linked to is a bit scary, but they caught the one guy because people in the store jumped the guy and held him down. This neighborhood tends to take care of itself. My boyfriend built Oakland Crimespotting, linked above, so we pay attention to how that sort of thing plays out. I think this little area is a good place to live. If there were actually houses with yards here, we would probably never leave (I'm a horticulturalist, someday I want a garden).
posted by oneirodynia at 7:07 PM on March 20, 2009

I just wanted to stop by again and thank all of you for your awesome advice and input. My boyfriend and I are going to sign the lease tomorrow afternoon, and after everything we've read here we're really looking forward to being your neighbors. :)
posted by foulowl at 5:43 PM on March 24, 2009

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