Oakland Introduction
June 10, 2008 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Help us get the best out of our Oakland exploration

We moved to Sacramento a year ago and already are chafing from the cute-but-tiny-ness. We've got our eyes on the Bay area in the next year or so and think that Oakland might be the place we'll want to end up. Our few friends in SF don't know the Oakland so well, so we've a plan to make monthly excursions over the next few months.
I found this thread, which will be great for house hunting time, and a thread from 2005 which talks about up and coming neighborhoods, but I hear the city's done some changing in the last 3 years. So, which areas have, um, up and come? What we're looking for is not necessarily "sell us on Oakland", but more, what's to do, where is cool, what's it got to offer from a locals perspective?
Examples; funky indie-rock dance nights, rock shows, hole in the wall bars, art scene (noticed Oakland has lots of split use artist/residential spaces, which is quite exciting), coffee houses, books stores, funky restaurants, all the usual liberal accoutrement's.
It may also be good to mention here that we've come from 8 years in DC, so we're down with ethnically diverse and/or developing neighborhoods, but it'd be helpful to know what areas are still sketchy for the hanging out/living.
posted by mikoroshi to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Rock Paper Scissors! is a collective that helps people make their own art and Mama Buzz Cafe is a pretty laid back place.. there's quite a few neat galleries, Oakland Art Murmur is a "first fridays" thing and is a pretty fun time.. 21 Grand is struggling right now, but they are a great art/rock show space.
posted by ethel at 9:30 AM on June 10, 2008

Parkway theatre shows movies for a decent cost and has couches, serves booze, and makes food. Moviegoers nirvana.

Arizmendi is a worker-owned collective in the Grand Lake area that serves fresh-baked pizza, bread, and treats daily. Link is to one of its sister bakeries in San Francisco, this Arizmendi doesn't have a web site. What it does have are lines that usually go out the door with people interested in their delicious vegetarian pizzas and the astonishingly tasty bread and sticky buns. Take your treats out on the sidewalk on Saturdays and watch the world go by.

The Grand Lake theatre is owned by politicos who usually broadcast their feelings about whatever is currently happening on their marquee so everyone driving by on the 580 can grab a look at it. You don't have to ask what they REALLY think because they're telling you. I think this weekend's marquee was an abbreviated rant about the misuse of power in public places. They also have a superb old theatre with a 20's facade and an astonishing pipe organ in one of he downstairs theatres. Show up early for shows on Saturdays (and Fridays?) and you'll be treated to an organ recital before your movie.
posted by arnicae at 9:38 AM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just came back from a visit to Oakland and I think that the foodie-type recreational eating is great there. It's crucial that you visit Bakesale Betty -- they have the best fried-chicken sandwich and strawberry shortcake on earth. I mean, damn.
posted by ourobouros at 10:22 AM on June 10, 2008

The Monkey Yoga Shala on Lakeshore is one of my most favorite eclectic places in Oakland, and I personally think the people who go there are chatty, artistic and cool. Go to a class and make some friends (then follow them home to see where they live...or you could just ask them). It is such an experience when Tim is teaching, nothing like any other yoga class I've ever been to.
posted by Eringatang at 10:24 AM on June 10, 2008

Already mentioned:

Parkway is awesome;
RPS is cool;
Art Murmur is equivalent to Sacramento Second Saturdays (although I think more lightly attended; it's fairly young ... I want to say maybe 2-3 years old?).
Arizmendi, as far as I'm concerned, has the best pizza in the world. also fantastic sourdough bread. hell, everything they make is awesome.

Here's what I would consider the major neighborhoods in Oakland, all of these can pretty much be covered on foot; if you do that, you'll find most of the major Oakland attractions. I know I'm leaving stuff out, and probably entire neighborhoods -- this is all of the top of my head. Sorry for not linking anything or editing this mess too well, but all the places I mention should be easily yelpable :

Temescal - up & coming; North Oakland; puts you within spitting distance of rockridge but still pretty far from downtown. Places I like here include the Genoa Deli, Biggums Silver Lion (which I *think* is still there; punk-rock/locals only style bar), Asmara (ethiopian), Dona Tomas (spanish/tapas).

Rockridge - this is practically Berkeley, really. very very nice, small drag with most services you'd need with a large strip mall near CCAC on the Broadway end and Rockridge BART on the other end. Downside: very expensive. Lots of nice restaurants here (garibaldis, uh, there was another we always ate at), a crossroads, some nice bakeries, a couple cool bars (tiki lounge, the hut)

Piedmont - this is the other rather expensive urban strip in oakland. Again, very nice and walkable drag, gourmet supermarket, etc. Offhand; uh, they have Baywolf, Caesar's, a nice fish taco place, some nice coffee shops.

Dogtown - this is in west oakland; extremely up and coming; near the big box stores in Emeryville (Home Depot, Pak N Save, IKEA/Bay Street, etc). Otherwise you're separated from downtown by some potentially sketchy areas. Brown Sugar Kitchen (soul food restaurant) just opened up here, otherwise it's pretty much some condo devs and victorian houses. good freeway access + green strip on Mandela Parkway. I used to live at the foot of Mandela to the south at Offramp Studios (technically just West Oakland; dogtown is to the north) and some cool stuff around there includes Nellie's (great soul food/fried chicken), and Linden Street Brewery (no retail, but they've been doing a beer tasting every friday starting at 4pm -- their beers are sold at the Trappist).

Jack London - This is where I live now. Very walkable, great loft 'style' spaces (trust me, after living in a real live/work for a year and a half, you stop caring about authenticity), poor as far as services and pretty dead at night, but close to BART, the ferry, the amtrak and downtown. Supposedly in a year we will be getting a lot of retail space and a ferry market to rival SF's (well, they say it will be based on Pike's Market in Seattle), but I have serious doubts that will be able to actually *get* the retail they want, as there's craploads of empty storefronts in Jack London Sq. Decent farmer's market on Sundays. Favorite bars here are Merchants (formerly a dive, now officially a faux dive, i think. big east bay rats/hipster hangout), Heinhold's (suprisingly low trafficked historic bar on the waterfront).

Downtown - has most of the same issues of Jack London Square, a little less dead at night due to Chinatown and the area around Uptown (see below). If you live on the northern edges, the new Whole Foods will probably be your closest supermarket. 'Old Oakland' is a tiny drag in between the 980 and Broadway (on Washington), has a brewery (Pacific Coast brewery), a Belgian beer place (the Trappist), a nightclub (AIR), a good breakfast/shitty service place called cockadoodle cafe, and a ton of nice restaurants (B, Levende East, Breads of India, Le Cheval). Hip bars are ruby room, radio (same owner, both sorta in chinatown). Oasis bar (also chinatown-ish) sometimes does bands/club nights.

Uptown - this is a new-ish development pushed hard by the city of oakland. Lots of apartments here. Used to work in the general area and it's again, sorta dead at night, very close to ... not sure what they're calling it .. Oaksterdam? The two little strips on 20th/21st area that have tattoo shops, restaurants, head shop/med. marijuana dispensary, Pho 84, etc. Big locations here are the Uptown bar (which is supposed to be doing more live music), Sweet's Ballroom (when they have shows that you're interested in, don't miss it; incredible space); the Fox theater (due to complete soon), the Alhambra theater (larger shows here, kinda like the Crest on K), Cafe Van Kleef, some decent BBQ, nearby drug stores. Uptown is also closest to Stork Club which does a lot of local-y band shows.

Lakeshore - not sure how this area is defined officially, but I'm considering it from the east side of Lake Merritt to East 14th. this is a pretty nice location; we lived here for a year or so; you're within spitting distances of the services to the north (the Lakeshore & Grand strip: tj's, arizmendi, grand lake theatre, The Alley, um, Smittys, Lyn & Liu's breakfast, etc), and also close to the Parkway, etc. Great farmer's market in Splash Pad park on Sats. Further north on the Lakeshore strip is a safeway. Most of the apartments/houses around here have that Oakland Hills feel. Easy 580 access (though 580 is probably the WORST freeway to get to the 80 on as the split totally sucks).

Fruitville/Jingle-town (technically San Leandro?): this is sort of a combo of the heavily-latino-influenced Fruitville district (great mexican food, etc) and the gateway to Alameda's Park blvd, which is a nice little shopping/entertainment district. Fruitville BART (which i used to take to SF when I lived in Alameda) is easily accessible and has free bike valet parking. There's a cool Tamale shop here near BART, and an awesome beigniets place called Powderface in the transit village by BART.

Living in Oakland has been, for me, a very different experience than living in Sacramento. Downtown Sac is extremely walkable/bikeable and pretty much has a grid kids monoculture so that if you're into 'hip' things there's at least 4 different events going on every night. There's few places in Oakland where you'll find the sort of Herpes triangle experience or be able to walk from a club like Lipstick to a bar like Bennys. This might be a bonus for you or not, I don't know.

Oakland has a generally older crowd, and its downtown is much more of a financial district than Sac's grid. This is coming off like an "Oakland sucks!", attitude, but I really really love Oakland -- I'm reminded of this every time I go to SF neighborhoods; it's just that it's a little more laid back than both SF and a little more spread out than downtown Sac. Part of this perception may be because we no longer know a ton of people in Oakland, where we know a ton of people in Sac. Do not expect your friends to come from SF to hang out with you on a regular basis unless they are super cool. It is very tough to get people to cross the bridge, in either direction.

Don't overlook Alameda, while you're looking around here. Although it largely means you need a car, Alameda has the small-town Sacramento-style downtown, with the benefit of easy access to other events/places in the Bay Area. I really enjoyed living there, and we still drive there pretty often (closest supermarket to us is in Alameda; other cool things include the Alameda Free Library, the small dog park, La Pinata (mexican food open til 3!), Lost Weekend, Lucky 13). Anywhere close to Park St. is very nice in Alameda.
posted by fishfucker at 11:09 AM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

As for bars, The Alley is a bar on Grand with a friendly atmosphere, decent drinks and a piano man who takes requests and encourages singalongs.

The Ruby Room is a darkly-lit dive/hipster bar that has really good DJs most nights.

The Albatross, which I think is technically in Berkeley, is a fun bar with lots of board games you can use.
posted by prior at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2008

fishfucker is on the mark. I used to live on the east side of Lake Merritt* and loved it--close to Grand Ave and the Lakeshore shopping area; the only downside being that it was about a mile walk to BART. (oneirodynia's suggestion in the previous thread is pretty great too.) Rockridge, if you can afford it, is also quite excellent.

Also seconding that people in SF are unlikely to come visit, but it's really their loss.

*I now live in DC, and when I first got here I told anyone who'd listen that it reminded me a lot of Oakland...except that Oakland is far prettier. And more integrated.
posted by kittyprecious at 1:08 PM on June 10, 2008

Music listings (most are in the City (SF), check search by location for stuff going on in Oakland). Oakland Crimespotting can show you which neighborhoods are the sketchiest: I can tell you that I would not live North of West Grand between Peralta and MLK, or south of Foothill in East Oakland. People will say to avoid West Oakland and East (really more like southeast) Oakland but they are big areas and there are decent neighborhoods in both. Fruitvale in East Oakland is diverse, sometimes sketchy but vibrant, with lots of really good 9and less good) Mexico City style Mexican Food. Central West Oakland has some lovely victorian streets and lots of families live there; there are also some community gardens, though you'll have to head out on a bike to get to cafes and shops. There aren't many good bookstores; all the independents we visit are in Berkeley (Cody's, Moe's, Dark Carnival). Critical Mass happens First Fridays and corresponds with Art Murmur. Oaklandish is a civic pride/arts group/event coordinator that has cool events. There are lots of farmers markets: Temescal, Grand Lake, West Oakland, Jack London, Old Oakland. Lots of really good food, some of which fishfucker has outlined above (not only can little restaurants open up because real estate is cheap, but laws making it crazy expensive to operate a more high-end restaurant in the City means that more are opening up here). There are lots of little arts groups and music collectives and who knows what doing things here and there- the thing about Oakland is that it's all rather spread out and under the radar.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:29 PM on June 10, 2008

Also seconding that people in SF are unlikely to come visit, but it's really their loss.

Dumb, but often true; though among our friends, the BART and bike riders are much less fazed by hopping a train and coming to have brunch at Flora or Brown Sugar Kitchen. I advise anyone moving here to try to be within reasonable distance of a BART station.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:33 PM on June 10, 2008

oh, and as kittyprecious pointed out: I love my neighborhood! Though I totally agree with everything fishfucker has said as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2008

Wow, thanks everyone (damn, fishfucker, you should write a guide book), this is all great stuff.
posted by mikoroshi at 2:56 PM on June 10, 2008

The Forbidden Island is in alameda (a stones throw from downtown) and is an amazing tiki bar. In downtown there is The Trappist, a great belgian beer bar. Over near Rockridge there is Zachary's, some of the best deep dish I've ever had, and arizmendi has already been mentioned which is also spectacular. As for the scene, The Stork Club is a really divey bar that has great local concerts (and there was a burlesque show a few days ago.) Also fun is the Starry Plough, an irish pub that has live music.

I live in Lake Merrit and it is a great place to hang out and has a great farmers market saturday morning, which is where the places arnicae mentioned are.

Over near berkeley/piedmont is the Dark Carnival, an incredible sci-fi/mystery/hard to find books store (with shitloads of other cool crap too). This place is a must visit no matter what.
posted by Large Marge at 3:49 PM on June 10, 2008

damn, fishfucker, you should write a guide book

i've considered it (well, at least a blog). there's a lot of great existing resources, however: definitely check out Oakland Goods for retail info, A Better Oakland for political issues (oakland politics are often backwater and an obstacle to the city's potential), and East Bay Express for a journalistically high-level view of the East Bay (and event listings, food reviews, local issues, etc).

Feel free to memail or ask more questions in thread. I'm super-passionate about Oakland and I know that a lot of other people participating in this thread are as well (of course, I have a soft spot in my heart for Sacramento as well because I grew up there). Oakland is super awesome and I support more people moving here, because it means: 1) businesses (both retail and corporate) will be more willing to move here, and 2) more cool shit will happen in oakland.

The Flora mention by oneirodynia reminds me of two other popular Oakland restaurants that haven't been mentioned yet -- Camino (which is rather new, like Flora) in the piedmont (i think), and Luka's Taproom near downtown (more of a bar/grill, been here for at least a couple years). I've been to neither but heard very good things. Luka's Taproom is also near the new Franklin St Wine Bar which has patio seating, and I believe a proposed Bakesale Betty's. I've also heard that Flora is awesome (and has rad cocktails) but haven't eaten there yet.
posted by fishfucker at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2008

Do try to see Lucky JuJu, a pinball arcade chock full of vintage machines. It's in Alameda; easy to combine a trip there with a visit to the aforementioned Forbidden Island.

I recently left Oakland for the South but I miss it so! I personally enjoy the Rockridge hood, though it's often regarded as more like Berkeley than Oakland.
posted by calitocarolina at 6:14 PM on June 10, 2008

Issues Magazine shop in North Oakland is one of the coolest little magazine/vinyl/art/used book stores I have ever been to. I don't live there, but if that place is characteristic of the neighborhood, that would be a great area.

Also, if you like yoga, you couldn't do better than Loka Yoga in the same general neighborhood.

The proprietors of either of these joints would be happy to tell you all about the neighborhood too.
posted by extrabox at 7:35 PM on June 10, 2008

Oh, a really good music listing site if you're into independent music. Seconding the Lucky JuJu - possibly my favorite place in the whole bay area! Ole's Waffle shop is also not to miss if you're in Alameda.
posted by ethel at 2:58 PM on June 11, 2008

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