Recently there has been a lot of hubbub about Oakland in the East Bay of California. As artists get priced out of San Francisco, they have increasingly made their way across the water and into the once desolate streets of this municipality. Sound familiar? Now, some say it has started channeling Brooklyn -- you know, the whole artisan eateries, quaint culture, darling shops and dudes with beards. Though these similarities do exist, turns out this flavorful city has enough unique charm and class that make it its own entity worth visiting. From a California-focused museum that hosts bumping parties to restaurants that showcase the bounty of the state, Oakland offers a fresh breath of sunshine to any wayward traveler.
WHAT TO DO
It would behoove you to visit the Oakland Museum of California (admission $15, $10 students and seniors, $6 ages 9-17, free 8 and under; 1000 Oak St., 888-625-6873), a 45-year-old institution focused on the state's history that's great for kids and adults. It's impossible to get bored as you wander the halls experiencing the hands-on exhibits, watch digital characters discuss the past, and get lost in the tales of the San Francisco gold rush. Every Friday night from 5 to 9 p.m., the museum also hosts a party complete with drinks, live music and food trucks aplenty.
The next morning, head to the Saturday Grand Lake-Oakland farmers market in Splash Pad Park (Grand and Lake Park avenues). This bustling scene is a great way to sample fresh local fruits and produce, plus you can grab a couple smoked-cheddar tamales as a band or two strums along in the refreshing outdoors. Nearby you will also find Lake Merritt, a beautiful heart-shaped body of water perfect for kayaking, paddleboarding and even dragon boating. Take advantage of Gondola Servizio, a legit Venetian gondola tour guide complete with Italian crooning.
WHERE TO EAT
Start any day with a steaming cup of Blue Bottle Coffee. The company got its start in Oakland after all, so it only seems right. Later, opt for breakfast at Sweet Bar Bakery (2355 Broadway, 510-788-4997), you can order gourmet scones, savory croissants and grab a dessert bar to go, for later.
For lunch, Boot and Shoe Service (3308 Grand Ave., 510-763-2668) is a popular spot that serves homemade sausage pizza and hearty beef brisket sandwiches. You can also head to Oakland's Chinatown and get a bowl of hand-pulled noodles instead. At Shan Dong (328 10th St., 510-839-2299) they are done a variety of ways, all good, all cheap and filling.
Then dinner, which brings us to chef Preeti Mistry's Juhu Beach Club (5179 Telegraph Ave., 510-652-7350), a funky restaurant that takes Indian staples, mixes in seasonal California produce and adds a modern kick. Think crisp, sweet-and-sour cauliflower, cardamom-braised short rib with roasted root vegetables and sliders stuffed with pulled pork in a vindaloo BBQ sauce. You can end your evening with a night cap at Fauna (1900 Telegraph Ave., 510-286-0100), an Art Deco-styled bar that specializes in craft drinks like the Bang-Bang Berlioni, made with Beefeater Gin, Cynar and dry vermouth at a non-Brooklyn price of only $8.
Taking a tour by Edible Excursions ($92 per person) is also a must for food lovers. Tours cover the old-school neighborhood of Temescal and Uptown, two places filled with delicious dining decisions. Sample tastes along the way and then go back for more if you find something you like.
WHERE TO STAY
Where the food and entertainment options are filling out in the city, hotels have yet to really catch up. Still, there are a couple of choice options, starting with the Waterfront Hotel (10 Washington St., 510-836-3800). This laid-back, nautical-themed stay is located right in the heart of Jack London Square, the spot where the acclaimed writer's boyhood took place that today features an array of chic shops and dining establishments.
You can also look into booking a room at the boutique hotel Washington Inn (495 10th St., 510-452-1776) in Old Oakland, near the convention center.
Both accommodations are a short drive from the Oakland International Airport, highlighting another reason to visit the city -- easy access.