Welcome to OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA!
Yes. That’s right…Oakland…located in the Golden State of the United States of America, where the mainland’s western most plains and mountains hug the nutrient-rich Pacific Ocean that stretches all the way west to Auckland, New Zealand, and beyond.
We have kiwis (the fruit) but stop short of nicknaming ourselves as such (…yes, I know the country I’m vaguely referring to takes their namesake from the kiwi bird, but bare with me). Besides, our fruit of choice in the Bay Area is the avocado, and being known world wide as “the avocados” would be…weird.
We hail the Oakland Raiders; though they don’t wear All Black, they wear mostly black with some silver thrown in there for contrast (our fans are probably equally intimidating as those of the All Blacks Rubgy team, though…well, maybe not equally).
We’re located in Northern California as opposed to the “North Island.”
…I mean, the differences and similarities are aplenty, so I will spare your eyes and brain the task of reading them and spare myself the task of researching them.
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA! Here we go…
~~A Brief History of Oakland~~
The most effective way of getting to know any place, foreign or domestic, is to know a little bit about the history. The City of Oakland – as it is known today – was formerly the Town of Oakland incorporated in 1852. Today, it is endearingly referred to as Oak-town or simply, The Town. The name comes from the groves of Redwood and Oak trees that thrived on the land before it was harvested to build the burgeoning city of San Francisco. It gained its prominence and popularity back in the first half of the 20th century as a large port city and continues to be the largest port in Northern California. Additionally, it served as a haven for those (a large percentage of which were African-Americans) escaping the oppressive tendencies of the southern United States and the promise of a new future in the Bay Area. Oakland has been the ground zero for much political activism, being the birthplace of the Black Panthers, a controversial activist group who preached the equality and opportunity for African-Americans under the law, community food programs for under privileged youth, and the “policing of police” who at the time would go unpunished for brutally attacking African-Americans in the 60s and today. Today, Oakland is the home of the Oakland Athletics MLB team, the Oakland Raiders NFL team, and our shining gem, the best team in the NBA – The Golden State Warriors (stay in Oakland, please…Curry soup anyone?…)!
In the past few decades, Oakland has changed direction from its industrial and crime-ridden past and placed its sights towards the future. It is well known for its practices of sustainable living and use of sustainable energy, being the hub for many new tech companies, restaurants, and farmer’s markets, the latter of which incorporates and promotes “farm to table” living in which animals and animal products are produced ethically.
~~So…What’s so Different About Oakland Anyway?~~
–First Friday – Oakland Art Murmur–
Probably the most eclectic gathering of people one will experience outside of New Orleans and Black Rock City, this monthly street festival (on the first Friday of every month) on Telegraph Road in Oakland stretches from West Grand Avenue all the way north up to 27th Street and is jammed full of food tents, art vendors, live art installations, live music, and all around good vibes. Off 25th Street going east towards Lake Merritt one will find a plethora of art galleries (that allow open containers) where you can meet the artist, buy some art, or just enjoy the creativity of those who call Oakland “home.” Grab a drink at one of the many bars including Telegraph Beer Garden, Legionnaire, or The Stork Club – a dive bar where you can shed your worries of what you’re wearing today, what you look like, and even what you smell like and simply enjoy some pool, arcade games, live music, cheap beer, and occasionally, a cabaret show. Head south on Telegraph just outside the road blocks to SpaceBurger and see another facet of Oakland. Low riders, heavy bass, trap music, and mean mugs, but don’t be frightened, soak in the art form of the tricked out vehicle. From the old school to the new, the beauty of these rides would get Stevie Wonder’s head to turn.
Not into art, live music, great food, and meeting new people? Exactly, who isn’t? But if this is a little too slow paced for you (??) maybe you want to rent a bike for the night and experience the East Bay Bike Party.
–East Bay Bike Party–
This monthly event – usually on the second Friday of each month in and around Oakland – is easily the most fun I have ever had while living in Oakland for 3 years. Join the caravan of bicyclists as they light up the Oakland streets from destination to destination, playing the jams on what can only be described as “music bikes” (a testament to the ingenuity of Oakland, some riders have transformed their bikes into mobile boomboxes) or “party epicenters” as you explore hidden parks and parking lots in Oakland and partake in dance parties. From mountain bikers to bike store owners to commuters to tricked out bikers, to just people who happen to have bikes, you’ll meet all types of Oak-town residents and see what it truly is to live Oaklandish. After a night dancing under the stars with new friends you’ll be sold on moving here.
A sunny day (most common in Oakland), some new friends you just met at First Friday or the Bike Party, snacks, alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages, music, and Lake Merritt. This is all you need. The next day you might as well sign your lease for an apartment and move in. Lake Merritt, is a beautiful, partially man-made lake that entertains the weekend visitor as well as the life-long Oaklander. The lake is, in fact the country’s first wildlife refuge which was established back in 1870. This is my favorite natural part of Oakland. Take a jog around the 3.3 mile (5.5km) lake or just stroll and check out many of the neighboring restaurants and bars including Portal (excellent for brunch), Heart & Dagger (decently priced beer, arcade games, patio, and…of course…a pool table), Room 389 (café by day, bar by night), or the Ruby Room (dimly lit, rouge room with great music, cheap drinks, and…yes, pool).
If you’re done with pool and beers – don’t worry, it happens to the best of us – head to nearby Snow Park where you can lay out in the sun, throw the frisbee, people watch, or – if youre lucky – check out some great music by local DJs in the music collective Lowered Expectations. These talented young men offer great vibes, great tunes, and some BBQ if you’re keen.
“All of this talk of music, buy where can I see some shows?!”
I’m glad you asked…
–The Fox Theater–
This venue has housed some amazing acts from all reaches of the musicsphere, from Kendrick Lamar to Gary Clark Jr. to String Cheese Incident to The Roots to Cage the Elephant to Prince, and everybody inbetween.
Make sure to check this website when you’re in town, or just stroll to Telegraph and 18th and check the marquee yourself. This 2800-seat concert hall was originally a theater which opened in 1928, the decoration is vaguely ornate middle eastern, probably because it was going to originally going to be called “The Baghdad.” Do not miss a show here if you have the chance, the intimate feeling of this smaller sized venue and the deco make it a truly special place to experience some great music.
“I’ve been running all over the Town, man, I’m hungry…where do I eat?”
In short…Burrito Express…in less short…see below…
~~Things to Put In Your Stomach~~
1.) The Home of Chicken and Waffles
Bring cash and an empty stomach to this staple of Oakland in Jack London Square where Broadway meets Embarcadero. Just as the name suggests, it would behoove you to try the amazing fried chicken with a waffle (or two) topped with perpetually melting butter and cinnamon maple syrup…yup…you read that right. Have it for breakfast and you won’t need lunch, have it for lunch and you’re set until the next day. Try the Dale’s Choice – 8 homemade battered chicken tenders and 2 waffles – my personal favorite.
2.) Everett and Jones (“E and J”)
This is the barbecue spot of Oakland, dangerously located right next to The Home of Chicken and Waffles. Check the walls for pictures of famous athletes, comedians, and actors who have already been blessed by E and J’s angelic, yet devilish, cueing. Short ribs, sweet potatoes, wheat bread, and a sweet tea. Good morning. Good afternoon. Goodnight. zZzZzZz
3.) Shan Dong Chinese Restaurant
The best Chinese food you will ever eat is at this restaurant, but don’t go on Monday. Spencer “did that, so hopefully you wouldn’t have to go through that,” – thanks Jay-Z. Yes, I have suffered the heartbreak and disappointed stomach for YOU! The reader. This place boasts dozens of amazing dishes and handrolled chow mein that you can delight in for $1 extra. “Must trys” include the Shandong Dumplings, Shandong Prawns, Shandong Chicken…damnit, just close your eyes and point and I guarantee you will be satisfied. You’re welcome.
And now, a brief list of 5 bars to check out while in Oakland and their locations:
1. Lost and Found:
You were lost, but since you found this place you’ll be okay. Telegraph Road and 20th Street. Amazing craft beers, cornhole, and ping pong.
The place to go to try a variety of craft beers. Conviently located next to Tamarindo – spanish cuisine and tapas – go here on “Taco Tuesdays” where you can enjoy a nice beer and cheap tacos and huaraches next door.
3.) Era Art Bar
Spacious, great deco. West Grand Avenue and Broadway. Live music and Open Mics every Thursday. Local MCs, poets, musicians, and music lovers convene here. Oakland’s finest.
4.) Café Van Kleef
Imagine if Picasso and Dalí and Steve Irwin had a child who took acid and had a really tippy dream, because…everything was trippier as a kid…Welcome to Café Van Kleef. Telegraph Road and 15th Street. The Greyhound is their specialty but so is the live music and seating. Enjoy!
5.) The Layover
I couldn’t write an article about Oakland without adding this gem. Live spanish music nights, jazz nights, extensive alcohol collection, dancing, body heat, amazing memories. Franklin Street and 14th Street.
Okay guys and gals, I’ve properly laced you with your very own “Where to Start in Oakland,” kit. Yes, this is just a starting point, the Town is as multifaceted as the finest diamond and about as much work has gone into making it as such. This is a city deeply rooted in fighting for self expression, peace, and freedom, keep this in mind as you stroll the various blocks appreciating the commissioned art on the side of buildings and side walks. I always tell people who ask “What’s Oakland like,” “If I were to make my ideal city, it would be Oakland.” There’s plenty I left out in this article, but half the fun of experiencing a new city is uncovering it for yourself, peeling back layer after layer of the Town and its inhabitants. I can’t say much for Auckland, but I know Oakland has my heart, and I’m fortunate to call this place home.
The New Parish – “People Party” (usually last Saturday of the month)
The New Parkway Theater – From cult movies to documentaries to the latest blockbusters…they play ’em…plus you can drink beers while you enjoy the cinematic adventure of your choice.
Chop Bar – The brunch you need after dancing all night at the People Party.
Portal – I don’t know what else you need to energize you back up to 100% besides a Polenta Benedict and a Bloody Mary…