The Bay Area is one of the most booming metropolitan cities in the United States. Home to over seven million people, Oakland makes up a solid 400,000 of that.
Just across the bay from San Francisco, Oakland is so much more than that random city you pass through on a night out. Its arts and culture scene is vibrant, and it’s also home to a vast community of innovators and activists. It might be across the bridge, but that physical separation doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all that the city has to offer.
Besides being a hot art and culture scene, it’s also home to a variety of big-name brands that have moved their headquarters over yonder as SF becomes more expensive and the Silicon Valley becomes more and more populated. We’re talking everything from Pandora to good old PG&E. Fun fact, the Port of Oakland is the busiest in all of NorCal and the fifth busiest in the country. All that economic activity just a BART ride away—you’re not experiencing the Bay to the fullest without it, now are you?
With all the great things Oakland has to offer, we rounded up the top spots to see in the city—from restaurants and bars to museums and tourist destinations. No matter what you’re looking to do, Oakland sure has it on tap.
Oakland has a huge variety of options, all of which are impossible to list here. For now, we’ll indulge in a bit of soul food that’s rooted deep in the city’s vibe. If you’re in the mood for that tried and true comfort food, look no further than Brown Sugar Kitchen. A local favorite famous for chicken and waffles.
// 2534 Mandela Pkwy Oakland
If vegan fare is more your thing, be sure to check out Hella Vegan Eats. Their menu features everything from fried ‘chicken’ and waffles, burgers made from seitan, garlic fries, soups, to french toast. Not only is this spot an Oakland favorite, but one that’s known throughout the Bay Area for its delicious eats.
// 411 26th Street, Oakland
If you’re looking for something quick and easy, definitely head to Xolo taqueria. Just of 19th street in downtown Oakland, you’re immediately drawn in by their friendly services and colorful decor, but you’ll stick around for their food. We highly recommend the Hongos Burrito—for all you mushroom lovers out there, it’s to die for.
// 1916 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
If you’re wanting some fun with your food—Plank is the place to go. They have some delicious food fare and a spectacular beer selection (it is a beer garden, after all), but what really makes this place shine is all the games. Think: bowling, bocce, billiards, and an entire arcade.
// 99 Broadway, Oakland
There are so many amazing watering holes the city has to offer. To start, we’ll highlight Plum Bar. With a beautiful old-fashioned decor and delicious cocktails, you’ll certainly be channeling some sophisticated vibes here. Did you know their walls are decorated with over 1500+ American poems? Even their sodas are interesting—order a coke, and you’ll be served a delicious variety of gingery cola.
// 2216 Broadway, Oakland
If something a bit more swanky is your style, check out Oeste in uptown Oakland. It combines rustic charm with modern twists, and has a menu full of goodies. With a rooftop scheduled to open in April, so be sure to add this one to the list of spring spots to try.
// 722 Clay St Oakland
For museums, hit up the Oakland Museum of California. They truly have it all—exhibits and artifacts spanning art, history, and science gathered in one place. They even have a children’s museum. Next month, they’re hosting “Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom” which “tells the unexpected story of how Hip-Hop changed the world, starting from its roots on the streets, before rap, DJing, street art, breakdancing, and street fashion launched into mainstream popular culture.” Check it out while it’s in from March 24–August 12, 2018. And, be sure to keep an eye out for Bob Cut’s coverage of this exhibit!
// 1000 Oak Street (at 10th Street) Oakland
Another incredible spot is The African American Museum and Library at Oakland. They have one of the most incredible archives, “featuring 160 collections documenting prominent families, pioneers, churches, social and political organizations.” Whether you’re just generally browsing or looking for specific information, you’re sure to come away having learned something new.
// 659 14th St, Oakland
If you’re looking to get outside to enjoy that spring weather (February showers bring spring flowers?) Lake Merritt is the place to be. It’s a prime spot for biking, running, or just taking a casual stroll. And, it’s not too far from the Oakland Museum of California. Saturday afternoon plans, sorted.
// 666 Bellevue Ave, Oakland
If you’re looking to get even further away from it all, check out the East Bay Regional Park District. The system comprises 121,397 acres in 73 parks, including over 1,250 miles of trails, and it starts just outside of Oakland.
// 17930 Lake Chabot Rd, Castro Valley
Did you know that Lake Merritt was surrounded by mansions back in the day? If you want to take a trip back to the 1800s, head to Camron-Stanford House. It just so happens to be one of the last remaining relics of a Victorian style architecture abiding its station next to Lake Merritt.
// 1418 Lakeside Dr, Oakland
If you’re up for more historical fare, be sure to check out the USS Potomac. It served as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Presidential Yacht during his tenure in the 1930s. What’s better than visiting FDR’s “floating white house” over the weekend?
// 540 Water St, Oakland
Jack London Square is probably the shiny star of Oakland—set right along the water, this hub is teeming with cool shops, restaurants, and nightlife. With some restaurants like Plank boasting combinations of bowling and billiards as well as food and drink, you know you’re in for a hell of a good time. There’s also some awesome weekly events—from farmer’s markets to dance festivals so be sure to keep tabs on their website so you don’t miss out.
// Jack London Square, Broadway, Oakland
If you’re looking to scratch that shopping itch, be sure to check out Temescal Alley. It’s a classic neighborhood filled with boutique shops that are great for window shopping or treating yourself. Not only that, but the neighborhood is filled with beautiful murals too. Insta pic, anyone?
// 486 49th Street (between Telegraph Avenue and Clarke Street)
If you’re looking for something a bit more central—head downtown. It may sound too obvious but sometimes the best things are right under your nose. Filled with historic movie theatres and shops there’s some pretty unique ones, like Viscera Studio, a fun design store that has 3D printed accessories. Now that’s shopping in the future y’all.
// 1542 Broadway, Oakland
// Photography sourced from Instagram, shopping photo via Racked. Did we miss something on this list? Totally email us and we will add it.
Sanica Apte is a writer and a news and politics junkie living in the Bay Area. A former Bostonian and Florida-native, she got her start in the creative world on Boston University's student-run TV station, producing an Emmy award-winning news show called On That Point. Previous to that, Sanica interned for PBS Boston and NBC Boston. In her spare time, she's a full-time cat lover and is slowly eating her way through all the good food the Bay Area has to offer.