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Oakland, California

By Jennifer Downey

Across the bay from legendary San Francisco and just south of the historic college town of Berkeley lies a city that remains relatively unknown in the guidebooks of must-see destinations. Like all note-worthy cities, Oakland has its generous share of attributes: history, culture, arts, activities, entertainment and landmarks. But much of its charm lies in the fact that Oakland hasn’t yet been officially “discovered” and is still in the process of defining itself. The ideologies, perspectives and histories of its various resident cultures are shaping into a deep and multi-dimensional community. An evolving cityscape that is alive and self-reflective, Oakland possesses a tangible freshness.

Oakland’s rich cultural diversity dates back to its first inhabitants. In 1200 b.c., Native Americans began settling in the original landscape of oak and redwood forests. As history crept along the timeline, the city’s population swelled with various immigrant groups, gold rush hopefuls, railroad laborers and San Franciscans displaced by the 1906 earthquake. Today, Oakland is a multicultural city vibrant with African-American, Asian, Native American and Latino communities.

Oakland’s art scene, enthusiastically supported by the community, has something for everyone. Second only to Manhattan in the number of artists per capita, the city is home to a weekly artisan marketplace, regular gallery-sponsored art night series, and various renowned museums, not to mention a ballet company, symphonic orchestra, historic cinemas and an active theatre scene. The music scene is one that makes decisions difficult. With a world-famous jazz house, a Blues Society, several concert venues, music festivals, old piano bars and outdoor amphitheatres that host everything from classical to R&B, you’re bound to have trouble fitting it all in.

The city center and numerous neighborhood districts offer visitors a range of dining, shopping and entertainment choices. You’ll find an assortment of independent music and book stores, year-round farmers markets, specialty shops, and many popular cafes, teahouses and breweries. Cuisine fare is as wide-ranging as the music, with eateries offering a selection of Thai, Japanese, Ethiopian, Italian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Mexican food. Because the city has remained under the radar of the big chain stores, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the number of mom-and-pop shops that thrive and the small-town feel that lingers.

With a calendar full of sunshine and mild temperatures, Oakland is a place to be active. 91,000 acres of oak-studded, rolling park land means unlimited hiking, biking and horseback riding. For water enthusiasts, the waterfront at Jack London Square is a great place for kayaking and canoeing. And the centrally located Lake Merritt, with its year-round string of colorful lights, is a popular spot for joggers, rollerbladers and walkers. For a quiet picnic or afternoon nap, try the public rose garden or one of the city’s many parks.

As a city that offers visitors every aspect of urban culture, but also a relaxed atmosphere and a taste of the country, Oakland invites you to explore, play, learn and listen. Just try to keep its secret to yourself.

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