NFT San Francisco Downtown Oakland / Lake Merritt

Downtown Oakland / Lake Merritt

Overview
San Francisco may be the first place you think of when you hear "city by the bay" but it certainly isn't the only place. Oakland, with its adorable neighborhoods, ethnic diversity, radical history, and eclectic architecture, is as much of a destination out here as Brooklyn is in New York City. Travel through Oakland's neighborhoods and you'll find everything from near-ghetto conditions to gentrified warehouse districts, cute bungalow neighborhoods to hillside mansions, city streets, pools, art centers, and a beautiful regional park system in the Oakland hills -- perfect for hiking, biking and all things nature.

If you are looking for a day out through some "Oaktown" neighborhoods filled with craftsman bungalows and Victorian homes, boutiques, cafés, bookstores, and the like, try the Rockridge, Temescal, or Piedmont Ave neighborhoods in North Oakland. Check out places like Bittersweet Chocolate CaféSee more.

> (everything chocolate), Diesel Books (both in Rockridge), Piedmont Theatre, and Lot 49 (470 49th St), or Bakesale Betty, and Lanesplitter for a unique taste of some of the best Oakland has to offer. Get your art on at Studio One Arts Center (on 45th Street between Broadway and Shafter) where you can find a range of art classes for adults at great prices. For a park-like stroll and a significant history lesson, take the dog for a walk in Mountain View Cemetery (founded in 1863, and designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted). Walk by the mansion-like tombs of famous San Franciscans who are the namesakes for such streets as Powell and Stanyan. Famous architect Julia Morgan is buried here alongside common and famous people of all ethnicities, races, and religions.

Oakland's incredible diversity can be found in many of its neighborhoods, including the pan-Asian Chinatown's center at 8th and Webster, the hub of downtown. Since it gets much less tourism than San Francisco's famous Chinatown, this neighborhood has a few less "junk" stores and is perhaps on the more authentic-side. This is the neighborhood to find the best fake-meat restaurants, including the Golden Lotus (on Franklin and 13th), and the Layonna Vegetarian Health Food Market, which sells all the kinds of fake meat you might ever want to try. The Fruitvale neighborhood in East Oakland is home to the cities growing Hispanic community, once named after...you guessed it, fruit orchards. The best Mexican restaurants are Otaez and Mariscos La Costa. Along International Boulevard between Lake Merritt and Fruitvale are a variety of excellent (and cheap) ethnic restaurants; here you'll find everything from Korean barbecue to carnitas and empanandas. Plan your visit to coincide with the celebrations of Cinco de Mayo or Dia de los Muertos and you'll be in for a real treat.

East of downtown but west of Fruitvale is the hamlet 'hood of Lake Merritt. It is a quick 15-minute walk from downtown, and cozy shops and restaurants can be found tucked away in sloping streets overlooking the water. Looking up at the hills, you can mistake it for a small Mediterranean city. Joggers can be found rounding the lake all day and you'll often see small sail boats, kayaks, and rowboats forging the waters. And once you've made your way around the lake, take a stroll down Lakeshore or Grand Avenues, home to a farmers market every Saturday, and a plethora of restaurants, cafes (check out the workers' co-op Arizmendi Bakery or Walden Pond Books), and shops. Easy Lounge is a perfect place for fresh cocktails post-farmers market. Visit the beautifully restored Grand Lake Theater on a Saturday night to hear the organ played before your movie.

In recent years, downtown Oakland has seen an increase in activity, with notable restaurants, cafés, and cultural centers flourishing along its streets. The Malonga Casquelourd Center, formerly Alice Arts Center, hosts a variety of performances and cultural events. Jack London Square, which used to be a mere tourist trap, is now home to the city's hottest new restaurant, Haven, by star-chef Daniel Patterson. Just east of this area is the city's new and obtuse warehouse district, where expensive lofts now exist in old warehouses. A loft community of artists, bohemians, intellectuals, and yuppies has colonized the area. You'll find Oakland's best ribs and cornbread at Everett and Jones in Jack London Square and Oakland's best DIY museum/store at Oaklandish (1444 Broadway). Despite what you may have heard, Oakland also has a thriving and varied nightlife scene. While you may want to steer clear of some West Oakland and far East Oakland neighborhoods after dark, the rest of the city can and should be explored. For the upscale set, AIR Lounge (492 9th St) rivals San Francisco's swankiest lounges. Check out Café Van Kleef (1621 Telegraph Ave), the White Horse Bar (the country's second-oldest gay bar) at 6551 Telegraph, and Luka's Taproom & Lounge (2221 Broadway) for a good night out with or without music.




         



On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

BC Deli Sandwiches
Oakland's Chinatown is an unquestionably great place to grab lunch, but the cash only policy just doesn't work for people like me who don't carry a whole lot of cash. Take-out dim sum is an option, but then I wouldn't have anywhere to sit down and properly enjoy my rice noodle rolls or shrimp dumplings. And while BC Deli is known primarily for its banh mi sandwiches, there are a great selection of Vietnamese plate dishes, like roast chicken over rice, imperial rolls, and noodle soups, all for less than $5. You could probably afford to head for the refrigerator and treat yourself to one of the colorful drinks, and maybe pick up some dinner as well. The food may not be up to the quality of a proper sit-down restaurant (this is more of a take-out place) and the ambiance is no-frills, but if all you have is pocket change, it's more than satisfying.



Posted By:  Bon Vivant
Photo:  Bon Vivant

Pho Ga Huong Que Café
There is nothing better on a cold day than a big steaming bowl of chicken soup.  Each culture has its own version of chicken soup but I think that my favorite is the Vietnamese chicken pho which is known as pho ga.  I often go to a restaurant, aptly named Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe, that specializes in pho ga.  Hands down this is one of the best bowls of pho ga that I’ve ever had.  Not only is the broth flavorful and the noodles plentiful but the pho ga is served with a complimentary side of a scallion ginger sauce for dipping.  Words cannot even describe how good this sauce is!  I want an IV of this sauce hooked up to me at all times.  It jettisons the incredibly good soup into the beyond insanely good range.  Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe goes all out because they offer their pho ga with a choice of four different types of noodles (rice stick is highly recommended) and with different preparations of chicken (skinless, boneless, with skin, with bones, white, dark, etc.)  Expect to pay under $6 for this bowl of glorious soup; add a buck for an extra large bowl.



Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

Cock-a-Doodle Cafe
Every brunch joint has one signature item that allows it to stand out from the rest. For the Cock-a-Doodle Cafe in Old Oakland, it's the graham cracker-crusted, strawberry ricotta stuffed French toast, accompanied by a choice of bacon, ham, or chicken apple sausage. Even though I try never to order the same dish twice, and there are plenty of delicious-looking choices on the menu here, I could stick with that same item on each visit. You won't find such ingeniously-crafted French toast anywhere else. If you don't care for a sweet brunch, there are plenty of equally enticing savory items, like huevos rancheros, an assortment of omelettes, chipotle shrimp tacos, and chef Blanca Arechiga's fried egg sandwich. I'm sure you can't go wrong with any of those choices, but I may very well end up falling back on my tried and true. It really is that good.



Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

Grand Lake Farmers Market
Even in a down economy, there are certain institutions worthy of our continued support, among them our local farmers markets. Oakland's Grand Lake Farmers Market, considered by many to be the best in the East Bay, features more than 50 local vendors selling everything from farm fresh produce, specialty foods, and artisan crafts. You can pick up everything from peaches and heirloom tomatoes to duck salame and handcrafted soaps. There is also no shortage of lunch options, which include organic Thai and vegan soul food. You're not likely to find such a selection of goods at the mall. If nothing else, the market a great excuse to get out of the house on a Saturday morning rather than sleep in or sit in front of the TV. It's almost summer already, so why do you want to stay indoors anyway?



Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

Miss Pearl's Jam House
From the west coast, it's a long way to the Caribbean. But the reincarnation of a former San Francisco restaurant in Jack London Square brings it a little closer to us, even if it's not 100% authentic and lacks the rustic ambiance that the you'd find in the islands. Part-Caribbean, part-fusion soul food, the elegant Miss Pearl's offers some of the traditional favorites, like jerk chicken with rice and beans and plantains as well as some more innovative dishes, like babyback ribs glazed in guava and crunchy calamari with a crunchy citrus glaze. I'd hesitate to even describe it as Caribbean it's more of a Californian fusion restaurant, but still good nonetheless. Save room for a dessert, each of which carries a tropical twist.



Posted By:  Elizabeth Hollis Hansen
Photo:  Elizabeth Hollis Hansen

The Trappist
Imagine you're in Europe. You're walking down a cobblestone street on a rainy evening, and you duck into a neighborhood pub to grab a pint and catch up with your mates. It's not hard to imagine at the Trappist in Old Oakland. The owners modeled this beer bar after their favorite European pubs, and as the name suggests, the Trappist is big on Belgian beers. They have a bottle list with close to 150 brews from which to choose. Feeling overwhelmed? Not sure how to tell a Westvleteren from a Grimbergen? Not to worry. The staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They'll make recommendations and pour samples from the tap so you can see what you like before you order. And if Belgians aren't your thing, they offer plenty of craft beers from around the US, and there are always a few California microbrews on the rotating tap.



Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

Gelato Firenze
It's no secret that I'm an ice cream fan, especially those with unique flavors. And so when I heard about Gelato Firenze, just a stone's throw from the Grand Lake Theater, I knew that was another one I had to try. Though the plain shop front and dubious environs (it's located by a KFC) don't do much to attract attention, it may be just as well. You won't have to deal with throngs of customers to enjoy some of the best gelato in the Bay. Most of the flavors are pretty ordinary but full of flavor, and the gelato is produced on the premises, just as they would be at the best gelaterias in Italy. I ordered pomegranate and green tea, which did not disappoint, not noticing at first the merlot, specked with chocolate and berries. Luckily, I grabbed a sample before I left, and it was exquisite.



Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

Arizmendi Bakery
As a Berkeleyite, there's a special place in my heart for the Cheeseboard. There can be only one place like it, right? So until now I've avoided Arizmendi, with three locations operated by the same Collective as the original. I figured it couldn't measure up to the Holy Grail. But with the Cheeseboard closed on Sundays, and my weekday and Saturday schedules so busy, I rarely have the chance to pop in for a cheese roll or scone anymore. So on a recent Sunday afternoon, I found myself walking along Lakeshore and decided to stop by at the local branch. While the interior was virtually identical, there were some goodies I would never find at the Berkeley location. Sure, there were the chocolate things, wolverines, cheese rolls, and muffins, but also almond snails, manchego sundried-tomato scones, and even daily specialty breads like chili Pumpkinseed Sourdough, and Mushroom Sage sourdough. I enjoy having variety, and it wasn't until now that I discovered what I've been missing out on. Now I realize I shouldn't have written this place off earlier.



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Quarter Pound Giant Burgers
If you're a strict vegetarian, vegan or just a stickler about your health then hit the back button now. Seriously. I'm warning you, this spot is so over-the-top greasy spoonish that just reading this is guaranteed to raise your cholesterol. No veggie options here dammit, I'm betting even the fries are cooked in lard. But on the other hand, after a long night of drankin' and debauchery nothing hits the spot like that 3am quarter pound of greasy love and a side of fries. And for that, we love Quarter Pound. The burgers are fair to tasty and the fries are plentiful, and since it's one of the only spots in the area open late, what choice have ya got? Conveniently parked near the hood and just south of Grand Ave., QP is a close stumble from downtown's various club scenes. And as a result the late night wildlife varies from hipsters to hip hop heads, lesbians to gallery goers, all brought together to diligently shun panhandlers while waiting for a late night charred beef fix. Quarter Pound Burgers--one of life's great artery-clogging equalizers.



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Oakland Museum of California
Something's been brewing over at the Oakland Museum. Something big, young and definitely cooler than their significant but admittedly geriatric permanent collection. Earlier this year the museum began a multimillion dollar, multiyear renovation to expand the galleries and bring in a younger audience, and while the dust is just starting to get kicked up on the building upgrades, the museum's attendance has already undergone quite a facelift. Recent art parties and movie screenings have been luring the 20-30 crowd and the events surrounding the current Cool Remixed exhibit suggest that the staff is serious about changing the museum's demographics and competing on a level with the big boys across the bay. For Cool Remixed, the companion to the Birth of the Cool exhibit focusing on Cali culture, teams of teens from the area's youth programs took over the Great Hall and covered it in graffiti, video and skateboard installations along with crafts and fashions; there's a pretty broad section of art, fashion and music on display. They even brought in a Scraper Bike-Oakland's next big culture export. If they keep up like this, I might not even need to cross the bay to get my museum fix anymore. SFMOMA who?



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Courtesy Seher Sikandar

Club Oasis
To truly be a man or woman of the people, one must walk as the people walk, talk as the people talk and dance one's ass off ass like the people dance their asses off. Do this and the love will flow like wine. That seems to be the underlying secret to the success of "The People," the Oakland house and broken beat banger that spreads soulful love across the dance floor on the last Saturday of every month. Chill is the operative word-the folks are cool, the smiles are wide and the vibe is generally more laid back than most spots across the bridge. And while the Bay is an electronic music mecca, a lot of the parties lean more towards the techy, knob twisting shores while The People swims in deeper waters. The rotating cast of DJs dig into the soul music crates and dish out some of the best in deep, tribal house, broken beat and nu jazz. And when the weather's warm the night stretches out into an afternoon long affair with barbecue, vendors and live acts kicking things off around 5ish. Come with a passion for sweaty communion and a hunger for late night rhythms and The People will greet you with open arms.



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Joyce Gordon Gallery
In the last couple of years new art galleries have been popping up all around the downtown area, bringing some much needed flavor to the Oakland art scene. But at a ripe old age of 5, the Joyce Gordon Gallery is the reigning matriarch, holding shit down on 14th St. with one of the few African-American owned gallery spaces in the Bay. With high-end shows by international art stars like Raymond Saunders and an impressive roster of local and nationally known visual artists, the gallery already had a strong rep, but for the Big 5 Gordon has stepped up her game, hosting an international tribute to photographer James Van Der Zee in the new downstairs photo gallery while vying for Oaktown street cred with August's graffiti and "Street Calligraphy" show by TCB, one of the Bay's original bombing crews. Can't wait to see how she wrecks shop for her 10th.



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Oaksterdam Gift Shop
It's not nearly as easy to get high in downtown Oakland as it was a few years ago. Back in the green old days, before federal agents swept in and went all "war on drugs" up in the spot, there were coffee shops and medicinal cannabis dispensaries all around. Now just about all the downtown Cannibus Clubs have been snubbed out like blunt roaches, but Oaksterdam University and the companion Oaksterdam Gift Shop still keep the torch burning while tutoring young pot Jedis in the hazy green ways of The Force. The Oaksterdam Gift Shop is like your pothead 7-11, while the university offers semester-long classes on subjects ranging from horticulture to the legalities of setting up your own "Cannibusiness." Need some 1.5 Zig Zags, a weed leaf shot glass and the latest edition of The Oaksterdam Times, stat? Need to navigate the intricacies of Proposition Z while learning how to set up a grow room in your attic? Oaksterdam's got the higher learning you crave. And while you won't score any actual ganj at either spot, between the two businesses it's a pretty safe bet that when you do cop some herb, you'll be the most well-equipped smoker in the room.



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Verse
Sneaker freaks are a strange breed that I'll admit have left me scratching my head a few times and wondering just what the fuck I was missing out on. I mean $600 bucks for some kicks? Dude, please. But even though I can't see what makes cats wait in line for hours for the latest version of Nike Dunks, I will admit that Verse is one bad ass shoe store. Excuse me: One bad ass Sneaker Boutique. And I can say that with a completely straight face, because the shop really is on some other ish. The spot's like a fine art gallery for sneakers with limited editions and hand painted gems out the yin yang. One wall is covered with bright day glow shoes in more colors than Dorothy's rainbow. And when you walk in there's a slight feeling you're in some kind of shoe store Oz-way more futuristic than it's Old Oakland address leads you to believe. The rest of the store is peppered with one-of-a-kind T-shirts, accessories and artwork by local street artists to round out your street chic. No doubt if I was going to drop a couple of bills on some footwear, this would be the place.



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Clean Skateshop
It's been said you can judge the vitality of a downtown by the quality of it's skateboard scene. Well, to be honest, I'm probably the only one who's ever said that but it doesn't make it any less true. In my anything but humble opinion, if you're going to have a thriving downtown, with all the shops and the people and the hustle and the bustle--which is what downtown O seems to be reaching for--you've got to have the skaters to add some color and authenticity. I mean, what good is all that new architecture and development if there's no one there to rock a front side grind on the stairs, feel me? Lucky for you Clean has everything you need to go fuck shit up on the streets and show your Oaktown love at the same time. The owners are big into the local skate scene and carry a large selection of local merch-everything from Comet Skateboards and Political Gridlock T shirts to Colour of Shadow street art zines and CDs by local hip hop groups-in addition to a wide range of decks, trucks mags and random skater ephemera. And the half pipe and art gallery in the back, combined with random one off parties, make the this the go-to spot for da area yout's. As long as we've got Clean, downtown's got hope.



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Funky Soul Stop Records
Screw what 3-6 Mafia said about it being hard out here for a pimp, it's really hard for a vinyl junkie. While you can download and burn tunes till you're blue in the face, choices are getting slim for those of us who need the crackle of acetate. And if you're a soul, funk and jazz head, spots for digging are getting scarcer than Cecil Taylor piano solos on mainstream radio. But take heed, junkies--we've got the Funky Soul Stop. The downtown shop has kept The Town in grooves for the last 16 years. With a collection of old school jazz, R&B and funk stacked next to 8 tracks and books, you're never sure what you'll find. And while The Stop doesn't have the most comprehensive collection and prices might be just a little higher than across the bay, the shear eclecticism is enough to keep you coming back. I recently scored copies of Miles' Jack Johnson Sessions and Lou Rawls Live! for less than I'd spend on gas traveling to the shops in San Fran. Plus owner Ed Harris regularly holds record swap free-for-alls and performances inside the tiny shop that make regular stops at The Stop that much nicer. Viva la record stores!



Posted By:  Kwan Booth
Photo:  Kwan Booth

Awaken Cafe
When the Golden Bull bar closed shop last year, denizens of Oakland's club scene gasped a collective beer breathed WTF!?! But when Awaken Cafe opened in the space a couple months ago, the promise of a cool new downtown business district continues to emerge. And besides, now there's somewhere to nurse hangovers on those Saturday mornings after Art Murmur. Run by Burning Man veterans Cortt Dunlap and Kari Christensen, Awaken serves up fair trade java, healthy snacks and organic tea and wine with a Burner's flair in a funky cool atmosphere. For the moment only the small upfront coffee bar is open to the public, but the coming months promise a late night lounge/art gallery/performance space out back featuring a rotating cast of your favorite Oaktown artists and rabble rousers.



Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

Old Oakland Farmer's Market
I rarely go to farmer's markets for the produce. I know, I should support the farmers by buying from them directly, but for me the highlight is usually the food stands that accompany them. The food is always tasty, often wholesome, reasonably priced, and not likely to be found at a fast food outlet near you. The Old Oakland Farmer's Market, across the street from Chinatown among historic buildings, is certainly no exception. If I worked in Downtown Oakland, this would be my lunch spot every Friday. Whether you want falafel, Thai food, sausages or tamales, the place definitely beats a mall food court. And you can even pick up a roasted chicken and potatoes for dinner. Or pick up some exotic vegetables or artisan bread. Fridays, 8 am – 2 pm.



Posted By:  Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan
Photo:  Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan

Industrielle
It’s an art gallery, it’s a boutique; it’s a hip shopping experience, it’s a forum for local artists. On an unassuming strip of Grand Avenue in downtown Oakland, Dana Taylor is the proprietor of Industrielle, a store that encompasses art, style, and a sense of community. The goods she features are a fanciful but stylish mix of home decor and fine art. Featuring and promoting local artists is the cornerstone of Taylor’s vision for the store, and with a monthly open house and participation in progressive, community-related events, Industrielle is doing its part for the local art scene and the greater world beyond Oakland. It’s a great place to stop off to find a gift--there are tchochkes galore as well as Oakland-themed attire, fun jewelry, and, of course, unique pieces of art. It’s a great place to find inspiration--and the perfect vase for that corner table in the living room.



Posted By:  Dan Bollwinkel
Photo:  Dan Bollwinkel

Parkway Speakeasy Theater
First run movies on the big screen. Couches. Pizza, sandwiches, salads, air-popped corn, and microbrews on tap. That’s all I should say really. You won’t find THX sub-woofers in the seats or anything, but you also won’t pay $40 for a small (40 oz.) coke either. Did I mention couches? And they keep the denim covers fairly clean as well. They call it a speakeasy, I’m not sure why. It’s no secret. Get there at least a half-hour early for a show if you want a couch. Did I mention beer and movies on the big screen? Just remember Monday night is the “Baby Brigade”: couples are encouraged to bring kids under two. This is great for couples with toddlers who want to see R rated movies without getting a babysitter or getting booed out of the theatre. This is not great for first dates. I speak from experience.




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