By Darlene Donloe
*Give Oakland a try!
If you haven’t been to Oakland, now is as good a time as any.
No matter how many adjectives are used to describe the city, one can only capture the true spirit of Oakland face to place.
A trek through Oaktown, one of a few cities in the country that can boast near perfect weather year round, and you’ll bear witness to all the city has to offer.
Whether it’s the fantastic restaurants, cultural nuggets, luxury hotels, great weather, great museums, the water, diverse population, sports, entertainment or just the overall community atmosphere, the city is sure to win you over.
There are 19 miles of coastline, 300 sunny days per year, a population of 420,000 and more than 125 languages spoken.
Centrally located, Oakland is 15 minutes east of San Francisco. It’s accessible by the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, ferry service, buses, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and Amtrak.
It’s already been recognized for its sparkling personality by a number of publications including the real estate blog Movoto who picked Oakland as the top pick for The 10 Most Exciting Cities in America. In 2012, Oakland was named the #5 place to visit in the world by The New York Times. Last year, the Huffington Post named Oakland as the “Most Exciting City in the U.S.” The Daily Green named the city one of the Top 10 Most Walkable Cities in 2013. CIO named Oakland #11 in the Top 15 Cities for Tech Start Ups. Oakland is the 7th Best City in the nation for biking. ArtPlace America named Oakland as one of the top art destinations in the country for 2013. Forbes Magazine listed Oakland as the #16 coolest city in the country. SmarterTravel.com recognized Oakland as one of America’s Best Cities on the Rise. Bloomberg Businessweek listed the city as one of America’s 50 Best Cities and Meetings Focus West included Oakland as one of five emerging destinations. It’s clear that Oakland is drawing attention.
Now, more than ever, is the city’s time to shine. It’s going through a rebirth of sorts, putting on a new coat of paint and shining like new money. Oakland, whose very own body of water, Lake Merritt, recently completed a $122 million makeover, is putting its best foot forward.
The people who live and work in Oakland have a committed connection to the city. When they talk about the city – you can hear the passion in their voices.
Alison Best, CEO of the Oakland Convention & Visitors Bureau said the organization is in the midst of “repositioning Oakland as a destination, not a city.”
Carol H. Williams of Carol H. Williams Advertising Agency is a 26-year advertising executive who recently took on the organization,Visit Oakland, as a client.
Carol H. Williams
“Oakland is an indelible hidden treasure,” said Williams. “Unfortunately, Oakland has allowed the media and newspapers to define it. Oakland is a gem. There is a lot of business in Oakland. There is an Oakland beyond your hotel room. It’s saying – ‘Get to know me. Get to know Oakland.’”
“We’re a city that hasn’t had a plan to get the good news out,” said Best. “We’ve got to shout it louder. We’ve got to control the message.”
Visit Oakland’s Kim Bardakian
Kim Bardakian, Visit Oakland’s director of PR & Partnerships, stresses the diversity of the city.
“I love this city,” said Bardakian, who calls Oakland the new Brooklyn. “I love the diversity of the city. Everywhere you look you see people of different ethnicities, races, sexual persuasions and beliefs. It’s a pretty cool city.”
Part of Oakland’s revitalization will include bringing in top name retailers, something this cosmopolitan city is surprisingly lacking.
Fred Blackwell, who at the time of this interview was Oakland’s asst. city administrator, said the city is making a ‘big push’ to get prime retailers into the area. Blackwell was recently named Oakland’s city administrator.
“Oakland has had a $1 billion leakage because people go to San Francisco to shop,” said Blackwell who describes the city as dynamic, diverse, soulful and culturally rich. “We’re in conversations now with project developers.”
STUFF TO DO
There are so many things to do and see in Oakland. It’s hard to decide what to do first. Visit the USS Potomac, take a gondola ride along Lake Merritt, stroll through Grand Lake Farmers Market, tour Fruitvale Village, go to Chabot Space & Science Center, the Oakland Zoo, Children’s Fairyland, Oakland Aviation Museum or the Oakland Museum of California.
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) brings together collections of art, history, and natural science under one roof to tell the extraordinary stories of California and its people. With more than 1.9 million objects, OMCA is a leading cultural institution of the Bay Area and a resource for the research and understanding of California’s dynamic cultural and environmental heritage.www.museumca.org
Mural at The African American Library & Museum
The African American Library & Museum, helmed by Rick Moss (Chief Curator and Director of the African American Museum & Library at Oakland (AAMLO) since July 2001), is a museum and non-circulating library dedicated to preserving the history and experiences of African Americans in Northern California and the Bay Area. It’s also committed to the discovery, interpretation and sharing of cultural experiences of African Americans in California and the West for present and future generations. The more than 160 collections in the archives contain the diaries of prominent families, pioneers, churches, social and political organizations. Freedom’s Journal, the Liberator, California Voice, Sun Reporter and the Black Panther newspapers are available on microfilm. www.oaklandlibrary.org/locations/african-american-museum-library-oakland
For arts and entertainment there is the Fox Theater, The Crucible, Paramount Theatre, Oracle Arena & O.co Coliseum. Check out the Jack London Square Night Market. On the first Friday of each month, just moments from Oakland’s Art Walk, is the newly launched night market in Jack London Square, featuring food and crafts by local artists and producers.
Entertainment doesn’t get any better than Yoshi’s, located in Jack London Square. It’s a legendary jazz club featuring live music and delicious Japanese cuisine. It has long had a reputation for being one of the most important music venues in the country. Open seven nights a week, Yoshi’s has hosted some of the biggest names in jazz, blues, R&B, Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban and more.
WHERE TO GRUB
Called Caribbean Soul in Oakland, Sarah Kirnon’s MISS OLLIE’S neighborhood restaurant in Old Oakland is known for its home cooking. It’s affordable and inspired by Kirnon’s grandmother’s cooking in Barbados. Open for lunch and dinner, just say yum to the classic Caribbean cuisine. Very affordable. www.missolliesoakland.com
“I feel a sense of community here, said Kirnon, who was born in London and grew up in Barbados. “I moved here to live in a black neighborhood. I wanted to make food from the Diaspora because those dishes have connection to the Caribbean and the South.”
Michael LeBlanc is the founder of PICAN RESTAURANT: A Taste of The South, a classy, upscale restaurant with fantastic fare has a friendly atmosphere. The food is truly exceptional. The website describes it as an eatery with ‘Tantalizing aromas, rich tastes, stimulating colors, layered textures, enveloping sounds. The tradition of the South. The sophistication of California cuisine. Vibrant cosmopolitan energy.
LeBlanc says Picán captures his vision of sharing the African-American, Southern cultural experience through food, beverage, art and music — the tastes, scents, sights, sounds, textures of the South — a dream this New Orleans native has carried with him for decades.
“I have a hard time putting into words what I feel about the restaurant and what I feel about Oakland,” said LeBlanc, who adds his signature dish is the restaurant’s fried chicken. “I’ve been all around the world. I’ve been to Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong, everywhere, but I wanted to live in Oakland. There is something about it. This is where I want to be. It’s the weather, the views and the people. There is no other place as diverse as Oakland. The level of social consciousness is high.”
Full-service bar and lounge with Southern Twists and classic standards, alongside the most comprehensive Bourbon selection in the Bay Area –– single barrel; small batch; blended.’ The Picán philosophy is simple: A close-knit community of food, beverage and fun-loving folks. http://www.picanrestaurant.com
Tanya Holland’s soul food breakfast spot, BROWN SUGAR KITCHEN, is a West Oakland eatery that is popular and usually packed with customers who come from near and far. Most weekends the line stretches down the block. Breakfast has never tasted better. The restaurant has beautiful, fresh flavors. The fried chicken is popular and for good reason. It’s delicious, flavorful and crisp. The BBQ Shrimp and Grits is unbelievable! The waffles are to die for. Holland was one of the first hosts on the Food Network’s Melting Pot. She also owns B-Side BBQ in Oakland. It’s easy to see how and why her restaurants are luring San Francisco diners to Oakland.
Holland’s cookbook ‘Brown Sugar Kitchen’ is set for release September 2014. Open for breakfast and lunch. www.brownsugarkitchen.com
“I opened my businesses because there wasn’t a good example of food matching the room,” said Holland. “There weren’t any businesses reflecting us. I took cooking classes in New York. I had a New York aesthetic of what I wanted to do. I moved to this area and it was desolate and not welcoming. That’s changed. People come here from all over because they know they are welcomed here.”
On Friday nights, for a local food experience, check out OFF THE GRID (food trucks) at the Oakland Museum. www.museumca.org
WHERE TO STAY
For sure there are any number of places to stay in Oakland from small bed and breakfasts to five star hotels. There are more than 4,000 hotel rooms.
A sure bet is the nautical-themed Waterfront Hotel (JDVHotels.com), located in the heart of Jack London Square, just steps from a number of restaurants, shopping, 20-minute ferry service from the hotel to San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Gondola cruises on Lake Merritt, Numi Tea Garden and the popular, legendary Yoshi’s Jazz Club. The hotel, less than 10 miles from Oakland International Airport and three minutes to BART service and ferry service to San Francisco, looks out onto the bay.
There are 145 individually appointed, over-sized guestrooms with incredible San Francisco and harbor views. Single occupancy 48, double occupancy 35, suites 25. The rooms range from 200-450 sq. ft. Some have courtyard views and some have private balconies.
Many of the rooms have balconies and fireplaces, complimentary wireless internet access, iPod docking stations, waterside heated outdoor pool, waterfront boardwalk, business center, fitness center, sauna and spa services, a complimentary shuttle to downtown Oakland, BART, City Center and Marina Village (Alameda).
The Italian-inspired Lungomare is located inside The Waterfront by the water and offers a blend of Tuscan and Ligurian specialties — a mix of seafood, house-cured meats, rustic pizza and fresh pasta, with dishes locally sourced whenever possible. http://www.lungomareoakland.com
Oakland Marriott City Center
The OAKLAND MARRIOTT CITY CENTER, located in downtown Oakland, is also a first rate hotel consideration. There are 481 rooms and eight suites. Single occupancy 272; double occupancy 208. Guest rooms are wireless. The rooms and suites boast ergonomic work areas and state of the art technology. Views of the San Francisco Bay and Lake Merritt are available in each room.
There are three airports from which to choose: Oakland International Airport, Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.
Visit Oakland, an organization dedicated to marketing the city of Oakland, offers a wide variety of complimentary services and materials for travelers, meeting planners, and businesses. For more information, see visitoakland.org or call 510-839-9000.
Darlene Donloe is a seasoned entertainment and travel journalist whose work has appeared in People, Ebony, Essence, LA Watts Times, Los Angeles Sentinel, EMMY, The Hollywood Reporter, Rhythm & Business, Billboard,Grammy, CYH, BlackVoices.com and more. Contact her via: [email protected].