The first time I ever went to Oakland (last year) it was a random thing, I picked a Bart stop to get off at and figured I’d just explore what was there. Well what was there were miles and miles of dodgy suburbs and highways.
This time I decided to do some more homework before I went off and got off at the City Center Bart station and oh what a difference a stop or two can make!
Initially once out of the station you find yourself in a mall in a very new complex – you could be anywhere, Houston, Toronto, Pittsburg.
There was a band playing Beatles covers and plenty of office workers enjoying the noon day sun and lunch on the plaza. All one had to do to see what was beyond this mega complex was look up and see the old clock tower looming over the proceedings.
Old Oakland is divided into two sections it seems to me, the old business center, which is closest to the Bart station (which has taller old office buildings – several still under renovation) and the more quaint “old Oakland” section which is just a few blocks away as you go towards the bay. The new fades into the old and you find yourself in a small beautifully restored neighborhood, that even though it looks kind like it could be easily a Disneyland tourist version of an old American city it actually retains it’s charm and authenticity.
Most of the stores are small businesses owned by locals. It’s not all expensive and trendy, yet and there are still a lot of “for lease signs everywhere”. The there are the stores that have survived and been here for years like G B Ratto Co. Which is a rather sparsely stocked grocery store that on the day I was there was doing a good lunch business
There were lots of options for lunch, I went to one of the more fashionable places I came across called Tamarindo where I had a lovely meal.
I sat on outside where they had several tables, beautifully set up:
Chilaquiles with a fried egg, Watermelon Aqua Fresca and a Mexican hot chocolate with espresso: all beautifully presented. The drink list was very tempting, but a Margarita would seriously curtailed my exploration of Oakland.After lunch I walked towards jack London square which is right on the water and adjacent to where the ferry stops. Boats leave from the Ferry Building in SF on a regular basis. It’s a bit more expensive than the Bart but really worth it.
To get to the water you have to cross under a major highway. Initially the area I walked into was filled with mostly barren looking warehouses that reminded me of the Meat Packing district in New York before it became an upscale drinking and shopping mecca for tourists and the bridge and tunnel crowd. Which has, in my opinion, ruined the gritty feel of the place, but that’s progress for you. I much preferred it when Florent was the only restaurant and the cobble stones were stained from blood because, back in the day they actually still did meat packing in the meat packing district….but I digress…
A few old places are still hanging on like this old sailors bar.
A new high-rise condo is just a few blocks away from here. By the water there is a fancy-ish hotel run by the local SF mini chain Joie De Vivre and three large seafood restaurants overlooking the water. This are seems more commercial and yet oddly more barren. Still it could be nice to have a hotel room down here with a balcony overlooking the marina and the cargo ships and cranes which dominate the landscape.This was my favorite site I saw on the water by Jack London square, the Potomac which FDR’s floating White House. You can take dolk tours of it or if you plan ahead an actual cruise, very cool. Lot’s more on Oakland: Chinatown, Upscale dinning, exotic grocery stores and local businesses making good.