Start at Mamacita’s Cafe in downtown Oakland for a caffeine boost from Oakland roaster Red Bay Coffee and a bowl of sweet or savory porridge. In addition to serving killer donut kebabs on Friday afternoons, Mamacita’s is a women-owned, youth-operated cafe, and workforce program for girls in Oakland. They’re only open Monday through Friday though, so if it’s a weekend hit up Coloso Coffee around the corner for a good latte.
From there walk up 19th street a few blocks to Lake Merritt where on a weekend afternoon locals will be out picnicking, dancing with salsa by the lake, blasting music out of their cars, or listening to DJs at the amphitheater. With a newer influx of folks escaping San Francisco’s ridiculously high rents for Oakland (and now making rents here absurdly high), policing of noise and general fun around the lake has increased due to neighbor complaints. So remember to sing along, loudly.
You can walk the three and half miles around the lake, take your kids to Fairyland, or rent a paddle boat at the Boating Center and make your travel companion do all the pedaling while you admire the views (hint: it’s even better with a bottle of booze). On Saturdays enjoy Northern California’s bounty at the farmers market on the north side of the lake off Grand Avenue.
Veer away from the lake on 12th Street and walk towards 9th and Franklin streets to explore Oakland Chinatown, which reflects Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian and more of Oakland’s Asian populations too. Pick up a quick dim sum snack at Tao Yuen — the baked cha siu bao come fresh out of the oven and are stuffed with sweet, syrupy BBQ pork. Did you know the fortune cookie was invented in the East Bay? You can see a machine in action at Tom’s fortune cookies.
Walking back up 10th Street towards the lake you’ll hit the Oakland Museum of California, where you can get a bit of California history and find rotating exhibits (currently it’s the first-ever museum exhibition on marijuana).
Nearby is the Oakland Public Library’s African American History Museum. Oakland has a long history of political activism, and many of the national conversations and movements for social justice have been pushed forward by Oakland African-American activists (the Black Panthers were founded here, for example). Learn more at the museum, and if you can, take a 15 min trip to North Oakland and visit the country’s oldest independent Black bookstore, Marcus Books.
It’s not a complete trip to Oakland without a taco truck stop, and while we all have our favorite, Tacos Sinaloa is a standby for both seafood and meat eaters. Take East 14th/International Blvd to 22nd Ave by car or bike. You’ll smell the grilled meat from the corner.
From here you have a few options:
1. Drive to Redwood Regional Park for a hike in the gorgeous redwoods.
2. Check out an A’s game at the Coliseum (it’s usually nice and hot, games are cheap, and our fans definitely don’t drink white wine and clap stoically like at the Giants’ stadium).
3. Head to Jack London Square, Oakland’s walkable business district within the port of Oakland. Take a walk and grab a drink at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon (), the oldest bar in Oakland built with the timbers of an old whaling ship. Author Jack London got some of his material from here, and I’m glad it’s still divey enough for some good stories.
For dinner, head downtown to Kingston 11 which might end your night with their addictive rum drinks but the jerk chicken, oxtail, and other Jamaican dishes will give you some stamina.
Afterward, if it’s a First Friday, when galleries open their doors and the streets fill with vendors and music, just walk around and get lost amongst the teenagers looking way more stylish than most of us ever did. Festivities usually start around 5 pm and most galleries will close by 10 pm. Don’t miss the classic car show outside of the Space Burger on Telegraph and 22nd Street.
Oakland is home to tons of galleries, so even if it’s not First Friday you can use the Art Murmur map to wander them. Put art space and retail store Betti Ono on the list.
Otherwise look for shows in advance at the beautifully restored theaters downtown, The Fox and The Paramount. For a movie night, check out show times at the New Parkway where you can sit on couches and drink beer. They might be playing the Spice Girls movie or a quality documentary.
If you want to get your dance on, The New Parish has a solid mix of well-known and local dance parties and shows, plus an outdoor patio. For Queer art shows, pop-ups, comedy, dance parties and more check out b4bel4b Gallery, Peacock Rebellion, and Ships in the Night. For oldies, scope out B-Side Brujas, a group of female vinyl DJs spinning a mix of soul and cumbias. Wines and Bowties, an art and culture blog, throws a party featuring local artists and live music every once and awhile. You might feel like a grandma if you’re over 25. There’s more, but I’ll stop now.
And of course, If you just want to sit in a dark bar and drink, Van Kleef is one of Oakland’s older bars and a relief from the craft cocktail, hipster bars taking over downtown. There are dusty musical instruments hanging off the walls, grumpy bouncers, and the greyhounds — made with freshly squeezed grapefruits — will make you feel like you’re drinking something almost healthy.
- Cabs: What? Use a Lyft or Uber.
- Public transportation: BART has several useful stops from North Oakland to the Coliseum area. There’s a new connection to it from the airport. Unfortunately, service ends before the bars close so you’ll need to find alternatives to getting home after midnight. The bus system, AC Transit, can get you around during the day too.
- Bikes: Lots of bike paths!
- Foot: Downtown is walkable, but you’ll need wheels to get you from one neighborhood to another.
Matador articles for Oakland trip planning