Being a Northern California native, my love for Oakland developed in college when I found myself living in close proximity to the Bay Area. Later… upon returning from travels in West Africa, Oakland became a refuge in which I found not only “my people”, but also traces of the motherland. It is one of the first excursions I recommend to those who are visiting San Francisco.
Welcome to Oakland/ Wokeland/ Oakanda: a territory of fierce counterculture, progressive political movements, and colorful streets. An unmissable part of the San Francisco bay area, this city is worth a visit if you—like me— often find yourself in an Angela Davis-inspired, afrocentric liberation kind of mood.
I must warn you that visiting this important site of African American history may have you feeling some type of way.
Known for being the city in which the black panthers were founded, Tupac’s old stomping ground, and events as unfortunate as the Barbeque Becky scandal...Oakland is a crossroads of gentrification and eccentric black and African influenced culture. Like many areas of the Bay, its demographics and history have been fundamentally shaped by immigration from a diverse array of countries. Importantly, Oakland remains a hub for black pride and new-age rebellion. Equal parts intimidating and enchanting, this place is a landmark in Northern California.
- Oakland is located just across the Bay Bridge from downtown San Francisco.
- Ferry—Probably the best way to get from San Francisco to Oakland (and back), with a gorgeous view of the bay. An all around great tourist experience. Last time I checked it was only $14 round trip. Don’t forget to bring a jacket…
- BART— if you are coming from downtown SF, you have the option to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit): a subway which covers a broad network of Bay Area cities. It is cheap, fast, and regular. Unfortunately, though, it is becoming increasingly unsafe, especially for women of color. I wouldn’t recommend taking the BART alone at night.
- Uber/Lyft— better than BART, faster than the ferry, but a more expensive option to get to the city.
- Electric scooters and bikes—Once you’re there, getting around Oakland is super easy. The downtown area is walkable, and if you’re feeling more speedy you can hop on a Lime/Bird scooter, or a Jump bike to expedite your journey. Just download the apps to your phone. A short trip on one of these shouldn’t cost more than a couple of dollars.
- Don’t plan your visit for a Monday, because many of the coolest restaurants are closed. Especially on MLK day, when (in true civil rights fashion) most business owners roll up the streets and lock their doors. On the other hand, weekends are great times to catch events and festivals going on around town.
- Shoutout to the Courtyard Marriott— If you decide to stay in Oakland I highly recommend the Courtyard Marriott on Broadway. The staff are super friendly and cool, and will go above and beyond help you out and give you recommendations.
- No matter the season, the Bay Area fog will roll in at night and it will be cold. Enjoy bouts of sun, but be prepared for a mediterranean climate—essentially all of the time.
- Is that... smell...what I think it is? Yes: recreational marijuana is legal here and weed culture is very much alive.
Spots to visit
Oakland Museum of California
Mountain View Cemetery for panoramic views of the bay
Hop over to San Francisco
Somar Bar—My personal favorite. This is a medium sized venue with a mature and diverse crowd and great music.
Or you could take it up a notch and go to New Karibbean City— Enter at own risk. (And don’t tell anyone I told you to go here)
Bissap Baobab— This is a Senegalese restaurant/dance hall club that I just recently found out closed its Oakland location. However I’m including it in this guide because there is a Bissap Baobab in downtown San Francisco that you should visit. Tell them Assalamalekum from me.
Cafe Van Kleef— A hipster scene with live music and good drinks. Doc Martens and angst are required for entry.
Eli’s Mile High Club— more of a bro-ey beer vibe. Worth a visit if that’s your thing.
Starline Social Club— Both a bar and a concert venue, Starline has recurring events such as Jazz nights, comedy, and live music.
Where to Eat
Cactus Taqueria— located a little bit outside of downtown by the Rockridge BART station. This place’s straight-up-delicious, comforting Mexican food may be the cure to the soul-hollowing hangover you earned yourself from too many hours at New Karibbean City the night before... not speaking from experience or anything.
Highwire Coffee Roasters (right across the street from Cactus)— has extremely bougie, delicious, and fiercely caffeinated lattes. Also, Bernie Sanders drank coffee there.
Souley Vegan— Vegan soul food. Not one of those vegan restaurants that will leave you hungrier than when you came. Now sit down and enjoy yourself some yams.
Drake’s Dealership— A local brewery, this place is really fun for trying craft beers. It’s a pretty casual venue with good food and lots of outdoor seating.
Grand Lake Kitchen— Deli style “American” cuisine, a perfect place for brunch.
Kingston 11 Cuisine— Jamaican food…Yes?!
Food trucks by the lake— you could truly find any variety of delicious Asian, Middle-Eastern, Mexican food etc. Just head down to Lake Merritt around lunch hours and see who’s parked there.
Where to Caffeinate
Red Bay Coffee—a socially conscious business founded by San Francisco artist Keba Konte who is committed to diversifying the world of coffee, hiring people of color, formerly incarcerated individuals, and keeping profits with the workers. For Us By Us coffee.
Perch Coffee House
Gaylord’s Caffe Espresso
Oakland is a great place to scout for über eclectic fashion inspo. A lot of second-hand clothing stores carry really nice brands that are outflow from San Francisco. Some places to try are:
Dope Era clothing
Mary Weather clothing
Other things to do
- Smash the patriarchy by getting a tattoo at an entirely womxn/queer run tattoo shop: Diving Swallow tattoo
- See a show at the Fox Theater—a large concert hall that has big-name acts coming through quite regularly
- Hang out at Hive Oakland
- Stroll through Second Saturday— a market with vendors of every variety (food, clothes, art). Held on the second Saturday of every month on the waterfront at Jack London Square
To see more of Josie’s travels and opinions, follow her blog ExistentialDreads
Images courtesy of Josie Clerfond
DID THIS STORY INSPIRE YOU?
If you enjoyed this piece and would like more content like this, please consider a donation to Spirited Pursuit