Since the end of the 2008-09 recession, Oakland has experienced an economic and cultural renaissance unlike anything anyone can remember.
Before then, few people outside Oakland had reason to visit. Today, Oakland is known for its burgeoning small business community, its concerts and club-hopping, its marches and rallies for justice, its world renowned sports teams, and its scenic lakes, creeks and mountains.
Even cynical San Franciscans, never eager to cross the water on any day, come to Oakland day and night, for both business and pleasure.
In short, Oakland has become a city with a voice that’s idealistic but down to earth, family friendly, politically active, and a lot of fun.
The Lay of the Land
Oakland’s hub includes downtown and the surrounding areas of west and north Oakland and the shores of Lake Merritt.
At the water’s edge, historic Jack London Square attracts both tourists and locals with its mix of waterfront living and plentiful entertainment. Brick warehouses stand alongside converted lofts and new stylish high rise condominiums, many with panoramic views of the bay and the elegant new eastern stretch of the Bay Bridge.
Temescal and neighboring Rockridge offer a mix of classical charm and big city bustle for those who like to live to the hum and throb of city life. In fact, “This Old House Magazine” voted Temescal among its “best old house neighborhoods.” Its mix of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival Victorian homes mixed with 1920s bungalows hearkens back to the earliest days of Oakland itself.
To the east, you can get away (without being far away) in the scenic, more residential area between Interstate 580 and Highway 13, in Oakmore, Dimond, and other neighborhoods. Redwood Heights, for instance, in the pocket where the highways meet, offers an eclectic mix of housing styles on wide, sunny streets over rolling foothills open to the sky. Roses, sunflowers, and even vegetable gardens are common sights in front yards.
West Oakland is where the city began in the 1850s. It marked the western end of the Transcontinental Railroad (completed in 1869), and it grew again with the shipbuilding booms of the world wars. Today the neighborhood is rebounding from its post-industrial decline. Wartime “worker cottages” and older Victorian row houses mix with brick warehouses and factories where artists and entrepreneurs operate in converted live/work spaces.
Read about some of the great places to buy a home in Oakland:
Downtown used to be dead at night. There was literally only one bar downtown on Telegraph Avenue: the eccentric Van Kleef’s, which is still there.
Today it’s at the heart of First Friday — when Telegraph and the surrounding streets are closed the first Friday of each month for a pedestrian block party that’s several blocks long. Excellent bars and restaurants abound; on weekends they’re packed.
Major acts play in the newly renovated Fox Theatre and the Paramount nearby on Broadway. The historic Grand Lake Theater screens first-run movies inside and dishes out politics on its signature marquee overlooking the Splash Pad, home to a weekly farmers’ market.
Nightlife is of course only part of the picture. Oakland offers a wealth of outdoor activities, especially when it comes to water and mountains. Oakland is covered with parks and recreation areas for picnics, hiking, biking, and more. Lake Temescal lies tucked into the hills, a more secluded getaway than Lake Merritt to the south. The natural creeks that wind down the watershed from the hills to the bay often create their own recreation areas, like Sausal Creek and its adjoining park.
Lake Merritt is the heart of Oakland — and the country’s oldest bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge — with a three-mile paved bike and walking trail encircling the shore. The newly restored wetlands where the lake (technically a tidal pool) connects to San Francisco Bay offer something like a nature walk in an urban landscape.
Finally, backing up Oakland to the east is the long ridge of the tree-covered East Bay Hills, where Joaquin Miller Park, Redwood Regional Park, the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and many other recreation areas offer miles of trails and acres of picnic grounds.
For art and science lovers, the Oakland Museum of California and the Chabot Space & Science Center are known for their innovative shows and exhibits. Friday nights at the museum feature food trucks, live music and dancing in the street, and after-hours discounted admission to the galleries.
Oakland has all the amenities of any major city, from major retailers to neighborhood shops and services. Downtown has blossomed as a business and retail center, but you’ll find major shopping corridors along Telegraph, San Pablo, MacArthur, International, and many other thoroughfares.
Oakland is a major transit hub for the Bay Area, at the intersection of all five BART lines and numerous interstates and other highways. It’s connected to the world by an international airport, a major shipping port, and two Amtrak train stations (one’s technically in Emeryville, but it’s right across the border). AC Transit buses run throughout Oakland and connect to the rest of Alameda County.
Alternative transportation is a major part of how locals get around town. Oakland is well served by Lyft and Uber, and rental bikes and scooters are a common sight on streets throughout the city. Van pools and company shuttle buses stop at numerous locations, and everywhere you can find morning commuters lining up on sidewalks for Casual Carpool rides into San Francisco.
For crossing the water, all East Bay trains pass through the West Oakland BART station to San Francisco and the Peninsula. If you’d rather stay above water, a regular ferry runs from Jack London Square to San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
A Final Word
Oakland’s population is working families, social entrepreneurs, healers and activists, Silicon Valley commuters, gig workers, and more — a diverse population that’s committed to climate justice, safe schools and streets, and everything big and small in between.
In short, Oakland is a great place to raise a family and create a better world for them too.