Forget what you think you know about Oakland. The city is brimming with uniquely charming and vacation-worthy activities, attractions, and foodie hotspots. From a gnome hunt to secret menus, drinking “fish punch”, hiking in the redwoods, to a secret labyrinth and amazing Chinese food, Oakland has many surprises in store. If you’re torn on where to take your next travel contract, read on, and perhaps you’ll want to discover hidden Oakland for yourself.
See a Show at the Fox Theater
Opened in 1928, the historic theater was shuttered in 1966 and remained dark until 2009 when they reopened the lovingly refurbished venue with the same wonderful Art Deco interior, gilded ornate glamour, and impressive facade it had in the Roaring ‘20s. Doesn’t matter what you see (world-class rock, blues, R&B, hip-hop…), just see something. Perhaps even go all out and get VIP access.
Hit this sailor’s bar in Jack London Square — made from the bones of a whaling ship and opened in 1883 — they say to try not to spill your drink (there’s a crooked floor and tilted ceiling, both gifts of the 1906 earthquake that supposedly makes it way harder than it sounds). This beloved neighborhood watering hole is a time capsule that has scarcely changed in 134 years.
Saturday mornings are bananas here. You’ll find loads of fresh fruit and veggies, breads and natural meats, and everyone and their mother. Grab to-go lunch, local kombucha, and stroll over for top-notch people-watching on the banks of Lake Merritt.
Southern comfort food at its best! Dreamy biscuits, fried chicken, and legendary pie make Lois the Pie Queen an Oakland eating institution. Lois has since passed on, but the family business stays strong. Just make sure you 1) save room for dessert, and 2) bring cash.
It’s kind of like your living room (it’s got movies, good food, adult bevs, a whole rack of spices for gettin’ creative with popcorn, and a whole lot of couches), minus the part where you need to clean it up. Oh, and bonus points if you go on one of the monthly theme nights, like Cult Night or Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The After Dark events at Chabot are big-kid friendly. Bring a date, cuddle up with a sleeping bag, and learn about the night sky away from the crazy city. Or, join a guided night hike through the Redwoods!
If you want one of the best aerial views of San Francisco anywhere in the Bay, (spoiler alert: you do), this is where to go. It’s well worth the winding drive up through the Oakland Hills (just watch out for bicyclists).
Ask for the hand-pulled noodles at this long-standing Chinatown favorite. And yeah, locals say it’s worth the wait.
Visit this secret labyrinth in the heart of a volcanic preserve to divine the mysteries of the universe. Or just do it to impress your date. To find the rock labyrinth tucked inside Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, park at the Sibley Staging Area and follow the Round Top Loop Trail to the Quarry Pit.
Delight your taste buds with new brews, which should be easy since there’s a fine chance you’ve never tried ANY of the beers on tap at this specialty Belgian beer cafe housed in a Victorian Oakland building from the 1870s. Mouth-watering snacks, food, and truly impressive meat and cheese board selections.
Ask for Some Fish Punch and Write Something on the Ceiling After You Finish it at Kingfish Pub & Café
This institution puts all other things that call themselves institutions to shame. Its solution when a new condo development threatened to raze it? They moved THE ENTIRE BAR to a new street. Around since 1922, the Fish is located exactly one mile away from UC Berkeley, which previously had an alcohol-free dry zone radius of exactly one mile (see what they did there?).
In the past five years, a large group of bearded, beanie-wearing folks with brightly colored pants took up residence in Oakland. No, not priced-out San Franciscans: gnomes. Even locals may not have noticed these little woodsy folks, painted on small wooden shingles and covertly affixed to the base of telephone poles in the Grand Lake area. Some even have little mushrooms. Only in Oakland can “going on a gnome hunt” be a totally plausible weekend activity. There are rumored to be over 2,ooo of them hiding throughout the city.
This 115-year old creamery is often cited as one of the best ice cream shops in the country, and even made a cameo appearance in the Pixar flick UP (incidentally, Pixar Studios is nearby, but is not open to the public). It may be famous, but few know about their handful of secret menu items. The kid’s menu has mac & cheese, which you can ask for an adult version of and the staff will send a massive steaming bowl your way. There’s a secret olive salad sandwich from menus of old that they’ll still make, but the pièce de résistance is the grilled PB&J, buttered up like a grilled cheese sandwich.