I’ve set myself a challenge. I’m going to tell you all about Oakland, but I’m not going to mention two things: 1) Any quotations from Gertrude Stein containing the word “there.” 2) the name of that “other” city by the bay.
Number one is just trite and overused. Number two is unnecessary, because Oakland has come into its own and is no longer anyone’s adjunct. You can spend an entire vacation in this funky, friendly, and diverse city, with its exploding dining scene, thriving LGBTQ community, and variety of attractions, without ever leaving the Oakland city limits.
We’ll fly, of course, into Oakland Airport, which any Northern California resident knows is 100 times easier to use than SFO. (Note: I can say “SFO.” It’s an airport, not a city.) After a quick stop to pick up the rental car, we’ll head for the hills—literally, as we’re going to Claremont Club and Spa, which looks for all the world like a white palace set into the Oakland Hills. It has a history as fascinating as Oakland’s own. Built as a private residence, it was eventually opened as a hotel in 1915 after the owner lost it in a checkers game (my first thought: I’ve been playing cards with the wrong people!).
Don’t be put off by the Berkeley address, as the resort straddles Berkeley and Oakland, so that while the main entrance might be in Berkeley, your room is likely to be in Oakland—not that it will really matter to you as you walk down long hallways lined with art, luxuriate in the high-design lobby, or settle into a beautiful, elegantly simple room, with more art on your walls and windows giving onto a view of that distant city, the bay, and even the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Claremont, totally renovated by Fairmont, it’s the luxury leader in the area. The only problem: once you settle in, you might be tempted to spend all your time there and never see anything of this vibrant and dynamic city.
Do try to leave the grounds, though, because the city has a surprising amount to offer, from the former carriageway Temescal Alley to the grand open spaces of Lake Merritt.
I start my explorations in the Temescal area, a hip part of town famous mainly for Temescal Alley, once a carriageway for horse-drawn vehicles and now a quirky not-so-well-hidden secret in the heart of the city. Just off 49th Street and Telegraph Avenue, I take a left turn and here I am in this little alleyway lined with shops, from a barber and apothecary to the cool jewelry designs in Marisa Mason and the great clothing at Ali Golden boutique. I stop in tiny Cro Café, where four stools line up at a skinny counter and the few baked goods are secondary to the great coffee they serve. The staff is nice, the artwork is good, and there’s a mellow feeling about it. It’s a real Temescal Alley feeling. An Oakland feeling.
I stop for lunch at Cholita Linda, a vibrant little Latin American restaurant just around the corner from Temescal Alley. There is a half-block long line outside, but it moves quickly, and I’m soon at the counter. I settle on a vegetarian version of the Papito, a spicy and filling sandwich, and a blackberry/lime drink that’s the best non-alcoholic drink I’ve ever had in my life—or at least, that’s how it seems after a couple of hours of walking in the Oakland sun. For me, it’s emblematic of the city as a whole, with all its diversity and hidden pleasures. Unlike many cities, Oakland celebrates its diversity, and it makes it a destination that is truly welcoming and exciting.