Forget everything you know about Oakland. Forget the Raiders. Forget the overblown violence, forget…well that’s probably about as much as you can think of when it comes to the ugly sibling of San Francisco.
Across the bay, draped in history, mystique, and elegance San Francisco is praised by all. Like the prettiest girl in high school – 4.0 G.P.A, head cheerleader, homecoming queen – she can do no wrong. Oakland on the other hand is the disappointment, the dropout, unplanned pregnancy, a real thumb in the eye – that is if you listen to those who haven’t visited lately.
Actually Oakland has changed quite a bit and the city has taken on a whole new feel. Major corporations have settled in, drawn by the low prices and proximity to San Francisco (think Pandora) and in turn begun pulling in young, savvy twenty-somethings. Restaurants that you would expect to find in upscale parts of San Francisco are now popping up around Oakland. If simply visiting, the area definitely warrants a day trip but the area can be so much more.
After a 20 minute subway ride, you’re dropped in the middle of downtown Oakland with options in front of you. If a coffee and some conversation are in order head to Café Madrid on 20th street and Broadway. For some more action stroll towards Lake Merritt. This entire area is a nice surprise and there is plenty to do. The path winds around the lake and can be a great detour. You’ll see small sailboats struggling to stay upright and even a few people rowing their rotator cuffs into submission. For boat rentals contact the Lake Merritt Boating Center. http://www.oaklandnet.com/parks/facilities/lmbc.asp
The Oakland museum is worth a stop if you want to ogle exhibits. They just wrapped up a celebration of Pixar and 25 years of animation greatness and are set to unveil a exhibit entitled SPLENDORS OF FAITH/SCARS OF CONQUEST: Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1600-1821, which will run FEB 26 – MAY 29, 2011 (http://museumca.org/exhibitions/upcoming)
Grand Ave is the main street running along the lake and it tries its best to offer whatever cuisine your heart desires. Gyros, Turkish coffee, and comforting hookah sit next to Japanese sashimi and fresh sushi rolls aided by unlimited Saki. One of the biggest standouts, Los Cantaros Restaurant and Taqueria offers up outrageously cheap shredded pork tacos, chips with fresh guacamole, while pouring cold pints to the rapid delight of all.
One of the things people are surprised by, even shocked is that this area is stocked with upscale, fancy restaurants, wine bars, and all sorts of softly lit places given obscure names Zza, 389, Milano…you get the idea.
When you think about it, it should not be an overwhelming surprise. The area boasts great wines, fresh produce and ingredients, and some of the freshest seafood you can find. It’s next to the ocean duh.
Of them all, the place that stands out is Mezze. http://www.mezze.com/Mezze/Home.html
The restaurant serves up well made, well presented Mediterranean food but it stays safely on the side of food meant to eat not something that looks like an Origami creation. Order a glass of red wine and anything off the entrée menu. The gourmet burger is can’t miss, damn good – a fresh, house-ground Kobe style burger adorned with provolone, housemade pickled vegetables, harissa aioli & served with pommes frites for good measure.
In the Lake Merrit area Grand Avenue and Lakeshore are the two streets that overflow with tasty food from all around the world – at prices you won’t believe. The entire area is an unexpected pleasure, a budge find, and a place that has been long left to rot in the sun. The point is stigmas and old notions of what this city was are things of the past. Like yesterday they are simply gone. If you are planning a trip to anywhere in the Bay area then pay a visit to the ugly sibling of San Fran because these days she is looking awfully good.