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Cosmopolitan chic on the cheap in Oakland, California

Jun 3, 2006  This Oakland native has watched her hometown evolve into a sophisticated cultural smorgasbord. An insiders guide to the best of the East Bay.
4.5 of 5 stars based on 10 votes

From authentic to upscale-uncrowded neighborhoods reflect the urban diversity of the other City by the Bay (and you don't have to break the bank!)

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Oakland
  • Category: Perfect weekend
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Shopping, Active/Outdoors, Never been before, Repeat visitors, Sports buffs
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Singles, Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Seniors, Budget travelers, Tourists
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. Rockridge District
    http://www.rockridgeshop.com

    WELCOME TO MY 'HOOD
    It's free to stroll the best of Oakland-trendy and friendly College Avenue from Alcatraz to Broadway has everything from chic boutiques and world-class restaurants to inexpensive thrift shops and reasonably-priced ethnic eateries. Forget car rentals-take BART from SF to Rockridge station. Fantastic people watching for the price of an espresso. Hungry? It's gourmet heaven. Hard to chose a favorite, but start with a morning bun from La Farine Bakery. Restaurants and cafes in all price ranges: Burmese, Italian, Mediterranian, Japanese...Check out my list of faves:

  • 2. Rockridge-La Farine Bakery
    http://www.lafarine.com

    PARISIAN PATISSERIE
    The flakey, buttery cinnamony morning buns-yum! Martha Stewart featured them on her show-that's right, these very buns from La Farine! Sit at the charming community table and consume french pastries with good brewed coffee. If you NEED a slice of cake, there are several to choose under $5. You'll swear you're in a Parisian patisserie!

  • 3. Rockridge-Oliveto Cafe-Best Coffee & People Watching
    http://www.oliveto.com

    BEST DOUBLE-DECAF-NON-FAT CAPUCCINO AND BREAKFAST PIZZA
    Part of the Market Hall complex, the well-known restaurant (upstairs) is very pricy, but the downstairs cafe is reasonable and the espresso is hands-down the best! Try a breakfast pizza-individual sized, thin-crusted, with a fresh egg on savory asiago. Sit at the sidewalk tables and watch the neighborhood flow by or enjoy the warm European zinc-table ambiance inside. Across from BART.

  • 4. Rockridge Market Hall
    http://www.rockridgemarkethall.com

    GOURMET FOOD HALL
    Picnic on delicious take-out from the Pasta Shop (much more than pasta-a deli with a huge array of prepared foods and cheeses). Grab a bottle of wine from Paul Marcus Wines, or buy fresh fish, produce or meat from the stalls within. Take your lunch outside and enjoy it on the new sidewalk benches.

  • 5. Rockridge Cafe
    Rockridge Cafe, Oakland, California

    DOWN HOME DINER
    Homey American cafe serves traditional breakfasts with a gourmet flourish. Milkshakes and homemade pies. Inexpensive, and a large omelette can easily feed two people.

  • 6. Rockridge-Tootsies Shoe Store
    http://www.rockridgeshop.com/pages/tootsies.html

    CARRIE BRADSHAW, THIS ONE'S FOR YOU!
    Amazing high style heels at low style prices. I've never seen a shop like this, not even in NYC and Paris. Hundreds of beautiful styles in a boutique atmosphere with wonderful service. Get a pedicure while you're at it! I can't go in without risking serious temptation-you WILL buy shoes, but they're so reasonable, you'll feel virtuous.

  • 7. Rockridge-Crossroads Trading Co.
    http://www.crossroadstrading.com

    TRENDY THREADS
    My teenage girls love the youthful resale clothing here. $10 gets you the perfect shirt-in the color you need. Well known labels. Most items under $20- in near-perfect condition.

  • 8. Rockridge-Bambino Thrift Shop
    http://www.rockridgeshop.com/pages/bambino_thrift.html

    SERENDIPITY
    I find great stuff here all the time. For example, a three-compartment relish dish in a vintage chintz pattern made in Occupied Japan-$3. Or a damask tablecloth for $12. Closed Sunday.

  • 9. Rockridge-Pasta Pomodoro
    http://pastapomodoro.com

    PERFECT PASTA ON THE PATIO
    Inexpensive, fresh Italian. I love the veggies-aldente broccoli, brussel sprouts or spinach sauteed with garlic and chili flakes, around $5. Most lunch entrees under $10, and the best part, wonderful outdoor patio dining overlooking the street bustle.

  • 10. Rockridge-Diesel and Pendragon Books
    http://www.rockridgeshop.com/pages/diesel.html

    INTIMATE, INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES
    Used and new, the latest literature. Check out the "new arrivals" used shelf in Pendragon for that newly published $25 hardback at half-price.

  • 11. Around Lake Merritt/Children's Fairyland
    http://www.fairyland.org

    CHILDREN'S FANTASY AND FITNESS
    A three mile walk or bike ride around this central landmark takes you by a nature preserve, Art Deco luxury highrises and unique Children's Fairyland. Fairyland predated and inspired Disneyland. On a quaint old-fashioned and child-friendly scale, with puppet shows and a little train, it is a charming and low-tech throwback, a reminder of my innocent childhood and the delights of simple entertainment for young children. After the exercise, stop on Lakeshore or Grand Avenues for a cup of Peet's coffee, a Philly Cheesesteak (go figure!), or unbelievable bread and pizza from the oven of Arizmendi Bakery, collectively owned and operated.

  • 12. Oakland Museum of California
    http://www.oaklandmuseum.org

    CALIFORNIA, THE DREAM
    The changing and permanent exhibits here are wonderful. My favorites are the displays dipicting California history, native culture, the Gold Rush era, California's growth and diversity. Paintings and photos, contemporary exhibits. Check out the beautiful Arts and Crafts pieces by Matthews and Dirk Van Erp in the Art galleries. Second Sunday of the month FREE! Lake Merritt BART Station is nearby.
    Walk a few blocks to Chinatown for lunch or dinner.

  • 13. Oakland Chinatown

    PORK BUNS AND PEKING DUCK
    NO tourists and lots of inexpensive eating, shopping and people-watching in this, the nation's fourth largest Chinatown community. My personal favorite is Pho Ho Lao II, at 333-10th St. It's a Vietnamese noodle soup joint that has the best pho I've ever had and is the most popular with locals. Under $10. I like the soup with rare beef-ask for the meat on the side and cook it to your own specs in the delicious steaming broth! Great fresh produce at amazingly low prices.
    Location: 25 square blocks between 7th Street to 11th Street and between Broadway and Harrison Street

  • 14. Oakland As Baseball

    GO As!
    Cheap seats available, easy access to Colliseum via BART.

  • 15. Old Oakland/Farmer's Market/Downtown
    http://www.urbanvillageonline.com/oldoakland

    VEGGIES AND VICTORIANS
    Farmer's Market 8am-2pm Fridays.Also www.oldoakland.org. Ratto's is a big old (100+yrs) deli and international market. Long before exotic ingredients were commonly available in Oakland, this was the place my family came for kitchen equipment, spices, pasta, etc. Lots of restaurants, mostly bringing in lunch trade from downtown offices. Restored Victorians create old-fashioned ambiance in this urban renewal showcase right near Oakland Marriott.

  • 16. Cafe Van Kleef-Downtown Bar
    http://www.cafevankleef.com

    MOOD, MUSIC AND MARTINIS
    The funkiest friendliest Oakland-ist bar in the city. I'm serious, this place ROCKS, and the drinks are great. Open and welcoming to people of all walks of life, from artist to socialite. It's also a mini-museum of kitch, the vision of artist/owner Peter Van Kleef, who is there most evenings mingling with the patrons. Live music on weekends, only $5 cover-a bargain for the music and ambiance.

  • 17. Jack London Square/Yoshi's Jazz Club/Ferry to SF/Farmer's Market
    http://www.yoshis.com

    ALL THAT JAZZ
    Sunday family Jazz matinees at Yoshi's are $5 for kids and $15 for adult. That's cheap for real jazz, and it's an authentic jazz scene-see their website for details and calendar. Or make a reservation for dinner in their sleek dining room (Japanese) and come early to reserve your table for their WORLD CLASS jazz performers. These are the big names you've heard of.

    Park in the garage and take the ferry to the Ferry Building in SF. Views and transport to the awesome landmark Ferry Bldg, redesigned into, what else, another gourmet mecca with markets and cafes! My favorite chocolate boutique is Recchiuti. You must splurge on their Burnt Caramel Sauce. You're still hungry, right?

    Sunday Farmer's Market until 2pm in Jack London Square. Music in the summer.

  • 18. Bay Area theater, music, dance- Performing Arts tickets Half-Price
    http://goldstarevents.com

    LAST MINUTE DISCOUNT TICKETS
    THIS IS A MUST! Free website for late and last minute SUPER DISCOUNTED tickets to a GREAT selection of cultural events in and around Oakland. No hassle, all internet-based. Incredibly user friendly. I use and recommmend this site frequently and can't believe how often people thank me (my chiropracter is a weekly user, so we swap tips!).