Say the phrase "Oakland culture" and many people probably think of hip-hop, and the culture surrounding it. And that wouldn't be wrong, because Oakland has been a key West Coast center of rap and hip hop. It wouldn't be wrong, but it would be incomplete, because no one flavor can sum up the taste of Oakland. There's more to Oakland than the "sideshow" with its car-spinning and other more destructive activities (and which the City, in its wisdom, forced from private parking lots onto the public streets).

The culture of Oakland is just as much joggers passing the Lake Merritt bird refuge, or artsy types sipping espresso on College Avenue, or Vietnamese chefs ladling up bowls of pho on International Blvd.  Or it could be a black-clad fan of the Raiders (the professional American football team) that the City paid so dearly to bring back from Los Angeles. An Oaklander's residence might be a ramshackle slum house, or it might be a Marin-like perch above Montclair Village, or maybe even (as Mayor Brown has greatly encouraged) a downtown highrise or loft. Oakland had been a largely working class city, but although manufacturing jobs declined rapidly during the 1970's, and had nearly disapeared by 1980, Oakland still is seen as a blue-collar city.  it is not a bombed out Rustbelt style ruin. 2000 U.S.  Census data identified Oakand as having the 8th most educated workforce in the U.S.  More than 1/3 of Oakland's residents have a college degree - twice the national average. Oakland's population is rising, not falling, as immigrants from China and Mexico and San Francisco (refugees of rising rents) stream in. The bungalows and small apartments east of Lake Merritt have been particularly popular with international migrants.. In Oakland, the train station is named for C.L Dellums--Congressman Ron Dellums' father--and a leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  In this city of 400,000 people and 56 square miles (bigger in area than San Francisco but with only half the population), there are many mansions.

 Oakland's economy historically was based on grittier industries much less, if at all, present, in San Francisco. The Southern Pacific Railroad was one of the first big employers in Oakland, and for years had a stranglehold on the Oakland Waterfront. The railroad stops on the Oakland side. Both San Francisco and Oakland are ports, but in the age of containerization (roughly the last 40 years), the space-rich Port of Oakland has become by far the dominant one. Meanwhile, Oakland has cut into San Francisco's airport business, though SFO is still clearly the region's leading airport. Oakland has been a great manufacturing center--making cars and food products and much else--though much of that industry has been lost in recent years. But there has always been a white collar side to Oakland as well--of commuters to San Francisco or Downtown Oakland. Now Downtown Oakland has emerged as the center of Bay Area government, filled with regional agencies. Unfortunately most of the staff of these agencies flee at 5 p.m., making much of Downtown Oakland a near ghost town by 6:00.

So you want to see Oakland's culture and cultures?

  •  The African American Museum and Library at Oakland--659 14th St. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way (on the western edge of Downtown) has exhibits on African-American life in Oakland and beyond in a historic library building.
  • The Asian Resource Gallery is a gallery in the landmark terra cotta  Asian Resource Center building at 310 8th St. (at Harrison) in Oakland Chinatown. The building is home to several non-profit organizations serving the Asian community.
  • Oakland Museum of California--11th & Oak Streets (eastern edge of Downtown)is a fine major museum displaying exhibits on California history, ecology, and art that sometimes focus on Oakland
  • Jewish history in the East Bay and the Bay Area is presented at the Judah Magnes Museum at 2911 Russell St., Berkeley (just over the Oakland line)
  • If food is culture (and it certainly is) try eating in:
    • Oakland Chinatown--bounded roughly by Broadway, Harrison, 7th and 11th Streets. You'll find Vietnamese and Korean as well as Chinese restaurants here;
    • International Boulevard from 1st Ave. to High St., (approx. 3 miles)--Numerous Vietnamese restaurants in the section from 1st to 14th Ave., then Mexican places take over, especially south of Fruitvale. Oakland has some of the finest Mexican food I've ever had, and it goes far beyond the usual taco/burrito tacqueria fare.  But, if you love tacquerias, be sure to check out some of the taco trucks.
    • College Avenue from Broadway north to Alcatraz Ave (approx. 1 mile).--A hotbed of Californian, modern Asian, fusion and other eateries, with Rockridge Market Hall in the middle of at all across from Rockridge BART

 Explore Oakland. You'll probably be surprised.