48 Hours in Oakland, California

Fox Theater Oakland
Eric Rorer
Affectionately referred to as "the Town" by residents, Oakland has a surprisingly communal vibe despite being home to some 400,000 people. Diversity is one of the port city's strengths, as evidenced in its stellar international cuisine, eclectic local bands and vibrant arts scene.

Each month, thousands of folks celebrate this cultural creativity at First Friday, essentially an evening street fair with food trucks, artists' booths, a classic car show and seemingly impromptu performances by musicians, DJs and dancers.

The other city by the Bay also has more than 3000 acres of open space and parkland. Head for the hills for panoramic views or lose sight of urban life altogether in majestic groves of 150-foot coast redwoods in Redwood Regional Parkor eucalyptus stands in Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve.

With so much to love, how could you not "hella heart Oakland"?

PLAN YOUR TRIP: San Francisco Travel Guide

Day 1: Evening (Friday)

Get the lay of the land, sea and stars from the Chabot Space and Science Center. At 1500 feet above the Bay, the view is worth the drive. From 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., you can gaze at the night sky, craters in the moon or Saturn's rings through the facility's three telescopes, which include a refractor telescope (named Leah) donated in 1883 and a research-quality reflector telescope (Nellie). Before you visit, be sure to book an educator-led night hike through the surrounding redwoods.

Head to the brightest spot downtown for a night out in the burgeoning Uptown district, home to a growing number of new and refurbished music venues, bars and restaurants. Inside the former Oakland Floral Depot building, the Basque-influenced Duende serves up tapas and paella while jazz musicians perform upstairs. After dinner, see a concert at one of two stunning Art Deco theaters nearby - the Fox Theater, across the street, or the Paramount Theatre, whose calendar also includes classic films and the Oakland Ballet. After the show, stop in Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe (Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt is a co-owner) for a pile of crispy sweet potato fries and the diner's signature milkshake, the Shankin' Jesse, a blend of Guinness Stout, chocolate ice cream and espresso. Or walk a few feet further to Make Westing for a basil gimlet and a round of indoor bocce ball. Its above-and-beyond bar bites include addictive habanero-and-cilantro-infused popcorn and a beer-braised pulled pork sandwich with pickled peaches and aji amarillo aioli.
Oakland Museum of California
FlickrAn exhibit inside the Oakland Museum of California

Day 2: Morning (Saturday)

Jumpstart your day with a cup of full-flavored coffee at the Italian-inspired Caffe 817. The Old Oakland eatery uses Mr. Espresso beans, roasted a few blocks away over an oak fire. Or ease into things with the best Mexican breakfast in town at Cosecha, in Swan's Market, a former corner grocer and retail space from the early 1900s. Pull up a stool at one of the airy restaurant's long wooden tables and order a bacon and egg torta (sandwich) and a michelada, a spicy cocktail made with tomato juice and Negra Modelo beer.

After fueling up, explore the state's cultural and natural history at the Oakland Museum of California. Its 1.8 million objects include a massive collection of animal specimens, photographer Dorothea Lange's personal archive and more than 24,500 protest posters documenting a range of progressive movements.
Umami Mart
FlickrCustomers leaving Umami Mart in "Old Oakland"

Day 2: Afternoon and Evening (Saturday)

Spend the rest of the afternoon hopping between cutting-edge art galleries and hip boutiques during the weekly gallery walk known as the Saturday Stroll. Start in Old Oakland at Umami Mart, a carefully curated Japanese kitchenware store, then meander between Broadway and Telegraph toward 25th Street's row of art galleries, including the innovative Vessel Gallery. In one memorable exhibit, a swarm of suspended wire-and-cloth locusts filled the gallery's second floor. Other highlights not to miss are Crown Nine, featuring beautifully handmade jewelry; the hyperlocal clothing store Oaklandish; SoleSpace, a mix of art and collectible sneakers; and Johansson Projects, where work by emerging and established artists is displayed beneath a moss-covered ceiling. For a snack, pop in to Sweet Bar Bakery for a grilled panini or a chocolate cupcake topped with peanut butter.

At sunset, watch the sky change colors over Lake Merritt. The oldest wildlife refuge in the country, the saltwater tidal lake and its surrounding urban park are home to hundreds of birds, among them black-crowned night herons, snowy egrets and Canada geese.

When you're ready for dinner, aim for the Grand Lake Theater's flashing 52-foot-tall rooftop sign near the lake's northeast point. Among Grand Avenue's dinner options are former Chez Panisse chef and produce buyer Russell Moore's elegantly rustic Camino, known for its wood-fired meats, and Boot & Shoe Service, an upscale pizzeria started by fellow Chez Panisse alum Charlie Hallowell. Both restaurants also craft some of the city's tastiest cocktails. At Camino, try the simply named "mezcal drink," made with lime, ginger, chili and gum syrup. End the night at The Alley, a proudly down-market piano bar, where local institution Rod Dibble has been accompanying slurry singers for more than 50 years.
072510 Betsy & Marghi Kayaking up the Estuary
FlickrTwo ladies kayak through the Oakland Estuary

Day 3: Morning (Sunday)

Blue Bottle, the cream of Oakland's third-wave coffee roasters, brews individual cups of drip coffee at its Webster Street production facility. (It also offers free tastings at 2 p.m. on Sundays.) Get yours to go, and head southwest to Jack London Square Farmer's Market. You can find seasonal fruit, organic granola and crepes made to order here, but the real draw is the glittering view of the Bay and the San Francisco skyline. For a truly Northern California morning, join the free yoga class on the market green from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Before you bid Oakland bon voyage, rent a kayak from California Canoe and Kayak and glide through the adjacent Oakland Estuary. On the water, keep a patient eye out for harbor seals and bat rays. Paddle northwest past the USS Potomac, Roosevelt's presidential yacht, dubbed the "Floating White House," then finish with beer and house-made sausage at Brotzeit Lokal next to the Oakland Marina. The scene is so relaxing, you may want to drop anchor for good.

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