Why We Have a Thing for Oakland

Deal Expert, San Francisco
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Travelzoo has umpteen Deal Experts in the Bay Area, and when our friends come to visit, we’re constantly saying, “You gotta check out Oakland.”

The inevitable response: “Oakland?! Really?”

Yes, friends (including those of you we haven’t officially met yet). Really.

That little jaunt across the Bay Bridge comes with big rewards, and they go well beyond cheaper hotel rooms (but hey, we’ll take room savings any day).

Here is our insider’s guide to the top five lures.

The Bay Area’s Best Food

Last year, Oakland beat out both San Francisco and Napa for a place on USA Today’s Best Local Food Scenes list, to say nothing of all the love Oakland has gotten of late from Bon Appétit, Serious Eats…and the list goes on.

To see why, start with the local legends, whether it’s Bakesale Betty, a fried chicken sandwich shrine; Commis, the Michelin-starred purveyor of New American amazingness; or Camino, where the open-fire creations caused food demigod Mark Bittman to declare, “Wow, you really understand flavors.”

Of course, there are also plenty of new favorites, including Wood Tavern (standout California cuisine) and Shakewell (of-the-moment Mediterranean).

Yes, Oakland is a foodie paradise. And get to the root of the matter, as it were, hit some of the city’s fabled farmer’s markets. Featuring gorgeous produce, specialty food sellers, local artisans and live entertainment, these are some of our favorites: Old Oakland in downtown Oakland’s historic district; Temescal in the city’s hipster hangout; Grand Lake on the northeast corner of Lake Merritt; and Jack London Square on the waterfront.

If you don’t already have specific travel dates in mind, here’s something to consider: Oakland Restaurant Week begins on Jan. 11, 2018, when some of the city’s most beloved eateries will offer fabulous prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus.

Secret Redwood Hikes

Amazingly, there’s a redwood forest hidden away just a few miles from downtown Oakland, where you can work off all those amazing eats—or simply peace out. Because Redwood Regional Park is all but unknown, you’ll find few fellow visitors on its miles of ethereal trails, each lined with 150-foot Sequoia sempervirens.

Awesome Art Scene

Oakland claims the highest per capita rate of artists in the U.S., or—depending on whom you ask—the second highest. And you’ll have no problem believing either version of the statistic once you cross the threshold of American Steel Studios, a 6-acre warehouse space in West Oakland that houses more than 200 artists and makers who focus on large-scale industrial work. To meet their aspiring future colleagues, many of whom are phenomenally talented, book a tour at the Crucible, a school that teaches blacksmithing, welding, woodworking, jewelry, glassblowing, ceramics and more.

Or, for a taste of the famed local street art scene, tour Oakland’s murals. Bonus: If you go with the Community Rejuvenation Project, the excursion will double as a vivid history lesson.

If you’re a serious art lover, time your visit to an Oakland Art Murmur First Fridays art walk. Held on the first Friday night of every month, this gathering brings 20,000 or so people to the Koreatown-Northgate (KONO) neighborhood to gallery-hop, chat with local artists, take in street performances and dance to live music. Or simply show up in May—aka Oakland Art Month—when every day is a celebration of local art.

Local Wine & Ale Trails

No need to trek to Napa or Sonoma for great wineries: Oakland boasts its own robust wine scene, as you’ll discover on the Urban Wine Trail, a circuit of about 10 stops near Downtown and Jack London Square. Don’t miss Dashe Cellars, Periscope Cellars, Rosenblum Cellars and Stage Left Cellars.

In the mood for beer? Hit the Oakland Ale Trail—but not without your “passport.” Once you’ve collected stamps from all participating breweries, hit the Visit Oakland office at 481 Water St. for a commemorative growler. And if you can’t swing the whole circuit, consider one of these local favorites: Temescal Brewing, Drake’s Brewing Co., Independent Brewing and Pacific Coast Brewing.

Gondola Rides

No trip to Oakland is complete without a visit to Lake Merritt. And the most iconic way to experience this tidal lagoon—right in the city’s center—is by Venetian gondola. A fun fact to contemplate as you’re chilling to the smooth stylings of your gondoliere: Lake Merritt was the United States’ first official wildlife refuge, established in 1869 to protect the local bird population.

And speaking of gondolas and animals, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the epic renovation at the beloved Oakland Zoo, where a new gondola ride (pictured below) offers up breathtaking views of the Bay Area before depositing you at the Landing Café. Coming in 2018: the California Trail, which will nearly double the size of the zoo and bring home such native species as grizzly bears, grey wolves and bison.

Ready to go? Search for deals in Oakland.

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Show 25 Comments
  • Megan S

    The gondola you have pictured above is not the kind of gondola they have at Lake Merritt 🙂

    • Dennis Hightower

      I suspect intern : )

    • edub

      It looks like they do mean two kinds of gondolas, the one that goes on
      the water at Lake Merritt and the cable car gondola at the zoo.

    • http://www.travelzoo.com/blog/ Travelzoo Blog

      Hi, thanks for reading! As we explained in the story, the gondola photo is from the Oakland Zoo, not Lake Merritt.

  • Nickel Slots

    too bad there is horrendous grafitti all along 880 going/coming from Oakland NEED TO CATCH THE JURKS AND HAVE THEM PAINTING OVER FOR 6 months ITS gross and AWFUL!!

  • Anne

    The gondolas on Lake Merritt are just like Venice, including the striped t shirted gondoliers. Right next to them is the fabulous OMCA, Oakland Museum Of California. It has history, art, and science exhibits.

  • Elisa Uribe

    I have lived in Oakland for 21 years and love being on the lake on the Gondola. Our restaurant scene is amazing and to wake up and see Travelzoo decided to feature our city is fabulous!

  • Martin Nelson

    I’ve lived in all the major Bay Area counties: Marin, SF., San Mateo, and Alameda and the Oakland Hills in Alameda County tops the list. First, its the sunny side of the bay without the fog and overcast common on the west side. Second, the views of San Francisco are phenomenal. Jack London Square, the Rockland District, Montclair, Claremont Hotel, Alameda, etc. are gems. The best part is the incredible human spirt and diversity … I don’t think there is a residential block in Oakland that doesn’t have ethnic diversity. Go Oakland!

    • Batya Lee

      Rockridge neighborhood, not Rockland.

      • Martin Nelson

        Yes, yes, yes … in my enthusiasm I make mistakes. Thanks for the correction

  • Neil Thomas

    Just stay away from the Cal-Berkeley campus.

    • Anne

      The campus does have some interesting sights. Walk along a creek in the redwoods. The Campanile and other buildings are impressive.

    • Martin Nelson

      And Strawberry Canyon for beauty and phenomenal views!

  • kristinaket

    Thanks for this. I love living here!

  • Batya Lee

    If you’re bringing along small children, I’d skip the Oakland Zoo, which is on the pricey side, and go to Children’s Fairyland. It’s an old-fashioned, delightful amusement park designed for young children right by Lake Merritt and wonderful restaurants. http://fairyland.org/

  • Greg Cover

    They do have Venetian gondolas on Lake Merritt.
    Gondola Servizio

    We have been offering authentic Venetian gondola tours on Lake Merritt in Oakland, California since 1999. We are located at the historic boathouse on Lake Merritt, next to the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar and Grill.

  • Barbara Mattia

    Sorry, but we are boycotting California due to Pann’s state bill mandating vaccinations. How draconian can the legislature get! What happened to land of the free. Forcing your citizens to inject their precious children with harmful chemicals. Ugg!

    • Ted Marsh

      Great! We shall not miss you.

  • I_Offer_You

    Too dangerous a city for me, no thanks. But I wouldn’t visit Chicago either. Same reason.
    Go to Marin county instead. Mill Valley won’t disappoint and you won’t have to worry about your parked car. Beaches, Muir Woods, Mt. Tam,Point Reyes, Golden Gate views, Marin headlands, all beautiful and very safe

    • Ted Marsh

      Oakland has become the new yuppy center of the Bay area with a revived uptown gathering of techy immigrants.

  • Ron Douglas

    The Oakland Art Museum is a dump and an embarrassment to a city of this size. Skip that sorry excuse for a museum and go to the artist studios and galleries.

    • KPWF

      I totally disagree. We’re members because of the high quality of exhibits – from Dorthea Lange to the Black Panthers, we’ve enjoyed every exhibit this year.

      • Anne

        Us too! Don’t forget the marijuana exhibit, and Diego Rivera, Arneson, Thiébaud, Diebenkorn, etc. The space is modern and airy, with a nice cafe, terrace, easy parking and BART.

  • William Bishop

    Of course, these people point out all the hipster spots that have sprung up since Oakland was “discovered”. It used to be that all the uptight white people stayed on the other side of the bridge, now they’ve come over here and screwed up Oakland’s cool.

  • William Bishop

    In other words, all the people below that tell you that Oakland sucks? Yes, listen to them; stay in SF.