Why We Have a Thing for Oakland

Dec 20, 2018

Travelzoo's Bay Area staff welcomes a lot of visiting friends and family (shocker)—and we always tell them to go check out Oakland.

The inevitable response: “Oakland?! Really?”

But we don't expect to keep getting that question for long: National Geographic Traveler just named the city one of the best places to visit in 2019 (in fact, Oakland is the only US listing in the Culture category). To see why Nat Geo's editors and our own staffers swear by this place, check out at least these five lures:

The Bay Area's Best Food

Oakland's already award-winning food scene somehow keeps getting better, to the point that half of the new Bib Gourmand awardees in the 2019 Bay Area Michelin Guide are here (try the Middle Eastern Dyafa, for starters).


Other local favorites range from Nyum Bai, the pop-up-turned-brick-and-mortar purveyor of regional Khmer cuisine to Commis, a Michelin-starred outpost of New American amazingness.

But whatever you crave, you'll likely find it during Oakland Restaurant Week from Jan. 11-20, when an amazing array of eateries (a Bavarian biergarten, an Italian wine bar, and pretty much everything in between) will offer prix fixe lunches and/or dinners for as little as $10. 

Yes, Oakland is a foodie heaven. And get to the root of the matter, as it were, hit some of the fabled local farmer’s markets: 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.

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 stat as soon as you cross the threshold of the Crucible. Now celebrating the big 2-0, this art school and event space is home to blacksmiths, welders, woodworkers, glassblowers and ceramicists, among the other craftspeople you'll meet if you tour the 56,000-square-foot space on the first Tuesday or third Saturday of whatever month you're in town.

Speaking of big birthdays, we should note that the Oakland Museum of California will be celebrating its 50th, and the golden jubilee year will include such exhibits as the epic Queer California: Untold Stories (April 13 - Aug. 11).

And if you've ever been curious about the intersection of marijuana, wellness and the arts—or you are now—make a point of being here for Oakland Art Month in May, when Oakland High Art brings together renowned performers and the cannabis business.

But whenever you're in town, don't miss the famed local street art scene, with works by celeb-muralists Vogue, the Illuminaries and Jet Martinez, to name a few.

And any time you can time your visit to an Oakland Art Murmur First Fridays art walk, do. 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. 

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 (for now) all but unknown, you’ll find few fellow visitors on its miles of ethereal trails, each lined with 150-foot Sequoia sempervirens.

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. 

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 while we're on the topic of gondolas and animals, check out the gondola ride at the recently renovated Oakland Zoo (pictured below) for breathtaking views of the Bay Area. Also new: 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? Check out the Visit Oakland website for more inspiration and search for deals in Oakland.

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