Why We Have a Thing for Oakland

Sep 21, 2017

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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