Oakland, California is home to Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon opened in 1883 and still lit by gas, as it was when Jack London studied and wrote there. The dive’s beautiful seediness and rough clientele inspired scenes in his novels The Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf. It is, if not the heart of the city’s Jack London District, it is the neighborhood’s soul. While Oakland is packed full of beautiful Victorian storefronts and buildings along with Art Deco gems this is not a place for stagnant history. In fact, outside of the USS Potomac – FDR’s presidential yacht called “The Floating White House”, very little of the area is preserved in any traditional sense. The entire city – the 3 rd largest in San Francisco’s Bay Area – is a teaming, living testament to using historical components and panache to repurpose a community into something entirely new and vibrant. One of Oakland’s most iconic restaurants is the Fat Lady, housed in an old Victorian brothel. And looks it.
Neighborhoods like Dimond District, now known for its Latino presence, was once called Little Germany and the Oktoberfest celebrations continue there to this day. Standing alongside in this patchwork of diverse neighborhoods are areas like Chinatown. Settled in 1850, shortly after the gold rush, it has been home to bestselling novelist Amy Tan and Kung Fu icon Bruce Lee. Now more pan-Asian than strictly Chinese, the area is a haven for foodies seeking authentic and innovative fare from China, Vietnam and Korea. Try noodles at Shan Dong and Banh Mi at Cam Huong. Then there is the Glenview neighborhood, a quiet – but quaint –enclave for those liking to escape the bustle of the city and Piedmont, described as “one long sidewalk of restaurants and shops.”
If you are looking for the bustle and innovation of a 21 st Century city firing on all cylinders, then Uptown in the place to be. A haven for hipsters and techies, this is a neighborhood with something new opening almost every week in a landscape of well-lit Art Deco architecture. Any list of Uptowns favorites places would be hopelessly out of date, so the only thing to do is go and take it all in for yourself.
Tying these compact, but diverse neighborhoods together is Downtown. Unlike most downtowns, this isn’t just a business district, but an intersection of all that city of neighborhoods has to offer. Badly in need of renovation just a few years ago, the Victorian storefronts of downtown have been repurposed to reflect the crossroads of cultures that call Oakland home. For uniquely Oakland gifts, stop into local favorite Oaklandish, a lifestyle apparel brand manufactured in town and dedicated to “local love”, and they aren’t just talking about hippies, either. Come for a long weekend – or longer still – Oakland will keep you guessing.
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