Uptown Oakland has not only become the most buzzed about neighbourhood in the city of Oakland, it’s arguably the hottest neighbourhood in the entire Bay Area. San Francisco’s rising rents have caused a mass exodus of artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs to move to the East Bay, quickly filling Uptown Oakland’s once vacant storefronts. Now, developers and new tech businesses are also chomping at the bit to put their stake in Oakland.
Many credit the renovation of the district’s historic Fox Theater for the neighbourhood’s rising popularity, reopening after 40 years of vacancy. Others praise Oakland’s monthly gallery walk Oakland Art Murmur for bringing thousands of visitors to the streets each First Friday. No matter the reason, we dare you to keep up with the dozens of new restaurants and bars that are opening at a dizzying speed.
With so much to see in just one district, navigate your way through the buzzing streets with our guide to Uptown Oakland.
Uptown’s newbies may get the press, but the neighbourhood’s rich history is what makes it most interesting. In the early 20th century, the area was booming as the city’s primary shopping district. Walk along Telegraph Avenue and Broadway between Grand Avenue and 17th Street to admire the Art Deco buildings from the decade that still stand today, such as the emerald green I. Magnin or Gothic Revival Cathedral Building that looms over Latham Square.
Two must-sees include the Fox Theater, with a uniquely Moorish-meets-Medieval style and the much-loved “Fox Oakland” marquee, which lights up on show nights. Fitting for the scenesters who frequent the area, the Fox hosts concerts by top musicians several nights a week. Of equal elegance is the Art Deco Paramount Theatre, the largest cinema on the West Coast when it was built in 1931. Today, it also hosts concerts, comedy shows, and elite speakers, like President Bill Clinton. If presidents are out of your price range, classic movies like Gone with the Wind are shown on the big screen for just $5 – the perfect chance to get a glimpse of the theatre’s interior.
In addition to the neighbourhood’s two entertainment icons, dozens of smaller venues make it hard to choose where to go first. Cosy up on a sofa, craft beer in hand, at the The New Parkway Theater indie movie house, or catch a national act at The New Parish. Tap into the local music scene at Awaken Café, The Legionnaire Saloon, and the dive-y Stork Club. One of the originals on Telegraph Avenue, Café Van Kleef serves the best freshly squeezed Greyhound cocktails in town and hosts live music several nights a week.
Crowds flock to Uptown Oakland for Oakland Art Murmur each first Friday, but the best way to connect with local art is on the weekly Saturday Stroll. Contemporary galleries open their doors to the public from 1-5 p.m., and on every third Saturday, a free walking tour led by rotating knowledgeable artists is available to the public.
Today, the culinary scene is the district’s bread and butter, with upscale American, Spanish tapas, Southern soul food, and Korean barbecue, all within a few blocks of each other. And the list continues to grow. Duende shook up the Uptown Oakland restaurant scene with its rich repertoire of Spanish eats, ranging from rabbit paella to grilled squid rellenos, served up alongside live music. Celebrated chef Kyle Itani is the visionary behind Japanese-meets-American cuisine at Hopscotch – signature dishes like the Buttermilk Fried Chicken and handmade donuts are a must.
You may know him best as the bassist for Oakland’s hometown band Green Day, but Mike Dirnt is now breaking into the restaurant biz as one of the owners of Uptown Oakland’s popular late-night diner, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café (milkshakes and fries will taste that much better after rocking out at the neighbouring Fox Theater). Alternatively, enjoy the stylish, laid-back scene at Southern soul food restaurant Pican; keep it casual with burgers and beers at Luka’s Taproom; or indulge in savoury Asian street food at Hawker Fare.
Because this is the arts and entertainment district of Oakland, it’s no surprise that Uptown is flowing with craft cocktails and beer. Get a spiked punch bowl to share or an Oak barrel-aged classic cocktail at Plum Bar, or leave it to the master mixologists at Bar Dogwood as you admire the taxidermy décor (inside tip: the grilled cheese sandwich is the perfect pairing/stomach lining).
A local craze, play a round of bocce ball between drinks at Make Westing. Favourites include the refreshing Garden Gimlet with gin, cucumber, basil, and lime, or the Rye Whiskey Buffala Negra. Newcomer, Woods Bar brews its own beer in-house, complete with a cosy outdoor patio and fire pits for often-chilly Oakland nights. Head to Lost & Found beer garden for daytime drinking, and don’t forget those Greyhounds at Van Kleef.
Shop to it
If you’re looking for big box chains and department stores, head west to San Francisco – Oakland’s smaller shops cater to local vendors and makers. Pick up a pair of American-made selvedge denim jeans at Two Jacks Denim (primarily menswear), or mix and match vintage with modern apparel at Owl N Wood. SoleSpace embraces Oakland’s focus on community-oriented spaces, showcasing its stellar collection of kicks among local artwork and events, and Vamp Vintage Art & Music is a welcome oasis for record collectors. Be amongst the first to get your hands on the new trend of 3D-printed jewellery at Viscera.
A recent example of Uptown Oakland’s new developments is Hive Oakland, a community art space with retail shops, restaurants, architecture firms, and soon, residential housing. You can’t miss the brick loft building on Broadway and 23rd Streets when you visit. Get a feel for Oakland’s community-oriented ethos at Oaklandish, the city’s beloved hometown apparel store – you’ll likely see most locals sporting their favourite tee around town.
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Have you visited Uptown Oakland? Where are your favourite places in the neighbourhood? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Lindsay Wright