Hi, I am Victoria from Milkfed Press. I’m thrilled to be sharing some of my favorite Oakland highlights with you today! I did not grow up in the Bay Area, but came here in the early 90’s to pursue my dreams of bookbinding and letterpress printing. I fell in love here, I started my business here, and later – my family. Its indefatigable spirit is an endless stream of inspiration, character, and restoration to me.
Here’s an example of my perfect day: it includes simply grabbing my camera and walking out the door. The signs, the letterforms, the people, and the industry — I find something new and beautiful every time. I try and integrate these moments into my own life as much as possible. Sometimes a simple image will stick with me, and I’ll later draw it my sketchbook for future prints or projects.
Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, “There is no there there.”, but I have always found this sentiment to be untrue. It welcomed me to the Bay Area over 20 years ago, and my love for it has never waned.
Once seen as the scrappy underdog to San Francisco, Oakland is rich in history, and has had a huge revival in the last 10 years. Artists have been opting for this sunnier-side of the Bay for its opportunities, and the ability to live and thrive in a close-knit artist’s community.
It’s also become a foodie’s playground with both a huge wave of new restaurants opening weekly (it seems) and the stalwart, hole-in-the-wall restaurants in every neighborhood. It’s almost impossible to get a bad meal here. Lastly, the live music and arts scene has exploded, and between the Fox Theater, the Paramount, Yoshi’s, and the small clubs throughout downtown, you can find live music every night of the week. When I moved here, the Fox Theater was closed down for good, it seemed. It took many years, and many committees to revitalize it, and like a phoenix rising above—it is one of the greatest places to see a live band today.
The first thing I need to tell new-comers is that Oakland is a large, very-spread-out city. What I’ve always loved most about it is its diversity —not just in regards to the people who live here, but the architecture and the landscape as well. Each neighborhood is unique, and 15 minutes in any direction can offer a completely different experience.
I have come to realize that I am definitely more of an experienced-based person — I love live events, enjoy good food with friends and family, and really prefer to shop for others. For simplicity, I’m going to highlight some of the quirks in my favorite neighborhoods.
JACK LONDON SQUARE
Starting down at Jack London Square, take a quick pop into Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon and experience the after-effects of the 1906 earthquake: This is a tiny bar/shack with a tilted floor and a clock which is still stuck at the time of the earthquake. Jack London himself used to hang out here: it’s a quirky little reminder of days gone by.
A walk just a few blocks over on Webster Street leads you to local favorite, Blue Bottle Coffee. Locals go crazy for this coffee!
Chop Bar on 4th and Alice Street is a great place to have brunch, and I love their basil gimlet.
Since you’re down there, one of my favorite shops for local and well-crafted goods is Oakland Supply Company, on 3rd. Their stuff is well curated, and I’ve adored anything I’ve ever bought there.
Chinatown in Oakland is smaller than San Francisco’s but quite mighty. This is graphic-paradise to me, and I love coming here with my daughter, and exploring the packed shops, and looking at all of the amazing packaging. Teas, stationery, cloth-covered boxes — I always find inexpensive and unique things for my friends.
If I’m with a friend, the Trappist (on 8th, just past Broadway) is a great place to have a beer and look over all of our goods. They have a great assortment of beers, and a great selection of food to nosh on.
GRAND LAKE DISTRICT
This was our neighborhood when I met my husband, and we loved getting off the beaten path to hang out in the Morcom Rose Garden. Located right off of Grand, it’s still Oakland’s best kept secret garden. Bring a book or pull up a bench — it’s a great place to stop and smell the roses. Wander over after brunch at Camino for a perfect Sunday stroll.
The Grand Lake Theater is yet another gorgeous movie theater, this one was built in the 20’s, and still runs first-run pictures. Saturday nights feature a player on the mighty Wurlitzer before your film.
Up the street from the theater you’ll find a straight-up institution known as The Alley. Not just a bar and restaurant, this piano bar has been here since the 30’s. Graphically-inclined people will be thrilled to find that there are no less than 30,000 business cards stapled on the walls. Come in, add yours, and sing a song with Rod Dibble while you can.
If that’s not your thing, Boot and Shoe Service is right across the street.
This man-made lake with a 3-mile walking/jogging trail around it is the true mark of civility. I love coming here on Sundays for a stroll and people watching. If you’re here into the evening, the lights that twinkle around the lake are super enchanting. I’ve admittedly never taken a gondola ride, but that’s not to say I won’t one day.
If you have any kids with you, you must get yourself into Children’s Fairyland. This is the park that inspired Walt Disney himself to create the Happiest Place on Earth. It is so, so charming, and never gets old. Seriously. This place is bananas. They do sometimes have special parties for just-adults throughout the year, definitely worth checking into.
North Oakland’s Temescal District has seen a huge revival in the last 10 years. Great restaurants, and shopping for sure.
One of my favorite places to go to is the Creative Depot for Reuse: a great destination for makers of all kinds, it’s a nice place to treasure hunt for truly inexpensive materials. I never know what I’ll find.
These were an assortment of vintage-inspired greeting cards, all for $1 a piece. Vintage stamps (great for wedding stationery envelopes!) range from 10–20 cents a piece, and these great patches were a few dollars each. Their stock is changing daily, but I think it’s a maker’s paradise.
Up the street you’ll find the delicious Pizzaiolo at 5008 Telegraph. Chef Charlie Hallowell started at Chez Pannise, and opened this restaurant about 10 years, ago. The food is delicious and it’s a real staple to the community. I really love that he kept the sign from the old business from before him.
Walk around to the alley behind Pizzaiolo and discover the sweetest shops ever. With lively events on the first-Friday evening of every month, it’s a step back into the artistan world of commerce. Walk-in for an awesome haircut and shave at Temescal Alley Barbershop (no appointments) or enjoy one of the best crème-filled donuts you’ve ever tasted at Donut Dolly. Owned by pal Hannah Hoffman, you have not lived until you have experienced one of these delicious things.
If this isn’t enough, visit my favorite shop here: Crimson Horticultural Rarities.
The aesthetics of this place get me every. single. time. Ideal for plant lovers, I come here for all of my favorite Santa Maria Novella soaps, candles and sprays. Everything is so well-curated, that it’s a treat to visit the shop, and simply experience the place. My number one place for buying thoughtful gifts.
Don’t think this letterpress printer didn’t notice your fabulous gold-foiled cards!
The simple typography on these Swarm of Bees candles make it hard for me to use them.
I think I visit this neighborhood the least, but not for lack of things to do. The shops are great! Atomic Garden is one of my favorites. Down the street towards BART, we like to pick up food for a picnic from Market Hall and visit Mountain View Cemetery, at the top of Piedmont Avenue. I know, this may sound strange to some, but it is one of the most beautiful, well-kept places in Oakland. Originally designed by the Father of Landscape Architecture himself, Frederick Olmstead (he designed Central Park, among other notable places) — it is a lovely place to sit and contemplate the big questions while typography and history combine in marble stone.
Going down Piedmont Avenue, I have to note a few great shops there:
Next door is Neighbor (co-owned by the same women who own Good Stock, and Mercy – a vintage dress shop next door on the other side), which focuses on home and garden items. Vintage, artisan and always eclectic.
Last but not least, this may in truth be my favorite neighborhood to visit. I love walking around International Blvd., and looking at all of the vintage hand-painted signs. I find it really inspiring every time.
If you’re new to the Bay Area, a burrito at El Farolito is a must. Walk down a few blocks and finish up with some hand-made rose-petal (yes!) ice cream at Nievos Cinco de Mayo, and just take it all in.
FOR THE CREATIVE TYPES
Those visiting Oakland really must check out the Oakland Museum of California. I love their exhibits—both during the day and on every Friday night, where—rain or shine—they put on fantastic programs and offer half-off admission price to the museum.
If you find yourself around Telegraph and 23rd on the first Friday of the month, you should check out “Art Murmur”. The streets are closed off and it is art, food, music and party all in one sentence. This monthly event is huge, and you’ll never know who you’ll meet. If you’re down here, be sure to check out my pal Nat at Bloom Screen Printing.
Creative Growth at 355 24th Street is a really special place to visit working artists and to be inspired at the same time. It’s the oldest and largest art center in the world for people with disabilities—primarily developmental. Founded over 40 years ago, the center has never taught art in a formal way. They simply invite artists to come here, find your way, find your voice, and tell us your story. It’s really amazing.
Had enough city life? Many who visit us are surprised to learn that Oakland is not strictly an urban city. If you get in a car and drive 20 minutes from downtown, you can find yourself deep in the redwoods at Joaquin Miller Park. With miles and miles of hiking trails throughout, the “Sequoia Bay View Trail” is still one of my favorites.
True to almost A-Z form, I will end with an unexpected place that I love to tell people about: The Oakland Zoo. This historic park is am impressive 525-acre home to over 600 native and exotic animals. About 25 minutes from Downtown, it’s easy to navigate and makes for a nice getaway. We like to bring a picnic, and the bird’s eye view from the sky ride is a nice way to see the bay view, the trees (and the Bengal tigers).
WHERE TO STAY
This was the hardest portion of putting this together! So many places I can say to NOT stay (MacArthur Blvd., or out by the airport), and for such a large city, there aren’t that many hotel options. There is the Marriott downtown, or the fabulous Claremont Hotel in the Oakland Hills (though technically in Berkeley). It’s always worth a stay there, for sure. Enjoy the pool, relax in style, or get a coffee or cocktail in the bar, and marvel at the view of Oakland.
I think if it were me coming to visit for the first time, I would opt for the Claremont, or I would choose a neighborhood that I liked, and spend some time looking into someAir bnb options. Staying by BART (Rockridge, Downtown, Temescal, Lake Merritt, and Fruitvale stations) will be helpful, if you don’t have a car.
I hope this has been helplful, and if you come to Oakland, I hope that you love it as much as I do. If you’ve enjoyed this article, please keep in touch or follow more of my adventures on instagram (@milkfedpress). Safe Travels! xo Victoria