18 Defining Intersections
From Eastmont, Maxwell Park and Fruitvale to Chinatown, Grand Lake and West Grand, Oakland is a juncture of culture, history, personalities and commerce, a busy and buzzing crossroads of societal and entrepreneurial diversity. Oakland is far from a cookie-cutter version of modern-day, soulless suburbia, impersonal big-box stores and shiny SUVs. Oakland has a character all its own, because it’s populated with pockets of historic residential and commercial neighborhoods full of charming bungalows and Victorians, artists’ studios, hip wine bars, upscale alehouses, great restaurants, chic boutiques, cultural institutions, open spaces and more. To best get a grasp on what constitutes genuine Oakland-ness, the editors of Oakland Magazine travel to 18 quintessential intersections to sum up the concept, letting specific neighborhoods and their attractions—from shops and restaurants to architecture and colorful characters—be the guiding force in exploring the corners of an often-disrespected but exciting and vibrant city.
College and Claremont Avenues
There’s a decidedly Euro feel where College and Claremont crisscross, thanks to tiny specialty shops and restaurants both within and aside the multistory apartment and office buildings that line the streets leading toward Cal and the hills. Cole Coffee, with a plethora of outdoor bistro tables, is ground zero for chillin’ in the tree-shaded stretch just shy of the Oakland-Berkeley border, where a corner market, flower shop, confectioner, wine store and butcher shop are slipped in next to La Farine, Wood Tavern, boutiques and, just steps away, Chinese, Burmese and Indian cuisine. A decidedly less-food-oriented retail flavor occurs on the other side of Claremont (toward Rockridge BART) in a section populated by art galleries, furniture and rug stores, and shoe and dress shops, although the Claremont Diner and The Graduate seem right at home among nail shops and hair salons. Seasoned Oakland athletes know this corner well, turning to Hank & Frank Bicycles for their two-wheel jones and Transports for their running and swimming needs.
40th Street and Piedmont Avenue
Piedmont Avenue is a shopping-and-dining gem through and through, so picking one quintessential corner isn’t easy, but if pressed, the honor might have to go to the crossing at 40th Street. Why? Well, once visitors leave their cars in the super-convenient public lot off 40th Street, they are free to shop and eat to their hearts’ content with an amazing array of choices just steps away. Dine at César or Zatis Restaurant, grab some amazing coffee at Gaylord’s Café up the street, pick up a toasty treat at Posh Bagel, get some wine advice at Vino!, step into some new shoes at A Step Forward or—for anything else still necessary after all that—drop into the Piedmont Grocery Company.
51st Street and Telegraph Avenue
A major demarcation of the Temescal, this intersection is a hotbed of good eating, the au courant spots being hipster-mobbed Bakesale Betty (say “hey” to blue wig–clad Aussie Alison Barakat) and Pizzaiola (with comfy outside benches for the weary). But don’t overlook longtimers Genova Delicatessen & Ravioli Factory, Restaurante Doña Tomàs, S & S Seafood, Taqueria Pico Paco and Tanjia. Independent businesses—among them the Shaver and Cutlery Shop, Scout, Articlepract, Cosmic Chocolate, Sagrada, It’s Your Move and the Atelier School of Classical Realism, as well as local salons, tattoo shops, other retailers and the Temescal Farmers Market—contribute to a healthy commercial vibe. Named for the creek bisecting it and possibly the Aztec word for “sweathouse,” the Temescal’s fruit-orchard past morphed into a major nexus of transportation and communication. Today’s leafy enclave mixes cottages, bungalows, condos and apartment buildings—a winning and affordable combo that appeals to diverse residents, including rich and poor, black and white, Ethiopian and Eritrean, Korean, straight and gay.
Mountain Boulevard and Antioch Court
On any given sunny morning, the benches are full outside Royal Ground, Peet’s, Noah’s Bagels and Starbucks in this bustling corner that anchors the social and shopping life of Montclair Village. More edibles abound just steps away, where mom-and-pops go head-to-head with chain outlets—Mexican fare at Las Camadres, La Salsa and Aguavera; fruit smoothies at Juice Appeal and Jamba Juice; sandwiches at Grinders and A.G. Ferrari; ice cream and frozen yogurt at the Montclair Malt Shop; chocolates at XOX Truffles and Le BonBon. This is the crucial crossroads for Montclarians on their way to bend over backwards at Mountain Yoga; shop for groceries at Safeway, clothes at McCallou’s or Pt. Reyes Blue at Farmstead Cheeses & Wines; get photos printed at Montclair 1-Hour Photo or Sarber’s Cameras; return a DVD to Movie Express or Blockbuster; stroll the Sunday farmers market; or play softball or tennis in the public park just steps away from the historic Julia Morgan–designed Hansel and Gretel–style Montclair firehouse, one of the last remnants of a local history studded with such names as Peralta, Thorn and Hays.
Grand and Lake Park Avenues
Nothing can eclipse the neon grandeur of the beloved Grand Lake Theater in its pivotal position a stone’s throw (albeit a hefty heave across Splash Pad Park and elevated Interstate 580) from Lake Merritt. But the long rainbow-colored mural along the Santa Clara Avenue freeway onramp bordering Lakeview Elementary School visually holds its own, as does the Saturday farmers market. And nook-and-cranny establishments detail the neighborhood’s character, from the iconic Kwik Way drive-inn façade to Gelato Firenze and the Grand Lake Smoke Shop abutting the Day of the Dead Café. Across Grand Avenue, the Mimosa Café is tucked in an alcove beyond the Upaya Center for Well Being. Ethnic restaurants abound up both sides of Grand; Zza’s Enoteca adds a splash of wine-bar culture on the far side of MacArthur Boulevard; and another world, complete with a new Trader Joe’s, awaits around the bend on Lakeshore Boulevard.
14th Street and Broadway
If Oakland has a heart, it very well could be this juncture. The seat of municipal government is here, and Oakland City Hall is an iconic Beaux Arts–style beaut for which President William H. Taft himself laid the cornerstone, according to reports from the Oakland History Room of the Oakland Public Library, which further characterizes the wedding cake–like building as “the first government building designed as a skyscraper and the tallest building West of the Mississippi when completed in 1914.” The historic landmark fronts the Oakland oak tree, reportedly transplanted from Mosswood Park in 1917 to honor Jack London. Cafes and bistros (Palapas, Saigon Restaurant, Bistro Burger), coffee shops (Tully’s Café, The Rising Loafer Café & Bakery) and small businesses (Sankofa, Leila Bell Flowers) dot the periphery of the surrounding Frank Ogawa Plaza, but mostly this is home to office space. Chainster drugstores Rite Aid and Walgreens are near, but where to go to squander a lunch hour is De Lauer’s Super News Stand.
Broadway and Grand Avenue
Hipsters and downtown working stiffs collide at Broadway and Grand in Uptown, once a Key Route System transit hub and a major shopping Mecca with the likes of Breuners Furniture Store and I. Magin (the “emerald gems,” says East Bay Then and Now). The man of the moment here is loquacious restaurateur Rick Mitchell who runs the wildly popular Belgian-style Luka’s Taproom & Lounge (site of the former Hof-Brau Family Restaurant) and the sleek Franklin Square Wine Bar (“Drink Wine. Be Square.”), a neighbor to Louisiana Fried Chicken, Haos Chinese Kitchen and La Bonita Taqueria. Broadway Grand high-rise sales offices hint of coming-sooners Ozumo and Picán, but so far, Starbucks is the lone operator. Vo’s, the onetime Vietnamese restaurant titan, beckons nearby amid empty storefronts, chaotic Dan F. Webb Books, Industrielle and two Art Murmurers—Front Gallery and Mercury 20 Gallery. Past the towering office buildings lies one of Oakland’s finest landmarks, the historic Paramount Theatre, a 1930s Timothy L. Pflueger–designed Art Deco movie palace, home of the Oakland East Bay Symphony.
19th Street and Telegraph Avenue
This crossroads is up and coming in a big way, and if patrons sit for a cocktail at the amazing new Flora (the Uptown outpost of Doña Tomàs’ Thomas Schnetz and Donna Savitsky), they can look out the large windows at the picturesque scene that includes the soon-to-open restored Fox Theater, an architectural gem with unique Middle Eastern design motifs that opened as a 3,800-seat movie palace in 1928. For now, locals can dine indulgently at Flora, enjoy music at the Uptown nightclub, scale the rocks at the new Great Western Power Company indoor climbing gym or just hang with friends at the nearby eclectic watering hole Café Van Kleef. But more excitement is building right around the corner; look for big changes as construction is completed and restaurants move into the new 665-unit Uptown development sprawled over four city blocks.
Washington and Ninth Streets
The brick-lined streets around this junction might just as well have been paved with gold for all the changes this area has seen recently. The district, known as Old Oakland—Oakland’s original 19th-century downtown, where Victorian hotels sprang up in the 1870s after the establishment of a Central Pacific Railroad terminus on Seventh Street—has become a real destination for locals and those from farther afield. With its revitalization has come a real sense of enthusiasm and excitement for how hip and vibrant Oakland can be. The BART-accessible area boasts two restaurants with San Francisco roots, Levende and B Restaurant and Bar, as well as new standouts like the Belgian-beer inspired Trappist, the Mexican small-plate emporium Tamarindo and the cool-vibe Air Lounge, as well as famous old-timers such as Ratto’s International Market. There are too many more to count, but rest assured, the new Old Oakland is worth exploring.
Second and Washington Streets
Jack London Square
This Jack London Square intersection boasts some heavy hitters within walking distance—one (Yoshi’s) so cool that the city across the Bay just had to have one, too. Beyond that Oakland jazz institution, guests to the area can sample delights from newcomers Ghazal Indian Cuisine and Cocina Poblana or fall back on such old favorites as The Fat Lady and Tony Roma’s. After-dinner options include a movie at the Jack London Cinema, pool and billiards at Kimball’s Carnival and perusal of new artwork at Pro Arts and Swarm Gallery. A stroll to the waterfront—where bits of history from California author Jack London’s colorful past still exist—offers some great views of the port and the bay.
Eighth and Franklin Streets
The Pacific Renaissance Plaza, on Ninth Street, is the modern mixed-use cultural nucleus of Oakland’s Chinatown, what with its shops, restaurants, underground parking garage, the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and the Asian branch of the Oakland Public Library. Ninth and Franklin is special because red lights simultaneously stop traffic in all directions, allowing pedestrians to freestyle out of the crosswalks and through the box. But the day-to-day heart of the fifth-largest Chinatown in the United States beats closer to this intersection, where longtime residents, recent Asian immigrants and aspiring cooks shop for everything from vegetables, leafy greens and fruits from the old countries to rice and peanut oil in bulk, exotic sauces and spices, live seafood and chilled cuttlefish, and woks and utensils. All of the above, plus jewelry and barbecued duck, pork buns and Chinese pastries abound in the strip of tourist-free stores with such names as Yet Sun, Hong Kee, New Sang Chong, Sam Yick and King of Grocery.
Park Boulevard and East 18th Street
Neither the auto parts store parking lot nor the fast-food fried-chicken franchise make compelling cornerstones at the actual intersection where the Peralta Heights and Clinton Park neighborhoods conjoin at the south end of Lake Merritt (an area once called Brooklyn). But from the idiosyncratic and indispensable Parkway Speakeasy Theater to the nearly lakeside (and not so long ago nearly extinct) Merritt Bakery (next door to a grandiosely remodeled Lucky supermarket), these apartment-building-studded blocks bristle with character. The Lakeside Lounge and Baggy’s By the Lake hang in there as a-beer-and-a-shot hangouts, keeping gentrification at bay, while just east of the Parkway, with its pizza, brew, wine and couches, the New Earth Artists Café mixes some African-American bohemianism into the spicy multicultural mix of this always-in-transition crossroads.
MacArthur Boulevard and 35th Avenue
As the Oakland hills slope down into flatlands, the Laurel commercial district rises up in a fascinating, motley mix of cultures. The original Farmer Joe’s Marketplace gives health-conscious organic gravitas to the district’s literal gateway, with venerable Glenn’s Hot Dogs keeping one foot-long in the ’50s and ’60s just across the street and, cattycorner, the new Laurel Lofts heralding 21st-century development. But working east toward the Laurel Bookstore, in the vicinity of Loma Vista Avenue, one encounters the truly variegated flavors of the neighborhood. Tammy’s Bible Bookstore may be gone (though its sign was still hanging in late May), but the commercial buildings around the Berkeley-style Full House Café (for breakfast and lunch) and World Ground Café (for hanging out) are occupied by nail and tattoo parlors, Superior Martial Arts, Kids ’N Dance Theater Arts, Zhi Dao Guan—The Taoist Center, Victory Outreach (in a former movie theater), a storefront psychic and the wonderfully named Acme Music.
MacArthur Boulevard and Fruitvale Avenue
This corner defines the Dimond District, where the hills and flats become one (or the “slants,” according to an Oakland Tribune article) in a quaint neighborhood named for Hugh Dimond, a Gold Rusher and onetime district landowner. Tucked into Sausal Creek Canyon with a park, public library, historic buildings and a revitalized commercial district thanks largely to impressive newcomer Farmer Joe’s (aka Big Joe’s), the multicultural Dimond is where the working class and gentry intermingle. Residents can sip a hibiscus freeze at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, savor a 4-inch-tall chocolate cupcake at La Farine, talk meat cuts with butchers at Wayland’s Meat and, around the corner, shop naturally for Fluffy and Fido at Paws & Claws. It’s also the kind of nabe where the usual chains anchor a quirky mix of indie nail salons, greasy spoons, to-go joints and discount beauty suppliers. The ¼ LB Giant Burger makes a good greaser, but don’t leave the Dimond without snagging a beer and a game of pool at dark-and-funky Spoon’s Lounge.
Park Boulevard and Glenfield Avenue
Residents of the Glenview District have seen a charming, little mom-and-pop district spring up around the juncture of Park Boulevard and Glenfield Avenue, and as more businesses come in, they find that they don’t have to travel far for fun and function: An amazing amount of useful and interesting shops and restaurants abound in this retail-commercial district of only a few blocks. In terms of goods and services, natives and visitors can find what they need when they need it for hearth and home at Cheshire Cat Clinic, Wags and Whiskers, True Value Hardware, Radio Shack, Genview Lock and Key and Savemore Market. After all that hustle and bustle, locals love to grab a bite to eat at the innovative Bellanico, the sunny Blackberry Bistro, the comforting Diggery Inn or the pitcher-of-margaritas-fun of Compadres Bar and Grill before taking the short walk back to the single-family bungalows from the 1920s and ’30s that dominate the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
East 12th Street and Fruitvale Avenue
The 2003 rise of Fruitvale Village as a mixed-use transit-hub development at the Fruitvale BART station might be less commercially successful than originally envisioned, but the presence of the César E. Chávez Branch Library and La Clinica de la Raza evidence the community importance of the gold-and-terra cotta, modern-Spanish-style transit village with its oft-bustling mall-like central plaza. In the surrounding blocks, out on Fruitvale Avenue and through the gateway arches, along Avenida de la Fuente and past the colorful Public Market to International Boulevard, such old iconic businesses as the Golden Hours bar, Guadalajara Restaurant and the tiny El Rebozo Blanco taqueria are tucked in amidst check-cashing operations and discount and surplus stores. Rows of small, timeworn Victorians still line San Leandro Boulevard near the railroad tracks. Always lively, the largely Latino neighborhood, known as Oakland’s “second downtown” in the 1920s, blossoms especially during the annual Cinco de Mayo Festvial.
San Leandro Street and 71st Avenue
OK, it might not be the most glamorous of crossroads, and the only restaurant around is the Oakland branch of Doug’s Barbecue, but this intersection serves a very important purpose nonetheless. Think of this as the gateway to Oakland for the thousands who travel here on BART or Amtrak (a few blocks down on 73rd Avenue) throughout the year to visit the Oracle Arena or McAfee Coliseum where they can see Oakland Raiders football, Golden State Warriors basketball and Oakland Athletics baseball. Oh yeah, and then there are all the crazy music fans in concert T-shirts who make the trek to these venues for mega-concerts—they’re hard to miss as they board BART after the show, often still singing along. Moreover, the complex is just a long Jamarcus Russell pass or Jack Cust home-run blast from Oakland International Airport and Arrowhead Marsh (in Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline), perfectly Oakland symbols of arrival and renewal.