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Forget Everything You Think You Know About Oakland
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Forget Everything You Think You Know About Oakland

With so many things to do in Oakland—from grabbing a gourmet bite, to hiking, to picking up a sustainable garment—where should you go first? Team


9 min read

June 12, 2023

Nationally the city of Oakland, California might be known as the birthplace of the revolutionary Black Panthers or the city across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. However, there’s so much more to Oakland than its history or geographical location near a bigger city. It remains a cultural hub, full of innovation and inspiration from an incredibly diverse population.

Incorporated in 1852, the 77-square-mile city is the eighth largest city in California and more than half of its businesses are owned by people of color, including a large percentage owned by women. The city is replete with all manner of Oakland tourist attractions that everybody can enjoy. The environs of the city feature redwood forests, a volcanic park, 19 miles of coastline to the west, and verdant undulating hills to the east. This great expanse is home to 410,000 residents, a booming food scene, and the serene Lake Merritt

With so many things to do in Oakland, California the hardest decision to make is where to go first. In truth, there are plenty of great reasons to forget everything you’ve heard about this city and learn to see Oakland in a whole new way. 

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Coffee Shops

Forget Everything You Think You Know About Oakland
As the third best coffee city in the world, Oakland boasts a diverse coffee scene full of incredible gourmet drinks. 

Oakland comes in as the third-best coffee city in the U.S., trailing just behind the coffee powerhouses that are Portland and Seattle. This means one of the coolest things to do in Oakland is explore its coffee shops. Oakland’s coffee scene is thriving and only set to get better with innovative co-roasting spaces whose charge-by-the-hour model allows small businesses to get established and grow fast. In total, the city is home to over 2,000 coffee shops and counting, so it is never hard to find a quality cup of joe in Oakland.

Best Cafes in Oakland

Highwire Coffee Roasters

Highwire Coffee Roasters have become a Bay Area staple over the past several years and have their roots in Oakland. Their coffee can be found all over the city and offers bold and balanced flavors, ranging from single origin to unique blends. Coffee enthusiasts can also rest easy knowing Highwire’s beans are ethically sourced, a fact that is important for Oakland’s residents. Don’t sleep on their 4 Track Tea brand, offering delicious teas from a wide variety of styles.

Blue Bottle Coffee 

Though this shop now has franchises in major cities across the nation and the world, Blue Bottle Coffee started out in the Bay Area. in 2002 Roasting its own coffee and making its own honey at the Oakland headquarters, Blue Bottle is doing coffee its own way. One great example of Blue Bottle thinking outside the box is The Gibraltar—the company’s coffee invention. This artisanal coffee drink contains a double shot of espresso and steamed milk and is exclusively served in a warmed Gibraltar rock glass. It is now available at all of Blue Bottle Coffee’s locations. 

Timeless Coffee 

Founded in 2012, Timeless Coffee captures another side of Oakland’s culture with an all-vegan menu and has fast become an Oakland tourist attraction. From the milk used in the espresso drinks to the chocolate used in their delectable cakes, everything here is animal product–free. As such, Timeless Coffee is devoted to providing great-tasting coffee anyone can enjoy in a sustainable, ethical, and cruelty-free way. The company has been brewing phenomenal coffee from its Piedmont Avenue location since 2012 and is well worth visiting when you’re in town. Timeless Coffee has also expanded with a new location on College Avenue in Berkeley, California. 

Awaken Cafe 

Awaken Cafe sets itself apart with live music, organic food, and a cozy intimate environment perfect for community gatherings. Unlike many blossoming Oakland cafés, Awaken has decided to go WiFi-free to encourage people to have fun outside of cyberspace. To experience the best of this establishment, try a soy latte and a delicious donut with a friend.

Gourmet Cuisine

Forget Everything You Think You Know About Oakland
Oakland has become a culinary destination. From authentic tacos, to sumptuous Caribbean fare, to hearty comfort food, the city has you covered.

In truth, one of the coolest things to do in Oakland, California is eat out at one of its many new innovative eateries. Oakland and Berkeley alike are fast becoming new hubs of high-end dining in the Bay Area. Oakland in recent years has become a burgeoning California foodie destination thanks to it’s wide diversity of tasty offerings from every kind of cuisine imaginable. To wit, Oakland is home to a vibrant range of flavorful eateries including casual hole-in-the-wall spots, groundbreaking experimental restaurants, and high-end culinary establishments. 

Best Restaurants in Oakland

Kingston 11 Cuisine

Craving Caribbean food? Look no further than Kingston 11. From fried plantains with black bean sauce to roasted sweet potato wedges with lemongrass sauce, this local favorite has starters figured out. Also, try the oxtail stew, jerk chicken, or black pepper tofu for a taste of authentic Jamaican cuisine.


Beet salad dotted with goat cheese, quinoa-squash salad featuring feta and arugula, smoked trout endive salad with aïoli and orange slices. These are just a selection of the small yet sinfully delightful meals you can order at Mua. Mua delivers delicate small plates in a modernist industrial-chic warehouse setting, perfect for a cozy date night or even large-group get-togethers.

Swan’s Market

If you are looking for variety, Swan's Market has you covered. Built in 1917, this historic marketplace has become the go-to gourmet food court in Oakland. Take a seat at one of the many hardwood tables and take your pick of tacos, oysters, and sushi. One of the market’s highlights is Cosecha, whose made-from-scratch kitchen pumps out handmade tortillas, crimini mushroom with Oaxacan cheese quesadillas, pork belly tacos with pickled onions, queso fundido, and a host of other options. 

The Cook and Her Farmer

Another popular spot is The Cook and Her Farmer, an oyster bar specializing in coastal-inspired cuisine with Southern roots. A midday snack of house-made pickles, avocado toast with shallots and arugula, or Kennebec fries with fresh garlic and parsley will give you the energy to conquer your day. The menu is subject to change, so go for a meal frequently to see what new meals are available, or stick to their tried-and-true shucked oysters.

Bakesale Betty

Widely considered the best fried-chicken restaurant in Oakland, Bakesale Betty is a cult classic. While the Telegraph Avenue location is only open Thursday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., their famous buttermilk fried chicken and coleslaw sandwiches consistently sell out by noon, so make sure to get there early. Grab an apple pie while you are there to achieve the full experience.

Cholita Linda 

Cholita Linda arguably has the best tacos in the East Bay. From soft yet firm tortillas to glorious cabbage slaw and creamy Baja crema, this restaurant gets every detail right. Whether you choose the pollo al pastor, carnitas, or tofu tacos, you will not be disappointed, especially if you pair these affordable delicacies with refreshing agua fresca.

Curry Up Now 

Curry Up Now is your quintessential Indian restaurant, the kind that’s generous with portions but doesn’t compromise on quality. They offer a unique take on Indian cuisine by focusing on the diversity and quality of ingredients in every dish. Located in Uptown Oakland, Curry Up Now aims to serve the best in innovative, tasty, and healthy Indian street fare. Their menu features vegan and gluten-free options and also includes some specialty items, including naan “pizza” with caramelized onions, tacos with an Indian twist, and even tikka masala dipped fried ravioli.

Things to do in Oakland, California

Forget Everything You Think You Know About Oakland
Concert venues, outdoor recreation, and entertainment spots are scattered throughout Oakland, making it a major East Bay destination.

Oakland has also seen something of a rebirth in the entertainment scene and offers plenty of beautiful concert venues, natural landmarks, and fun-filled arcades perfect for the whole family. From inclusive wrestling to live music, there are many Oakland entertainment options for the whole family can enjoy. If you’re wondering what to do in Oakland, these highlights are a good place to start.  

Oakland’s Entertainment Highlights 

Catch a Concert

Next time you’re in Oakland, we highly recommend a visit to the Fox Oakland Theater. Built-in 1928 and renovated in 2009, this iconic Middle-Eastern-themed theater hosts some of the Bay’s best musical artists and has become a hub for the live music scene. For a real treat, upgrade to the Telegraph Room VIP access for complimentary hors d’oeuvres, a private entrance, and preferred viewing balconies with unrivaled views of the show below. All of this makes the Fox Theater easily one of the main cool places in Oakland you definitely need to see. 

Explore Natural Wonders 

A popular Oakland activity for locals and visitors alike is to take advantage of Oakland’s bountiful natural sites. Sibley Volcanic Preserve, one of the East Bay Regional Park District’s oldest parks, and go on a serene hike through fields of wildflowers rolling green hills. Alternatively, head over to Lake Merritt for a relaxing ride on a gondola, a visit to the Oakland Museum of California, or a nice stroll. The lake is surrounded by a three-and-a-half-mile paved path, and this recreational space is a great place to go if you’re looking for free things to do in Oakland. You could easily spend a couple of hours at this Oakland natural landmark walking, enjoying a picnic, birdwatching, or just chilling out and watching time go by.

Recreational Delights

Try your luck at bocce, bowling, and fun arcade games at Plank, a restaurant and arcade in Jack London Square. This location is ideal for large parties, date nights, or a girls' night out. If alternative shopping are more your thing, stop by the Hive, a shopping, gathering, working, and living space located in Uptown not far from Chinatown. This complex is home to alternative shopping options, including Numi Tea, Impact Hub Oakland, Firebrand Artisan Breads (the only wood-fire brick oven bakery in the Bay Area), and many other interesting businesses that differ from your standard mall franchises.

Shopping in Oakland

Forget Everything You Think You Know About Oakland
Plenty of possibilities lie between the quaint homes and the towering office buildings in Oakland's neighborhoods. Whether you are in search of a greeting card or a bouquet of flowers, the city has all of the necessities and more.

Oakland is also a great place for shopping aficionados thanks to its many commercial centers and its alluring uptown shopping district. The city stands apart for the variety of shopping options, but also for a variety of ‘alternative’ shopping venues that emphasize sustainable and responsible consumership with a social mission. Because of all this, shopping is a great thing to do in Oakland for both visitors and locals alike. Here’s where to go in Oakland for some of the best shopping this side of the Bay Area.  

Oakland’s Shopping Go-Tos 


One of Oakland’s hidden gems, the Temescal neighborhood is filled with all sorts of intriguing alleyways and passages filled with nifty little stores to explore. This area was once occupied by horse stables but is now one of Oakland’s boutique shopping hubs. Filled with antique stores, florists, apothecaries, gourmet restaurants, high-end coffee shops, and vibrant community spaces, every charming inch of this area has something cool to see.

Good Neighbor

No visit to Oakland would be complete without a stopover at Good Neighbor, a beautifully eclectic store on Piedmont Avenue that tops the list of cool places in Oakland. Stocked with scented candles, organic skincare products, and premier chocolate, this colorfully decorated venue is a perfect encapsulation of Oakland’s alternative shopping scene. It is the opposite of generic in basically every way, and that’s what makes it so cool. Don’t let its small size fool you; this store offers a wide array of quality bespoke handmade items and captures the creative essence of East Bay in a way few other places do.

Rockridge Market Hall

This is Oakland’s main market for the finest in meats, pasta, breads, and produce and it easily makes the list of cool places in Oakland for several reasons. Market Hall is set up like a traditional marketplace that is partially open to the sidewalk. Each stall is served by local Oakland businesses that provide the highest quality in all manner of delectable foodstuffs. All of this makes shopping at Market Hall one of the fun things to do in Oakland, CA for foodies that appreciate the finer stuff. 

Grab a cup of joe from Highwire Coffee Roasters, stop by the bakery for some sumptuous and fresh baked goods, and browse the market’s huge selection of fine cheeses, charcuterie, organic veggies, and so much more. Rockridge Market Hall is also conveniently located just across the steet from Rockridge BART station, served by the yellow line, so it’s also quite accessible.

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