In Oakland, A Different Narrative

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It took three visits to San Francisco before I finally made it over the bridge to Oakland. Did I like it? Absolutely! It’s a great city with fantastic food.

But what I found most interesting in Oakland was how different the narrative felt. Go to most major cities in the U.S., learn about their history, and they’ll give you a cast of white players telling white stories, with people of color added mostly as afterthoughts.

Oakland is one of the few U.S. cities I’ve visited that doesn’t have a white narrative. It’s an incredibly diverse city — today it’s almost evenly divided between whites, blacks, and Hispanics with a sizable Asian population as well. Beyond that, it’s a city where the interaction is diverse (unlike somewhere like Boston, which is diverse on paper but is surprisingly segregated even today).

This reverberated again and again as I chatted with small business owners, talked to local activists at an event for women of color, and explored the history of Oakland as a city.

Oakland Museum of California

Nowhere exemplified this more than the excellent Oakland Museum of California, which I absolutely loved.

In many ways, California is like a microcosm of the United States. It’s built on immigrants, as well as American transplants from further east, and it has similar demographics to the country as a whole.

The Oakland Museum of California focuses on telling stories about Californians: the Japanese-Americans who survived internment camps, the immigrants from Latin America who came searching for a better life, and Oakland’s black social justice warriors, including the Black Panthers. These stories are put front and center.

Front and center. Not relegated to an “ethnic corner” like so many museums today.

Oakland Museum of CaliforniaOakland Museum of California

There was even a news section on Donald Trump’s statements about banning Muslims from the United States and how this related to the Japanese internment camps.

My favorite sections were where people could write their own memories, hopes, and dreams on post-its. Most people had thoughtful things to say.

Oakland Museum of California

What do you remember about the 60s and early 70s?

“Mom smoking in the car with the windows rolled up and me standing (not sitting) in the front seat!”

“We lost Malcolm X.”

“REALLY good hair, REALLY bad hair, ROCK N ROLL.”

“Not being able to rent an apartment when they saw us as Mexican.”

Oakland Museum of California

What actions will you take to support your point of view on the refugee crisis?

“Learn, listen, be active, VOTE.”

“Every time I hear misconceptions, I will raise my voice and explain the real landscape of an issue.”

“Learn more about how I can help.”

Oakland Museum of California

What do you hope for the future?

2016: “Ziggy Stardust went home to Mars.” “Islamophobia ends!!!”

2019: “Transgender people will have equal rights.” “TIBET WILL BE FREE.”

2021: “Cure for Alzheimer’s discovered.” “An actual hot tub time machine!”

As you can see, as a lifelong liberal, I was in heaven at this museum. And the sections on art, history, and ecology of California were fascinating as well. Oh, and I should probably mention that there’s a marijuana exhibit coming soon…

Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

On Friday nights, the museum has half priced admission and the open area turns into a giant party for all ages! There are food trucks, drinks, and music.

And what I loved most is that the music of choice was hip-hop — and yet you saw families dancing with kids of all ages.

I don’t think I have EVER seen families with kids dancing to hip-hop at a museum event. Ever. It made me so happy to be in a city where hip-hop is considered family-friendly!

Dancing at Oakland Museum of California

After the hip-hop ended, the music shifted to Latin dance — and the musician turned into a giant zumba session!

The Food Scene

Oh, and the food scene is Oakland is crazy. In the best way. I previously wrote about the best things I ate in California, but here are a few other Oakland treats I loved:

Pican Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes with hollandaise and smoked salmon at Picán.

Blue Bottle Coffee

Great coffee and a chia pudding at Blue Bottle Coffee.

Clam Bomba Oakland

This bowl of rice and clams at Shakewell.

Calavera Bar

Tequila doesn’t always have to be in the form of “bad decision” shots — check out the amazing tequila selection at Calavera! The salt cloud margarita is amazing.

Oakland Cheese Curds

Deep fried cheese curds on a Savor Oakland Food Tour. Some of the staff are longtime Adventurous Kate readers; be sure to tell them I sent you!

Oakland Wine Tating

Oakland has an urban wine trail and you can do wine tasting all over the city. I particularly enjoyed the wines, meats, and cheeses at a place called Campovida.


The Takeaway

It’s not easy to get to know a city in just two days — even harder when you’re on an organized press trip where the point is exploring the culinary scene. But what I discovered in Oakland was intriguing enough that I’m eager to return and peel back more of its urban layers.

If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, I highly recommend you set aside a day for Oakland, if only to go to the Oakland Museum of California and get an awesome lunch or dinner. It’s so different from San Francisco and well worth your time!

Essential Info: In Oakland I stayed at the Oakland City Center Marriott, which was in a convenient location and got the job done. Pretty standard, not too exciting, but very comfortable. Ask for a room with a view of San Francisco. Doubles from $189. Find more hotels in Oakland here.

Admission to the Oakland Museum of California is $15.95 for adults, $10.95 for seniors and students, $6.95 for ages 9-17, and free for children 8 and under. Prices are half off on Friday nights, 5-9 PM, which is when the museum also celebrates Friday Nights at OMCA.

Savor Oakland’s Jack London Square Food Tour costs $55 for three hours. They also have a Chinatown food tour for $59.

The best way to get around Oakland (and San Francisco) is to use a combination of public transit and Uber. (New to Uber? Get a free ride up to $15 with the promo code 9x41m.) Public transit is good in some neighborhoods but poor in others, and Uber will save you a lot of headaches.

I was hosted in California as part of a campaign with Visit California. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Oakland? What did you think?

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31 thoughts on “In Oakland, A Different Narrative”

  1. Wow! I had never really given a second thought to Oakland, but it looks like an awesome place to visit. It is great to hear how inclusive it is of its varied ethnic history, and I appreciate the fact that you pointed it out.

  2. When I was in San Francisco I was so worried with trying to see the city that it didn’t even occur to me to visit Oakland. That museum looks like one of the best museums I could go to. I especially love the wall of memories and hopes for the future. You picked out some great samples. 🙂

  3. Thank you for featuring my beautiful hometown – and for giving me some ideas of where to eat next time I return home!

  4. Growing up in SF, Oakland always had a stigma around it as being too dangerous. Now that I live closer in the East Bay, it has become one of my favorite cities to explore (and eat my way through). Glad you had a good visit!

  5. Hey Kate,

    I’m off up to San Francisco for a wedding later this year, so I’m definitely going to make the trip over to Oakland now!

    Honestly, it’s not a place I’ve ever thought of going. When I lived in LA there were…stigma’s about Oakland from the locals down there (albeit they’re 5 hours away from the place), so it was always fed to me as a place to drive through and not experience.

    I think being an English San Diego Chargers fan might have had an influence there too. The media paints the city as it does it’s football fans, so it slowly get’s ingrained into you! But if they did that for Manchester, England, we’d never have any tourism at all. It’s funny when you look at it from the other side.

    Thanks for the great share; time for me to go and pack my back for Toulouse!


    1. True. I even had a stigma against visiting Liverpool for a long time — and I eventually realized that was because I had read a memoir that took place there during the 1970s. It was a different world and a very different city back then.

  6. Dear Kate,
    I am now planning to make a visit in Oakland by reading your article. You really draw a nice picture of Oakland’s culture. Great work.

  7. Oakland’s great! Last time I went to the Bay Area, I spent nearly the whole time in Oakland with a local photographer who is very involved with the food and drink scene there. I encourage anyone who visits OAK to check out her site for tips of where to go and what to eat/drink, she is really ‘in the know’:

  8. Thanks for a thoughtful post about Oakland, Kate. You can see by the comments here the reputation my beloved city has, and articles like this help reduce that stigma and show off all the amazing things happening. Very glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Great post! I grew up not far from Oakland but have never spent much time there. Now I’m feeling inspired to visit, especially the museum!

  10. Hi Kate,

    I am a big fan of your blog. I think what you’re doing is amazing and I aspire to travel like you someday (soon hopefully!). I live in Oakland, am from the Bay Area, and just felt like I had to comment on a few things about it so that you and your readers are aware.

    Oakland has been being gentrified at a rapid rate over the past 3 years. People are being evicted left and right so that tech companies and developers can move in. A state of emergency was actually called earlier this month because of the amount of people being displaced. ( Rents have tripled and quadrupled over the past couple of years. Our mayor does not care about the community at ALL. She has welcomed the tech companies with open arms and completely neglected Oakland and it’s residents in the process.

    I know that people will travel here and I am just urging them to be aware of the state that Oakland is in. Please try to only shop with actual long standing businesses. The last picture you have in your post is in front of a mass development called The Hive which is owned by a company called Signature Developing Group that is buying everything in the area and converting it into high end condos and other developments. I live literally two blocks from there and have seen them completely gentrify that entire area and not take any responsibility for themselves or the damage that they are doing.

    And lastly, please do not take Uber. They have a huge part in the over development of Oakland, gentrification, and tech wave that has ruined the amazing place that Oakland was. If you really want to see what it’s like in Oakland take Bart, take a bus, take a cab but please do not take Uber. Here’s an article describing part of that from when they moved their headquarters to Oakland:

    I have been here for years and I love Oakland, just not what it has turned into. Again, I really do love your blog and all that you do. I hope that you do not take this personally because it is not about you. Just need for people to be aware of the actual state that Oakland is in and be conscious of that while visiting.


    1. Thanks very much for sharing, Anna.

      I actually did write in more depth about gentrification in San Francisco and how it’s pushed out to Oakland, but I didn’t think it fit with the piece and I deleted it. San Francisco’s gentrification is at truly frightening levels, and of course it affects the surrounding communities like Oakland as well.

      Shopping local and supporting small businesses is one of the ways to keep the maximum amount of money in locals’ pockets, no matter where you travel.

  11. Wow did you delete my post? I’m really hoping that you didn’t and are not silencing members of a community that you’re are visiting. That’s really disappointing and not respectful. Especially when you ask for people’s opinions.

    1. Anna, if you include multiple links in a comment, as you did, it’s automatically sent to the spam filter. I had to rescue your comment manually. It’s appearing in the post now.

      I’m busy right now, but I’ll be responding to comments once I have time.

      1. Hi Kate,
        I didn’t see it posted an hour after I had posted it so I commented. Not sure why it did not show up the first time (maybe because there’s a link in it?) since I only made one comment. I really appreciate that you put it back up and your reply.
        Thank you! Interested to hear ehat your comments are when you get a chance.

        1. Of course. I actually had my nails in tinfoil at the salon when you made that comment originally.

          But also keep in mind that I’m not glued to my computer every hour of every day. I need to make sure I have a life outside of work, too!

  12. Glad you enjoyed Oakland! I was the one that gave you suggestion for the ramen restaurant in Oakland. Btw, if you want to see families and people of all ages enjoying hip hop, just go to First Fridays at the Brooklyn Museum or at the Studio Museum of Harlem. It’s not an uncommon sight at all!

  13. I used to live in Oakland before I started this chapter of my life – living abroad. If I set up a permanent homebase someday, it’s definitely on the list…. if only it weren’t so damn expensive!

  14. Cheers! Thank you for sharing your love for Oakland. It truly is a wonderful city. If you get a chance you should also explore the craft beer scene and do a beer tour! There are several microbreweries in Oakland and the surrounding cities of Alameda, Berkeley and San Leandro. We have awesome beer gardens and beer pubs. You can even brew your own beer at Diving Dog Brewhouse. If you want to do a beer tour I recommend Whole Brew World – Bay Area Brewery Tours. You get to go to 3 different breweries and it includes all of your beer tastings! Did you know Oakland was the beer hub of the west coast before prohibition? Lots of history in this great city.

  15. Let us know if you ever make it back to Oaktown, we’ll take you on a beer tour! Loved your write up. Have lived here more than 4 years yet never been to the Oakland Museum of California… time to change that!

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