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The low down on our Oak-Town

Michael Winkler

Though Berkeley and San Francisco have a lot to offer the young Mills woman, so does Oakland. Before you pack onto the shuttle heading to Berkeley or go to BART for the City, check out our handy Oakland neighborhood guide.


Just down the street from Mills, the Laurel District is definitely close enough for a quick trip off campus. Just up the hill on MacArthur you can find a good place to stop for some groceries at Lucky. Across the street from Lucky is Laurel House of Produce, with essential Asian imports, cheap veggies and the friendliest grocers in town. Nearby, Farmer Joe’s offers fresh, organic produce too.

For those students who can’t seem to focus in their rooms or in the library, the Laurel has the World Ground Café. This place has free WiFi, comfortable seating and tasty snacks. With their selection of salads, sandwiches and plenty of drinks to caffeinate you, World Ground Café is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

One more business to empty our poor college student pockets in is Mizaan, a boutique with a mix of simple dresses and tops and some awesome jackets and bags.

Don’t miss: world class Cambodian dining at Phnom Penh, and for the 21-and-over set, check out Velvet, the Laurel’s neighborhood queer bar for women. Both are on MacArthur Blvd.


This neighborhood is located in the northern part of Oakland. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and some of the beautiful architecture can attest to that. But it also has some great places for the modern college student to enjoy.

Once the Tea Shop and Founders meals start to get a little tiring (and they will) it’s good to mix things up a bit and try something a little different for dinner. Temescal has large Ethiopian, Eritrean and Korean populations, which translates to some awesome restaurant choices.

A unique business in this area is Manifesto Bicycles, a place that “promotes customization, recycling and the spread of urban bike culture” and literally has zero negative Yelp reviews. The shop sells new bikes as well as recycled ones and they even offer repair services. This place is community-oriented and sells some awesome handmade products; it’s a great local business to give your money to.

Bakesale Betty’s, at 51st and Telegraph, is a heavenly bakery and cafe and a neighborhood favorite, perhaps due to the adorable ironing board tables on the sidewalk.

Downtown Oakland:

Although it still looks like a ghost town on Sunday afternoons, downtown Oakland is experiencing a bit of a revival with new housing, new restaurants and bars. Two micro-neighborhoods, Jack London Square and Old Oakland, offer the best possibilities for fun.

Jack London Square sits right on the waterfront and the plaza, filled with benches and flowerpots, is a great people watching spot.

There are often free festivals and concerts on holidays but with a nine-screen movie theater, the Jack London Stadium 9, a huge Barnes and Noble outpost and one of the best jazz clubs in the bay area, Yoshi’s, the square is always entertaining. Yoshi’s boasts world-class, intimate jazz shows nearly seven nights a week at usually less than twenty dollars a head.

The inexpensive ferries leaving from Jack London Square take passengers to the Ferry Building market place, an epicurean paradise in downtown San Francisco or to the AT&T ball park to watch the Giants lose (probably). On weekends, a ferry delivers hikers and nature enthusiasts to Angel Island, a former immigration station that offers amazing views, excellent bike paths and even campsites.

Old Oakland is a collection of re-vamped Victorians that now house chic restaurants, boutiques and cafes. EndGame is a large game store that has tons of board games, role-playing games and card games, hosts weekly events and shuns the video-gamer crowd.

While in the area, grab some authentic grub in Chinatown.

G.B. Ratto & Co. International Grocers is the last word in specialty Italian food but the atmosphere and the deli sandwiches are why Oaklanders have kept this place alive since 1919.

For a chic night out, there is Air and Levende East, both bars popular with the slick downtown crowd and those who like strict dress codes.

Don’t Miss: For those 21 and over, the Trappist, a tiny Belgian beer bar cannot be beat. It features over one hundred and fifty beers, mostly Belgian, some American and Dutch but all small breweries and artisan beers.

The best thing about the downtown scene has got to be ArtMurmur. On the first Friday of every month a motley assortment of downtown galleries open their doors and welcome the masses for new showings and live music (and often free wine). The galleries are all walking distance from each other and the whole thing often has the feel of a street fair. It is free and worth a visit.


It seems impossible to stay out of Emeryville, a separate city surrounded by Oakland. As much as a shopper might hate big box stores and parking lots, they can ne so damn convenient at times. IKEA is located in Emeryville, as is Best Buy, Home Depot, Office Max and Ross. The Bay Street shopping center carries all the mall favorites: H&M, Gap, Old Navy, etc.

Emeryville is not boutique central but with miles of parking and the comfort of the familiar, it can’t be beat for some old-fashioned student loan check-spending.

Don’t Miss: Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café. Named after a Clash song and open from 7am to 1 am, Rudy’s is a breath of fresh air from the Banana Republic crowd at the Bay Street mall. The food is basic American dinner fare, gussied up to appeal to Bay Area foodie palates. Plus, they’ll be happy to make most vegetarian menu items vegan and beer is only a buck after 9 pm.

Lake Merritt:

Lake Merritt is often called the jewel of Oakland and the surrounding neighborhood, the Grand Lake district, certainly is its heart. This bustling neighborhood has every type of restaurant, café, bar or shop a person could wish for. All of it is set against the beautiful backdrop of Lake Merritt, an estuary and the oldest urban wildlife sanctuary in the United States.

Although the East Bay has no shortage of Farmer’s Markets, the Grand Lake farmers market on Saturday mornings is one of the best and closest to campus. It starts at 9 am and ends at 2 pm and aside from the typical produce, there is a large selection of hot organic food, from Indian to BBQ to French.

Grand Avenue offers a lot of great restaurants, and a charming one is Enssaro Ethiopian Cuisine. Just try to leave this place; they’ll never kick you out. It’s open until 11 but you’ll most likely find yourself lingering until 1 am with the honey-sweet owners who stay hours after the kitchen closes, enjoying music, food and honey wine with friends and family.

For movies, check out the Grand Lake Theater, a beautiful, Art Deco theater which features free popcorn Monday through Thursday and a live organist on the weekends. Just up the street is Walden Pond Books, the largest independent bookstore in Oakland and one of the most pleasant of places to kill a couple hours browsing.

For a little exercise and fresh air as well, head into Lake Shore Park and check out the boat rentals at the marina. The boats are dirt-cheap (one hour for $8) and a great way to get a sense of the area without the risk of getting lost.

Don’t Miss: If you like your bread socialist and delicious, then try Arizmendi Bakery on Lakeshore Ave., a worker-owned cooperative with some of the best pizza and bread in town.

Oakland is a big city with big city crime problems. While we recommend exploring Oakland, if you’re going out at night, go with a group and be aware of your surroundings. If the BART stops running, split a cab or get to know the late-night buses.

For directions to all the places mentioned in this story without a car, www. offers customized guides. Click on transit trip planner and you’ll be off exploring in no time.

Useful Links:

Places and Parks

Laurel District
Temescal District
Jack London Square
Old Oakland
Ferry Building
Angel Island
Lake Merritt boat rentals


The Grand Lake Farmer’s Market
Laurel House of Produce 4020 MacArthur Blvd.
Farmer Joe’s Market
G.B. Ratto’s International Grocers
Bakesale Betty’s


Art Murmur
Grand Lake Thearter


Phnom Penh
Yoshi’s www.
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café
The Trappist
Enssaro Ethiopian Cuisine 366-B Grand Ave.
Levende East


Bay Street Shopping Center
IKEA www.
Walden Pond Books
Manifesto Bicycles
End Game


Ferry Service
Directions and Transit planner