Oakland’s downtown and waterfront are popular with out-of-town visitors, but many of the city’s commercial and residential neighborhoods offer terrific treats for tourists. Located between Broadway and Clay, from Seventh to 10th Streets, historic Old Oakland is lined with elegantly restored Victorian buildings dating back to the 1870s that now house shops, galleries, and restaurants. Fridays it hosts a Friday farmer’s market.
It’s referred to as Chinatown, but the 25-block commercial and cultural district is a much broader reflection of Oakland’s diverse Asian community. Specialty shops, restaurants, markets, bakeries and attractions, are year-round favorites, and the Chinatown Streetfest attracts 100,000 visitors annually. The Oakland Asian Cultural Center is one of the largest pan-Asian cultural centers in the country.
Jack London Square offers world-class jazz, dining, lodging and shopping along the water’s edge. The U.S.S. Potomac, FDR’s Floating White House, is docked here, and locals and non-locals love raising a glass at Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. Join the local joggers for the best view of Lake Merritt, one of America’s most beautiful urban saltwater lakes and its oldest national wildlife refuge. The streets in the Lakeshore/Grand Avenue area nearby are lined with shops and restaurants. Built in 1926, the Grand Lake Theater screens the latest movie releases and even features music played on a vintage Wurlitzer on Friday and Saturday evenings.
In north Oakland, Piedmont Avenue is lined with an eclectic blend of antique and vintage shops, boutiques, jewelry stores, bookstores and a popular local cinema. Outdoor cafes and coffee houses invite casual snacking, while restaurants offer eclectic cuisine. At the top of Piedmont Avenue is Julia Morgan’s magnificent Chapel of the Chimes.
Rockridge combines big city sophistication with relaxed urban/suburban environment. Extending more than two miles from Oakland to Berkeley, College Avenue is a smorgasbord of specialty shops, restaurants, bars, gourmet foods, chic clothing, rare books, and antiques. Market Hall houses a bakery as well as produce, fish, flower, and wine markets.
Montclair Village lies at the base of the East Bay hills, making it a great stop before or after a trip to Chabot Space & Science Center or one of the nearby East Bay parks. The area features restaurants, cafes and coffee houses, many with outdoor seating, and great shopping.
The Fruitvale District has emerged as a thriving multicultural commercial area with a strong Latino identity recognized throughout the Bay Area. Cultural events such as the annual Dia de los Muertos festival attract tens of thousands of people. The new Fruitvale Village has added housing, retail and office space surrounding a pedestrian plaza at the Fruitvale BART Station.
You don’t need a ticket to see many of the best tourist sights in Oakland. New and old architectural treasures abound downtown, offering visitors and locals a chance to see a broad of historic and artistic styles, from the ornate Victorian to sleek modern designs. Whether you’re going on your own or joining a walking tour group led by an expert, here are just a few of the areas you’ll be sure and want to see:
Today, the area between 8th and 10th Streets and Clay and Washington and Clay and Broadway is known as Old Oakland, but in the late 1800s it was the heart of town, with block after block of hotels built to house people traveling from the East Coast on the Transcontinental Railroad. These buildings are among the finest examples of Victorian commercial architecture on the West Coast, and the area is now home to a unique collection of restaurants and shops, as well as the Washington Inn. Swan’s Marketplace, which has been a major shopping destination in the Bay Area for over 60 years, was built in several stages from 1917 to 1940s, and renovations repaired substantial damage caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake and restored the terra cotta and glazed brick exterior.
Broadway Historic District
In 1998, the National Register of Historic Districts designated the stretch between 11th and 17th along Broadway as The Downtown Oakland Historic District, noting the importance of the buildings constructed between 1900-1949. The 21-story Tribune Tower was designed by local architect Edward R. Foulkes in Renaissance/Baroque style with Spanish and colonial influences. The beaux arts Broadway Building constructed in 1909 has gone through a major retrofit to bring it up to modern standards. When it was built, the Cathedral Building at Broadway and Telegraph was considered a skyscraper but today is best known for its Gothic Revival architecture. Examples of classic Art Deco style are visible all around town, but none is as grand as The Paramount Theater which opened in 1931 with 3,000 seats. Around the corner, the neon sign and marquee of the Fox Theater at Telegraph and 18th street has recently been restored.
Four blocks west of Broadway, 16 restored Victorian houses provide a glimpse into how Oakland residents lived years ago. The two landscaped blocks of the park include a 19th-century fountain and distinct domestic architectural styles, including examples of Italianate, Queen Anne, Shingle and Craftsman style. Inside the houses, Preservation Park is now home to 45 business and non-profit organizations, and includes five meeting rooms that can be rented for meetings or private parties.
Bold new buildings now shine in Oakland’s modern skyline as well. The Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building has been lauded for its use of space and sense of place, with a dramatic lobby that is open to the public. And 555 City Center, Shorenstein’s 21-story office tower has received praise for its beautiful architecture and environmental features. The rotating artwork displayed at Gallery 555, its public access gallery is curated by the Oakland Museum of California.
Free walking maps of downtown are available from the Oakland Convention & Visitors Bureau at 463 11st Street. Walking tours are offered by a number of Oakland groups, including the City of Oakland, the Oakland Heritage Alliance, and the Art Deco Society of California.