In the early 20th century, the area now known as Old Oakland was the commercial nerve center of the East Bay. Today, after a few decades in the shadows, the blocks bordered by 8th, 10th, Clay, and Washington streets are bustling once again.
Exploring the area may only take an afternoon, but the charm of the neighborhood will draw you back time and time again. And, undoubtedly, as Oakland’s tarnished reputation begins to shine again, Old Oakland will continue to flourish as well.
The best day to visit is a Friday, when the bustling Farmer’s Market (voted the best by East Bay Express) is operating. Open from 8am – 2pm every Friday year round, you’ll find everything from Asian produce to live oysters and other fish to all manner of flowers and potted plants.
Wander the streets, marveling at the gorgeous brickwork and Victorian architecture, then head to GB Ratto’s, an Italian market that’s been in continuous operation since 1897. The current site (827 Washington St.) includes a wonderful deli and cheese counter, along with all manner of pantry staples in bulk and specialty items from Europe.
By now you’ll want a bite to eat. Caffe 817 at 817 Washington Street) serves up wonderful breakfasts, sandwiches, and salads (all made with organic ingredients) in a charming Tuscan-inspired atmosphere punctuated by artwork from local artists. Don’t miss their perfect lattes and espressos, best enjoyed at a sidewalk table watching the world go by.
Continuing down Washington St., head to the Housewives Market (between 9th & 10th streets), housed in the former Swan’s Marketplace building is an old-fashioned market with several vendors including a fishmonger, two butchers, a sausage-maker and liquor/wine shop.
The Swan’s building also houses the Museum of Children’s Art, or MOCHA. Founded in 1988, MOCHAs mission is to “ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children.” This adorable urban museum is a great way to keep the kids entertained for a couple of hours–don’t miss the drop-in workshops.
Spend the rest of the afternoon perusing the shops and galleries tucked away all over this little gem of a neighborhood. Don’t miss A-1 Fish Market (which isn’t really a fish market at all, but a store for anglers!).
As the day winds down, head over to Pacific Coast Brewing Company for a sampler of their tasty brews (I love their Imperial Stout, brewed in the style of the Russian Czars).
Dinner is at the newly-opened Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana, a delightful small-plate restaurant showcasing the regional flavors of Mexico. Don’t pass up the Cajeta Crepe for dessert.
And thus your day in Old Oakland comes to an end. Hopefully, you’ll have a sense of the history that Oakland bears witness to, and you’ll understand that the analogy that Oakland is to San Francisco as Brooklyn is to Manhattan really does apply.
posted by Fatemeh Khatibloo-McClure