The 30-odd giant cranes perched along the Port of Oakland reach as high as 366ft. They’ve become a source of pride for Oaklanders — and an unlikely tourist attraction, emblazoned on T-shirts, tote bags and street murals.
On the east side of San Francisco Bay, direct flights from London and local investment have helped Oakland emerge from its once sketchy reputation like the Golden Gate Bridge from a blanket of fog (which rolls less frequently into warmer Oakland).
Jack London Square is the new place to be seen. Here, the Waterfront Hotel has rooms gazing across to San Francisco, just a ten-minute train ride away.
Finding her feet: Ella Buchan explores the waterfront area that is the Jack London District
Paddling out from the nearby dock at California Canoe and Kayak, I glide past moored yachts. Afterwards I stroll through the Jack of all Trades craft market, with its stalls of jeweled hats, local honey and bacon cookies.
A local band croons Otis Redding numbers as the aroma of barbecued tri-tip beef and gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) mingles with the salty-sweet scent of the bay.
On the sunny terrace of Rosenblum Cellars, one of ten wineries making up the walkable ‘Urban Wine Trail’, people sip buttery Californian chardonnay.
Oakland has a laid-back vibe.
A vibe that some say has left San Francisco. In well-heeled Pi d t C i if ) Piedmont, Commis is (so far) the only Michelin-starred Oakland eatery, winning its second star last year.
‘San Francisco is saturated,’ chef James Syhabout tells me. ‘We call Oakland “Brooklyn by the Bay”. It has a buzz about it.’ I perch at the chef’s counter, watching the team tweeze each dish to perfection. The eight-course flight of fancy includes smoked trout with daikon radish, slow-poached egg, and grilled pork jowl with mustard.
Later I settle into Yoshi’s, a pink-lit music venue and sushi t t N O l ‘ restaurant, as New Orleans’ Henry Butler gives a masterclass in jazz piano.
Josh Rau, who launched ‘cycling pub crawls’ with his company Velocipede, frequented the club as a teenager. Then, he says, it was the only place to go — no longer. I join one of his 14-seater bicycles, and pedal off.
The streets feel welcoming, passers-by and motorists cheer, despite our sluggish progress.
A pleasant appearance: Oakland had a grimy reputation in the past, but also has pretty streets
We guzzle IPAs at Federation Brewing, a garage space dominated by a mural of a beer-barrel robot, and sip sour blondes on Beer Revolution’s pretty patio. Then it’s a slow pedal to Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, also known as ‘Jack London’s Rendezvous’ — the White Fang author was a regular in these rum-soaked walls.
The bar is tilted as a result of an earthquake that devastated much of the area in 1906.
Oakland is one of the U.S.’s most ethnically diverse cities and, on an Edible Excursions food tour of the Temescal district, I experience it by the forkful.
We begin at Juhu Beach Club.
Asked where in India her food comes from, owner Preeti Mistry replies: ‘Oakland.’ Then it’s Baja fish tacos outside at Cholita Linda. At Abesha, an Ethiopian sharing platter of subtly spiced collard greens and pureed yellow split peas is mopped up with spongy flatbread.
Grub rather than grubby: Street food is a big part of the new, resurgent Oakland
We round off with lemon ice cream at Curbside in Temescal Alley. This horseshoe of former stables is now a hipster hotbed with barber shop, bookstore and a boutique.
East of downtown, I take a three-mile loop around glassy Lake Merritt, home to cranes (the feathered kind), cormorants, and Fifties theme park Children’s Fairyland, said to have inspired Walt Disney.
A 20-minute drive out of the city, Redwood Regional Park has 40 miles of trails dappled by coast redwoods, or sequoia. The centuries-old trees soar to 90ft.
Once again, I crane my neck to get a better view.