After watching The Tournament of Roses on the New Years Day, we were flipping through the channels, and found some sort of New Year’s Day parade in Oakland. It wouldn’t cross my mind to take the kids to Oakland to watch a parade when we can cozy up next to the fireplace and watch the one in Pasadena.
Needing something to say, the TV host said that Oakland is the number five tourist destination in the world.
“What?” I said. “You have Mecca, and you have Paris, and a few other cities, and then there is Oakland? Maybe if you are really into the Black Panthers, you’d want to see all these historical places.”
We did a little googling, and found the source of that trivia — The New York Times. The paper of note compiled the list of the 45 places to visit in 2012. There, at number 5, squeezed between London (“The Olympics!”) and Tokyo, was Oakland, Ca. Newspaper’s rationale?
New restaurants and bars beckon amid the grit.
Tensions have cooled since violence erupted at the recent Occupy Oakland protests, but the city’s revitalized night-life scene has continued to smolder.
The historic Fox Theater reopened in 2009 and quickly cemented its status as one of the Bay Area’s top music venues, drawing acts like Wilco and the Decemberists. Meanwhile, the city’s ever more sophisticated restaurants are now being joined by upscale cocktail bars, turning once-gritty Oakland into an increasingly appealing place to be after dark. James Syhabout, the chef who earned Oakland its first (and only) Michelin star two years ago at Commis, followed up in May with the instant-hit Hawker Fare, a casual spot serving Asian street food. Big-name San Francisco chefs are now joining him. Daniel Patterson (of two-Michelin-star Coi) opened the restaurant Plum in late 2010 and an adjacent cocktail bar later, and another restaurant, called Haven, in the recently renovated Jack London Square last month.
Not sure why it”s necessary to catch touring national acts specifically in Oakland when any self-respecting American city has a splendid art deco theater or two, but there are some good restaurants, to be sure. Some are still standing, despite Occupy Oakland’s best efforts. However, if a tourist is simply interested in food, why not stay in San Francisco, or, better yet, go wine-testing in Sonoma, which boasts excellent venues and a landscape that’s easy on the eyes?
Aside from the few upscale restaurants and breweries, there is nothing to see in Oakland. If my readers do end up here, I recommend The Alley, an ostensibly unpretentious old school piano bar. Locals like to sing the Oakland Song (starts on the 7:15 mark):
A taste of the lyrics:
Oakland’s got the Tribune Tower,
Oakland’s got Lake Merritt too
And don’t forget the tube to Alameda.
Oakland does have wealthy and well-kept enclaves and many neighborhoods that have potential for charm. Then there are a couple of sad museums. A few years ago the city was hoping to become a marijuana tourism destination, a kind of Amsterdam on the Pacific, but the dealers in charge of medical pot dispensaries quickly figured out that, should the drug become legal, they’d be put out of business by industrial-scale growers, and killed the bill to legalize it. So now Colorado and Oregon are pioneering marijuana legalization. California is sure losing its edge…
All in all, it’s not much of a tourist draw. But where Oakland does stand out, is violent crime. It is currently the third on the Forbes magazine list of most dangerous cities in America. Violent crime rate here is 1,683 per 100,000 residents. Just last Friday, six people were shot, four of them fatally, in a period of four hours. Last night another eleven people were shot. No word on which assault weapons were used, so, I presume, the crimes weren’t committed with “assault weapons”.
I’m not sure the historic Fox Theater is worth the risk. Individuals interested in an offbeat hipsterish environment and gourmet cuisine, are advised to visit Portland.