When my husband Johnny Jet and I decided to visit Oakland recently, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, I knew of its proximity to San Francisco (one of my favourite cities!), but beyond that, I was curious to discover what would draw visitors to Oakland. As I quickly learned, this city has a lot more to offer than I’d thought and we had a fun-filled weekend there.
Eat: Grand Lake Kitchen
We started our weekend at the Grand Lake Kitchen, a charming, family-run deli that has a killer menu. With so many great options, we couldn’t decide what to order. Both our choices (I had the chilaquiles, my husband had the French toast) were so good that I was led to believe that everything on the menu must be incredible and that we’ll have to go back repeatedly, just to be sure. (I promise to report back.) But more than the delicious food, the busy buzz of Saturday brunch gave this place an atmosphere that makes you just want to sit back and sip your coffee slowly.
Do: Grand Lake Farmers Market
If you think a farmers market is just a farmers market, then you haven’t been to Oakland’s Grand Lake Farmers Market. Popularly known as the best farmers market in the East Bay area, it’s home to 40+ local farmers, 30 specialty food suppliers and a variety of local artisans. The market is big and just around the corner from Grand Lake Kitchen so it’s the perfect spot to stroll after brunch. If you’re not too full from brunch, sample fresh fruits and yummy pastries or just buy some for later. Or, pick up a colourful bunch of fragrant blooms. But whatever you do, don’t leave empty-handed!
Stay: Claremont Resort
The Claremont Resort is an old and historic property that is already counting down to its 100th anniversary. First a castle, then a hotel, which opened in 1915, the Claremont is regal and grand and is probably the nicest place to stay in Oakland. The rooms are luxurious but in a classic and cozy way. But my favourite part of my stay at the Claremont was the spa. The spa offers a pre-spa ritual, which is available Monday through Thursday. Guests can enjoy 90 minutes of the spa’s sauna, steam room, whirlpool and deluge and multi-head showers at no charge ($45 for visitors who are not hotel guests). I sampled the Tropical Coffee Fruit Renewal, a 50-minute treatment, which began with a 25-minute Hawaiian coffee fruit and organic sugar body scrub and ended with a 25-minute neck and back massage. Pure heaven. If you stay at the Claremont, don’t miss out on the spa.
Do: Flamework class at The Crucible
The Crucible offers industrial art classes and workshops and while it may seem an unusual thing to do, this class was a lot of fun and surprisingly relaxing. During our three-hour class, we made small paperweights using high temperature heat from a torch to form glass into freehand shapes using hand tools. Working with the glass and watching it soften and take shape was unexpectedly soothing. The Crucible offers a wide variety of classes, from welding and woodworking to moldmaking and enameling.
Eat: Doughnut Dolly
After three hours in a flame-working class, you may work up an appetite. Quell those hunger pangs with a sweet treat from Doughnut Dolly. Since doughnuts are the new cupcakes of the culinary scene, you’ll want to give these a try. Doughnut Dolly makes handmade, yeast-raised doughnuts that are filled with all kinds of deliciousness. I recommend the Naughty Cream (oozing with crème fraîche vanilla bean cream) and the jam doughnuts. But there are also Mexican chocolate, lemon cream and malted coffee cream doughnuts on the menu. Hashtag yum!
Do: Gondolier on Lake Merritt
A gondolier ride in Oakland, California? Yes, you read that correctly. The Italian owners of Gondola Servizio have brought two authentic gondolas to Oakland from Venice and treat customers to a cruise around the city’s Lake Merritt. The 50-minute rides begin at $70. Our knowledgeable gondolier pointed out all the significant sights along the way but even more special was that he sang while touring us around the lake. It’s not Venice but it’s definitely something fun to do!
Haven is a really unique place to try. We went for dinner with friends and it was the perfect place for great food with great company. Situated in Jack London Square, the restaurant is dimly lit, creating an inviting and intimate atmosphere. The third restaurant from the Daniel Patterson Group, Haven features technique-driven food including whole animal and vegetable preparations, shareable plates, sweets, and delicious, hand-crafted cocktails. You may be surprised by some of the options on the menu (bone marrow, lamb’s tongue and pig’s head, for instance) but if you have an adventurous palate, you’ll love it. If your tastebuds are more conservative, there’s still plenty to enjoy (the fried Brussels chips are ah-mazing!) and the ‘interesting’ things on the menu will certainly spark animated conversation amongst you and your dinner companions.
As you can see, there’s more to Oakland than you may have thought. And if you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, don’t forget about Oakland, which is so easy to get to from San Fran. Just cross the Bay Bridge and experience an exciting part of the Bay Area. You’ll be glad you did.