Oakland Just May Surprise You

By Cheryl Ryan

California is a large, diverse state with so much to see. From coastlines, forests, deserts, urban cities and agricultural towns I know I’ll never see all of it. But I can share the little bit that I do see along the way.

I’m only an hour from my daughter’s home in Oakland but our neighborhoods are wildly different. I live in a buttoned-up suburban town at the base of mountains leading to Santa Cruz beaches.  Oakland is an urban city originating at the San Francisco Bay waters. These waters are host to the fifth busiest seaport in the US. It then winds along Lake Merritt, through downtown and spreads across neighborhoods and parks culminating in the steep Oakland Hills. The vistas from these hills offer spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline and Bay Bride all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The average temperature range is 44 to 75 degrees. It is a short BART ride, part of which runs under the bay, to the center of downtown San Francisco.

Oakland has received a lot of bad press on the national news but, as is so often the case, there are many parts of Oakland that are not represented by news images splashed across TV screens. Like many urban cities, there is a wide range of problems with limited funds to fix them. But what I know is my daughter’s sliver of Oakland. What strikes me most is the inclusive culture and unique architectural beauty woven among old growth, tree-lined streets. During the height of the pandemic, many of the 1940 era custom home doors displayed passionate signs thanking our postal workers for their service, supporting Black Lives Matter and offering uplifting ‘We’ll all get through this together’ messages.

1940’s era front door


Each evening young families, joggers and long-time residents pour into the streets, strolling side by side. When my grandson arrived home from the hospital, which was during the worst of the fires, the couple next door sent over their air purifier for his little lungs. A few days later the couple across the street needed to borrow a car for a bit. No problem just a transfer of keys. 

You can walk one block for a charming dinner or morning coffee and muffins. In two blocks you’ll find a hardware store, florist or bookstore. Walk another six to a labyrinth of hiking trails which thread throughout the steep wooded mountains. It’s a workout but worth the views of San Francisco.


Oakland’s history is a rich, checkered one. It was a canning and shipbuilding hub during WWI. These industries required cheap labor which attracted a poor migratory population from across the country. This left behind a legacy, shared by many cities, of a discarded labor force which once no longer needed were isolated in areas with less opportunities.  The loss of a once vibrant public electric transportation system in many large cities (Oakland included) during the 1920’s didn’t help the isolation problem.


But today it is experiencing a renaissance. It’s been called the Brooklyn of San Francisco and a flood of young families looking for an urban/suburban lifestyle are flocking there. One of the draws is the beautiful custom architecture which was built in the 1940s by a wealthy working class. Many of the homes are large with smaller garages and easy-to-manage yards.

1940’s architecture in Oakland CA.

I love walking the streets and exploring the unique homes and small shops and enjoy the feeling of the soft breeze which often comes in off the bay. So if you find yourself on a road trip on either 880 or 580 and you’ve got a car full of kids you may want to carve out a day at the recently remodeled Oakland Zoo to check out the condors (shockingly huge) and take in the expansive bear exhibit at feeding time. You will not be disappointed.

Or if you’re looking for a shorter more adult stop (although kids are welcome), step back in time and have a cocktail or lunch at the glamorous Claremont Hotel. And like most culturally rich areas, there is a lively restaurant, brewery and music scene to enjoy as well.

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