A Weekend in Downtown Oakland, California

Downtown Oakland's renaissance means hip new restaurants, bars, shops, and galleries.

View of Uptown Oakland, California, picture
Uptown is the art and entertainment center of Oakland featuring many bars, cafes, restaurants and loved music venues.
EddieHernandezPhotography / Shutterstock

Talk about core strength: Oakland’s urban center has gone from dodgy to trendy as newcomers fill its forgotten architectural gems with happening new restaurants, bars, and shops. Spend the day hopping from gallery to eatery, or catch your breath on the shores of Lake Merritt.

The restored Fox Theater anchors the Uptown scene with live music shows. The nearby, equally opulent Paramount Theatre hosts major acts, plus cinema classics and a fascinating tour of its art deco interior.

At Swan’s Market the lunch crowd swoons over B-Dama’s thinly sliced ginger pork and Cosecha’s crispy fish tacos and horchata lattes.

Explore the Golden State’s art, history, and natural sciences at the Oakland Museum of California. Friday evenings bustle with live music and food-truck fare.

Group of women dining and drinking during the afternoon happy hour at a waterfront restaurant at Lake Merritt, picture

Group of women dining and drinking during the afternoon happy hour at a waterfront restaurant at Lake Merritt.

cdrin / Shutterstock

Chef Kyle Itani adds a Japanese twist to American favorites—soba biscuits and sausage, buttermilk fried chicken with cilantro-sesame slaw—at Hopscotch, a diner with a killer cocktail list.

Some 50 galleries open their doors for Oakland Art Murmur’s weekly Saturday Stroll, an afternoon alternative to the more raucous gallery walk held the first Friday evening of each month. Don’t miss Classic Cars West, a combo art space, vintage car showroom, and beer garden.

Pick up a locally screen-printed tee or hoodie from one of Oaklandish’s two stores. In the Jack London district, Oakland Supply Co. also stocks stylish U.S.-made goods.

Artful Japanese imports from Umami Mart—delicate condiment spoons, spare Hasami mugs, beautiful bottles of sake—make perfect gifts.


This article was first published in Fall 2015 and updated February 2019.