Amtrak City Spotlight: Oakland, CA

Photo by Kola Shobo.

Photo by Kola Shobo.

Each day, three of our routes – San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and the Coast Starlight – travel to Oakland, a city with grit, heart and a vibrant arts culture. We know this Amtrak served community is great for a weekend or an extended stay but we wanted to hear it from a local. We chatted with Lukas Brekke-Miesner, founder of 38th Notes to get an insider’s pick for places to go, what to do and where to eat. Here’s his take on all things Oakland.

Amtrak: How long have you lived in Oakland and what do you love most about your city?
Lukas: I am a third generation Oaklander, born and raised in East Oakland. I’ve always been a huge booster of The Town because it’s an underdog city with a heart of green and gold, a frontier spirit with dope, creative and resilient people. One of the things I love most about Oakland is its geographic diversity. We are blessed with a beautiful estuary and waterfront, several bustling commercial districts and gorgeous hills featuring hiking trails, stately Redwoods and inspiring views of the Bay Area.

What’s your favorite destination in Oakland?
My favorite destination is Lake Merritt, a slough turned beautiful lake, which despite not being the geographical center of the city, is such a jewel that it acts as the compass that defines and divides Oakland’s north, west and eastern sides.  People congregate here to run, shop at the Saturday farmer’s market, people watch, go on romantic strolls, practice capoeira, dance salsa or BBQ till the sun sets. In a city constantly shifting, Lake Merritt feels like the unifying pulse of an eclectic city.

How would you describe Oakland’s arts and culture personality?
Our arts and culture scene is as varied as Oakland itself, but is rooted in a more blue-collar accessibility than the city across the water. Our artistic and cultural personality is informed by an established history of jazz, blues, funk, soul, graffiti and hip-hop innovation. With that as a backdrop, present day artists working in a variety of mediums – including industrial arts – have emerged in West Oakland and Jingletown.

Whether it’s a concert, an exhibit or an indie-movie, Oakland is a great city to explore. Where do you recommend visitors go to experience the heart of Oakland’s arts scene?
There are definitely some choice spots you have to check out. You gotta take in a flick at the beautiful art deco Grand Lake Theater or a smaller indie film at The New Parkway (preferably something from one of Oakland’s many film festivals) and try to see a concert inside the majestic and ornate Baghdad-inspired Fox Theater. There are amazing murals throughout the city, but you gotta hit the storied 23rd Ave yards and other graff spots in East Oakland for saucy throw-ups. And there’s always creative things happening in warehouses and art spaces like American Steel, Oakland Terminal, Betti Ono, Solespace, B4BEL4B, and Impact Hub.

There are also some amazing recurring events like the Art Murmur (art street festival), Off The Grid (food truck + art extravaganza) at the Oakland Museum and the varied community gatherings and parties curated by Top Ten Social and Wine & Bowties. And if you want to dance to great music, check out Trends at Era Art Bar, ULTRAWAVE at Somar Bar or the roaming 45 Sessions.

If you only had two days in Oakland, what are a few must-see sites you’d visit?
If you only have a couple days, we’ll pretend it’s the weekend. Go hoop at Mosswood Park or go for a hike in Redwood Regional Park in the morning, then grab some food from the Grand Lake farmer’s market, and some friends to kick back at Lake Merritt until the sunsets. Then slide by Duende in downtown Oakland for some inspired upscale Spanish cuisine or keep it low-key at Champa Garden or Vientian Café in East Oakland.

The next morning, grab brunch if you’re with friends or visit Fairyland if you have kids. The magical storybook land was founded in 1950 and inspired Walt Disney to found a slightly more famous theme park. Then stop by the Sinaloa truck on 22nd Ave and East 14th St for fish tacos and ceviche on your way to an A’s, Raiders, or Warriors game. That evening grab an excellent meal at Penrose and walk over to the Grand Lake Theater to watch a movie. Grab a drink afterword at Room 389 or Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon (the oldest operating business in Oakland) and I’ll look down the bar and tell you, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Lukas gave us his picks. Now it’s your turn. What recommendations do you have for a visit to Oakland? Let us know in the comments section below.