Hidden and Not So Hidden Gems of Oakland
By: Leanne LaBo, Illustrations by Shannon May
This story is brought to you by the great people over at the Bold Italic. The Bold Italic is an online magazine, shop, and events hub in San Francisco. We celebrate the free-wheeling spirit of the city.
This February I celebrated my seventh anniversary as an Oakland resident. I’m hesitant to admit it, but growing up in San Francisco, I knew almost nothing about the East Bay until I moved here. What I’ve discovered in my years living in Oakland is that it’s a massive urban area with some of the best weather and green space in the Bay Area, and we residents have lots of passion and pride for our far-from-perfect city. There’s incredible ethnic and economic diversity here, more so than what I’ve encountered in my 20 years living in SF. Because it’s a city that’s gone through so many transitions in the last 150 years, Oaklanders, new and old, are finding a lot to appreciate about its rich history.
I’m sure there are a lot of spots that I’ve missed; please do share your favorite Oakland gems in the comments below.
Chapel of the Chimes Oakland
This Julia Morgan–designed columbarium is a stunning architectural gem. The Moorish- and Gothic-inspired interior is a maze of small rooms featuring ornate stonework, statues, gardens, fountains, and mosaics. Every summer solstice, the Chapel hosts a huge performance of avant-garde music. There is also Jazz at the Chimes and John Lee Hooker, the King of the Boogie, is buried here.
Morcom Rose Garden
Nestled in a residential area in Piedmont, just one block off Grand Avenue, is this enchanting rose garden. Morcom, which spans more than seven acres, was built in 1932 as a project by the Works Progress Administration. You’ll find winding walkways, a dramatic fountain cascade, a reflecting pool, and a bird sanctuary.
Sausal Creek Trail
There’s something invigorating about walking along a creek, listening to the babbling brook with birds chirping and insects buzzing. Sausal Creek Trail is surrounded by lush greenery tucked away in the Dimond District. The trail is easy enough for people of all ages to enjoy.
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park at Port of Oakland
Amidst the giant “Star Wars” cranes at the Port of Oakland you’ll find Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. There’s a public beach here, as well as really beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay, which you can enjoy with free binoculars in the observation tower. The park’s also a great place for biking, picnicking, bird watching, and fishing.
Perched on top of the Oakland hills, looking like a rocket ship ready to take off, is this Latter-Day Saints temple. If you’re not part of the church, you’re not allowed inside the temple, but visitors can freely explore the beautiful grounds and terrace. The spectacular view of the bay that you get from the grounds alone is worth the visit.
The Crucible in West Oakland
If you’re into Burning Man, you’ll dig this longtime West Oakland nonprofit known for one-of-a-kind industrial and fine arts programs. The Crucible offers classes in welding, blacksmithing, kinetic art, fire performance, and many other fine and industrial arts.
Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve Labyrinths
Formed by lava flowing through the East Bay hills 10 million years ago, Sibley is one of many great East Bay spots for hikers and nature lovers. Today it’s best known for the hippie rock labyrinths scattered throughout this former quarry canyon.
Mountain View Cemetery
Founded in 1863, Mountain View Cemetery was designed by New York’s Central Park landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Many prominent historical Californians are buried in this huge cemetery, but neighbors love to jog and walk their dogs here, too. The grounds are beautifully maintained and the hills offer fantastic views of the city.
The Cleveland Cascade, built in 1923, used to be a grand Italian-inspired water fountain descending the steep hill of Cleveland Heights. By 1950, it slipped into disrepair and was turned off. Nearby residents are trying to restore the cascade to its former glory. Until then, the stairs flanking each side of the cascade is a shortcut between Lakeshore and Merritt Avenues, and walking or running up the 135 steps is a great workout.
Kaiser Center Roof Garden
It’s hard to believe that this beautifully landscaped 3.5-acre rooftop garden is located on top of Kaiser’s massive five-story parking garage. There’s a reflecting pond with fountains, a bridge, huge lawns, and trees. During the summer, there’s a free lunchtime concert held every Friday.
The New Parkway Theater
The New Parkway Theater is a cinema house and pub located in Oakland's Uptown district. (The old Parkway was located east of Lake Merritt, on Park Blvd.) If you’re a fan of watching movies from the comfort of your couch, you’ll love the Parkway, where you can watch movies on plush love seats. And you can have pizza, beer, and other grub delivered right to your seat! The Parkway shows new releases, cult classics, and queer cinema for way less than your average movie theater.
Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate
Dunsmuir is a beautiful mansion with an unfortunate story. The estate was built by a wealthy businessman as a wedding present to his new bride at the turn of the century. Sadly, he died on their honeymoon and she passed away a couple of years later. It’s apparently the most frequently filmed home in Oakland and has been used in films such as A View to a Kill and So I Married an Axe Murderer.
Step back in time in this little cluster of old Victorian houses wedged between west and downtown Oakland. All the houses are meticulously renovated and painted in Victorian-era colors. These buildings no long function as private residence; they are now used as office and event spaces, which is a bummer. How cool would it be to actually live in one of these houses?
Historic staircases of Oakland
There are many little-known public staircases running up and down the hilly neighborhoods of Oakland and Berkeley. In the pre-auto days, these stairs were built as shortcuts for pedestrians to quickly get to the streetcars. Explore these on your own or join the folks at Oakland Urban Paths.
Woodminster Amphitheater and Cascades
Constructed amidst the redwood groves in Joaquin Miller Park, the Woodminster theater and cascades are also known as “Cathedral in the Woods.” The cascades were designed by Howard Gilkey, who also designed the Cleveland Cascade at Lake Merritt. Enjoy summer musicals under the stars at the theater or just take in the cascading waterfall’s soothing magic.
The Leona Casting Pools
Who knew that there are two world-class fly-fishing casting pools in Oakland? I didn’t, until I found out about the Leona Casting Pools. Built in 1958, they might look like swimming pools to some, but are actually meant for fly-casting practice. You can get free lessons offered by the Oakland Casting Club from March through July.
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