If You Grew Up in the East Bay, You Might've Hung Out Here

Apr 10 at 6am

I root for the Giants and live near the Painted Ladies, and I’m at my happiest when Karl the Fog blows through the Panhandle. But the truth is, I’m an East Bay girl at heart. I was born at Alta Bates and raised in the Oakland Hills, and I have a solid circle of friends held over from high school. Now that Oakland is having a moment in the spotlight, with new generations of SF expats breeding on the sunnier side of the bay, I often think back to the places and spaces that made my time as an East Bay teenager so great.

While it’s impossible to encapsulate every teen’s experience into one nifty listicle – and by no means will I attempt to – I find that there are a handful of spots that were particularly popular with many of us natives. I readily admit that I was a flip-flop-clad Abercrombie enthusiast with a penchant for jam bands during my formative years, so I regretfully never went to a rave at Homebase or a show at Gilman. But I did frequent these East Bay staples, and they are the source of some really great coming-of-age memories.

Payless

Before it was a CVS, a Rite Aid, and a Longs, it was Payless – and East Bay kids of my generation have only ever referred to it as such. The well-worn, poorly lit jumbo drugstore on Pleasant Valley Avenue in Oakland was a great hangout for bored teens. I spent my allowance on tubes of electric-blue Wet n Wild lipstick, butterfly clips, and iron-on letters for decorating homemade T-shirts. And if you were hungry from all those growing pains, you could grab a wiener from the Top Dog stand inside the store or a plate of ribs from the Hick’ry Pit in the parking lot.

Mountain View Cemetery

This sprawling, Frederick Olmstead–designed graveyard is the resting place of many famous Bay Area folks, including Henry J. Kaiser and the Ghirardelli family. It was also a prime spot to learn how to drive, with its winding private roads and the fact that it presented almost no risk of your running over a living person. When we weren’t practicing shifting into second gear, we were throwing keggers near a service shed atop the property, where the views of the Golden Gate were pristine. The cemetery was the perfect, albeit a creepy, place to tap the kegs we purchased underage from Jay Vee Liquors in Berkeley because none of its residents could call the cops on us.

Along the road were turnouts where pimple-faced couples could park, observe stunning vistas, and steam up the windows of their Volvos. The parking lot of the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve was an even better, darker spot to earn your first hickey 

Telegraph Avenue

When I hit puberty, I went through a free-spirited hippie phase. So it was a big deal when my parents finally let me go hang out on Telegraph Avenue, the epicenter of Berkeley’s counterculture, without their supervision. I hoarded items from street vendors, including wands of vanilla musk incense and a blown-glass necklace containing a grain of rice with my name written on it. In high school I tried to act as chill and mature as possible while my friend bought her first glass pipe from Big Al’s Smoke Shop. I got my navel pierced at Zebra. I pretended I was a cool college kid and frequented Caffe Strada. My friends and I would sip mochas at the outdoor tables while the stressed-as-fuck UC students next to us would skim physics textbooks and side-eye us on account of our inane teen chatter.

The Smokehouse

If you head south on Telegraph, away from the patchouli hawkers near campus, you’ll run into an outdoor burger stand known as the Smokehouse. But the Smokehouse was more than just a place to grab some fries; it was THE place to be when you finally had a license and could stay out late. There was something oddly liberating about eating 2,000 calories at midnight, huddled around an old picnic table with your best friends.

Lake Merritt, I love you, but Colonial Donuts is the real crown jewel of Oakland. This tried and true donut shop is open 24 hours a day, a boon for freshly licensed teens with a 1 a.m. curfew and nothing better to do. 

Grizzly Peak

The East Bay version of Lover’s Lane was this windy stretch of road that ran along the summit of the Oakland and Berkeley hills. Along the road were turnouts where pimple-faced couples could park, observe stunning vistas, and steam up the windows of their Volvos. The parking lot of the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve was an even better, darker spot to earn your first hickey (Dad, if you’re reading this, sorry). And who could forget about the promenade of the Lawrence Hall of Science, which provided equally stunning views. You were never too old to climb on the big blue whale (and no, that’s not a euphemism). 

Public Market Emeryville

Long before it was cool to buy artisan vegan empanadas from the farmers’ markets, East Bay kids were filling up on greasy naan and udon from the Public Market Emeryville. The market housed a plethora of booths offering sustenance from around the world. The French creperie was a personal favorite, and the pizza-by-the-slice window hit the spot on days when I wasn’t up for a culinary adventure. It became a great spot for dates in high school, with its video arcade, where you could flirtatiously play air hockey, and the United Artists movie theater just across the parking lot. But my most lasting memory of the Public Market was the time during senior year when I ate one too many pot cookies on 4/20. By the time my full-blown, soul-blanketing paranoia set in, I was being force-fed chicken tikka by my concerned friends-cum-babysitters. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to that evening’s screening of Joe Dirt, as previously planned.

Colonial Donuts

Lake Merritt, I love you, but Colonial Donuts is the real crown jewel of Oakland. This tried and true donut shop is open 24 hours a day, a boon for freshly licensed teens with a 1 a.m. curfew and nothing better to do. On any given Friday night, you could find tribes of us inhaling chocolate glazeds and sugar twists chased with a carton of Berkeley Farms 2% milk. The shop was also popular with an older chess-playing, Scratchers-scratching crowd. It remains a favorite of night owls (myself included) to this day.

So, fellow East Bay kids, what did I miss? Where were your favorite places to shop? Drink? Make out? Rebel? Spill in the comments.

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