By Jessica Lipsky
North Oakland is understated, integrated, and unique. I love my hood’s hidden gems and diverse mix of residents; singles and families live on the same block as anarchists and punks. North Oakland is large, but the area l live in and will focus on is bounded by Telegraph Avenue, Macarthur Boulevard, San Pablo Avenue, and the Ashby BART station, and includes the Longfellow, Santa Fe, and Golden Gate neighborhoods.
I love my neighborhood because it’s still (relatively) affordable, and while crime definitely happens, the crime rate is low. I’m a hop, skip, and a jump from grocery stores, Ikea, the Marina, Cal and its associated bro-y bars, and all the artsy, sudsy, grimy goodness of Uptown Oakland. My pad is right by everything, but with more parking, space, and quiet – save for the soothing hum of elevated BART tracks a block away. Although the area might seem exclusively residential and devoid of interesting activities at first glance, a deeper dive shows that my hood embodies the things I like most about Oakland – it’s charming and hella cool.
Lois the Pie Queen
Lois the Pie Queen – the name says it all, and if you don’t believe me, swing by and eat a few slices of pie for breakfast. This family-run joint with a wall full of celebrity photos also has great chicken and waffles and coffee, but the real hit is the pie.
My favorite is pecan (heated and treated), but I’ll also get down with slices of raspberry key lime, mixed berry, and sweet potato. For something a little heartier, try the Reggie Jackson special: a pork chop, eggs, perfectly buttery grits, and two homemade biscuits that are best when splashed with Crystal Hot Sauce.
The smell of delicious grease on a grill wafts from Victory Burger, just around the corner from its sister establishment, Actual Cafe. Victory sells shakes, salads, fries and deep-fried veggies, arepas, and – of course – burgers. It offers a unique burger of the week, including ones with ingredients like beets, herbs, and braised cabbage and apples. Victory also serves a roast chicken bánh mì with veggie slaw, jalapeños, and chicken skin mayo that’s outta sight and juicy as hell.
Around the corner from BART, MLK Café is the place for the perpetually indecisive. They serve up coffee and booze and can satisfy your group craving for Ethiopian, pizza, breakfast foodstuffs, and burgers. Several TVs make MLK a great spot to watch the Warriors, but the joint also has live music and comedy performances. To top it off, everything is reasonably priced.
I long hoped someone would do something cool with the small building at the intersection of Lowell Street and Stanford Avenue. When garden-like murals started popping up, I was stoked; when a small restaurant opened, I was over the moon.
Grease Box, a former pop-up restaurant, opened this brick-and-mortar location about nine months ago. It serves gluten-free breakfast all day as well as lunch and dinner, with all food sourced from a West Oakland food co-op.
Owner Lizzy and crew sling slow-cooked Texas-style brisket, fried chicken, and eggs with everything from grits to thick bacon to homemade bread. Bonus: Grease Box just got a liquor license and now serves beer and wine on an enclosed patio.
Eli’s Mile High Club
As if this holy trifecta weren’t enough, Eli’s has the four Ps to make up a killer dive bar: pool table, patio, pinball, and crust punks. The bar is cash-only, drinks are cheap, and you can bring your dog to scoop up the food you dropped on the floor.
Well, technically, Nick’s is in nearby South Berkeley, but don’t tell. This no-frills locals bar has cheap drinks, outdoor seating, and a host of karaoke aficionados. Last time I was there, I watched an unassuming Cal kid absolutely nail REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” You can also catch a jazz band or open mic night on weekends.
This coffee shop, art gallery, and performance space opened at Alcatraz and San Pablo Avenues in 2009 and jump-started a small business boom in the neighborhood.
Laptops are banned from Actual on weekends, with the hope that people will feel inspired to take regular breaks from technology – and buy more coffee. The café is also super-bike-friendly and offers “indoor parking.”
Located a block from MacArthur BART station, Eritrean eatery Dejéna is a quiet oasis for studying, holding group meetings, or centering yourself before braving the crush of humanity on your morning commute. Dejéna serves everything from smoothies and croissants to hamburgers and curry chicken, but Eritrean specialties like spicy kilwa chicken are killer.
Earthly Coffee and Tea
I don’t know where the nearest Starbucks is to my house – praise Jeebus – but there are several reasonably priced, non-hipstery places run by neighborhood residents where you can get your fix.
Earthly Coffee is a caffeine-deprived stumbling distance from my house and my go-to spot for cappuccino and a bagel.
If the bright-yellow sign advertising “Strong Coffee, Good Food” didn’t convince you already, stop in for a cup of Joe, panini with house-made bacon jam (I have a friend who dreams about the stuff), or Sriracha chicken salad.
San Pablo Flea Market
Do you need records, a spice rack, and 15 retro glass bottles? How about a set of 1960s lockers and a maple wood table?
Whatever your pack rat, mid-century-modern needs, San Pablo Flea Market has you covered, and then some.
The employees are friendly, and so long as you don’t break any of the antique glassware, it’s a great place to stroll around and hunt for gems.
MacArthur Bart Station
The best BART Station, seriously (16th Street Mission, eat your heart out). Almost all lines run through MacArthur, so no need for those pesky transfers. There’s usually ample street parking.
Indoor and outdoor bike racks and secure BikeLink lockers are in view of the station agents, and you can catch free shuttle busses to many places in the surrounding area. Construction is underway on the MacArthur Transit Village, which will include 625 rental units, 40,000 square feet of retail space, and a parking garage on the site of the current parking lot. The first 90 affordable housing units will be completed in 2015.
Dover Street Park and Community Garden
Hidden behind the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute is Dover Street Park and Community Garden.
Black and yellow signs mark important points in the history of the Black Panther Party, which began in North Oakland. Cofounders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, treasurer Bobby Hutton, and chief of staff David Hilliard all lived in the neighborhood.
The Panthers’ first headquarters was at 5624 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (now It’s All Good Bakery), and the group drafted their Ten Point Program manifesto at the North Oakland Neighborhood Anti-Poverty Center located at Market and 55th Streets in 1966.
The Panthers also installed two streetlights at that intersection after children had been struck by passing cars.
At the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Stanford Avenue are two eight-foot-tall metal signs denoting the border between Oakland (there) and Berkeley (here).
Although the actual city limits are a couple dozen yards away, the installation serves as a pointed reminder of the differences and similarities between the two locales.
Branding Oakland as “there” isn’t necessarily an in-your-face othering of The Town – the Oakland Tribune offices proudly display green flags featuring the Tribune Tower with “THERE” scrawled beneath in big, bold letters – but rather something for the residents of this tough and unique city to embrace. The sign is also a literary reference to writer Gertrude Stein, who, pained upon returning to Oakland after growing up during its more rural days, wrote, “There is no there there.”
Murals, Horse Heads, and Sidewalk Etchings
Cool tags and wheatpastes have been a fixture in North Oakland for a while, but there has been an explosion of colorful murals in the last few years.
On my old block at 60th Street and San Pablo Avenue, my favorite mural features a man riding a bike with a basket full of flowers, surrounded by scenes from the neighborhood.
Check out the colorful (plaster) horse heads with bleeding eyes on Market Street and Stanford Avenue, or try to spot raunchy etchings in sidewalk pavers on Aileen Street.
Check out more neighborhoods that we covered in our "Why I Love ..." series here.