If you were to ask me about Emeryville before I moved to nearby North Oakland, I would’ve told you, “Ikea, Pixar, and a bunch of big box stores, yawn.” But four years ago, my husband and I bought a fixer-upper right on the border of Emeryville. We’re so close in proximity that this part of Oakland and Emeryville has the same zip code (94608). We also share a few other services: Emeryville residents use Oakland’s library services since they don’t have their own, while my designated post office is in Emeryville. Over these years, I’ve gotten to know and appreciate the neighboring city a lot better; I almost feel like an honorary Emeryville resident.
Emeryville packs a lot in for a city that is less than two square miles big. From food trucks and New York–style pizza to movies and shopping, this city has a lot going on if you only know where to look.
One of the many great things I love about the bay is the creation of the SF Bay Trail, and Emeryville has a little section of it along its waterfront. On a clear day, you can look out at the bay for amazing views of the water, the SF skyline, and the Bay Bridge.
There are always a few people at the marina, including joggers, dog walkers, and even a guy practicing his golf swings, but it never feels crowded. Sometimes I like to grab a sandwich at Ruby’s café on Hollis street and come here for a quick lunchtime getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Pro tip: This is also a great spot to get an unobstructed view of Fourth of July fireworks.
Public Art Walk Map
At first glance the city filled with commuters and shopping malls might seem devoid of culture. Until recently, I had no idea that Emeryville has a program that commissions a variety of art installations in public places. The city regularly purchases works by local artists for its permanent collection. For artists living or working in Emeryville, there’s an opportunity to get art pieces temporarily displayed at various bus shelters. The best way to see these works – both in public and private spaces – is through a self-guided walking tour.
Did you know that the birthplace of the mai tai was actually at Trader Vic’s in Oakland? The flagship restaurant was originally located off San Pablo Avenue, but it has since relocated to the Emeryville waterfront, off Powell Street.
This is an old-school classy joint that pulls off tiki-themed décor without being cheesy. Be sure to get a window table to take in the beautiful bay view.
Dinner and a Movie Series
Whether you’re looking for a romantic date or just hanging out with the family, the city’s free movies at the park series is a good option for both scenarios. Bring a blanket and layer up, then head over to Doyle Hollis Park for a screening of family-friendly movies after dark. A local food truck sets up shop, and you’ll also find drinks and popcorn for sale.
Head Over Heels Athletic Arts
My son is like the Energizer Bunny, he “just keeps on going and going and going…etc.” So he definitely benefits from all the physical activities at Head Over Heels Athletic Arts. It offers gymnastics classes for all ages, seasonal camps, birthday parties, and physical education for local preschools.
For the commitment-phobic parents, drop in during open gym hours for a taste of the Tumble Trak, trampolines, and giant foam pit. Just try not to hog the trampolines; let the kids have their turns too.
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe
It’s pretty well known to locals that Rudy’s is co-owned by Mike Dirnt from the band Green Day and the diner’s name comes from a Clash song. Along with the quirky decorations and good music blaring from the sound system, the place is welcoming to everyone from tattoo-covered Harley dudes to families with small children. With hearty portions and beers on tap, no one leaves hungry. Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe opened a second location in Oakland’s bustling Uptown district, but even its Emeryville spot (opened in 2002) is open until 1 a.m. every day of the week; that’s a rarity in this part of town.
Rotten City Pizza
Rotten City Pizza takes its name from Emeryville’s scandalous past during the Prohibition era, which according to its website “was a den of iniquity, filled with gamblers, bootleggers, thieves, and notoriously corrupt officials.” A rotten history, but the pizza at this joint is anything but.
Rotten City uses local and seasonal ingredients to create New York–style thin crust pizza, resulting in the best of both coasts. You can either get slices for dining in or have pies delivered to the comfort of your home.
Arizmendi Bakery and Pizzeria
This outpost of the worker-owned and operated bakery on San Pablo Avenue is one of several Arizmendi locations, but it’s still worth noting. Its pastries and breads are baked fresh daily – its heavenly brioche bread pudding flies off the shelf as soon as it’s ready. And then there’s the pizza of the day, always vegetarian, made with fresh seasonal produce – yum! With the combination of its friendly service and quality-baked goods, Arizmendi makes it a little hard for us regulars to keep a slim waistline.
Prizefighter Bar is just down the block from Rotten City Pizza. The cocktails here are all about getting back to the basics, featuring three or less ingredients. On a nice day, Prizefighter’s patio is the perfect place to kick back with one of its drinks, including grown-up versions of fountain sodas made with a splash of alcohol or a bowl of punch to split with friends.
You can bring in your own grub or try the food truck that parks outside. Throw in a game of shuffleboard and you’re set for the night.
Annual Emeryville Art Exhibition
With plentiful warehouses and live/work spaces, Emeryville has been home to many artists and craftspeople for decades. As a way to show appreciation and support, the city has been holding its annual juried exhibitions every October for the last 27 years. The exhibition showcases a diversity of established and emerging artists living and working in Emeryville. Another chance to check out art is during two weekends in the month of June, when artists have open studios for the ProArts Annual Open Studios self-guided tour event.
Honor Kitchen and Cocktails
The Honor Kitchen and Cocktails is a welcome new addition to Emeryville. Housed in what used to be a mediocre sushi restaurant, Honor Kitchen dons a confusing, but amusing marquee out front, with the phrases “VEGETARIAN DRINKS” and “THE DUDE ABIDES.”
The name of the bar refers to the honor system, as patrons can pay for the beers they helped themselves to from the ice bucket near the entrance. Honor also serves delicious cocktails and reinvented bar grub, like Bourbon Maple Chicken Lollipops and Bone Marrow Brûlée. The vibe here is super low key; it’s a great place to unwind with some drinks and food after a long day at work.
Public Market Emeryville
The Public Market is like a mini United Nations with Japanese, Pakistani, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Thai, and Indian food stalls. They’re mostly mom and pop operations and they really pile on the food, enough to feed a family, but that won’t break the bank.
Parents take note: There’s an area with mini tables and chairs, paper, and markers to distract the kids long enough for you to wolf down your food. But the big hit with the young ones is the ball pit, free to the public – just don’t forget to bring hand sanitizer.
Check out more neighborhoods that we covered in our “Why I Love ...” series here.