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Cheaper Than San Francisco, Oakland Still Thrills LGBTQ+ Visitors
San Francisco’s cheaper neighbor has plenty for LGBTQ+ visitors
Before my recent Oakland trip, the only time I spent there was at a hook-up’s apartment after meeting him at a gay bar in San Francisco’s iconic Castro District (he drove me back after it was done; it was a looooong ride). So, I was operating on a blank slate when I visited this spring and found a dynamic, diverse city too often cast in the shadow of its sister by the bay.
Although nothing in the San Francisco Bay Area is what one would consider a budget destination, Oakland tends to be more affordable than San Fran in everything from accommodations to activities.
First thing to know about Oakland is that like San Francisco (and unlike nearby San Jose), it’s mostly dense and compact, making it easy to get a handle on. I got a good sense of the streets while visiting some of the art galleries just north of Downtown (aka Uptown), marveling at beautifully rendered succulents at Werkshack and hallucinogenic spirals of color at SLATE Contemporary on 25th Street. Meandering south, I saw figures of beauty and strength at the Joyce Gordon Gallery on 14th Street, where the institution’s revered matriarch told us about Oakland’s rich history of Black excellence. Moving closer to downtown, I perused charming 9th Street, with its neatly lined Victorian buildings, peeking into the e14 gallery and its shop of fragrant candles, hard-to-find books, and distinctive clothing.
The Joyce Gordon Gallery
A margarita was calling my name and nearby Calavera didn’t disappoint. Their guacamole and top-shelf tequila hit the spot after a day of exploration. Dinner at Everett & Jones BBQ & Blues is another shining example of Oakland’s status as a nexus of Black art and culture. Live music in the main restaurant’s connecting lounge floated up and over heaping plates of ribs, chicken, greens, and mac and cheese. E&J’s was hopping with energy and reverie — on a Wednesday night. Afterwards, my husband, kids, and I, all lay our heads down on the city’s eastern edge near Berkeley, at the breathtaking Claremont Club & Spa.
Chips and guac at Calavera
The next day was a family-friendly one, with trips to the elevated Oakland Zoo — where a gondola ride provides expansive views of the entire bay — tours of the Chabot Space & Science Center, with its gargantuan telescopes and recreations of historic spaceships, and a trip to Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. This contemplative space east of the city is dotted with towering redwoods, and hosted our picnic lunch. We took a 10-minute stroll among the protective Sequoia sempervirens, which cleared my mind of dogged work and personal concerns. Then, it was back to the city for dinner at Alamar, a delicious and reasonably-priced seafood spot from Nelson German, who some may know from his appearances on Top Chef.
Otherworldly fashion at the Chabot Space & Science Center
Aside from a very satisfying breakfast at the Home of Chicken & Waffles in downtown’s Jack London Square and an absolutely terrific lunch at Middle Eastern gem Pomellain the city’s north, much of the next day was centered around Oakland’s picturesque Lake Merritt. The kids frolicked at Children’s Fairyland, the adorable playground on the lake’s shore that dates back to 1950 and served as some of the inspiration for Disneyland. We strolled around the lake — the nation’s first official wildlife refuge since 1870 — but we didn’t have a chance to see all it has to offer, including a bonsai garden and boating center. We did have a lovely dinner — I went with the lobster roll — at The Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill, a vibrant eatery on the water’s edge. We had time to grab some Mexican Adobo at the adjacent and well-stocked Oaktown Spice Shop, which proffers a truly impressive variety of herbs and flavorings.
Oakland is filled with street art
While our Oakland journey was PG-rated, there is plenty of debauchery to be had, especially in Uptown, where the Que Rico Nightclub serves as a drag-friendly center of Latinx queer culture in the Bay Area. White Horse Inn, on the city’s northern outskirts, is one of the country’s oldest gay bars, serving drinks and history since 1933. The Port Baris a newer location worth checking out, also close to the lake. Revelers are bound to find a companion for the evening at nearby Steamworks Berkeley; no drive across the Bay Bridge required.
A Hella Gay Dance Farm