The Vibrant and Diverse City of Oakland

Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay, with a population of approximately 420,000 and a geographical area encompassing about 78 square miles. It is a major west coast port and has an International airport.

For thousands of years, the original inhabitants of Oakland were the native Ohlone. Today, it is a true socio-economic melting pot, a constantly evolving city with a diversity of architecture ranging from Victorians to Craftsman houses, from large contemporary homes to condos and bungalows. The census bureau data shows Oakland to be one of the most diverse cities in the country. It is no longer just the city across the bay from San Francisco, but a thriving and developing metropolis in its own right. Originally its growth was a result of its natural timbers being logged in order to build San Francisco. It got another population boost after the 1906 earthquake, with many Friscans looking for new homes. It has thrived, weakened and thrived again. For many buyers who cannot afford Berkeley or who prefer Oakland, there are many wonderful neighborhoods.

Today, Oakland is an urban city that is home to prospering companies and organizations such as Kaiser Permanente and Van Jones’ Green For All. Its diversity is reflected in the variety of architectural styles, throughout its lively neighborhoods, some of which are filled with top restaurants, coffee houses, shops and small businesses. Oakland has more than 50 distinct neighborhoods covering the area from the San Francisco Bay up into the East Bay hills. It is home to many small parks and large tracts of parklands up in the hills. The commonly referred to neighborhood divisions in the city are Downtown Oakland and its greater Central Business District, East Oakland, North Oakland, and West Oakland.

Downtown Oakland is the area towards the lower end of Broadway Avenue, bounded by the I880 on the west, the I980 on the north, and Lake Merrit on the south. It has many architecturally significant historic buildings, as well as some modern high-rises. Amongst the many historic landmarks are the recently renovated Fox Theatre and the Art Deco Paramount Theatre. Downtown Oakland has a bustling Chinatown, which many people prefer to San Francisco’s, as they claim it to be more authentic.

The Oakland Museum, a nationally recognized museum that emphasizes California art, history, and natural sciences, was designed by Kevin Roche and built in 1964. Unlike many modern museums, it is not a monumental structure that can be seen from afar, but rather becomes part of the site, with terraced roof gardens and many other landscaping features. Its location, close to Lake Merritt, between the Alameda County Courthouse and the Oakland Civic Auditorium, makes it very accessible.

Lake Merritt, a fresh and salt-water lake, is a central feature of the city, close enough to downtown to encourage people to walk around or relax alongside it and particularly beautiful at night with its ring of lights. One can rent a kayak or boat at the Lake Merritt Boating Center, spend time at the Children’s Fairyland, or just jog or walk around the lake. Lake Chalet Restaurant located in the recently renovated boathouse right on the lake, has just opened to the public.

The Cathedral of Christ the Light, a glass, wood and concrete structure, recently completed, is not only a place of worship, but also a most unusual, innovative and inspiring piece of architecture right next to the lake.

The Oakland Coliseum, is home to the Oakland A’s baseball, the Oakland Raiders football and the Golden State Warriors Basketball teams with a BART and Amtrak station. It houses many events, besides ballgames, including concerts and fairs.

Jack London Square, located at the south end of Broadway Street and across from the city of Alameda, is a popular waterfront tourist attraction, with an Amtrak Station, a ferry dock, hotels, restaurants, stores and a Sunday farmer’s market. Oakland offers alternative transportation to the automobile with eight Bay Area Rapid Transit stations, ferry service to S.F. and Marin and an extensive AC transit bus service, including express buses from many neighborhoods to downtown San Francisco.

Amongst several colleges situated in Oakland are the nationally renowned Mills College, a liberal arts college for women with a co-ed graduate program, and the California College of the Arts, an independent school of art and design.

Renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed New York’s Central Park and Stanford University, also designed Mountain View Cemetery, located at the east end of Piedmont Avenue. Many famous people are buried here, including several California governors, Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck, Domenico Ghirardelli and Charles Crocker. It is a beautiful, interesting and serene place to visit independently or with regular docent-led tours.

Oakland is bounded on its eastern flank by miles of East Bay Regional parklands, enjoyed by hikers, horseback riders and cyclists. Set amidst 13 acres of these parklands in Redwood Regional Park, just off Skyline Blvd. is Chabot Space and Science Center, a teaching and learning center focused on astronomy and the space sciences. It has interactive exhibits and night sky viewing. Further south and east in the hills is the Oakland Zoo, which is relatively small and a great place to take children.

Within this large geographical area of Oakland are a multitude of neighborhoods, most with their own schools, zip codes and shopping districts and all with different qualities and styles of architecture, from Victorians near the lake to more contemporary architecture in the hills. Most of these districts have their own neighborhood associations and some of them have S.F. Bay, canyon or wooded views.

Rockridge, which has a BART station is adjacent to Berkeley and encompasses the flatlands and the hills. As in Berkeley, the houses in the flatlands tend to be more modest bungalows with grander and many newer houses in the hills as a result of the 1991 firestorm. College Avenue runs through the heart of Rockridge and is filled with all types of stores, restaurants and cafes. A monthly news publication, Rockridge News, is hand delivered to each home. Prices of homes in Rockridge tend to be high, because of the “walkability” to amenities and because of the BART station, which makes S.F. very accessible.

Montclair located in the hills east of Piedmont feels more suburban than Rockridge with a large part of it being heavily forested. The village of Montclair, adjacent to Highway 13 is quaint and accessible and gives the district a small town feel. There is a farmer’s market on La Salle Ave. every Sunday morning. Within Montclair are smaller neighborhoods with different atmospheres, such as the Fernwood area (quaint, mostly older architecture built in the 1920’s and 1930’s) with a creek running through it, large redwood trees and adjacent to freeway 13. The northern part of Montclair was burnt in the 1991 firestorm and therefore contains mostly newer homes. Many of the homes between the village and Skyline Blvd. were built in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s and are on steep slopes.

The Piedmont Avenue district has the same zip code as Montclair but is a very different and very urban neighborhood, much like Rockridge, with a density of houses and apartment buildings. Piedmont Avenue is the main commercial street, which features numerous locally owned small businesses, including shops, bars, coffee houses, restaurants, a movie theater and a many specialty stores. Fenton’s Creamery is a popular local ice cream store, which has been around since 1893. Kaiser Permanente, the Health Maintenance Organization is a large presence in this neighborhood, with many medical buildings and at the east end of Piedmont Ave. is Mountain View Cemetery.

Oakmore and Glenview are adjacent neighborhoods nestled between Hwy.13 and Hwy 580 with small shopping districts on Leimert and on Park Avenue. Most of the architecture in these neighborhoods is from the 1920’s and 1930’s, with generally smaller homes in Glenview.

Crocker Highlands and Trestle Glen, adjacent to the city of Piedmont and bordered by Lakeshore Avenue to the west has a vibrant shopping district at the lower end of Lakeshore and on Grand Avenue and freeway access onto Hwy 580. The Grand Lake theatre, built in 1926 sits at the corner of Grand Ave. close to Lakeshore. The more affluent upland area of Crocker Highlands has tree-lined streets, period lamps, gardens and gracious homes, with a variety of different architectural styles, from Tudors, Arts and Crafts, English Country and Colonials to Art Deco and Beaux Arts.

The Laurel and Dimond districts are both multicultural neighborhoods in east Oakland, where the flatlands meet the hills. A prominent structure that can be seen from afar is the Mormon Temple on Lincoln Avenue and lower down on the same street is the well-respected K-12 co-educational private school, Head Royce. Macarthur Blvd. is the main commercial street that supports both neighborhoods.

Redwood Heights in the hills off Hwy. 13 is a mostly middle-class, integrated residential neighborhood centered on Redwood Road. Because of the good scores of its elementary school, many young families choose to live here. The homes in Redwood Heights like many of the other neighborhoods date mainly from the 1920s-1950s and vary greatly in style, from Craftsman to “Storybook” to Ranch.

Maxwell Park adjacent to Mills College and with easy access to Hwy 580 is located in the foothills and is known for its close knit community, its fine weather and relatively low crime rate. Many of the homes were built in the 1930’s and 1940’s and are either two or three bedrooms, with a variety of architectural styles.

Temescal and North Oakland are neighborhoods adjacent to Berkeley and Rockridge. They are primarily residential neighborhoods where most of the houses are early twentieth century bungalows along tree-lined streets. There are also many multi-family homes and mid-size apartment complexes interspersed throughout the neighborhoods. Temescal was an Italian neighborhood until the late 1960s but the demographics has changed in more recent years with many young families moving into the neighborhood, as the real estate prices in nearby Rockridge became less affordable.

Oakland neighborhoods covered by zip code:

94602 – Glenview, Oakmore, Upper Dimond, Laurel and Joaquin Miller
94605 – Eastmont, Golflinks Road, Keller Ave., King Estates, Oakknoll, Sheffield Village
94607 – Embarcadero
94609 – Temescal, North Oakland
94610 – Adams Point, Crocker Highlands, Haddon Hill, Lakeshore, part of City of Piedmont,Trestle Glen, Grand Ave.
94611 – Montclair, Piedmont Ave., part of City of Piedmont
94612 – Downtown Oakland
94618 – Rockridge
94619 – Redwood Heights, Maxwell Park
94705 – Berkeley mailing, city of Oakland, North hills (also known as the fire area)

City of Oakland Website
Rockridge Community Planning Council
Preservation Park website
Oakland Unified School District