We love to travel, but a new town can feel overwhelming, especially if time is tight. Our Bite-Sized Guides lift the pressure to sort through every recommendation and review, and give you the perfect introduction to a new town, with a walking tour of an area we love.
For Oakland, we chose a BART-to-BART walk, beginning with lunch in the hip Temescal neighborhood and ending with dinner in the swanky Rockridge district. Our illustrated, step-by-step tour and map are written by regular Kitchn contributor and Oakland resident, Dana Velden, who has lived in the neighborhood for five years. Even if you have no plans to travel soon, we encourage you to escape for a five-minute armchair virtual meander with us. There is much delight and inspiration ahead!
Why Temescal to Rockridge?
Oakland is full of wonderful, walkable neighborhoods, each with something distinct to offer. I settled on a Temescal-to-Rockridge route for a number of reasons, the first being that you can arrive and depart easily from BART, the Bay Area’s subway system. So no matter where you’re staying in the Bay Area — San Francisco, South Bay, or another neighborhood in the East Bay — you have a way to get here and a way to get home.
The second reason is there are so many choices for lunch! Although I highly recommend Abesha and the unique experience of an Ethiopian lunch, you could just as easily have a baja-style fish taco at Cholita Linda, or a fermented tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar, or a Sloppy Sriracha sandwich at Sacred Wheel. (But seriously, go with Abesha.)
But the main reason I like this itinerary is that, in many ways, it is a microcosm of all of Oakland.
Telegraph Avenue: An Introduction to Temescal
On your walk up Telegraph Avenue you’ll pass beauty supply stores and doughnut shops, fancy new beer gardens and funky cafes. You’ll see art galleries, graffiti and murals, bike shops, historic architecture, Korean BBQ restaurants, and metaphysical bookstores (yes, two!); yoga studios, liquor stores, fast food joints, beautiful homes, game stores, churches, and record shops; tatty apartment buildings, an urban farm, a pawn shop, and an old funky dive bar that is so beloved, it was picked up whole and moved around the corner when condo development threatened its existence. Oh, and yeah, you’ll also see lots of newly constructed condos.
This strip of Telegraph is the main thoroughfare in the Temescal neighborhood, an area that has changed a lot over the years. The neighborhood has “improved,” and with that improvement comes the usual positive and negative baggage.
Buildings are being renovated and the sidewalks spiffed up, but long-term residents and businesses are being priced out. The urban farm will give way soon to a high-rise housing development (and morph into a rooftop garden). And while interesting and eclectic new businesses are moving in, storefronts stand empty as landlords hold out for aspirational rents well beyond what the neighborhood is currently going for. It’s the classic, modern urban dilemma that many growing cities are facing.
But this is a real neighborhood, too, with a Walgreens and a post office and a coin-operated laundromat. There’s the small organic grocery store that rubs elbows with a check-cashing spot and the mobile phone store. A small branch of the Oakland Public Library (a recently restored historical building) also houses a much-used tool-lending library. I live in this neighborhood and every day I am grateful for all the practical amenities I can walk or bike to.
Interior of Maison d’Etre in Rockridge
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)
Our tour ends in the swankier Rockridge neighborhood in part because the BART-to-BART itinerary works, but also because I really wanted to get you to Ramen Shop for dinner (and give you the Market Hall deli counter as a fallback if you’re just totally knackered).
I hope you enjoy this tour of my beloved neighborhood. To keep things under control I had to leave a lot out, so please come back more than once and explore on your own. I can personally attest that starting your day at Pizzaiolo with a latte and one of Kiri’s croissants with house-made jam is a beautiful thing (and is where much of this guide was written).
A Neighborhood Walk in Oakland
Our tour starts with lunch and brings you to an early dinner. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the MacArthur BART to your lunch destination and another 20-minute walk to Rockridge for more browsing, drinks, and dinner. I would recommend arriving at MacArthur BART sometime around 12:30 to start your day.
1. Start Here: MacArthur BART
555 40th Street
Exit the MacArthur BART station at 40th Street and walk 1/2 block to Telegraph Avenue. Head north on Telegraph Ave to 49th Street (don’t worry — the blocks are very short because Telegraph is on an angle!), then turn left on 49th and right on Shattuck to arrive at your lunch destination.
4929 Shattuck Avenue, 510.653.8383
Temescal is home to a large Ethiopian/Eritrean community. While there are many delicious Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants to choose from in Temescal, Abesha is always a top choice for their vegetarian combo and the injera, which is made fresh in house every morning.
Tip: When you’re done, be sure to pop in next door to Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop. They stock a number of Bay Area-made products such as Inna Jam.
3. The Alleys
After lunch, walk across the Walgreen’s parking lot, cross Telegraph Avenue, and make a left onto 49th Street. About halfway up on your left you will find two pedestrian alleys that are lined with retail establishments. Once the stables that housed the horses that pulled a streetcar up Telegraph Ave, these tiny spaces have recently found a new life as unique retail shops and eateries.
If you’re ready for a cup of coffee, Cro Cafe is a good choice, or an ice cream from Curbside Creamery might be refreshing — they even have really delicious vegan ice cream.
I have yet to go into Book/Shop without leaving with something. From their eclectic stack of $5 paperbacks at the door to some truly beautiful collectable treasures within, those who love to read and appreciate the book as an object of beauty will find their hearts beating just a little faster when entering. A small selection of totes, bookshelves, posters, and other paper goods are also for sale.
The moody interior of Crimson Horticultural Rarities perfectly sets off the beautiful, odd, tangled assortment of plants and intriguing objects. Visitors from afar can purchase a few air plants to tuck into their carry-on bag, or perhaps an intriguingly scented candle or handmade perfume will serve as the perfect memento.
Finally, Homestead Apothecary is a beautiful, airy space where you can stock up on your crystals and tarot cards and homemade tinctures. Even if that’s not your kind of thing, it’s worth a stop to purchase a scoop of their wonderful teas and tisanes or to find a handmade card or zine. (See also our 5 Delicious Things to Bring Home from Oakland guide for a particular favorite.)
4. Sagrada Sacred Arts
4926 Telegraph Avenue, 510.653.7196
Leave the Alleys, head back up 49th Street to Telegraph, and make a right on Telegraph where you’ll find Sagrada Sacred Arts. They set up shop on Telegraph Avenue in 1994, long before the trendy restaurants and hip jewelry shops arrived. It’s a beautiful space where you can find unique spiritual goods, meditation supplies, devotional arts and crafts, and books celebrating all spiritual traditions. The staff is very friendly and helpful and the vibe is warm and welcoming.
5032 Telegraph Avenue, 510.922.8434
As you continue your stroll along Telegraph, I really hope you stop in at Preserved, especially if you’re a cook, for I know you will be delighted by this tiny but well-stocked kitchen shop. Here you will find everything (and I mean everything) for the home preserver and fermenter. While it’s not likely you will be packing one of the gorgeous (but large) fermenting crocks in your bag, you still can find plenty of small interesting things such as sacks of dried herb blends, homesteading pamphlets, and interesting cooking tools. Check their schedule in case you have time to return for a workshop. Before you leave, be sure to grab a bottle of locally brewed kombucha for the walk to Rockridge.
6. Oakland Fire Station No 8
Head to the corner of 51st and Telegraph and, on the way up 51st Street, be sure to stop outside of Fire Station No. 8. Here, you can read about the history of Temescal through a series of tiles embedded into the sidewalk. You will learn about the Ohlone, Temescal’s original residents, the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries in 1770, and what lead up to the consolidation of several villages into what is now modern Oakland.
A view of the fire station from across 51st Street.
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)
After you’ve absorbed all the history you can, keep walking up 51st to Shafter Avenue (the first stoplight after Telegraph.) Make a left and head straight up Shafter to College Ave, about a 20-minute walk. You are now in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland.
7. Rockridge Market Hall
Corner of Shafter and College Avenue, 510.250.6005
To your left and across the street is the Rockridge BART station, which will take you home after dinner; to your right is a delightful food-lover’s paradise. Starting at one end with a small green grocer, the linked spaces contain a butcher, fishmonger, wine shop, flower kiosk, coffee shop, and bakery.
By far the most interesting place for visitors is the food hall and deli section, Market Hall Foods. You may want to start your time here with a nice cup of coffee or tea from Highwire Coffee Roasters, located on the College Avenue side of the complex.
Tip: If you order a latte “for here,” they will serve it to you in a beautiful, matte black bowl. Find a table on the sidewalk and watch the world walk by while you rest and refresh your energy.
Now, have some fun exploring the food emporium. Here you will find all sorts of local and imported food: oils, jams, mustards, vinegars, pastas, sauces. There’s fresh bread from local bakeries, an amazing cheese counter, charcuterie, chocolates, and seasonal specialties.
Dinner to-go: Their deli is fantastic, so if you find that you just can’t stay for dinner at Ramen Shop, then picking up a few things from the deli and heading back to your hotel/home is not a bad way to go. Grab a number at the counter — the wait is often much quicker than it may seem by the numbers — and be sure to grab a bottle of wine from Paul Marcus wines while you’re at it.
8. Maison d’Etre
5640 College Avenue, 510.658.2801
Just across the street from Market Hall is a sweet little shop filled to the brim with a charming array of interesting things for the home. You will find table linens, glassware, soaps, scented candles, tea, kids’ stuff, bed linens, jewelry, and all sorts of eccentric baubles. It’s a real delight just to wander through and fill your eyes with beauty.
9. Ramen Shop
5812 College Avenue, 510.640.5034
Phew! It’s been a long and delightful day, wandering, tasting and exploring, and now you’re probably ready for a nice cocktail and an early dinner. Just head north on College two blocks to Ramen Shop for the Bay Area’s best ramen (and best fried rice and donburi, too!) But be careful — it’s easy to pass it by since the signage is quite subtle: look on the east side of the street just north of Jules Thin Crust.
It’s not a bad idea to arrive a little early to Ramen Shop (they open at 5 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends), as they don’t take reservations and this place is very popular!
A great place to sit is at the bar overlooking the kitchen so you can watch the staff assemble your meal. Order a cocktail while you peruse the small, but tempting menu; Left & Leaving (mezcal, lemon, bergamot, orange shrubs, and Peychaud’s bitters) is a recent favorite.
There are always three ramen bowls to choose from, including a vegetarian ramen with Meyer lemon shoyu broth. The noodles are made fresh in house, and the chashu (roasted pork) is always rich and tender. If you love eggs, be sure to order an extra shoyu-marinated egg — so savory and tasty.
It’s also good to order the pickle plate for a nice contrast of crunch and acid, and you simply cannot leave without trying their fried rice, which is some of the best I’ve ever had. Hopefully you’re dining with a friend or two so you can share, but if not I can personally attest to the fact that the fried rice is delicious eaten cold straight from the carton the following day.
10. Rockridge BART Station
5660 College Avenue
Walk back one block south on College to where your chariot awaits you at the Rockridge BART station. (Sorry — just trying to get a laugh from the locals!) BART trains are notoriously off-schedule, so best to check the Real Time Departures on your phone before leaving Ramen Shop. In general, they should run about every 20 minutes in the evening.