What’s It Like?
The Grand-Lakeshore district is the crossroads of Oakland. Seemingly everyone in town spends time here, whether they walk in from the surrounding neighborhoods, ride in on one of the major bus lines that pass through or drive in for a couple of hours of shopping and noshing. The well-known diversity of the city can be seen here from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. most days of the week. The district is also just a short walk from Lake Merritt, Oakland’s crown jewel, making it a great place to stop before or after a leisurely stroll along water.
Grand Avenue cuts through several Oakland neighborhoods, from its beginnings as the border between downtown to uptown to where it transects Piedmont and becomes Pleasant Valley Avenue. The length of Grand that creates one side of the Grand-Lakeshore district runs from the 580 Freeway north to about Weldon Avenue, give or take a block depending on the state of the economy in any given year.
This wide, four-lane boulevard has seen and survived many changes of time, fashion, and taste. Nowadays, the avenue is a relaxed and easygoing social center perfect for finding breakfast, a midday espresso or late night drinks.
The Lakeshore Avenue shopping and dining strip is a shorter stretch than Grand, but the street is narrower and more businesses are packed in, so it’s constantly alive with diners, shoppers and people watchers. The tree-lined street is a great place to stroll, eat, window shop, and catch up with friends.
Connecting the two is the brief but busy Lake Park Avenue. For all of the car traffic, foot traffic Lake Park keeps a park, a classic hamburger stand and a popular farmers’ market thriving. All of these and the diversions on Grand and Lakeshore make the district a place where finding something fun and interesting to do is an easy way to spend a few hours.
Sights & Culture
A good first or last stop (depending on when you’d like to kill a couple of hours) is the Grand Lake Theater . Built in 1926 and similar in design and feel to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, the Grand Lake was one of three movie palaces, along with the Fox Oakland and the Paramount, that Oaklanders visited to escape the depression years. In addition to films, the theater also had live concerts. You can still experience the old-time grandeur when the Grand Lake has its weekly rendition of the Wurlitzer mini-concert (every Friday and Saturday night). The organ rises up out of the floor — along with its conductor — and a short set of show tunes is played before the film starts. The theater is also well-known for its progressive political marquee messages . Grand Lake Theater is at the corner of Grand and MacArthur. ( Web site )
Grand Lake Farmers’ Market: With the renovation and enlargement of Splash Pad Park, its home, the Lake Merritt Farmers’ Market has improved as well. There are more seasonal produce vendors than ever at this Saturday event, selling everything from beets to greens to melons to mushrooms. There are now also several purveyors of prepared food, including pancakes, tamales, samosas and roast chicken. Sometimes you’ll even be able to find parking right behind the market, under the 580 Freeway. Splash Pad Park, Lake Park Ave., (800) 897-3276.
Splash Pad Park: Where once lapped the northern most arm of Lake Merritt, now stands revived and revitalized Splash Pad Park. After construction of the 580 Freeway in the 1960s, the park became little more than a wide traffic island until citizens came to the rescue in the late 1990s. With the design savvy of nationally-known (and Oakland-based) landscape designer Walter Hood, a street was removed, native plants sprang up and places to sit appeared. Today, Splash Pad Park today provides a place to meet friends, hang out before the movie starts and eat a take-out lunch. Along Lake Park Ave., between Grand Ave. and Lakeshore Ave.
Arizmendi: Fresh-baked goods, like bread and pizza, come straight out of the oven and into your hands (ouch!). Grab some coffee, then park yourself at one of the outdoor tables and watch the people stream by in olfactory envy. 3265 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 268-8849.
Camino: Opened by Chez Panisse alum Russell Moore in 2008, Camino’s dining room, with its exposed brick walls and long wood tables, has quickly become a go-to spot on the Oakland dining scene. The limited menu varies nightly but always focuses on seasonal, sustainable food, whether that’s half a Dungeness crab cooked in the open fireplace or grilled pork and herb sausages with sauerkraut. Also try Camino’s take on brunch — you can’t go wrong with wood oven-baked eggs, potatoes cooked in duck fat and a sweet or savory condiment plate. The wine list is small but well-selected, and they also have a full bar. 3917 Grand Ave., (510) 547-5035; caminorestaurant.com . ( Chronicle review ).
Bangkok Palace: The white table cloths, enormous menu and busboys who can’t stop filling your water glass are Thai restaurant fixtures even Bangkok Palace couldn’t avoid. The difference is that many items on the menu are rarely seen elsewhere. The appetizer rolls come in several variations, including one crammed with pork, Chinese sausage, egg and tofu, while the po teak soup contains a virtual Fisherman’s Wharf worth of seafood. Thai salads, curries, noodles, and vegetarian and pan-fried dishes make it pretty difficult not to find something to eat here. 3300 Grand Ave., (510) 465-4673.
Boot and Shoe Service: This sister restaurant to popular Pizzaiolo on Telegraph Avenue also stars chef/owner Charlie Hallowell’s thin-crust wood-fired pizzas topped with everything from rapini and housemade sausage to wild nettles and ricotta, along with antipasti like fritto misto and wood oven-cooked mushrooms. In the hopping back bar, patrons sip wine, beer and cocktails — try something with the housemade tonic water — while waiting for a table (Boot and Shoe doesn’t accept reservations, but the daily menu is available to go). Finish your meal with a bowl of Straus vanilla soft serve with olive oil. Oh, and if there’s burrata on the menu, order it. 3308 Grand Ave., (510) 763-2668; bootandshoeservice.com .
The Coffee Mill & Bakery: This is Oakland’s oldest coffee place, and it makes a great people-watching spot. For the past 30 years, locals have gathered here to hear spoken word, sell their homemade crafts or display their paintings on the shop’s long walls. Besides the usual coffee drinks, you can get sandwiches, soups and salads. Outside there is a small patio to linger in while you bask in the afternoon sun and watch the parade of SUVs. 3363 Grand Ave., (510) 465-4224.
Lakeshore Cafe: If you like rolling out of bed and wandering to someplace for a nice hot breakfast, we suggest the friendly Lakeshore Cafe. You’ve got your basic eggs, your omelettes, your chicken sausage, your pancakes and your French toast. If you roll out of bed a little late in the day, try the veggie, beef or chicken sandwiches, or cuddle up to a burger and curly fries. Sunday brunch includes ingredients like hollandaise, steak and salmon, so at least change out of those pajamas before you go. 3257 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 832-4374.
Lynn & Lu’s Escapade Cafe: This popular breakfast and lunch hot spot serves some of the best oatmeal pancakes this side of the lake. The menu also features classic egg dishes, salads and sandwiches. The atmosphere is relaxed and homey, a great place to eat and read. 3353 Grand Ave., (510) 835-5705.
Mezze: Yum! Mezze is a serious dining contender, cooking up savory Mediterranean meals anyone would be hard-pressed to find on either side of the Bay. I mean, vanilla bean-brined veal chop? Moroccan-braised lamb shank? Coriander-crusted ahi tuna? Yes, it’s a hyphenated delight and delicious to boot. The desserts are perfect. Did I say, “Yum!”? 3407 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 663-2500. ( Chronicle Review / Web site )
Mijori: A wildly popular neighborhood sushi spot where regulars queue up for rolls with names like Tiger Eye (squid-wrapped salmon baked with a slightly sweet sauce) and the Highway 50 (deep-fried shrimp with spicy tuna rolled into rice and topped with barbecued eel). The fish is fresh, cheap and cut on the big side; the rolls are big, filling, messy and fun. Special vegetarian combinations are also available. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 3260 Grand Ave., (510) 465-8854.
Sidebar: When husband-and-wife team Barbara Mulas and Mark Drazek opened Sidebar, fans of the couple’s now-defunct Zax restaurant were once again able to fill their bellies with fresh, seasonal dishes (including Zax’s popular goat cheese souffle, which Sidebar makes on Wednesday nights). Comforting fare like deviled eggs, steamed Manila clams, steak frites and a good burger are also on the menu, plus the bartenders mix up tasty cocktails. It’s a good spot for a weekday lunch. Check out Sidebar on Twitter and/or Facebook for nightly specials. 542 Grand Ave., (510) 452-9500; sidebar-oakland.com
Spettro: Friends and neighbors all over the East Bay recommend Spettro’s sophisticated Italian dishes, relaxed atmosphere, and kid-friendly pizzas. 3355 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 465-8320. ( Chronicle Review )
For more Oakland restaurants , check out these Chronicle reviews.
Glow: This fun boutique specializes in off-the-rack clothing for women somewhere between 20 and 40. You’ll find the latest designer and no-name jeans, tops and jackets fresh from the burgeoning fashion alleys and lofts of Los Angeles. Some of the merchandise is glitzy, some of it is just cool. The selection changes regularly, so you’re always likely to find something new to try on. 3261 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 832-4132.
Lakeshore Natural Foods: From whole grains to natural remedies for migraines, this place has all kinds of organic, holistic goods and products. For 25 years, Lakeshore Natural Foods has been the place to go for tincture of alfalfa, soy ice cream, natural pet supplements and alternative diapers. Stop by to read posted announcements of upcoming holistic events. 3321 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 452-1079.
Maribel: Just a few doors down from Glow sits Maribel, a collection of new and consignment clothes for women. Pants, skirts, tops, purses, hats and shoes line the racks and the walls. The look here is hip, easy urban fashion perfect for the understated Oakland lifestyle. There’s also a case of wonderful jewelry, and everything is more than reasonably priced. 3251 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 419-0677.
Michael Mischer Chocolates: Who’d of thunk it? A gourmet chocolate shop on Grand Avenue, one that dares to rival European chocolate boutiques. Michael Mischer doesn’t make candy — he makes delicious variations of truffles and bon-bons. Yes, there are the mocha and caramel crowd pleasers, but those are mere opening acts to main events such as champagne, pear, tequila and green tea. Now, if he could only do something as extraordinary with the rather unwelcoming space, which swallows the diminutive chocolate displays and makes the two cafe tables appear forlorn. 3352 Grand Ave., (510) 986-1822.
Oakland Kosher Foods: Locals keening for a big selection of fresh kosher meats and other products head straight for Oakland Kosher Foods. Rabbinical supervision ensures that the food sold here is indeed kosher, as posted certificates verify. Choose cuts of beef, lamb, veal and turkey. You’ll be hard pressed to find another local business that offers kosher osso bucco, kosher French wines and a full service deli. 3419 Lakeshore Ave., (510) 839-0177.
Queen: Have you always wanted to decorate your bed or sofa with a pillow that has “Brown Sugar” or “Queen” stitched across it in flawless cursive? Who hasn’t? At this little storefront workshop of “distinctive home accents,” you can have pillows, drapes, shades, shams and bedspreads made to order. The fabrics are lush and the designs deluxe. And those pillows can be embroidered with pet names or literary quotes — whatever your heart desires. The lush shop window overflows with fabric samples and already-embroidered pillows that can be purchased as great last-minute, one-of-a-kind gifts. 3338 Grand Ave., (510) 208-3000.
Silver Moon: There’s no denying it — the basic rearing and upkeep of babies, toddlers and kids takes a big bite out of the old wallet. That’s why the children’s clothes and toy resale shop Silver Moon is a boon to moms and dads everywhere. The consignment clothing is especially helpful for stretching the funds of young parents. Find quality jumpers, bottoms, tops and shoes. Plus, there are scads of new and used toys and games for sale that will make the little ones happy. 3221 Grand Ave., (510) 835-2229.
Uhuru Furniture ETC: Uhuru is more than a used furniture shop, it’s a community center and political movement headquarters. Uhuru’s primary mission is to “Defend the Democratic Rights of the African Community.” The organization raises money for the Uhuru Movement for African Self-Determination, which is engaged in building solidarity from the white community for campaigns and programs of the African working class-led Uhuru movement. 3742 Grand Ave., (510) 763-3342. ( Web site )
Walden Pond Books: Oakland’s largest independent bookstore is a great place to go after dinner or a movie if you’re not up for a drink. Walden’s has more than 10,000 titles of new and used books, plus a great selection of rare books. They also handle special orders. 3316 Grand Ave., (510) 832-4438. ( Web site )
The Alley: Venture into one of the last great piano bars. Ron Dibble tickles the ivories silly (and seriously) five nights a week, covering everything from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway to standards. Food is served, but it is secondary to the music and the camaraderie of locals. 3325 Grand Ave., (510) 444-8505.
Heart and Dagger Saloon : Good spirits for bad people. That’s the motto at this rock ‘n’ roll bar in the former home of the Serenader. Don’t expect fancy cocktails with egg whites — cheap PBR tall boys and gin and tonics are better suited to this neighborhood watering hole. For your entertainment, there are pinball machines, a pool table, and old-school arcade games like Donkey Kong, Galaga and Ms. Pac Man, plus a well-stocked jukebox and horror flicks playing on one of the TVs. The big patio is a prime spot for sunny Oakland afternoons. Cash only; dog-friendly; Wi-Fi available; happy hour weekdays 4-7 p.m. 504 Lake Park Ave., (510) 444-7300; heartanddaggersaloon.com .
Kingman’s Lucky Lounge: This bar has a Zagat rating, and a pretty good one at that. It seems we’ll all have a Zagat rating soon, but the Lucky Lounge deserves it. Oakland’s famously diverse population actually mixes here, hanging on the couches and listening to the nightly DJs spin jazz, house, hip-hop and more. It’s a fine place to just be whatever it is you are. 3332 Grand Ave., (510) 465-5464.
Smitty’s: When you walk into Smitty’s for the first time, you will likely notice the sudden snapping shut of Altoid tins all up and down the bar — yet, no one is having a mint, much less offering you one. Then there’s the lingering drift of cigarette smoke pushing at the ceiling. Could the two be related? Smitty’s welcomes those who still resent anti-smoking laws. Everyone else should be prepared to smell like cigarettes when they leave. 3339 Grand Ave., (510) 834-1591.