The Drinkingest Corner
Church Bells, Roses and Lots of Dead People
The Route: This walk features four of Oakland’s oldest places of worship, a hidden creek, a necropolis, a rose garden and two awe-inspiring jazz-age theaters.
Perfect For: This trek is a recommended for out-of-towners who want to spend the day exploring Oakland before a show at the Paramount Theatre or Fox Theater.
Starting at 19th Street BART, head north up Broadway. At 27th Street, you’ll pass the Gothic First Presbyterian Church of Oakland. The congregation — the oldest in Oakland — dates back to 1853, but the current church was
completed in 1913 and boasts one of the largest pipe organs in the Bay Area. In the distance you can see the dome atop Temple Sinai, built in 1914 to serve a congregation dating back to 1875.
Turn right on 28th Street. At the end of the cul-de-sac is a pedestrian staircase. Take the left-right-left up the staircase. This lets you out in the parking lot of our next historic place of worship — the First Christian Church of Oakland, an ornate 1923 Mission Revival building. The church parking lot itself is a bit of a stray cat sanctuary, so be prepared if you’re taking this walk with your hound.
From the church, continue north up Fairmount Avenue. Where Fairmount veers right, there is a pedestrian staircase on your left. Take the staircase down to Richmond Boulevard and hang a right at the bottom of
the stairway. Richmond will take you along Oak Glen Park, which offers our first aboveground view of Glen Echo Creek (née Cemetery Creek), one of the main waterways in the Lake Merritt watershed. Tucked into a residential neighborhood and cut in two by Interstate 580, Oak Glen seems like an accidental afterthought — an unexpected gem of a park.
Follow Richmond to its end at MacArthur Boulevard. At MacArthur make a quick left then right to cross over onto Piedmont Avenue. A few blocks up Piedmont you’ll see the round sign for Cato’s Ale House, a recommended spot to stop for a pint to freshen your spirits.
From Cato’s, head east up Montell Street. On your left you’ll see the footpath through Glen Echo Park, another exposed section of Cemetery Creek. The park crosses the street and then lets you out on Panama Court. Hang left at Glen Avenue back to Piedmont Ave. Here you’ll find Piedmont Grocery, your best bet to pick up a picnic lunch. Continuing north up Piedmont you’ll pass The Church of St. Leo the Great, a 1928 Italianate church with yet another impressive pipe organ. More impressive still is the Chapel of the Chimes at the foot of Mountain View Cemetery. Also completed in 1928, this Julia Morgan structure is open to the public and boasts a powerful carillon. A quick tour of the chapel is highly recommended.
At this point, you’re at Mountain View Cemetery. Cemetery Creek continues to run both above and below ground along Moraga Avenue at the southern end of the cemetery, but you owe it to yourself keep heading northeast toward the hills in the back of the cemetery where the best views in Oakland are to be had. Allow yourself a good hour to wander among the dead in this beautiful necropolis. The inscriptions on the mausoleums read like an Oakland street map with names like Merritt, Shattuck, Tilden and Chabot. Those with a more morbid curiosity can track down the hidden grave of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.
When you’re done at the cemetery, backtrack down Piedmont to Linda Avenue. From there it’s left on Linda, right on Lake Avenue and left on Olive Avenue. Crossing Oakland Avenue on Olive, you come to the Morcom Rose Garden. Drop into the rose garden for a peaceful break and possible picnic lunch in the shade among the roses. Walk out through the front gates and make a right on Jean Street to Santa Clara Avenue. Right on Santa Clara and left on Chetwood Street to cross the highway where Chetwood turns into Adams Street. You may have seen the stately resting place of Edson Adams back at the cemetery.
At the end of Adams, make a right on Lee Street then a left on Vernon Street. Keep an eye out for Vernon Terrace on your right. The stairway at the end of the street will drop you onto Harrison Street across from the First Congregational Church, the last of the historic churches on today’s journey. This congregation traces its roots back to 1870, when the faithful used to gather at the home of Francis K. Shattuck who, like Mr. Adams, rests in Mountain View Cemetery.
Take a left on Harrison. As you approach Grand Avenue, you’ll notice little Adams Park on your left, by the Veterans Memorial Building. The stream that runs through that park is the end of Cemetery Creek just as it approaches its end at Lake Merritt. Across the street from the Veterans Building you’ll see Oakland’s newest grand cathedral — The Cathedral of Christ the Light – sporting an organ with an impressive 5,300 carved wood pipes.
Hang right down Grand to Broadway Avenue. You are now on the drinkingest corner in Oakland. You should eat and drink here. Sure, my restaurant (Luka’s Taproom & Lounge) and wine bar (the Punchdown Wine Bar) are both on this corner, but leaving that aside, if you can’t find something to satisfy you here, then you should check to see if you still have a pulse. You could pop into Hawker Fare for Michelin-starred chef James Syhabout’s take on Asian street food, or pop into Michelin-starred chef Daniel Patterson’s mixology mecca at Plum Bar. Down on 19th St., Donna Savitsky’s Flora offers one of the best traditional cocktail bars in town. Any of these bars and restaurants will give you a chance to refresh yourself before a night out among the living.
[A note to my esteemed readers: I received a call from a trekker who said he followed my itinerary and was terrified due to speeding traffic and a lack of sidewalks. It is true that some route finding may be necessary from time to time, but if you are afraid for your life, then you are lost. Check your bearings and get back to safety!]
Rick Mitchell runs Luka’s Taproom & Lounge and the Punchdown Wine Bar and credits dedicated staff for “doing all the heavy lifting.”