Where to Shop, Play, and Eat in Old Town Oakland
Browse for books and Beast Mode apparel, see murals and historic sites, and eat your heart out.
Photo by Pat Mazzera
The rows of renovated Victorian buildings in Oakland’s historic district (and original downtown) hint at the grandeur of late-19th-century society. A century-plus later, Old Oakland’s luster shines with its wide selection of indie retail shops, colorful street life, and the foodie heaven that is Swan’s Market.
Support the Oakland Public Library by shopping at the Bookmark Bookstore where all used books, CDs, DVDs, and LPs are priced to move. Over 10,000 books and other items are donated each year and are expertly organized by a cast of friendly volunteers and retired librarians. Careful perusing can yield a treasure or two, and check back often since stock is added every day. Also worth a look are the creative, often interactive displays. 721 Washington St., 510-444-0473, Bookmark.fopl.org
Behind a row of hot pink planters sits Crown Nine, a jewelry boutique in the former carriage house of the Ratto’s International Market and Deli building. The flagship store for Oakland designer Kate Ellen is best described as refined with a touch of rustic. Careful consideration has been given to the jewelry makers on display, as well as the etched copper medallions that bear their names and locations. A haven for both made-to-order and custom engagement rings and wedding bands, the shop also features select home goods and scents. 515 Ninth St., 510-251-9000, Crown-Nine.com
Beast Mode Apparel is football star Marshawn Lynch’s hometown hub — for his homegrown, athleisure clothing line and many of his charitable activities, including free haircuts on an old-school barber’s chair for K-12 students who bring in their report cards. The mood is laid-back and lively, complete with a game console, flat screen, free Skittles, and a variety of Beast Mode-branded bikes, kid cars, and other toys. Number 24-emblazoned wear can be found in men’s, women’s, and kid’s sizes. 811 Broadway, 510-908-2195, BeastModeOnline.com
One of the oldest farmers markets in the city happens every Friday (except Black Friday), rain or shine, at Ninth Street and Broadway. Known for its wide selection of Asian produce (winter melon, lotus root, jujubes) as well as more esoteric delicacies (balut duck embryo and salted egg yolk), the Old Oakland Farmer Market also features more typical California fare. The prevailing mood is party-like, so enjoy. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Fridays, UVFM.org/old-oakland-Fridays
Among the murals in Old Oakland is the impressive one that encompasses the Engineers and Scientists of California Local 20 union hall at Eighth and Clay streets. Painted by the Community Rejuvenation Project, Desi Mundo, Pancho Peskador, and Youth Spirit Artworks, the brightly hued Local 20 mural depicts the union’s workers toting their slogan — “An injury to one is an injury to all.” 810 Clay St., LocalWiki.org/oakland/Local_20_Mural
What better way to learn about the neighborhood’s history than via a free walking tour sponsored by the city of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs department. Guides walk you through the historic Victorians and describe what the original downtown was like during the 1870s, when it served as the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. Tours are conducted twice a week (on Wednesdays and Saturdays) from May to October. Reservations are required. For more information see OaklandNet.com/walkingtours
A mainstay of Swan’s Market, Miss Ollie’s serves authentic (and elegant) Caribbean food: salt fish and ackee Jamaican breakfast, split pea and okra pholourie fritters from Trinidad, and some of the best fried chicken in town, seasoned West Indian-style. Wash down the deliciousness with an amber-toned ginger lemonade or something more potent. 901 Washington St., 510-285-6188, RealMissOllieOakland.com
In 1897, Giovanni Batista Ratto opened his Italian-flavored grocery in a Victorian building on Washington Street. Over 120 years later, G.B. Ratto’s International Market and Deli continues the Old World charm with its wide-ranging sandwich selection and imported dry goods. On Saturdays, you can eat a mortadella Italian combo sub and sip a glass of red wine while listening to live jazz. 821 Washington St., 510-832-6503, Rattos.com
A recent transplant to Swan’s, Coloso Coffee caters to the coffee geek. The sleek, white-tiled cafe serves (and sells) Heart Coffee, a Portland roaster known for its clean and complex blends. Coloso (which means “colossal” in Spanish) also offers baked goods from Bon 2 Bakeshop and La Chinoiserie to complete the artisanal coffee experience. 917 Washington St., ColosoCoffee.com