Oakland should be every lesbian’s indoctrination into queer-centric awesomeness. Culture? Check. Diversity? Check. Nightlife? Check. In the U.S. city with the most dykes per capita, there’s a representation of every woman imaginable— from the hipster chick, to the artist, to the intellectual to, the urban adventurer.
Oakland is a community built heavily on social justice mores, stemming from protests and activism from the ‘60s. Like other cities, there’s still an inequity between classes; however, lesbians seem to be at the forefront of change in this area. Oakland embraces individualism, which is reflected in the way the women talk to you, accept your opinions, appreciate your views and share your interests.
Because of the high concentration of gay women in Oakland, you’ll find a lot of popular businesses that are lesbian-owned and attract a local following. Queers in Oakland are stepping up their entrepreneurial game amongst so many successful LGBT businesses. It’s no surprise why lesbians choose this city as a place to settle down. “There are so many out lesbians and lesbian couples with kids in Oakland”, notes Kim Bardakian, public relations manager of Visit Oakland (visitoakland.org.)
Oakland is so queer-friendly that there’s no designated gayborhood like The Castro in San Francisco or Park Slope in Brooklyn. Everybody mingles together, and you’ll rarely find exclusive bars for either orientation. If this doesn’t sell you, then how about the beautiful weather? Oakland is consistently between 60 and 72 degrees year round, making it one of the most delightful climates in the country.
While you’re here, you could spend an entire day visiting lesbian-owned stores, several of which are owned by women of color. A shop drawing a lot of buzz from visitors is Show & Tell (1427 Broadway, B, 510-463-4964, showandtelloakland. com) co-owned by Alyah Baker and Nicole Payton, whose store sells jewelry, clothing, hats and other items from local, eco-conscious designers. They recently held a queer art exhibit inside the store, a collection called “Butch”, showcasing photographs of masculine-identified women in the Oakland community.
Forget about big chain stores like Macys or TJ Maxx. One of Oakland’s charms is its plethora of unique boutiques. Head to Temescal Alley (49th St bet Telegraph Ave and Clarke St), a hidden gem unfamiliar to even the average resident. This alley of shops converted from horse stables yields such treasures as Marisa Haskell, featuring modern, bohemian jewelry; Walrus, for upcycled and repurposed goods; and Homestead Apothecary, a goldmine of fresh, herbal medicines available by the ounce. It would be a crime to leave without trying one of Doughnut Dolly’s donuts, filled with injected yumminess like chocolate or ‘naughty’ cream.
To get outside, visit the 3.5 mile Lake Merritt, where there’s a paved ground for bikers, runners and walkers. The view doesn’t hurt, either: the lake is surrounded by striking buildings, sculptures and architectural wonders, including the futuristic Cathedral of Christ the Light (2121 Harrison St, 510-832-5057, ctlcathedral.org.) Hop off your bike and take the Light Tour inside the cathedral, which has won tons of prestigious architectural awards. If you brought along your girlfriend, take the romantic hour-long gondola tour around the lake. “If we get a gay couple, it’s usually a lesbian couple, three or four times a week”, smiles Cozimo, one of the gondoliers.
Other outdoor activities to try include stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking in the Oakland Estuary (calkayak.com), hiking in scenic Redwood Park (ebparks.org/parks/redwood), or swimming at Lake Temescal Regional Park (ebparks.org/parks/temescal.) Trek over to stately Mountainview Cemetery (5000 Piedmont Ave, mountainviewcemetery .org) for stellar panoramic views of Oakland.
Among the city’s most interesting cultural offerings are Oakland Art Murmur’s First Fridays and Saturday Strolls (oaklandartmurmur.org/firstfriday). A nonprofit arts organization, Oakland Art Murmur organizes exciting cultural events around town, including these two recurring art walks. Every first Friday of the month, a group of nearly 30 galleries in Oakland have coordinated openings from 6pm to 9pm. Saturday Strolls are available every Saturday from 1pm to 5pm, giving visitors and art enthusiasts ample opportunity to soak up Oakland’s thriving arts scene.
Where to stay? Book a room at the nautical-themed Waterfront Hotel (10 Washington St, 510-836-3800, jdvhotels.com/hotels/california /san-francisco-hotels/waterfront-hotel) situated in Jack London Square, offering sweeping views of the Oakland Estuary. The hotel boasts homey amenities like a fridge, microwave, complimentary bottled water and a Keurig coffee maker. A free hotel shuttle conveniently runs from 4pm-8pm Monday through Friday.
Hungry? Across the street is one of the newest restaurants in Jack London Square: Jack’s Oyster Bar & Fish House (336 Water St, 510-271-7952, jacksoakland.com.) Choose from different types of fresh oysters from California and Washington State. Also in Jack London Square is Forge Pizza (66 Franklin St, 510-268-3200, theforgepizza. com) which opened last year and serves handcrafted Neapolitan pies topped with cauliflower, mushrooms or roasted corn. Another Italian option is Boot and Shoe Service (3308 Grand Ave, 510-763-2668, bootandshoeservice. com), a lively, crowd-pleasing pizzeria that serves creative thin-crust pies topped with farm-fresh ingredients. Take a seat at a communal table and enjoy the eclectic, laid-back atmosphere. It’s trendy without the ‘tude. You can also order a luscious cocktail to start your brunch, lunch or evening off right. Pizzaiolo (5008 Telegraph Ave, 510-652-4888, pizzaiolooakland.com) is a sister restaurant of Boot and Shoe Service. If you’re a fan of wood-fired pies and seasonal Italian fare, you’ve come to the right place. Pizzaiolo is an upscale yet unpretentious eatery that excels in farm-to-table pastas and pizzas; also available is a mighty fine breakfast six days a week, featuring coffees, teas and mouthwatering pastries.
For lesbian-owned dining options, there are plenty. Start at Juhu Beach Club (5179 Telegraph Ave, 510-652-7350, juhubeachclub.com), where London-born Top Chef contestant Preeti Mistry puts a spin on traditional Indian food. Inspired by the cuisine of her family’s native India, Preeti has created Pavs (slider-sized sammies) that combine Indian and European influences. Try the chowpatti chicken (green chili chicken and tangy slaw) or the shrimp po’bhai (BBQ shrimp with curry leaf ginger butter) while basking in the restaurant’s sunny décor, designed by her wife. Other lesbian-owned eateries include the Caribbean-themed Miss Ollie’s (901 Washington St, 510-285-6188, missolliesoakland.com), cute bakery Donut Savant (1934 Broadway, 206-409-3770, donutsavant.com) and Café Gabriela (988 Broadway, 510-763-2233, no website.)
If you’re in the Temescal area and want a quick bite, grab a buttermilk chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty (5098 Telegraph Ave, 510-985-1213, bakesalebetty.com), a taste treat that brings long lines out the door. Diners lucky enough to catch a seat eat on the ironing boards turned into tables. If you’re an ice cream lover, there’s only one place to satisfy your craving: Fenton’s Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave, 510-658-7000, fentonscreamery.com), a powerhouse ice cream shop celebrating its 120th anniversary. Fun fact: it’s the birthplace of the toasted almond, Swiss milk chocolate and rocky road flavors. The shop sells over a ton of ice cream daily, and all of it is made on premises.
Wanna party? The most popular party promoters in Oakland include fiveTEN Oakland Events, The Social Life and events thrown by DJ Olga T. fiveTEN Oakland Events (fivetenoaklandevents.com) produces queer special events year round, including fiveTEN Oakland Pride Weekend every August, live entertainment, theater events and one-person shows. fiveTEN produced the butchLYFE Fashion Show, and in 2015 will be introducing Queer Fashion Week (queerfashionweek.com). In 2013 and 2014, fiveTEN Oakland Events also co-produced the annual Black Weirdo party. DJ Olga T (facebook.com/pages/DJ-OLGA-T/82225096993) promotes the weekly Wednesday lesbian event, Good Times, at Bench & Bar (2120 Broadway, 510-444-2266, bench-and-bar.com) in downtown Oakland. For a socially-conscious vibe, Ships in the Night (shipsinthanight.blogspot.com) is both an activist organization and a queer dance party, facilitating arts-based fundraising events for local, community-oriented Bay Area projects. Every first Saturday in Oakland, there’s a Ships in the Night event. Check out their website or Facebook page (facebook.com/pages/Ships-In-The-Night/141659220983) for the latest details.
For a combination of a workout and party, visit Nathalie Huerta’s Pain and Champagne event every second Sunday at her gay gym, The Perfect Sidekick (2706 Park Blvd, 510-808-5057, theperfectsidekick.com.) Or drop by for a fitness fix at what she describes as “the first and only LGBTQ gym in the nation.” If you’re OK with mixed and/or mainstream nightlife, definitely check out Café Van Kleef (1621 Telegraph Ave, 510-763-7711, cafevankleef. com), a popular, funky and fashionable watering hole with live music and incredibly tasty, modestly-priced drinks. Many judge it to be the best bar in downtown Oakland—and for good reason. It’s got a quirky antique-filled décor, a bubbly ambiance, courteous bartenders and amazingly well-crafted cocktails that won’t break the bank. What more could you ask for? Make Westing (1741 Telegraph Ave, 510-251-1400, makewesting.com), located near the Fox Theater, offers drinks, epicurean pub fare and bocce ball in stylish surroundings. Slurp scrumptious house cocktails (like the French Muse or Garden Gimlet), on-tap beer or estate wines, then play bocce ball with your friends—or make new ones. In addition to drinks, Make Westing also serves an appetizing selection of bar bites, small plates and sandwiches.
If you’re unable to visit in winter, plan to come during fiveTEN Oakland Pride Weekend (oaklandpride.org), the annual gay festival on Labor Day Weekend. Oakland has been celebrating its own LGBT Pride for five years, and 2014 marked the first time a parade was held. The celebration attracts thousands of lesbians, and most events are female-dominated, including skate parties, karaoke, transgender parties and huge nightly events. This past year, one of the highlights of fiveTEN Oakland Pride Weekend was the Oakland Pride Revolve Film Festival, featuring the documentary Limited Partnership and a screening of Dyke Central. “Fierce Sistahs! Activism, Art & Community of Bay Area Lesbians of Color 1975–Present,” an exhibit curated by Lenn Keller at the Oakland Public Library, introduced visitors to the city’s lesbian culture and history. Another can’t-miss Oakland Pride event? The Sunset Bay Cruise, sailing from the Oakland Estuary into San Francisco Bay.
Oakland’s airport is served by numerous major airlines including Southwest, U.S. Airways, Delta and Jet Blue. If traveling from the Los Angeles area, MegaBus will take you nonstop to Oakland for fares starting at just a buck.
If you want to know what a lesbian buffet looks like, jump on a plane to “Bump City” where you’ll truly realize what it means to be part of an LGBT family. Oakland girls are genuinely friendly, and if they catch your eye across the dance floor, there’s usually a warm acknowledgement like a smile or wave. You’re bound to leave Oakland having met tons of new friends.