26 Reasons to Visit and Run Oakland (and Love It)

Running the Oakland Marathon

I haven’t enjoyed a road marathon as much as last Sunday’s Oakland Marathon in a long time. It wasn’t just the community spirit that carried me along the way. It was the city itself—its historic landmarks, diverse streetscapes and distinctive shopping districts. Oakland is such a cool place, with so much to offer runners and visitors, and yet it gets such a bad rap.

Whenever we travel and people ask where I’m from, I say Oakland, because nobody outside of the Bay Area has heard of Piedmont (the small town I live in next to Oakland). The typical reaction is a look of barely concealed distaste and concern. Several ask, “Is it safe?” They only know the Oakland in the national news: the city with high crime, broken schools and demoralized police. Those chronic problems do exist and can’t be sugarcoated. But they overshadow all the positive things about the city. The bad reputation itself becomes a chronic, self-fulfilling problem.

I thought about writing a race report but decided to take this opportunity instead to spotlight 26 reasons why Oakland is a city that runners—and tourists—would love. Besides, I can boil my race report down to a haiku:

Nice and steady pace

Age-group win, three-twenty-six

Oakland Marathon

Instead of racing hard with a time goal, I approached it as a training run in advance of the April 9 American River 50 Mile. The marathon felt like a party as I spotted friends and neighbors along the course and yakked with other runners.

About 900 finished the full marathon and 3400 ran the half. The well-organized races were part of the two-day Oakland Running Festival.

It would be easy simply to list every mile of the marathon route, since each mile revealed something worthwhile as we ran from Downtown through Uptown, Temescal, Rockridge, Montclair, Dimond Distrcit, East Oakland, Fruitvale, Jack London Square, West Oakland and Lake Merritt, finishing at City Hall. Instead, I came up with 26 other reasons. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Redwood Regional Park‘s trails
  2. Joaquin Miller Park‘s trails
  3. Transports running store
  4. Lake Merritt, where I run at least once/week

    Running around Lake Merritt toward the end of the marathon.

  5. Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders running club and their 4th Sunday races
  6. Lake Temescal, a nice place to run as well as picnic and swim
  7. The Skyline 50K through the Oakland hills
  8. The 9-mile Woodminster XC race
  9. Speaking of Woodminster, the Woodminster Summer Musical series under the stars
  10. Seeing local Olympians Magdalena Lewy-Boulet and Regina Jacobs running on the trails
  11. Seeing Governor Jerry Brown hiking on the trails
  12. Jack London Square (where my husband just opened his new business) with its warehouse district, wine bars, and restaurants like Yoshi’s, Bocanova and Everett & Jones BBQ
  13. Uptown with restaurants and bars like Flora, Plum and Luka’s

    Marathoners head through Uptown on Broadway in the first mile (photo courtesy of Scott Dunlap).

  14. Old Oakland around 8th and Broadway with restaurants and bars like The Trappist and Tamarindo
  15. Montclair Village with its farmers’ market, cafes and Crogan’s
  16. Temescal District (around 51st and Telegraph) with restaurants like Dona Tomas and Pizzaiola
  17. Fruitvale District (along International Boulevard) with its Mexican food and culture
  18. College Avenue for everything and Piedmont Avenue, Grand Avenue and Lakeshore for everything else
  19. The spiffy Mandela Parkway through West Oakland, developed after the freeway pancaked in the ’89 earthquake
  20. Not one but two great circus arts training facilities in West Oakland: Kinetic Arts and Trapeze Arts
  21. The funky, innovative Crucible studio for industrial arts in West Oakland (which set up a flaming archway for marathoners to run under)

    The Crucible's flaming arch on the marathon course (photo courtesy Scott Dunlap).

  22. Touchstone in downtown Oakland, my kids’ favorite climbing gym
  23. Special independent bookstores: Diesel (College Ave), Great Good Place (Montclair), Laurel (MacArthur Boulevard)
  24. Special independent grocers: Piedmont Grocery, Village Market, Farmer Joe’s
  25. Special historic theaters: the Fox, the Paramount, the Grand Lake
  26. The Oakland Zoo (way better than SF’s zoo)

I’m not that into the Raiders, so I left them off the list—but I love taking the kids to A’s games.

What would you add? I realize the list lacks one thing for visitors to Oakland: recommendations on hotels and other lodging options. Can anyone make recommendations in the comments below?

For those of you who came to this blog post looking for a real report on the Oakland Marathon, check out Scott Dunlap’s writeup. He took some great photos while running—and still finished in a blazing 2:53!

Hanging out with master blogger and runner Scott Dunlap after the race.

For a list of 100 other things to do in Oakland, check out the visitor bureau’s guide.

See you at the start line of the 2012 Oakland Marathon. I definitely plan to put it on next year’s calendar.

(Aeriel image of Lake Merritt and Oakland cityscape reprinted with permission of Aerial Archives.)

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11 Responses to 26 Reasons to Visit and Run Oakland (and Love It)

  1. Paul March 31, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Well done! Looks like you had a great day out there too 🙂

  2. Norbert Leinfellner April 1, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    Great report – thanks for sharing Sarah!

  3. Alita April 1, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    fabulous article, Sarah. Written with pride by an Oaklander from Piedmont!!
    I think you hit most of the high points.
    Best used/vintage clothing store in Northern California – Crossroads on College and Chabot – I think you ran up there on the course.
    Lake Chalet welcoming runners in sweaty clothes for brunch on the weekend.
    I’m glad you had a great time!

  4. Elisa Williams April 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Re: Hotel and motel recommendations, our office is here to help connect people with the right places for their interests and budget. Visit Oakland – http://www.visitoakland.org and our office is at 463 11th Street. We also have a comprehensive list of restaurants, events and 100 Things to See & Do in Oakland.

    Loved your story!

  5. ScottD April 2, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Great to see you!

  6. Jomo April 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Nicely done, and a nice review of our neck of the woods. Here’s hoping this race sticks around and grows (but not too much) in the coming years.

  7. ScottD April 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Hey, I just saw that you didn’t just win your age group…you are the MASTERS CHAMPION! Woo-hoo!!!

    • Sarah April 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      Scott — thanks for letting me know — I had no idea! I wonder if I get a prize or comp’ed entry to next year’s?

  8. Carrie April 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    and the most awesome church – Montclair Presbyterian!

  9. Shoshanna May 15, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Great post! I grew up in Oakland and my mom recently moved back there. We both run so we’ll have to check out some of those trails next time I visit.

  10. Laura May 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    Lived in Oakland all my life, almost 37 years, did the Oakland marathon relay last year and LOVED it! Missed the half this year due to IT band injury, thanks for this great re-cap!

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