Where to stay:
When I want to get away from family during extended stays, checking into The Claremont is the honeycomb hideout. Technically, located in the Berkeley hills, this is probably one of the only places where I’d plop down some cash in the Bay, outside of San Francisco. Plus, it is close to the Oakland-Berkeley border and San Francisco is only ten minutes away, across the Bay Bridge. Aside from the location, The Claremont is a gorgeous, vintage property with a spectacular spa — which you can lounge in for hours, even without an appointment — a heated pool, tennis courts, a classy gym, a tinge of The Shining and a view of the Bay Area that screams ‘Forget Instagram, this deserves a long stare over a brown drink.’
Bonus, The Paragon Restaurant & Bar at The Claremont is popular with upwardly mobile young people, and usually a festive place to hang out for music and drinks on the weekend.
Where to eat:
Because I am so much of a breakfast person, this was the hardest to narrow down. Here we go …
Mama’s Royal leads the pack for being the most consistently good, no matter how busy they get — and this place stays busy. I almost always get the crab, spinach and jack cheese omelet. The pancakes are surprisingly light, despite their dense appearance, which is a win in my book.
Oakland Grill has some of the best brunch specials in town and their food is always extremely fresh. My theory? The restaurant is close to the docks of the city’s Jack London Square. Plus, their mimosas are served in tall glasses and flow endlessly on weekends, and for $4.95 you really can’t help but to toss back a few.
Blackberry Bistro is still in my heart and makes the list, despite long wait times for the food to get from the kitchen to the table on busy weekends. The best of the menu is a tie between the southern plate (shrimp and grits) and the berry french toast. *Insider’s tip: Order the french toast with the Gran Marnier sauce that is usually served with the crepes. They may or may not charge you extra, but don’t let them punk you by telling you they can’t make it. Be persistent and you’ll be glad you stood your ground because it is well worth fighting for.
La Note is a quaint, rural-themed French breakfast (and dinner) dream. Their french toast is delicious and plentiful. Don’t be ashamed if you want to recruit a partner to devour one plate, your belly will thank you later. Treat yourself to an appetizer to start, the order-table time for your entrees might take a little while but the savory or sweet eats, depending on your preference, is worth it.
The Burrito Shop is always there to fulfill your midday take-out needs. Fast, clean and efficient — even Chipotle opening across the street couldn’t slow down the flow into this town favorite. While other restaurants on Lakeshore Avenue have come and gone, The Burrito Shop has remained a permanent fixture. I’ve had lots of fish tacos in my life as a pescatarian, but the honey chipotle sauce and mild salsa make these outstanding and definitely something to write home about.
If you want to sit down and get cozy, by all means, pull up a chair and stay awhile at Little Shin-Shins. My family and I have been eating at this family-owned restaurant since I was in elementary school. Amazingly, the food has been consistently delicious every. single. time. When I ate meat, I lived for the szechwan chicken. But no matter what you order here, it will be awesome.
Picán’s is a great example of how California, a state filled with southern transplants, does cooking below the Mason-Dixon. The ambiance and and down home cooking strikes the perfect balance between elegant and unpretentious. Decadence is the word, so leave your diet rules at home. Who can say no to crawfish mac and cheese with bourbon and chili glazed salmon? I didn’t think so.
Depending on what you’re in the mood for, cake or ice cream, determines your best bet for a dessert choice. If you fancy cake, go with Merritt Bakery and be sure to order the infamous fresh strawberry. Warning, after one bite, every other strawberry shortcake you try thereafter will disappoint you. Trust me, I’ve long since given up my search for an equal. Prepare to be hooked for life.
If it is something cold and creamy that you seek, Fenton’s is a must. The ice creamery itself has been in the same spot for well over 50 years but its roots as a dairy go back to 1894. There was a dark period of absence from 2001-2003 when the creamery suffered a major fire and closed indefinitely. But oh happy day when Fenton’s returned with full force. No matter what you have a taste for, Fenton’s probably has a flavor to match — it is truly ice cream, your way. I’ve never once gotten the slightest side-eye or a look of confusion when ordering my Rocky Road milkshake un-blended. Don’t judge me.
Where to play…
Yoshi’s, Oakland’s sushi and Jazz bar and restaurant is where grown-ups go to play. Catch a live show from local legends like Najee or Goapele or preview up and coming artists like Mara Hruby and Christin Leonna. Your best bet is to buy tickets in advance because the line starts early for each show and will sometimes sellout, especially when well-known acts are on the bill.
If you’re looking for an early night full of cocktails and conversation in an upbeat atmosphere, head to Mua’s industrial-styled bar and restaurant. There is plenty of room to flutter about and socialize upstairs and down. Or, if you’re with your significant other, there are some nice, dark corners made for cupcaking by candlelight. Sweet.
Best place to people watch…
Bring your walking shoes with you to Lake Merritt. On sunny days, it is sure to be populated with people, young and old, leisurely strolling or sprinting along. After all of the eating, drinking and hanging out around The Town, you may very well need to take a lap or two to soak up some of that good old California sunshine.