East Bay, represent! What? When was the last time someone told you, “We want to go visit Oakland”? Probably never. Everyone wants San Francisco. Everyone. Even all the people we met our entire time in Oakland told us to go to San Francisco. To that, we say, Pish posh!
One of the things we learned during our “Fabric of America” road trip is that huge cities don’t mesh well with months and months of driving, stops, hotels, etc. We noted this in our posts about Seattle and the Portland area, and we weren’t about to jump into San Francisco as well. Honestly, these are destinations in their own right, and they don’t mesh well with road-trip stops.
So, we headed down the coast and decided to swing through Oakland instead, staying at the Red Lion Hotel near the Oakland Airport.
The lovely people at Red Lion Hotels are a supporter of our “Fabric of America” tour. They covered our stay, and we’re writing about it in return. This journey would not be possible without them (and you). Read about their support right here.
In case you haven’t read about our tour: You can read about it here, read about sponsorships here, and support our project yourself right here.
Since this post is a combination of our Oakland visit as well as a hotel review, we also have to give you our regular disclaimer: This is not a post about “essentials” or “must-sees” or whatever else you want to call it in Oakland. It’s simply what we did with our time while we were there.
You may choose to follow in our footsteps or do your own thing. Either way, we encourage you to give your suggestions in the comments at the end of this post.
Yeah, you can say that Oakland is a big city, too. But, it always plays second fiddle – or completely forgotten city altogether – when people visit the Bay Area. We wanted to stop there. We wanted to use it as a break point on our trip down the PCH, but we also wanted to see a very good friend who lives there.
San Francisco wouldn’t fly on this trip, which is why we stayed at the Red Lion Hotel near the Oakland Airport, and used it as a jumping-off point to explore Oakland, and only Oakland.
Once we meandered our way through rush-hour traffic in Oakland, we passed the airport and landed at the Red Lion. Being that we were in a larger city and near an airport, this hotel is much different than many of the previous Red Lion properties at which we’ve rested our heads.
It’s basically here to serve the airport, with a constant stream of people departing and arriving in town, as well as plenty of flight attendants and pilots coming and going at all hours.
Of course, us being us, we immediately noticed that some rooms had balconies and inquired right away as to whether or not we’d be so lucky to get one, especially since the hotel was full.
And…score! Gotta love it.
This room was also immediately new to us with completely different furnishings and a setup unique to all the Red Lion hotels we’ve stayed at. We’re not sure why, but we really liked the way the room was laid out for form and function.
Ang, of course, got her desk for maximum work efficiency.
As always, I was relegated to the chair. Or couch. Whatever I wanted, because this room had both! It also had a coffee table, which made my work life much easier than past rooms at various hotel brands that do have chairs or couches, but no tables.
Just because the room was different didn’t mean anything was skimped on.
The king bed was plush as ever, with plenty of pillows that we love to bury ourselves in. You can always count on a comfortable room at Red Lion, but you can always always count on a comfortable bed. Of this, we can assure you.
Our room was supposed to have a fridge and microwave, which were conspicuously missing from the space. Not that we were given a room without this amenity. More like, our microwave and fridge were totally gone.
Whether by a guest or for another guest, we were a bit perturbed that we didn’t have these given we “need” the fridge. It took a couple days of asking nicely and joking about how they may have gone missing, but the staff finally tracked one down for us after I went to the counter and simply said, “I want my fridge.”
Both of us are the nicest people in the world. Except for those times when we’re not. And multiple requests over multiple days weren’t getting the job done, so it was time for demands as my patience was admittedly running a bit thin. They did come through an hour later, delivering our fridge (but no microwave, which wasn’t a big deal) and hooking it up.
So it goes, right?
This room didn’t feature the double vanities that we’ve grown to love (as experienced at other Red Lion properties), but that’s okay because there was plenty of space to move around, and a big, dual-sliding door closet in which to store all our gear.
Pure brand products are normally on-hand at Red Lion hotels, but this one featured a different brand we haven’t seen before. Either way, they’re still keeping things eco-friendly and all that.
On to amenities, the Red Lion Hotel Oakland International Airport keeps up to the company’s standards with its own Bistro 150, which serves lunch and dinner and has a full bar.
Because of our varying schedule, we didn’t dine in but did order room service one evening.
Breakfast is unfortunately not included, but they do have the Roaring Start signature breakfast available every morning, along with room service options.
Outside, you’ll find a pool with plenty of lounging space for days when it’s actually hot in the Bay. We’re told summer arrives late here, and we were there in advance of that claim so we didn’t take advantage of dipping ourselves into cool water when the air was already fairly mild.
There’s sadly no convenience store at this particular property, but vending machines are aplenty if you need to get your fix. There are also several gas stations and convenience stores around the way where you can easily walk for snacks.
Late at night, Mr. Pizza Man handles delivery of pizza, sandwiches, pasta and more, and was one of the non-large chains available to us after a long day on the road. It hit the spot, and prepared us for a good night’s sleep before getting up the next morning and exploring the East Bay.
While the hotel is very close to the airport and not in a very commercial area, the BART public-transport system is nearby and they’re actually building a new line directly outside the hotel. No matter how you look at it, it’s easier to get around with a car in this area, and that’s just what we did.
The road that leads to the hotel can feed you into the central areas of Oakland within minutes, but also over the bridge to San Francisco if you want to head that way and aren’t paying a million times the price to stay on the SF side of the bay.
The first place we went is a taco truck. Because, taco truck.
Taquería Sinaloa is the name of the game here, serving up some of the best and most authentic tacos in the area. They also have a full-on restaurant, but it’s the truck that takes the cake and we were happy to wait in line to get our fix.
After dining at one of the best places in Oakland – yes, a food truck is one of the best places in Oakland – we drove downtown to see how it’s been revamped to be a bit better looking and safer than the reputation that precedes it.
Architecture downtown is inspiring, with plenty of late 19th and early 20th-century marvels of engineering.
Next to downtown, you’ll find Lake Merritt, which was also recently rehabbed into a cleaner, more pristine version of its old self. While some of the homes along one side of the lake have probably always been on the fancy side, the lake wasn’t given its full potential for quite a while.
This, despite the fact that it was the country’s first-ever wildlife refuge, designated as such in 1870 and a placeholder on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966.
That has all changed via massive cleanup efforts throughout the 2000s. Nowadays, you’ll find thousands of people hanging out at the lake, jogging, playing, and otherwise making the most of the mild Oakland weather. (Apologies for the lack of good pictures. D’oh!)
That evening, a good friend – practically family – was off work and we were able to reconnect after not seeing him for the last several years. We all headed out to one of his favorite places, an Ethiopian joint called Messob.
We’d never had Ethiopian before, but took great pleasure in eating with our hands and sampling various treats from the menu.
Actual Fact and me, clowning around at the restaurant. Brothers from another mother and all that.
We then went back to his place to meet his new dog, Pocket Protector. Pocket for short, but really, best dog name ever? Quite possibly. Bad low-light photo? Most definitely.
With our stuffed bellies and work to be done, we headed back to the hotel to get crackin’ and find some respite.
The next day, we got some work done and then asked Rainey at the front desk for a proper, local restaurant to invade. She suggested Champa Garden, a local Lao restaurant loved by Laotians and Americans alike.
This could very well be one of the best Southeast Asian meals we’ve ever had.
Even though we’re not into the whole religious thing – especially Mormonism – we respect everyone’s right to a faith system and decided to head up into the Oakland Hills to see the Oakland California Temple.
Dedicated in 1964, it is not only architecturally impressive, but has some beautiful gardens that looked even better on a sunny day.
Another reason for heading up there is the views that it possesses. These are considered some of the best in the Bay Area, and allowed us to see all of Oakland as well as the bay itself and San Francisco across the water.
As this is simply a road map of what we did when we were in Oakland – which is by no means more than a scratch of the surface – it also includes errands. We don’t generally report on our trips to the grocery store or big-box retailers for stock-ups of toothpaste or whatever; but this time, we’ll tell you about New Tech Day.
It’s rare since we don’t buy much and keep our possessions to a minimum, but I’ve needed a new tablet for a long time. I wanted to see the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0″ in person, and we were finally near a Best Buy. We went over there, ended up talking to Jason and Claudia for hours – because that’s what we do – and I pulled the trigger with a purchase. Et voilà.
And that’s how we spent our time in the underrated city of Oakland.
Back to the hotel, work work work, and up the next day to jump back on the PCH, drive over the Golden Gate Bridge – I just had to do this – and drive toward Monterey.
It was cold up there!
Easy. U.S. 101 from Eureka to the famed Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway. Follow the signs to Oakland or take your pick from a dozen roads and highways that lead to the East Bay. Check out the map for how we did it.
Red Lion, because that’s how we do on the West Coast. If there’s a Red Lion, we’ll pick it without even thinking. Even if they weren’t supporters of our tour. We love staying at their properties. Despite the refrigerator debacle, Kristin, Rainey, and Marguerite made our stay a happy one. They were more than willing to let us joke around with them and pepper them with questions about what we should do or where we should eat while in town. We also liked how easy it was to get in and out of the hotel, how parking was plentiful and free – something that’s fairly rare in a larger city – and how well the rooms were set up to maximize both comfort and productivity.
150 Hegenberger Rd.
Oakland, CA 94621
Tel: +1 (510) 635-5300
- Location: Very close to the airport, easy to access all of Oakland as well as freeways and bridges to San Francisco.
- Clientele: Probably better for couples or business travelers. The pool is great for kids, but there’s not much else in the immediate area that can keep little ones occupied.
- Technology: Fast wi-fi, free for an unlimited number of devices. It was annoying, however, that speeds were capped unless you wanted to pay extra for more. Either charge for wi-fi or don’t. The free version was pretty fast anyway, though.
- Beds: Comfy and plush. Lots of pillows. Easy to sleep, sleep, sleep.
- Rooms: Well thought-out with plenty of work space and lounge area. Some of the rooms – including ours – have balconies, and the soundproofing is quite good. We were never bothered by outside auto or air traffic, despite being on the front side of the hotel.
- Amenities: Cable TV, wi-fi, telephone, desk with a proper office chair, lounge chair, couch, coffee table, end tables, refrigerator and microwave after we fought to get ours back, restaurant, outdoor pool, coin laundry, fitness center.
- Bathroom: Plenty of soaps and lotions, good shower with plenty of hot water and fancy shower heads.
- Dining: Roaring Start Breakfast Buffet, unfortunately not included. Bistro 150 restaurant on the first floor, with a full bar and Starbucks coffee.
- Staff: Great for the most part, although they most certainly seemed shorthanded given how busy they were.
- Cleanliness: Rooms are very clean. Property kept spotless 24/7, inside and out.
- Distractions: Outdoor pool, fitness center, easy access to downtown Oakland and the entire Bay Area.
- Attractions: Downtown Oakland, Oakland Hills, Lake Merritt, food trucks, friends and family. And a zillion more things that we didn’t get into – pretty much anything you can imagine is available. It’s the Bay Area.
- Snacks & Such: Vending machines with plenty of options.
- Value: Excellent no matter what the class of hotel. A bargain for the Bay Area.
All are mentioned above, but here are the details.
Mr. Pizza Man
500 12th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
2138 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94606
Messob Ethiopian Restaurant
4301 Piedmont Ave.
Oakland, CA 94611
2102 8th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94606
Bistro 150 at Red Lion
150 Hegenberger Rd.
Oakland, CA 94621
Wrapped-up quite nicely throughout the post, if I do say so myself. 🙂 Please refer up for all of that info.
Alrighty then. Now that we’ve gone through our time in Oakland with what we did, where we went, what we ate, and how it’s underrated, let me take a few words to school everyone who actually lives in Oakland:
Stop telling people there’s nothing in Oakland. Stop telling people to go to San Francisco. Stop telling people that it’s dirty and boring and a waste of time compared to its more glamorous sister across the water. It’s not 1991 and it’s not 2001. It’s 2013, and Oakland has done a world of work to get its reputation back to the positive side of the scale.
Oakland features more arts, more history, more nature, and more nice people than most cities in the entire country. It’s a city of 400,000 who should all be proud of the strides that have been made to turn it around. Sure, there’s lots to be done. There’s always lots to be done. It doesn’t matter if you’re Chicago or Paris or Prague or Sydney or Buenos Aires. Every city has its fair share of grime, crime, and embarrassing secrets. Oakland has long been stuck with the stigma that its a city that only has crime and grime and embarrassing secrets.
Even though everyone needs to keep working on solving its problems, Oakland has come a long way and everyone who lives here should be proud. People really need to start learning about the positives of their own city and teaching them to out-of-town visitors. We were really disappointed when a full 100% of people we talked to in the city told us to go somewhere else. That’s pretty sad.
Obviously, it didn’t stop us and it won’t stop a lot of other people. Just, please stop giving people a reason to leave and start showing them why they should stay. Otherwise, the reputation will remain the same and the questions will be the same in 10, 15, and 20 years.
That is, of course, unless you all just want to keep the good things about Oakland to yourselves. 🙂
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Have you ever been to Oakland? Did you visit any of the places in our post? Do you have any suggestions for things people should see when they stay there, since we barely scratched the surface? Any other thoughts? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!