Over the past few weeks I’ve discovered another dimension of the Bay Area’s personality: Oakland.
I had heard of Oakland thanks to Childish Gambino and the people who told me not to attend an Oakland Raiders football game. (I attended the Oakland Raiders football game). I had also heard that Oakland is ‘sketchy,’ ‘dangerous’ and ‘too far from San Francisco’ per excuses to avoid it. (Oakland is RIGHT across the bay from SF. We’re talking a 15 minute drive. And you get beautiful views along the way of the mountains, the bridges and San Francisco’s entire skyline.)
True or not, these judgements can prevent you from exploring a place bursting with culture, creativity and pride. In addition to its street cred, Oakland is filled with art galleries, independent boutiques selling locally made everything, thrift stores, book stores, and bike stores (which can include bikes strewn across various sidewalks). It’s Yoda’s birthplace (so they say) and it’s all decorated in tons and tons of graffiti.
Oakland is San Francisco’s less pretentious, more affordable and grungier neighbor with its own style. It’s Portland, Oregon’s hipper sibling who went to public school. It’s the artsier pockets of Somerville that sit across the river from Boston proper. It’s a west coast Brooklyn without the fast-paced city influence where hipsters and locals and people who have seen some stuff coexist. You get it or you don’t. You love it or you avoid it. I fell in love.
And I was reminded of an important lesson from Oakland’s donuts, cupcakes and ice cream. It’s what’s inside that counts, anyway.
Temescal Alley condenses the magic of Oakland into two adjacent alleyways aglow with string lights (of course) and replete with fascinating finds. This alley is home to a store dedicated to the love of books (different than a bookstore, ask for more information), a store boasting ‘horticultural rarities‘ (because horticultural fascination is typically not rare), an apothecary, and the list goes on. I left with a handmade necklace, a candle, and a few burlap coffee bags to be made into some kind of home decoration because, you know, Oakland.
In Temescal alley you will also find this cute little donut shop producing the thing pictured above.
It’s a powdered donut filled with dark chocolate cream, made specially for me. The people at Doughnut Dolly make a batch of their sugar donuts every morning. They import flavors from a local creamery and rotate them throughout the week. My other choices were peanut butter, strawberry and vanilla cream. They pump the donut a few times with the delicious substance from one of the four cream filling machines and voila — a pretty darned good doughnut. The doughnuts are quite nice and light. I could easily eat five in one sitting. And yes, relax, you can mix flavors.
The Oakland location is extremely new, opening last summer. They also have a Berkeley location that I’m sure is just as magical.
Across town on San Pablo Ave exists another sweet haven. James and the Giant Cupcake sells cupcakes in three sizes: a-bite-of-amazing; perfectly-sized-delicious-amazing and oh-my-god-this-is-huge-and-amazing. By the time we arrived in the late afternoon there were none of the latter size left (that’s the giant size in case you’re confused). Not to worry, we bought six of the mini sized cupcakes. Yes, six. It’s the only way to effectively try the flavors. Plus, one was gluten free and one was vegan so those don’t count.
Flavors up above clockwise – ‘Cookie Blizzard’ (Chocolate Oreo cake with peppermint cookie buttercream), Chocolate Cheesecake, Blueberry Cheesecake, and ‘Hostess with the Mostess’ (chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and chocolate buttercream filling). The cakes were moist and they don’t stick to one type of icing. They were perfect.
3. Curbside Creamery
Curbside Creamery churns “artisan quality” versions of your favorite childhood ice-cream-parlor, hands-reaching-up-for-the-counter flavors. They do so, however, while keeping the animals in mind. About half their flavors are vegan with a cashew base. Ice ‘cream‘ made from cashews? Turns out, it’s not half bad. We tried the chocolate. The nutty substitute makes for a little less creamy, slightly dense version of ice cream. Buy, hey, sugar is sugar and for all the lactose-weary people out there (myself included) it’s a pretty tasty alternative. You can always revert back to their regular ice cream choices. The mint was just delicious.